Saturday, June 19, 2010

Memories of a Father

Life with my dad was generally a bit of a roller coaster. It had to be difficult for him. First he was on the road all the time with his job. He would come home, then hear a litany of my sins, upon which I would be (sometimes for the second time) punished. We fought constantly. For a long time I gave him the lion's share of the blame, but that's not true. I was as stubborn and obstinate as he was and that could be a problem

But there was the gentle, loving side to him as well. The side I often refused to see. How he spent hours with me helping with this or that assignment, or teaching me to letter properly on poster board. I once complained that he never hugged us, and Mom exclaimed, "You never let him." There were the videos showing it was indeed the case. Mea culpa Dad. How I wish you were alive today so we could talk about those things. I was too often incredibly selfish and self centered.

The truth is, I was gay and transgender in a world where we barely had names for them and the names were not good. My parents tried to protect me from my true self. My guess is deep inside I was carrying a pretty good resentment over that. I was also scared to death. Yeah I know, I had a good cover act. But fear ruled so much of what I did back then. Heaven knows I tried, but the feelings kept coming up, no matter how hard I tried to quash them.

I remember the cookouts in the back yard. He'd dug a pit, then purchased a new trash can where he cut out the bottom and laid a grill over it. We'd collect the fallen limbs off the trees in our yard, mostly pecan and persimmon and use them as fuel. We'd either cook over the open fire, or alternately do coffee can casseroles, meat and vegetables in a coffee can covered with foil cooked in those hot coals. He'd show us the constellations and sometimes he'd let us kids sleep outside under the stars. He went all out at Christmas time, and under the tree would be toys galore. He rarely bought us things during the year, but at Christmas, well that was his time. Early in the morning, sleepy and bleary, I'd wonder into the living room. Somehow there would come this squeal of delight, and my brother would come in, and they would drag out of bed even though going there just a few hours earlier. Dad's camera would be waiting and the lights ready to be turned on to capture one more Christmas at the Wicks household.

He so wanted me to excel at math, and that was my worst subject. I wonder today if it really was or was I just being stubborn once again? Oh and could he ever tell stories. The man would weave characters and plot, settling back into his chair to weave the latest tale, mostly true, but occasionally with a flourish or point of humor. It was from him I learned to tell stories. Okay, him and mom, because they were both good at it. "I was surveying a line through some of the deepest forest you ever saw," he said. "There was a gully just ahead. Well I had to cross that gully, but just as I leapt, I looked down to see the nastiest rattler you ever saw."

"What happened then?" We were breathless wondering how he would get out of this fix.

"You know how time slows down when it gets really scary? Well time slowed down for me and I sort of floated there till he crawled out of the way."

We'd all laugh and tease about his floating in that gully.

He died too soon, and we were both denied the opportunity to see each other as adults. Though I was 20 when he passed away, I was still his child. Our last time together was a fight. A few days later he called, a man of his time not able to apologize but hoping to make amends. I was being stubborn as usual. A couple days later he died from a heart attack. Years later I would put a chair in front of me and apologize to him and it was heart felt.

During some difficult times, Dad came to me in my dreams. He was a friend and a sage, helping me through some pretty tough times. Perhaps it was all in my head. Whatever it was, it worked, and the words said were words he would've said.

Over the years, I've had a chance to go back, look at the films and photographs, pull up the memories, and re-create a more realistic picture of my Dad. It has been worth the journey to discover a pretty remarkable guy actually. In spite of my best efforts, he molded me to become a person who could survive in this crazy world. He taught me lessons that not only have lasted a life time, but I profit from every day. Oh how I would love to sit around and just talk for hours with him today. Happy Father's Day Dad. Come back and visit me in my dreams anytime. I love you so very much.

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