My father. His sons.
But mostly me, one of the sons, if not the Number One son, at least the one with the blog. So if the focus is all on me it's because I'm fucking writing it.
(Sure. That's the reason.)
My Dad has never been demonstrative towards me in terms of affection. My brother and I talked about this a couple of years ago. It struck me that he, my younger brother, sounded more grown-up about it. We had individually and apart made a lot of the same observations but he had a sense of things that was more matured and mellow than mine.
I can only recall two clear instances when I thought my father was either proud or positively affected by something I’d done. One was when I graduated from military college and he told me he was proud of me and the other was four years earlier when I was getting on the bus that would take me away from the rest of my family for the first time – I was the first child to leave home. He put his arms around me before I boarded and he hugged me and he cried. I remember feeling ... surprised.
Apart from these two moments, for as long as I’ve known him, Dad’s wandered emotional states that range from deadpan to cranky ... but only with me and maybe the rest of our family.
When I spoke about it with my brother I noted that Dad's different when he’s with his friends. When he’s talking to his golfing buddies, he’s animated and funny, joking, happy and joyful. If I chime in, he shuts it all down. I remarked that when I play golf with him and his buddies, it feels like I’m walking the fairways alone. There aren’t many words exchanged between us, a couple of dozen or so sprinkled amidst so many other observational anecdotes he shares with whoever else is playing with us. “That’s just Dad,” my brother assures me.
Now that Dad and I are getting older, maybe there is something I can grasp on to and feel like I matter to my Dad (I mean, I know theoretically I matter, but there's a lot to be said for proof). On my run it occurred to me again how my Dad unintentionally tells my own stories back to me, thinking they're his. I decide that I should take this as a sign that what I say matters, even when it doesn't seem to. And by extension, I should take this as a sign he loves me.
I reflected to myself on the price of gas - how it goes up, and then up some more and maybe even more ... and then it slides back a bit .... and then up again. When it goes back down it never gets all the way back to where it used to be, but goddamit you feel grateful that it’s less than it used to be and it's a relief and you get this feeling just before you get smacked with another gas increase.
I said to my Dad, “It’s like fishing, when you’ve hooked one and you reel it in and reel it in … and then slack off a bit ... and then reel it in again.” I told him this and his reaction was … nothing. I can remember this. I probably thought something like, “Okay, scratch that analogy from the repertoire.”
I was a bit surprised it had acutally made an impression on him. This was when, months and months later, we went past the gas station and I remarked on how the price had gone up again he said, “Yeah. It’s like fishing,” and he proceeded to repeat to me my own metaphor.
“Yeah, Dad,” I said. “I told you that.”
“Oh,” he said.
Even better is the second-hand story I told him about some guys going to Fox Harb’r which is a rich man’s golf course that used to cost $375 to play. Nowadays you have to stay at the resort, no green fees allowed, but back then, just a few years ago, a guy from work and I decided that we were going to scrounge up the money and go. One day. Well, we didn’t go that year but we promised ourselves and each other that next year ... ah, but too late. The rules changed and the chance to buy green fees disappeared.
Anyway, the guy’s name is Gary. So Gary and I are on the phone and he’s sharing a story about three other guys from the Fleet Maintenance Facility that had done what we wanted to do; they got their money together and drove up to Fox Harb’r and played, the lucky sonsabitches. Gary tells me they were on the first tee ready to go but the starter stopped them. Wait, there's another guy the starter's going to join them up with, this fourth who's all by himself and the FMF boys aren’t very happy about this, aren't happy about this at all. Come all this way as their own little group and now have this intruder be forced into their group, this stranger, pay all this money for this shared experience and now have to put up with this fucking other guy?
The other guy turned out to be Curtis Strange.
If you don’t know (and didn't click the link), Curtis is the last back-to-back winner of the U.S. Open and was the commentator in the 18th tower when ABC was doing PGA golf broadcasts.
I told this story to dad.
Some months later, my dad blithely repeated the story back to me, completley unaware I had told it to him first. In his version it was three guys from his golf club, not three guys from FMF.
As of two weeks ago, my dad has now told me this same story four times, each time like it's the first time, each time like it’s his. Well, maybe after four tellings it is his (after all, I only told it once). This last time, being secretly impish, I asked him who were the three guys from the club? He honestly appeared to be searching his memory and ultimately was able to come up with the three guys. Two he was for sure. The third guy he wasn’t so sure about.
Because he tells this story sincerely thinking it's his, by now I'm shocked at my own reaction which is, Geez, maybe it’s me! Maybe I've misremembered this and it really is Dad's story.
I might have to phone Gary and make sure.
Sometime in my 30s it finally dawned on me that I was born nine months and one day after my elder brother died. He was the first born to my parents. Sometimes to people I’ll make this distinction – that I’m the eldest but not the first born. I thought of it in terms of what my mother had to be coping with in her early days of being pregnant with me inside her. I would jokingly offer this up as an excuse for however fucked up I might appear. It’s because of that, see. Nine months and one day.
As late as I was in realizing the math of my brother’s death and my birthday, it was even later when my Mom told me the impact it had on my Dad. “He didn’t even want to touch you,” she told me. “He had loved Kevin so much and given his heart completely to him and he was hurt so badly when he died, your Dad wasn’t going to let that happen again.”
Oh, I thought.
As a light goes on.