Tuesday, January 6, 2015

"Toad"

                                                                     

I earlier posted a story called "Tommy's Cafe".  In it, I related how my father ended a family dream, and left off with my Dad moving away to Missouri.  Although I had mentioned family desertion in my previous stories, I had never been as specific about the role my dad played in our troubles.  


Despite my father's shortcomings, and in spite of his meanness and cruelty, I spent the first twelve year of my life longing for a father.  Though I could not have figured it out at twelve, I now realize I was mourning the absence of a father far more than the person himself.

My father, as pictured above (the only time I can recall him wearing slacks and a jacket...for his father's funeral) was a tall lean man, naturally dark complected, and always adorned in overalls.  The family called him "Toad" because he was always squatting and whittling some small piece of wood...and he could squat and whittle for hours, his 3rd grade education and natural lack of curiosity leaving him with little else to interest him. 

I'm sorry to say that my dad was a bully to his children but was cowardly in the company of men.  He was of a type who always wore the false mask of friendliness, lest his manhood come under challenge during some accidental slighting of someone in his company.  My "real men" uncles knew the real face behind the mask but were always kind enough not to bad mouth him in front of his children...a good thing because it would have jeopardized my love for my uncles...when you're a child you do not want to hear the truth about your father.

We, in the family, knew the truth.  We knew of his pettiness when he would insist we wouldn't have a Christmas tree, or when he carried our puppy off and dropped it somewhere, perhaps envious of the warmth we showered on the puppy while incapable of demonstrating that same warmth to him.  We knew of the father who, while moving out of an old cabin, rather than ordering we move out of the doorway, instead planted a pointed boot into the soft confines of a six year old ass.  We knew of his selfishness when he spent any money he acquired on the latest model pickup, even as we dressed in thrift store rags and lived in hovels not fit for human habitation.

And yet, after the ultimate abandonment, after selling the family business out from under us, after leaving us without shelter or sustenance, he kept insinuating himself back into our lives.  Ultimately, after fleeing to Missouri, he returned to California and went to live with our Uncle Floyd and Aunt Mandy.  From there he would stage his campaign to win back our affection.  He would cruise into town, stop by where ever Mom and us kids were living, then ask if he might take us for a ride.  Then he would drive us somewhere and park, then begin grilling us to find out what our mother was doing; if she was seeing anyone, asked where she worked, and other probes into our naive psyche.  Inevitably he would summon a few tears and tell us he would love to be our daddy again, that it was our mother's fault that we were not together.  And those tactics would sometimes work.  We would sometimes go home and ask our mom why she wouldn't take Dad back.  My mom would simply smile, without further comment.  After several of these paternal visits and, pardon the expression, "fatherly mind fucks" we children became more insistent in urging our mom to reconsider the family reuniting.  And my mom handled it as artfully as anything I've ever seen any human do.

One Sunday morning my father came to pick us up for a drive.  My mom greeted him at the door and invited him in for coffee.  We were sitting having breakfast when Dad came in and took a chair at the kitchen table.  My mom poured him a cup of coffee, and then plopped herself in Dad's lap and said something about letting him come home.  Well, my dad reacted as if that kitchen chair was wired with electricity.  He scooted my mom off his lap, stood up and said "Tommy, there's been too much water under the bridge...that just can't happen"..and quickly left the house.  Well, we kids just sat there stunned, the grand illusion shattered before our very eyes.  Again, our mom didn't say a word.  As I recall she walked over to the stove, grabbed the pot of oatmeal and cheerily asked if anyone wanted seconds!  God!  It would have been so easy for our mom to gloat!  It must have been tempting for her to look at us and say "I told you so"...or "do you now see you've been beating me up a little unfairly?"  Instead, she left us to draw our own conclusions...and even at ten years old, the truth was mighty indeed!  

After that Sunday morning we kids knew that we had one parent, would always have one parent...but, oh, what a parent she was!  We now understood why she always said she refused welfare because, to get it, you had to swear out a non-support warrant against the father, and why she would not have her children remembering her participation in getting her children's dad jailed.

So, the years went by.  My father went to live in Missouri for several years.  When I accompanied my Uncle Bill's family on a visit to Oklahoma and Missouri back in the summer after my freshman year in high school, I met my father again.  And once again he taught me who he is.  He tried to bribe me into staying by offering me a really cherry 56 Chevy.  I'll take credit for developing enough insight, and having enough "mom character" in me, to see through the ruse.  I refused immediately.

Later my father moved back to California but remained just a "remote satellite" in my life.  The last time I saw him was when I came home from Hawaii one summer...to retrieve my children who had spent a few weeks with their grandma.  My dad came around while I was there.  He sat and I sat and we tried to talk to each other, but the chasm of neglect just could not be breeched...it was like talking to a stranger.  I noted that he had nothing to say about my four beautiful children.  And, by then, I had accomplished quite remarkable things in my life; service awards, a college degree, a successful life...and achieved it all without the respect and admiration of a father....not a single birthday card, or Christmas card, or even an "atta boy" note.  

So, my father died the day after Christmas in 1986.  He happened to die on the same day that my favorite author passed....and I felt immense shame that I mourned the author more than the father.  My mother was visiting us in Hawaii that Christmas.  When my older brother called and told us the news he was angered that neither Mom nor I planned to fly back for the funeral.  His problem; we each have to live our lives by our own standards.  

In the years since, I've tried mightily to forgive my father, especially as I approach the sunset of my own years.  And, I'm happy to say I've made a tiny bit of progress as, through family ancestry I've peeled back the "onion" that was the father I never knew.  In doing so I found reasons, not to forgive, but for understanding who "Toad" was and why he might have done the things he did.

For instance, my father, who was born on Valentine's Day in 1914, lost his mom at the age of 4 in the great flu epidemic of 1918, leaving my grandfather with seven little kids under the age of ten.  So he didn't have a mother to show him the gift of tenderness.  Later, I found, through the 1930 census, that my grandfather was raising a family of seven children on a sharecroppers farm in rural Oklahoma, and still without the comfort of a mother in residence.

And perhaps, in addition to the lack of motherly care, genetics might have played a role in my dad's personality.  On his maternal side my Dad carried the blood of "Black Dutch", the term given to darker complected Germanic folks who married Spanish blood, or Cherokee Indian blood, or both.   While my grandfather's other children were packed solidly with Swedish and Irish blood lines, fueling the happy and foolish aspects of ourselves, my father seemed to be burdened with cold Germanic genes that could simply not offer or receive, or even conceive of the beauty of love.

I don't know, really.  Maybe my dad was just a selfish, unfeeling bum; someone who never held a job for more than two years in his entire life.  But, I'm in a more forgiving mode these days..so I'm willing to cut him a bit of slack, and hope someday to offer complete forgiveness.  After all, I have much to be grateful for; while my dad had no class, I had a mom who was "world class".  And that's far more than many have.

RIP "Toad".

6 comments:

Brian Clancy said...

Our mothers would seem to be ladies cut from the same cloth in many respects.

A Modest Scribler said...

Weren't we lucky, Brian?

Jerry Carlin said...

You did warn me that this blog post today would have more anger in it but I see more of an attempt at understanding than anger. Yes, "lucky" you to have such a great mom but undoubtedly more to do with hard work and love of family than luck. I am sorry about your dad, more for him actually, you turned out pretty well, again that hard work element that is a part of you. and, from your mother a love of family.

Frank said...

Wow! Although my Dad never left us, he to was a cold unfeeling man who drank too much and showed us very little love. My Mom was the best. We till this day, draw on her wisdom, leaving profound life's lessons to us for passing on to our kids. It's amazing how much like her we are and how little of our Father. Sounds like it's a story told many times over. Thanks for the reminder.

A Modest Scribler said...

Thanks for the kind words, Jerry. Yes, I'm sorry for my dad too. Ironic that you say that because I always look at my own kids and feel sorry that he didn't have the chance to share them. They would have given him lots of chances to feel proud.

A Modest Scribler said...

Frank, you and your siblings were blessed to take your lessons from your mother. I've seen tragic stories where the father passed down some pretty sorry lessons.

And I've always been envious of those who speak so highly of their father...lucky people.