Monday, June 20, 2016

Spinning Gold Out Of Straw

A perfect portrait of my first family.

Another Fathers' Day rolls up on the calendar and I receive it with my usual ambivalence.

Social network feeds are bursting with adorable photos and amazing accolades for all the great daddies of the world. And mine, I impassionately note, was a total dud.

Well. Maybe that's not fair, my superego reminds me for the umpteeth time. He wasn't a drunk or a thief or a murder. He could have been worse.

So in the interest of forgiveness and compassion and recognizing that no one in this world is perfect, I once again challenge myself to offer the Top Ten Good Things About My Dad:

10. I could always tell he was smart. And based on simple genetics, I always figured that I must be smart too.

9. Not sure who convinced whom to make it happen, but together, my parents bought an old one-room fishing cottage and fixed it up to be my childhood home. I can't imagine growing up anywhere else.

8. He had a highly refined sense of order and always kept his socket wrenches, drill bits and screwdrivers in precise, immaculate, pristine order - lined up perfectly in drawers that were forbidden to me, but I peeked in just the same. Thus, my appetite for delicious OCD perfection was whetted.

7. Bridges, ore boats, Saturn rockets, Indy 500, flying saucers and slot car racing - he was interested in some things that interested me too and grew me in new directions.

6. We took exactly two vacations in my entire childhood - twice we visited Rocky Mountain National Park with side trips to the Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, the United States Air Force Academy and a giant meteor crater in Arizona. But in those two trips, my love of travel was born.

5. He worked at University of Michigan and helped to develop the computer systems needed for the space race. I thought that was cool.

4. The story goes that during my first few months of life, I was quite the colicky little miss, and he rubbed my back in such a way to bring me peace.

3. As a toddler, I was fascinated with buttoning the tiny little buttons on the back pockets of his dress pants. It was my job to check them every morning and I took great pride in that responsibility.

2. For the most part, he was endlessly cheerful. I remember much good-natured banter and joking, telling us, "Hold onto your hats," as he drove round countless curves on our winding country roads and reminding us, "Write if you get work," when we headed outdoors to play. I definitely inherited that knack for running commentary and goofy gift of gab.

And the Number One Good Thing About My Dad:

1. After nearly a decade of shamelessly cheating on his marriage, instigating horrible fights at all times of day and night, and neglecting his duties as not only a husband but also as a father, he moved out when I was eleven years old and, barring a few awkward Christmas visits, did not ever come back.

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And for all these things, I am grateful.

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Stories about my less-than-perfect dad:


  1. I am always shocked how similar our fathers are, but unlike your father my father settled down after being confronted by both sides of the family. Or at least it appeared he settled down. I have an extreme sense of duty with my parents but I have conflicted feelings from that time. My relationship has gone back and forth with both of them over the lack of acknowledgement of the ghost of the elephant in the room. When I was an adult my aunt finally acknowledged my memories, something I am grateful for because I no longer felt crazy. The family has never dealt with the issues and all of us have taken on strict roles. I am the pain in the ass who refuses to forget and they all know I haven't forgotten. My father has learned to like me over the last few years because of my sense of commitment to family, but it has always been a struggle. However I do have my father in my life, which I wouldn't have if he had left. Life is weird.

  2. How are fathers similar? When I was 6, we went to Purdue so my dad could finish his PhD However a year later he changed his mind and went to work for Bendix in Southfield. We moved to his hometown of Brighton. I share his intelligence but he is much smarter than I am. He had his order routines and became agitated when things changed. My favorite taunt was to change his order a little bit and then watch him squirm. He knew I had done it but to mention it would make him seem crazy. I always knew his work was top secret because the FBI used to visit our neighbors and my boss on a regular basis. No wonder the neighbors wouldn't have anything to do with us. He has been retired for 20 years, so he will answer some of my questions, like did Mom know where he was when he traveled? The answer, most of the time, wasn't very comforting. I still don't know what he did but I know his Master thesis was on Nuclear Reactions and he worked with photogrammetry. Jim has pointed out that what I did know from unclassified information he was probably part of the team that developed GPS and then cruise missiles. Lately I have thought maybe he didn't change because of the family confrontation but his job. Needless to say the secrecy is pervasive in my family. Recently he has admitted he was surprised how little I knew about his job, because my mom knew some things and my brother worked for him. He forgot he had given my mom strict disclosure instructions. He isn't able to understand my feelings but I think he has realized intellectually my behavior as a child and teen was understandable given I was the odd man out for my entire life. I am not sure what to forgive or how I feel because I don't know what went on. It is very confusing still and I will probably die confused.


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