Thursday, May 03, 2012

My Father's Son

So there I was, driving my mother, wife and daughters to a bowling alley in New Hampshire for Hannah's birthday, when a strange fact hit me: I'm the same age (44 going on 45) that my father was in 1985, when I was a senior in high school.

In and of itself, that isn't so outrageous. He became a father at 26, whereas I was 34 when Hannah was born in 2002. It's just that he seemed so much older to me then, and I know when you're 17, anybody over 30 seems like a geezer.

By that point in his life, my dad had already pretty much given up on whatever youth he once had. He was working as a draftsman at the Seabrook nuclear power plant in NH. When he came home from work, he would plop down on the couch and watch TV; the most exercise he got was walking to the bathroom. And he had started drinking more than usual; that would amplify a year or so later when he got laid off and even more when one of his brothers died. And all of that led to a spiral that would eventually result in his death at the not-so-ripe old age of 55.

Still, in the spring of '85, things weren't so grim...or at least that's what I thought. I was graduating from high school as the salutatorian (second overall) and going to UNH in the fall. I had a cute girlfriend who I would ditch since she would still be in high school and I'd be swimming in a sea of chicks at college (yeah, the latter never happened). A fun summer of part-time work and goofing off awaited me before I headed off to Durham.

But my father wasn't feeling so lively. I don't know what the situation was at the office for him, but I do know he was going out to a nearby establishment for drinks fairly often with co-workers. I'm guessing he was dealing with stress. One Friday night in May (I think), he was supposedly going to a dental appointment after work before coming home but hours passed and there was no sign of him. These were pre-cell phone days, so we just waited. I was watching "Miami Vice" when we got the call that he had been in an accident; turns out he rolled his Subaru in a ditch and somehow kept driving before the cops stopped him. Oh, and he was stinking drunk. As a result, he lost his driver's license for three months, so I had to drive him to work for the summer. Which was cool for me, because I didn't have a car, but sucked for him. It certainly freaked my mother out, but my dad just shrugged it off. As I mentioned earlier, that whole situation just got worse in the years to come.

I like to say that the best thing my father taught me was how not to live life. I'm about as different from him as I could be; I exercised more last month than he did the entire last 20 years of his life. I'm a lot more active in the lives of my children than he was with my brother and me; he was into it when I was a baby, or so my mother says, but once my brother came along nearly five years later, he seemingly lost interest. He was old school; he came home and expected dinner on the table, and was vocal about the promptness and quality of said meal. He wasn't physically abusive...well, he stopped after a certain point. I was on the wrong end of a few beatings when I was a kid and pissed him off; he chased me around the house with a hockey stick when I was 8 and gave me a good whack with it...all because I was picking at my vegetables for a half hour after everyone else had left the table. After that, though, he never raised a hand to either of us; I'm guessing he scared himself a little. He just checked out, really, occasionally barking orders or making dickish pronouncements. When he got an idea in his head, there was no swaying him, hence our moving every few years in the early '80s and the terrible financial moves he made along the way.

At this point, I'm not bitter about any of it. My mom still hasn't gotten over the last 10 years of his life, but he didn't exactly go out on a good note. I like the life I've built for myself, and I definitely have a more positive outlook on things than my old man. He was never one to discuss his feelings, so I never really understood his motivations. He didn't have any close friends or confidants, even among his own family. He was always bitter about a perceived slight and looking for a shortcut to get what he wanted, but I'm not sure he'd have been happy if he'd achieved the financial security he sought. Whenever I see the endless parade of schmucks blowing their cash on scratch tickets and Keno at corner stores, I think of my dad. Sad, but true.

Hey, my childhood wasn't all bad. All the bad stuff helped make me the man I am today. But if you were an impartial observer and looked at the two of us at age 44, you'd be hard-pressed to find any similarities. And that's a good thing, as far as I'm concerned.


Dave Brigham said...

Wow...just catching up on your blog. Very intense and personal stuff. Heavy. Deb and the girls are lucky to have you.

Jay said...

Thanks, man.