My Father

Grandpa, Dad, and Grandma

I was talking about my dad earlier today. This would be my late father, as it were, since he’s been dead for 12 years now.

My father wasn’t a good man. In many ways, he wasn’t necessarily a bad man, at least later in life, but he was problematic even then. When he was young, he was very clearly a bad man or at least one that behaved very badly at times. No, I’d just say he was a bad man. He treated people extremely poorly, especially my mother, apparently had a hair trigger, and was violent at times (and threatened violence at other times).

My parents divorced when I was young. I’m not sure how old I was because it was before I remember but I suspect, without asking my mother, that it was before I was even a year old. My parents would have been around 20 then and my dad physically and emotionally abused my mom. I was only told about it later in life but, as a child visiting him, he could be a little intimidating. That said, I should be clear that he never was abusive towards me for the values of the time. By that I mean he threatened corporal punishment (though actually only followed through once or twice ever) but we had that in schools when I was growing up so that wasn’t unusual. He treated women badly in front of me, did a lot of drugs and drank, and generally had a good time as a “party” kind of guy.

Dad was a working class guy. When I was a kid, he was a shipwelder. His father was a mechanic and a teamster and others in his family were mechanics, carpenters, and the like. His values and ethics were those of a working class guy born in the 1950s. His dad had beat on people too, including his wives, I am told. Like me, my dad wound up with a bad back injury, though his happened in his mid to late 20s. I think this caused a pretty significant reevaluation of his priorities. He told me, on a few occasions when I was an adult, that he’d been a bruiser, a fighter, in bars and otherwise, when he’d been young but he realized after his injury that “the worst he could do to another guy was break his arm or something and the worst they could do to him was paralyze him.” So he stopped fighting for the most part and, as he grew older, seemed to develop a bit more emotional maturity. I wouldn’t say that he ever turned into a well rounded, emotionally even, human being in many ways but I do think he became a lot better, personally and socially, as he aged. Of course, after the injury, he also changed careers to growing and selling weed. He once complained to me that the worst part of being a drug dealer (even if just of weed) was the crazy and random people that he had to deal with. He didn’t mind selling to people he knew. “Who doesn’t like getting high?” seemed to be what he thought. He only got nervous with strangers because there was always a chance that they’d rob you, beat you, or just turn out to be cops. As he aged further, he mostly seemed to like to grow plants, puttering around, and less and less liked to be on the selling side. By the time I was out of college, he was out of that, having finally been busted, convicted of a felony, but managing to avoid more than a month or so of jail time.

He spent the last 20 years or so of his life just kind of puttering around and getting by. Because of his back injury, which happened on the job in the shipyards, he was on disability (in fact, he made selling weed a self-employed business because he couldn’t work reliably in a straight job). He had to count his pennies, manage his pain from the injury, and fill the hours. I’ve contemplated this life as one of, to me, wasted opportunities. Dad never did much that I could see. He read a lot of books and even got a college degree after his disability, but never wrote down any of his thoughts or even the crazy shit he’d relate over a meal sometimes from his years of partying and dealing drugs. It would have been quite a memoir of the 70s and 80s, really.

So, my dad is a counterexample of a life. He’s an example, especially in his youth, of toxic masculinity. He hit women. He got into fights. He was racist, to a “mild” degree, and clearly homophobic. He had time to think and contemplate but never seemed to do so in the end. Eventually, he was killed by a longterm illness, realistically rooted in the lifestyle of his youth, and he died in his early 50s. As a man in the second half of his 40s now, it is hard to know what positive lessons there are to be gleaned from my father’s life. He mostly serves as a counterexample and, in dark moments, as a feared natural course of my own life because I think I have a personality or disposition that is naturally close to that of his. I’m terribly glad that he was mostly a distant figure for much of my own childhood, including more than six years of zero contact as a teen, because if he’d been present, I might have unquestionably imbibed of his thoughts, beliefs, and manner of engaging in the world. At times, I still fear that I did and do.

In the end, I think he was a weak man at the core. I loved him and do still love him, problematic and fucked up figure that he is and was. He was my father. That said, I’d never want to be him. He wasn’t a role model to be followed except as a counterexample of how not to interface with the world, especially other people. He could be funny and charming but there was something (an anger or rage?) in him that wasn’t always that far away.

I wish I could say these things to him and talk about it with him. It might not go well but it would still be a conversation. When he died, I wasn’t even 35 yet. I didn’t have the voice to say these things or probably the willingness to be direct with him. With his relatively young death, it is a conversation forever cut short, which is disappointing as I begin going through my own middle age as a man.