Today is my father's birthday. He died back in 1989. These are the facts that I absolutely know about him. I can't say what year he was born, or how many siblings he had. I had heard that at one time he raced mini cars. I would like to have known more about that. Evidently, there is a family history booklet that a relative had put together years ago that I have repeatedly asked for, that just doesn't seem destined to be in my possession.
One of the stories shared from that booklet is that my father's father abandoned his family when my father was very young. Years later, someone, a friend, spotted him in front of a theater and called out his name. My grandfather, it is said, turned to look in the direction his name was called, and then turned and ran, disappearing around a corner, never to be seen again.
Some role model, huh? If you don't have someone to show you how to do it right, I guess there's a good chance you'll do it wrong.
I heard that my father fought in WWII and came home, like many others, with nightmares. In time, he became a supervisor in a company that worked with linoleum. A union shop. When the workers went on strike, there was trouble, a demonstration that went out of control. He ended up on the ground with one of the employees holding a 2x4 over his head. I'm told that what he saw at that moment was himself lying on the ground in the war, with an enemy soldier readying a bayonet to come crashing down to end his life.
After that incident, he soothed his rattled psyche with alcohol. Lots of it. Often. More and more.
I remember after my father died, I could "feel" him in the clouds. There was clouds everyday for a while. I imagined him sitting on the edge of one, watching us. I understood that the picture was my imagination, but I "knew" he was there.
My father was an alcoholic and with that came all of the tortured issues that that entails. Missed birthdays, no-show Christmases, late night arguments heard from my bed.
I remember one Christmas Eve when all of us kids wanted to open just one gift on Christmas Eve, my mother said we would have to wait until my father got home. We excitedly watched the clock from 5 o'clock, minute by minute, hour by hour, until none of us mentioned it again, and then went to bed.
Then the times (plural) that I would go to his apartment, thirty minutes on the bus, because we had planned to spend time together on the weekend. He was never home. Crossing the street, I would always find him at the bar. "No, honey, I'm working. We'll do it next weekend."
When I got married, another no show. My brother gave me away. When I was older, with kids of my own, and he was sickly and bedridden, he mentioned to me that he was always afraid that he would miss seeing me grow up (him dying). Well, he did miss it, but not the way he thought. He never saw it.
When he died, I went to work, not knowing what else to do. But he was present in the clouds. I know that for sure. That lasted about a week and then he was gone. I'm grateful for that bit of time. It was like redemption and forgiveness.