Though I’ve never had any children of my own, I have been in a surrogate position many times. I was in some kind of paternal/parental/custodial role with my three youngest siblings as my Mom worked and it was my duty to see to their safety and and well-being. And when I taught I often would assume some type of avuncular/paternal role with many of my students.
My childhood experiences with fathers is one of episodes – with my own father who was on the road often as a driver for J. J. Brady, a company that transported race and show horses – and with the many “dream Dads” I would secretly covet after my father had exited my life.
I have a dozen or so idealized memories of my Father – a man I only called “Dad” before the age of 9 and seldomly and haltingly after the age of 28.
My very first memory of my Dad is one of him and my mother pulling me on a sled down federal Street in Salem. I always attribute this memory to my addiction to walking through snowfalls on winter’s nights.
When I harken back to best of what I remember of my father, these are the images that return to me again and again.
My dad teaching me how to chew gum and not swallow it immediately. Epic fail. I hate gum to this day.
My father kicking the horse who had just kicked me – the day he officially became my hero.
A ride to work one hot summer day. He drove and my mom sat while he smoked his Pall Malls and drank his ice coffee from his favorite Cott’s Beverage glass. Never picked up smoking but I am a coffee devotee to this day.
Being so terrified as he drove up behind me on his motorcycle when I was walking home from Mulberry’s Corner Grocery with a bag of penny candy. I had found a quarter and without permission spent the entire twenty-five cents on penny candy – which in those days was actually more than 25 pieces. He looked at me at first disappointingly and then smiled and said, “Don’t eat it all at once.”, then drove off. That day, I learned that secrets were allowed – and that rules could be bent.
Being asleep in the bunk the driver’s seat of my father’s tractor trailer as he drove though Canada carrying horses from one place to another. I woke to a sound I had never heard. I peeked through the curtains to see my father sobbing as he listened to the news of President Kennedy’s assassination. The only time I saw him cry though I’ve heard he was in fact as soft a touch as me.
After this, because of my parents bitter divorce, my father was a shadow, then a ghost in my life… until I was 28. The shadow memories are uncomfortable and inconsistent, clouded by the anger and pain of the divorce. To be honest, it was decades before I saw any of my father’s pain. I only felt my own – and bore witness to my mother’s.
I unwittingly became a pawn in my mother’s plan to retrieve her husband, a man who wanted to be long gone long before he left.
I was taught to fear and hate my father. And got very good at it. Until I realized that if my father was as evil as I had been led to believe, he would either be dead or in prison – and he was neither.
I met him anew at 28 and we straightened out the miscommunications. He was both awkward and graceful in laying out what had happened in his marriage to my mother never once saying anything negative about her. He was not proud of his departure from my life, but underscored the necessity of him doing so.
My Father was a man. Better than some, not as good as others. As I am.
My Father – trucker, teacher, cryer, do-er of favors, lover of smooth jazz, crossword puzzles, coffee, and redheads… and women.
Just like me.