Me and my old man never got along. It’s not that I didn’t want to have a stronger relationship with him, but when it comes right down to it, we were polar opposites. My dad was an angry, paranoid, secretive, and somewhat selfish man, and I just wasn’t. As a kid, I was a loud little goofball who would pretty much talk to anybody who would listen. For someone like my dad, I imagine he had a really hard time dealing with my personality, and he tried his damnedest to change it, reshape it into a personality more like his own. And over the years through harsh verbal conditioning, he did just that. As I grew older in my dad’s house, I grew to distrust the world just as much as he did. I became quiet and withdrawn, secretive and frightened. I came to believe I was a freak because I was outgoing.
Once I moved away from my parents house, I slowly came to realize that being outgoing was actually a benefit, but it took over a decade—half of which was filled to overflowing with self-destructive addiction—to reconcile my personality. But the conditioning is still there, like a stray eyelash caught below the lid; a constant irritant causing the eye to constantly water and swell.
I can’t really blame my dad for being who he was. He went through things as a young man that most people couldn’t possibly imagine. When he was 19, he got his girlfriend pregnant (The woman would become his first wife), and he had to drop out of college in order to support her. But what happened instead of him just getting a job and living a normal working class life in Cleveland, he was instead drafted by the U.S. Army into the Korean war. During the war, he was severely wounded and captured, and he would spend 18 months in a prisoner of war camp. Because my dad was captured below the 48th parallel in North Korea, the Army told my grandparents that my dad had been killed in action and they buried the ghost of their only living son. (My uncle had died while fighting in the Pacific during World War II.)
When my dad came back home, his world view—Hell, his entire world—was completely changed. My grandparents, of course, welcomed him back with open arms. His wife, however, didn’t. My dad’s ex-wife had moved on with her life. She had accepted the fact that the old man was dead, but then just as suddenly, here he was, alive and strung out from his experiences. They tried to make things work, but they were both very different people, and my dad’s ex filed for divorce. During the divorce proceedings, my old man decked his wife’s attorney. The lawyer ended up pressing assault charges.
Instead of facing up to the charges, my dad went on the run and ended up in Las Vegas where a group of his childhood friends had set up shop (Yes, the friends were mobbed up. Interesting footnote about the old man before I move on. My dad grew up in an Italian neighborhood, and because of his dark complexion and tight, kinky black hair, he actually passed himself off as Italian. Most of the guys he grew up with became crooks. Also, most of those guys who stuck around Cleveland ended up dying in the car bomb wars in the 1970’s.), and they got him a job fixing air conditions at the Sands hotel. Eventually, my grandfather convinced my dad to come back to Cleveland and face the charges, and he went home and did time.
By the time me and my older brother came around, he and my mom had bought a large piece of property out in the middle of the southern California high desert, and he started building his house and his massive collection of junk. Over the years, the old man had become a hoarder. No one back then called it hoarding, it was just collecting. My dad liked projects, he liked making things. But the scope of his vision never matched his actual productivity and the 5 acres of land that my parents built their house on came to resemble a scrapyard with broken down cars, motorcycles, mountains of sheet metal, mildewing lumber, and rotting boxes of pipe fittings, bottles, screws, and washers. The old man never threw anything out and always bought 2 or 10 of the same tool, and he would keep re-buying those tools even though he may have already owned a hundred of them for whatever mystery projects he had planned.
My dad died on April 20, 2002—six months before I would marry my wife—with the bulk of his projects remaining a complete mystery.
Despite my purposeful reconditioning, I can see a lot of my old man’s personality in me. I’m a collector. But instead of tools and junk, I collect books and action figures. The only difference is that if my books start overflowing from my shelves and onto the floor, I realize that it’s time to make a trip to the used bookstore or Goodwill. The same thing goes for my figures, if the shelves grow too crowded, I store the figures in a large storage box I have tucked away in my fairly well organized and entirely uncluttered garage.
The other aspect of my personality which mirrors my dad is how I deal and interact with my daughter. My daughter is a loud little goofball. She’s a bit more reserved than I am (that comes from her mother), but once you get to know her, she never stops talking and laughing over her silly jokes and stories. Sometimes I find myself wanting to tell my kiddo to quiet down. Okay, not just tell her, but yell at her to quiet down. But then I pull myself back, and remind myself that she’s just being 8-years-old; she’s just being a kid. Because I want her to just be a kid who doesn’t hold back who she is. I want her have fun and laugh, because this time in her life is way too short, and she should be able to enjoy it. Now, if she’s being an asshole, that’s a different story. Then I lay into her, because no one likes an asshole, and we’ve got way too many of those in the world.
Anyway, happy father’s day. I hope you have a good one.