This week marks the 23rd anniversary of the death of my father. Oddly enough, in the last few days, I’ve been thinking about my father. There was a lot of death around me when I was too young to understand it, which has surely played a part in who I’ve turned out to be. As far as dear ol’ dad goes, I’ve taken every possible stance on the issue. I have been disturbingly angry at the man for many, many things. I have loved him and done my best to understand why he did what he did. I have tried to pretend that “God” (or whatever) took him away from me; for reasons that ranged from “there is a great lesson I’m supposed to learn here” to “I am evil and this is my payment for my sins in a past life.” Luckily, I don’t believe in God or past lives or any of it anymore… I was really screwed up on that one for a while.
I’ve been living for twenty-eight (and a half) years, and I’ve now spent twenty-three of them without a father. I’ve tried to substitute, trust me. Even to this day I think, whenever I see something good in a movie, I pretend it’s fatherly advice that my dad is sending me through some ethereal magical thing. Yoda’s speech about, “Do or do not. There is no try,” yeah… that was my dad talking to me through an animatronic puppet voiced by Frank Oz. Anything remotely fatherly in the media still fucks me up pretty good.
And I’m not trying to make excuses or extract empathy from anyone, but it’s been weird because I never had a mom either. Yes, another story for another time. But to be without parental advice has been very strange. It’s one of those very few things that, despite not knowing anything else, I never get used to.
So. It’s May 23rd. I’m sitting in front of the computer with a bottle of cheap merlot. Just put on Nashville Skyline, in headphones of course. And I’m well aware that this is another one of those things that could get pretty weird for a while… and I’m okay with it. I’m feeling candid, and there’s nothing forcing me to eventually press the “publish” button if I later decide not to. So. Fuck it, goddamn it.
The reason I got started reminiscing, I think, besides my experience in church last week, was that I was going to write a blog post called, “How to kill someone in prison.” Because I have this memory, something that is simultaneously hilarious and frightening, of the time my father taught the 4-year-old me how to make a shiv out of the filters of Newport cigarettes. My dad spent a lot of time incarcerated. For reasons that included various drug charges, burglary and theft, and probably more drug charges. But for the couple of years I got to know him, he was pretty cool.
This new paragraph was not separated from the previous as a medium for me to now list the “cool” properties of my father. I just want to think aloud on paper; whatever memories I have left are getting more and more scarce as I get older. I remember the women. He always had a lady with him, or a couple of ladies fighting amongst themselves over something that seemed to involve him. I even remember the one night where he forced me to guilt-trip one of his girlfriends to forgive him. He wanted me to pour on the charm of a 3-year-old because he was 30-something and sometimes his charm simply was not enough. I remember he yelled at me pretty harshly one time when I didn’t want to give his girlfriend a kiss goodnight (don‘t ask me why, but my family all have a thing where the kids have to give people kisses when they leave, and it‘s kind of a big deal when a kid refuses).
(Note to self: MUST record a brilliant cover of “Lay Lady Lay” that is washed out in reverb.)
I remember the bunny thing. My dad brought me a rabbit one time when I was at day care or nursery school or something, and we let him run free in the yard/playground. It was, no, it is definitely the kindest memory I have of my father. I just thought that was so fucking cool, man. All at once he was getting me a gift because he loved me, and he was making me feel incredibly special. Because when you think about it, who the fuck else has their bunny running around the playground for all to play with and chase after? And of course, years later, I feel like that must’ve been a terrible experience for Duke the rabbit. But it doesn’t matter. Case closed. My dad was a cool motherfucker.
You’re supposed to hold on tightly to the good memories, or that’s what they tell me. And I don’t want to hang on to the fact that he took me to the liquor store with him every day. And I don’t want to hang on to the blood stains all over the place or the absence or the fucking anger in his face. I want to remember the Ghost Busters action figures he got me, and the cool NFL blanket that I kept for 15 years after his death… and I want to remember the fucking bunny. I want to distort my own perception because, really, it’s much better that way. I can now remember my dad as funny, charming, hard-working, and well… fatherly. He let me steer his van when I was 4 years old. He called me “Boo-Boo,” like Yogi’s little buddy? Yeah. He had a pretty rad mustache and a lot of great tattoos on his neck. And he was honest with me even when I was too young, which is something I want to be if I ever have kids.
(And as I say this, Buffalo Tom’s song “For All To See” comes screaming into my ears helping me remember why I love life despite all the shit and why I’ll never die. This song is mastered way louder than the last song on Nashville Skyline. I love loud things. Especially whilst drinking.)
And what happens if you want to listen to the song “For All To See” by Buffalo Tom while you continue reading? Here:
My father’s name was Robert B_____, same as mine and same as his father. So, when I go see him in the graveyard, I can’t help but feeling like part of me died before I ever really had a chance to start living. But whatever part of me is still in here has formed a life that has been lived. I have done so many fucking things, so many things, so many things. I wonder if he’d be proud. Or if he’d like me. I wonder if he’d be my biggest fan. I wonder, if I got to know him better, if we’d sort of be the same person. I wonder a lot of things. I do, however, try not to play “the what-if game” when it comes to my life. I mean, maybe I would’ve turned out to be a fucking killer if he would’ve stuck around. So I think it’s best to try and understand that my life has been what it has been, and the past is unchangeable.
For a long time, I did the thing where I tried to pray or something. I’d say in my mind with my hands clasped, “If you can hear me, if you’re here somewhere, just give me a sign.” I don’t wait for signs anymore because I’ve never had one. The best I can hope for is that the perfect song comes on as I’m driving out of the cemetery.
I’m gonna go see his dead ass this week, I hope. I’m starting a new job and I’m broke. But it’s been six years since I’ve been to the cemetery. I will maybe bring a guitar and play my brilliant new cover of “Lay Lady Lay,” and his soul will maybe find it ironic because he’s a dead homophobe.
Man, there was a lot more I wanted to say, there always is, but… I guess I should leave it be for now. Not to disappoint my 3 readers, but I may have to continue this entry later in the week, with further morose reflections. Or maybe I’ll forget, and just be over it. I guess we’ll see what happens when we get there.