Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day

Today is Father's Day. And while that is good for many sons, it's just another day for me. Not that I had a bad father, I had an absent one. Not that he left, he and Mom were married from March 1943 until his death in November 1994. But he had a career that was more important than his children, and especially me.

I was the last of three children and the second son. My brother, six years older than me, was the favored son and my sister was their treasure. And me? Well, Dad explained it decades later when I asked him why I felt like the after thought. He said, "Well, we planned two children, a boy and a girl, and when you came along, I didn't know what to do, so I figured if I ignored you, you'd find your way."

That was over twenty years after my first year of college when we sat down on Christmas Day 1968 and I handed him the letter the College of Engineering had "released" me to the general university student population and I couldn't enroll in any more engineering courses. While my brother had five years of college paid by Mom and Dad and my sister had two years of community college paid by Mom and Day, I had to work to pay one third of my tuition and all of my books. My brother paid one third and my parent the last third.

Dad quietly read the letter, then said, "Son, I want you to have a life. Just don't have it here." I asked how long can I stay until I can sort out leaving and living on my own. He said, "Three months." Just over two months later I entered the US Air Force. My Dad and I rarely spoke after that and those conversations weren't all that pleasant. Kinda' like an after thought to his life with the other two kids who stayed within driving distance of home.

During the service I was stationed at McClellan Air Force Base north of Sacramento. I loved it, married and never left the West, always within driving distance of the ocean except for my years in Phoenix, Arizona. I only went home for reunions and family gatherings. I decided Linda, my friends and living away was my life and world. And since I wasn't welcome home beyond a courtesy, I didn't miss the family.

Over the years after his death, I learned more about Dad than I did before. He was a quiet man, never was a father in the sense of one, his career was more important. And with his friends I learned he was the opposite, open, friendly, conversant, and as we learned, generous. Mom found a locked drawer in his desk full of IOU's from friends he loaned money to over the decades before and during their marriage. It broke her heart to read all them and not one person paid him back. All gone, friends over family.

The last I saw my Dad was the year before when he and my Uncle was returning from an Alaska fishing trip. He stayed overnight, which I wrote a poem about, see Dad, poem I. A year later after fulfilling his goals in life, which were pay of his 30-year mortage, celebrate his 50th anniversary, and life to 75, and two days after his birthday, he passed away. And left a wife and a family wondering what and why.

He simply decided give up and die. He went to bed after his birthday party and never woke up. Mom called to say it wasn't necessary to come because he wasn't recognizing anyone and was talking to people long dead, his mother and his oldest son who died 3 years earlier. Mom has was hurt and angry. She got more hurt and angry settling the estate and going through his papers to find a man she never knew.

Not only had he loaned a lot of money to friends over the years, he invested other money in really bad companies, and even decades later the stocks weren't any more valuable than when he bought them. Nothing earned all those years. And then she found a deeper truth.

When my Dad told me to leave, he didn't tell Mom, only that I had decided to leave and then enlist. He lied to his one love in life. She finally understood all these years, but by then it was too late, the damage was done and the emotional wounds permanent scars. All done by her husband and my father.

So Father's Day isn't much for me. He was a good man to many, just not his family. He was decent to us kids and good to Mom, but always was distant and focused on life outside us. Before my departure I can count the times we were together just doing something on one hand, and that's a stretch along with all of it during the four years we lived in Germany.

I summarized him another post, see My Father, like this. "In the end, Dad lived with his own demons, from his time at home in the late 1930's before he joined the Army during WW II, and he took them with him. I'm sorry he never learned to express himself. It was his personality but he missed the opportunity to be a father and a dad."

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