Spending time with Uncle Mike always makes me think about my father, for some very obvious reasons (the most glaring of them being that the two are almost frighteningly similar in appearance). It seems as though Uncle Mike always wants to know about the relationship I had with my father. What he meant to me, and how we got along.
The truth of the matter is that I never really had much of a relationship with him.
My Dad and Mom split when I was six. I have three clear memories of time I spent with my father before he left. The first is of him coming into the bathroom after a drinking binge while I was in the tub and having a good vomit fest. The second is when we went to Washington State for Uncle Mike’s first wedding. The third is him standing in the driveway of our house and screaming “I’ll see you and your fucking kids in court” at the top of his lungs.
So I was one of his “fucking kids.”
After a few years went by and the court thing was done with, I started spending summers with my Dad. I always felt like an interloper when I visited Mississippi. I was the city boy going out to the country. This is where my hatred of trailer trash rednecks comes from. Whenever I was in Mississippi, I felt like an unwanted intruder, and I was made to feel that way be people who, even at that young age, I knew were beneath me. They knew it too. They didn’t know how to handle me. I was too smart and too insightful for a boy who hadn’t even hit puberty yet. I knew them. I could see through all of their bullshit and lies. For that, they hated me. I think my father resented it a bit, too. I would go there, expecting to be with my father, and instead I was with this drunken man who didn’t want to deal with any of the responsibilities that life had for him. He let his wife deal with all of those. He wanted to go to work every day, come home at night to a good meal, get drunk and fall asleep after shagging his young wife. He didn’t want to entertain a bookworm. I do not doubt for a moment that he loved me, but he did not understand me by any means or stretch of the imagination.
Eventually, I stopped going there for the summers. I don’t know who made that decision. I am certain it wasn’t my mother. She may have felt hatred for my dad at that point, but she always insisted that he was my father, and that he deserved my respect and my love. She would not have tried to drive a wedge between us. Maybe I decided I didn’t want to go there any more, or maybe Dad told Mom that he couldn’t afford to have me up. I’m not sure. All I know is that one summer I did not go to see Dad, and I didn’t see him again until after I had graduated from high school and moved to the University of Alabama.
He wasn’t really a father to me at that point, either. When he first saw me, he didn’t even recognize me, and after he invited me into his house he sat a bottle down between us and we proceeded to spend the next few days drunk off of our asses. I suppose he figured that, since he was a drunk, his son would be as well. I have to admit that, at the time, I thought the events were pretty cool, but it was far from what I needed then. If he had been there for me as a father and not as a drinking buddy, I might have been able to tell him the troubles I was having at Alabama. I might have gotten encouragement from him to stick it out, and deal with the bad decision I had made instead of running away from it. Instead, I had a place to run to. Even if he was on the boat I could go over to Mississippi and spend the weekend with Pam and the girls. Maybe try and hook up with their cousin Missy. Anything other than deal with the fact that I was failing every class that I was registered for.
After I left Alabama, we kind of lost contact, and we didn’t really start talking again until after Pam had left him and he realized that he finally had to stop drinking. At the age of 22, I finally got a father.
Six years later he was dead.
Six years. That’s all I got of my Dad. And in that time, we probably spent a total of about 3 months together, if that. We talked on the phone quite often, but the actual physical presence of my Father was not there. I never spent a Christmas or Thanksgiving with him. He never got to see any of my performances. He didn’t come to my graduation. He didn’t come to my wedding. He wasn’t there when my son was born, or when I went through my divorce. In fact, most of our contact during the time when he came back into my life was focused around my two younger sisters. I don’t think there was ever a time when we were together just because we wanted to be together.
So when Uncle Mike asks me about my Dad, I’m not really sure what to tell him. I miss him terribly. I miss the man he became before he died, anyway. I miss his laugh and his good sense of humor. I miss the comforting fact that in his entire life he never changed his hair style, and that he wore the same Old Spice cologne every day. I miss talking to him about history and politics, and how this simple farmer turned mechanic could stun you with his intelligence if he felt like doing so. What I miss most of all is him telling me he was proud of me. He did that a lot, and when he said it not only did I know it came from a place of respect, it came from knowing the mistakes he had made in his life and how I did not follow in his footsteps.
I was honored on Saturday when Uncle Mike told me that I act a lot like him. That we had the same laugh, and that he got the same glint in his eye that I do when there is mischief working behind the scenes. I find it comforting to know that part of him lives on in me, and I hope that carries through to my son as well.