I’ve been thinking about my dad a lot lately. Not the one who sired me and left; the one who adopted me and left. I still call him Dad, but since I have four figures in my life that factor into that role somehow (Father, Dad, Grandpa, Step-Dad), to avoid any confusion for anybody who casually knows me, I’ll call him Rick for the sake of this post. Because his name is Rick.
I had a customer a couple days that reminded me of Rick. He was an older gentleman, late forties or fifties, with a heavy jacket and one of those suitcases with the wheels on it. I was getting him set up with a basic phone, “just a cheap little thing so I can call up a friend when I want to”. I don’t know if he was homeless or just bouncing around. I know he expressed interest in moving down to the lower 48 (California, preferably) and was concerned about the phone working down there. He had a faint whiff of the previous night’s booze, that sort of metallic soundness I used to recognize on my dad. My customer was grateful for the help and shook my hand tightly before he left.
It reminded me of my dad back when he had his shit together, sort of, before his demons began growing up and getting together to buy a condo in his mind and running that ship into shore in increasingly disastrous ways. Then I realized Rick’s birthday had passed by a few days previously. So he’s been on my mind since.
My dad was the youngest of three kids, and the one most likely to do reckless things. He loved to play the guitar and skipped school to go skiing in dangerous places, parts of the mountains that hadn’t been cleared for trails yet. He broke a lot of bones out there and blew out both knees and ankles, which he had to get surgery on later in life.
He had a high school sweetheart, blonde hair, blue eyes, soft southern twang. Her father was the football coach. She was a beautiful woman. She was also the worst person I’ve ever met in my life. But I’ll get back to that.
They eventually broke up and my dad bounced around a bunch. California, Florida, Hawaii, back to Alaska. He’s on the front page of the newspaper somewhere for helping clean up animal corpses from the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Eventually, he found himself working construction. Painting, carpentry but primarily heavy machinery. Paving roads, building runways. There are pictures of me on bulldozers as a toddler that are adorable. I was a cutie. You’ll have to take my word for it.
Somewhere along the line, he met my mother and they got married (I think? I’m 90% sure and in the dustiest corners of my childhood memory, I recall some pretty dirty divorce proceedings). Somewhere along the line, she cheated on Rick and got pregnant with me. Rick knew I wasn’t his. He put his name on my birth certificate anyway, intent on loving me and raising me as his own.
Rick and my mom split up before I turned two. My mom had primary custody of me for a while, but due to reasons I’ve detailed in other posts, eventually I found myself back with Rick. Sort of. Rick was sleeping on his parent’s couch while he worked long days at the construction yard. He’d come home late, pull from the large stock of cheap beers in the fridge and turn on some late night television. He smelled like Budweiser and sweat. It wasn’t pleasant, but that was DAD smell. It was comforting.
You know, there was the time he passed out drunk in my best friend’s front lawn in the middle of the day and told me, his eight year old son, “don’t fucking touch me” when I worriedly tried to check on him, sending me crying home as the ambulance loaded him into the back.
Or the time he and his psycho wife dipped out of Alaska for two years to try and avoid the anger management classes they had to take for domestically abusing each other, with nary a phone call to show for it. Or Frank Zappa when I showed him this fancy program on my computer where I could allegedly illegally download any song you could think of.
Or the time he took me on a shopping spree to Toys R Us. $100 could buy a ton of shit in the early 90s.
Or the time he introduced me to David Lee Roth via a vinyl playing of Just a Gigolo. Or the Eagles via cassette tape in his beat up brown Ford truck.
Or the time I came downstairs in the middle of the night to see him sitting in the recliner with blood all over the front of him because his wife broke his nose with a lamp while he was sleeping, or the time he picked up some young, hitchhiking Kiwi girl who kept telling me how cute I was and I was too young to know what love is, but I was old enough to know her dialect was my new favorite thing in life.
I knew all of my dad’s friends, too. Kirk, who died of diabetes and whose gold chain my dad never removed from his neck after that. Marty, who used to be called the Bonecrusher, but who I recall drunkenly and nakedly slithering out of his hot tub to collapse on his back deck while his friends and my dad laughed and laughed. Danny, who was an amazing guy, whose Rottweilers were the most loving dogs ever, who failed to maintain his brakes and accidentally killed a man and his son when his vehicle failed to stop. Vince, my godfather, who was killed when a drunk driver ran into him, whose son was my first experience with suicide. Mark, who owned a funeral home that I used to have sleepovers in.
I learned a lot from my dad. I’ve got a lot of good stories with and about my dad. He taught me how to smile and say sweetly “Esadah” to someone who had wronged me, because it meant, of course, “Eat shit and die, asshole.”
But, I dunno. I just remember him showing up less and less. When he rediscovered and married his high school sweetheart, they just sucked the life out of each other. It was a slow build, but it happened and all I could see was this man who always had a bit of trouble with drinking, but had a lot of life in him. He had a lot of love for me, and I remember being a kid and listening to my mom and him talking on the phone and I could hear that they still loved each other but I couldn’t understand what they did: that they would never work together.
So when my dad finds his high school love again, it seems like it’s picture perfect. And it turned fucking awful. His drinking increased. Hers did, too, and underneath her beautiful Southern charm lay a petty, selfish, vengeful, violent animal. They were in and out of jails in Alaska, Nevada, Florida, Arizona, half the time because she lied to put my dad in just to admit to lying later and serve time herself. My grandmother, God bless her soul, tried to help them out with money and they slowly bled her. My stepmother would call up and demand more money and when my grandmother refused her, she would cuss and swear at her, at the sweetest and most generous woman I’ve ever known.
It culminated in a prison stint for a couple years in Arizona. Domestic violence. Did my stepmother lie about this one? I honestly don’t know. This woman tried to gouge his eye out with a key once. She tried to run him over with a truck once. She’s beaten him, cut him, broken his bones. Did he finally snap and hit her? Maybe. Probably. Don’t know. I know that while he was in there, she got together with another man and used my Rick’s social security number to commit fraud.
Somehow she’s not in jail. Somehow she managed to reconcile with my dad and they’re back together again. And I feel for my dad because there’s not much left of him there anymore. He can’t walk well because a broken back he suffered on a construction job years ago has come back to haunt him. She’s got her talons in everything he does. He’s a wreck. And I feel for him for that.
But here’s the thing.
My grandparents were getting old and getting closer to passing away. They made it clear to my uncle, my aunt and my dad that their life insurance and possessions were to be split three ways between my uncle, my aunt, and me. They had given my dad money for years to get by, despite his time in jail and prison and despite how much of a blood-sucking harpy his wife was. I, on the other hand, had made it by on my own. Moved to Los Angeles, moved to Seattle, paid my own rent, bought my own food, and I never got so much as a speeding ticket. Ever. In my life. Completely clean record. So I was entitled to a third of their worldly belongings.
This was not an arrangement I was aware of until after they both passed. My uncle came to me to let me know, and though I was riddled with the worst grief I’ve ever known, it was a small silver lining. It was enough money to get me out of debt, out of the state, with a fresh start to my life and even a little spare time to focus on my writing. Their final gift to me was to help me get a leg up on things.
One catch: they hadn’t had a chance to change it in their will before they died. It was still set to be split between my uncle, my aunt and Rick. So my uncle went to my dad again. I thought to myself at that point, well, he’ll probably want to split it, then, and that’s fair.
What I wasn’t expecting was for him to give fully half to his wife and blow the other half without a cent -or even a word- my way.
I like to think I’m not particularly materialistic. I’ve been living out of two suitcases for five years. I sleep on an air mattress when I’m settled down and couches, futons and floors when I’m not, and I’m content with that. I know there isn’t a way to write this without sounding petty or greedy, but I felt wronged and hurt and I saw my hopes for a breath of fresh air slip away. So there it is.
He called me on my birthday this year from a number I didn’t recognize. I was working, so I missed the call, but checked my voicemail later and got the birthday wishes. I considered giving him a call back after work, but then the rest of my life happened.
That’s literally where I’m at in my life with him. I was raised by Rock’s parents from the age of 5. He missed my high school years, my adult years. He didn’t know I almost died in the hospital last year. He took what was left to me and in turn will leave nothing for me, either. There’s a sense of freedom, I guess, in that inasmuch as it means that going forward I know everything I’ve earned, I’ve earned through hard work and dedication. But it leaves me ambivalent to his presence or lack thereof in my life.
Part of me hurts intensely for him, for the dreams he had of a good life, an ideal life with his high school sweetheart and a son that turned into…this mess. His nightmare and the shame I know he feels. Part of me just wants to put all that behind me and just focus on my life and myself and my future instead of getting bogged down with the black sheep of and regrets inherent in my family. I miss my grandparents every day and I sometimes wish I had a close relationship with family members the way most of my friends do. Then again, I’ve relied on myself and felt so alone for so long, I don’t think anything else would feel natural.
I love my dad, but he’s a ghost to me anymore. I haven’t called him to wish him a happy birthday and, though it’s been a year or two since we’ve actually spoken, I don’t know that I’m going to.