Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Fathers and Substitutes, part 1

My father died on his 60th birthday. It was a normal December morning.  I got ready for school, he got ready for work. My mother drove him to the train station as she had each morning for his ride into the city. From what I was told, he got to his office, told someone he wasn’t feeling well and asked for water. The co-worker returned with the water and found my father dead on the floor.  An autopsy revealed he died from a massive heart attack, a conclusive coronary. Although my father died before 10:00 am, my mother and my future step-father (more about him later) didn't tell me until after I had attended a Christmas party with a friend. I'd went through the school day and had fun at the party while my father lay in a New York City morgue.

Since I was only seven years old at the time, the full import of his death and the subsequent happenings weren’t what I was thinking about.  I only knew my daddy wasn’t coming back.  It was the first time I questioned and then doubted the concept of God. The thought that another young girl, in her late teens or early twenties was also going to miss her father never entered my head during that time and for years afterward. When I was 19 I found out that my father had been married before and had another daughter. The divorce from her mother had been acrimonious. I'm clueless as to whether or not my father kept in contact with his other daughter. I know I never met her, nor do I have any recollection of meeting my paternal grandparents. I do know that her name was Dorothy. Did she marry? Was she still in New York? Did she know about me? I'll never know now. 1972 was long before the internet was invented. My mother and half-sister had very little information about her or my father's first wife. She would be in her 70's if she were still alive.

My father was a salesman. At the time of his death, he was top salesman for a woolen mill in New York City.  He was a champion roller skater and bowler.  He was such an elegant and skilled skater that he gave lessons.  I unfortunately did not inherit that coordination or grace.  To me, he was a quiet, somber man that expressed his love with material things, not hugs and kisses.  I was a very late in life child.  Both he and my mother, I believe, just weren’t really sure what to do with a baby/child at their age. When I learn about “older” parents, I cringe. Even though I know that more mature men and women of this era will probably not be at all like my parents, I just don’t think having a baby at 45 and 53 is good, especially if there are no close siblings.  My knowledge of my father is limited.  My mother was secretive to the extreme and my half-sister has offered very little in the way of enlightenment that was unbiased.

One thing I do know for certain, father was a chronic alcoholic. This could have attributed to him being known by his first name and treated like a rock star at several well know New York City establishments like Luchow's. Also at a couple local restaurants that had full bars and where I spent many an evening with my parents.  My mother, while not an alcoholic, never met a Manhattan she didn’t like.  The fact that so many nights were spent in restaurants is why I believe I can’t remember my mother cooking things other than Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, hamburgers and creamed potatoes.  I survived the rides home with a tipsy driver (my mother) and sloshed father - filled with restaurant food, second-hand smoke and Shirley Temples.  Life seemed okay. The fact that my parents were “old” didn't matter much when I was a child.

It wasn’t until after my father died when my half-sister, brother-in-law and infant nephew moved in with my mother and me that I began to wonder a bit about my family.  I found, looking back on things, that although I had no way to express what I was feeling, I just KNEW things were off more than a wee bit.

With a built in babysitter, my mother went back to work.  She also was apparently a man magnet (and had been since she was young!) because she started dating.  DATING! I was about 8 years old and MY MOTHER. WAS. DATING. It didn’t really hit me that she was going out with having a grand ole’ time with men until she brought Johnny Ballard home to meet me.

12 blew out from under the bed:

Ron said...

The longer I know you, the more similarities we shared in our childhoods. That's probably why we feel like twins!

As you know, I lost my mother at a very young age (6 years old) and never got the chance to see her or say goodbye.

"My knowledge of my father is limited."

Same with me and my mother.

I can remember the feeling of love had towards one another, but any specific moments I cannot.

Thank you so much for sharing this part of your life.

I look forward to reading more.

X ya bunches, Sis!

UP said...

I can't imagine. I've been very fortunate, my father died last fall, I had him for 59 years, he was wonderful.

I'm almost afraid to read the next part...when you write it...but I know I will, because, my dear, you're a wonderful writer, and obviously, one with a story to tell.

Much love,


Red Shoes said...

Hey you... I've spent a great part of today thinking about my Dad's passing. Peace to you...



Vixen said...

I've read this several times over...

*hugs* babe

ZomBee said...

Doesnt matter when or how you lose your dad some "thing" inside of you breaks forever.
You can live without this "thing" and some days you can hardly notice it's gone
but then those nights when the night is extra silent or you get a sniff of that certain smell then that certain memory coils out of that hole like smoke.
Then again, I'm not saying anything you don't already know.

Indi said...

nitebyrd ~ ((((((((HUGS)))))))losing a parent at any age can tear you apart..and our child hood memories are so clear in our hearts, thy never leave us.. I still have my Dad, he had a stroke just over two years ago... but thank god I still have him, my mother's sworn to kill him on the odd ocassion but she's lived with him a L O N G time, she loves him really.



Dianne said...

I had a warm feeling creep over me when I read the part about not being able to express it yet knowing something was off
I spent my entire childhood feeling that way and even now, all these years later I can't express all the feelings

I had a terrible abusive relationship with my father yet I sometimes feel a pull at my heart when I think of a good momment

My father had 3 wives before my Mom
and 4 other children besides me and my siblings, a total of 8
I have never met the others although I have spoken to them on the phone
the conversations always trail off - I think there is just too much pain for all of us

wow! I just shared a lot
you have that effect on me
must be your wonderful open honest way of writing
hugs kiddo


Yeah, I think there comes an age when it's not fair on a child to have geriatric parents.

I have a brother who is 48 who has 2 and would like more,which I don't think is right for what 20 yr old wants a parent pushing 70 who needs care?

Spiky Zora Jones said...

Now that is writing. You're a fabulous story teller sweetie. It was wonderfully written.

More please.

Things were odd at my house too but it was the norm as far I can recall.

later honey...

Joanna Cake said...

Wonderfully written. I originally wrote 'a great read' but, given the content, that doesnt seem quite right.

As Philip Larkin said 'Our parents fuck us up'. And it doesnt seem to matter how much you vow not to do the same to your own offspring, the problem perpetuates.

Maybe it's genetic. Maybe it's just the way it has to be between parents and children to produce their independence.

No one knows what goes on behind closed doors and perhaps our desire to be like the sugar coated relationships we see on tv are just impossible pipedreams with any real life exponents who cause us so much envy and regret just putting on a public show...?

Anonymous said...

Thank you, lady, for sharing this personal story. My hat's off to you for the honesty and vulnerability. xxxoo

Akelamalu said...

I count myself very fortunate, I had two loving parents. I was 39 when my mother died and, thankfully,my father is still with us at 86 years old.