My father and me have a realtionship that my Aunt Roz described as when the chickens come home to roost. Whatever that means. Perhaps it means you reap what you sow, which is true.
My father never was the typical father. I don't know what he made of having a son. He'd play with me in odd ways like taking me on death-defying motorcycle rides up steep 45 degree hills in the sand with me riding on the gas tank when I was 5. Or buying me motorcycles when I was 7 years old that my mother had to return after I nearly killed myself on them. And so did he. And so did my uncle Cokey. He never taught me sports. But he'd throw a football way up in the air for me to catch. But we never played together. He'd dig foxholes for me to climb into, and show me how to build things and use tools. But we never played together. That I remember. I remember racing him on foot in Washington DC. And being tossed around a lot. But not like I play with my daughter. He did the best he could with what he was given. Everyone hopefully does.
I inherited a lot of good traits form my father. Gentleness, compassion for smaller things, and being sweet. He got that from his mother who was the sweetest lady ever, and my daughter has that characteristic as well, I'm happy to say. I hope it doesn't hurt her though, because I've learned as nice as it is to be sweet to people, there are those that will exploit it. They'll use you. And use you up until you have nothing left but your sweetness. And you don't feel so sweet then.
Daddy was an alcoholic. So was his dad and mother. And probably one or more of their parents. He quit drinking around 1996 when he was faced with either getting a liver transplant or dying. He's remarked that if faced with the decision again, he'd choose to die. The fact he was a raging, and I mean the worst, alcoholic was something I did my best to hide all growing up. My mother, God bless her, dealt with it, and tried to get him sober but had no success. I don't know how she put up with some of the stunts he pulled because of booze. I'm positive she would have eventually left him had she not gotten cancer. And no one would have blamed her.
As I mentioned in the Grandaddy chapter, money was omnipresent in my life, except at home. My best friend's dad was senior VP of a Fortune 500 company, and came from some seriously old money locally. So my drunk dad who never worked an honest day in his life as far as I know wasn't quite measuring up. Creme de la creme of society is who I ran with, but felt like a fraud because of my home life. Which really had to do with just my dad. My mother hung with the ladies from my little private school and the la-de-da annoying women, who later would reappear in my life, from church and the club.
Stories abound of my dad's drunk stupidity, along with sober stupidity as rare as that was. My grandfather warned my mother he would kill her somehow if they married. And honestly, I'm not convinced some of the open chemicals my dad kept everywhere in his garages didn't have something to do with mama getting cancer. It isn't a far-fetched theory. He almost killed me several times. He left a broken and exposed extension cord on a wet concrete floor where I played barefoot. Guess who picked it up and got 220 volts through them? And the time he passed out at the wheel speeding down the highway and only came to when he veered off the road towards a forest? Or when after drinking a case of beer took me canoeing down the Flint river, complete with rapids and rocks? Of course we flipped and I just left his drunk-ass there, which he still holds resentment towards me for. Which reminds me of the time he and his drunk idiot friends built a bamboo raft. Worked on it for months, to enter a local raft race down a river. The thing fell apart, sank, they lost all their stuff, nearly drowned everyone, and that was just another typical day.
That sort of thing was fun though compared to some of the humiliation that his drinking caused me. Particularly during my teen years when I was trying to date girls. It's still amazing I was able to pull off going out with such amazing females. Thank my grandfather, once again.
My dad was the little boy and a skirt-tugging shy boy. Same as Aunt Penny, who Grandmama was pregnanat with when SK Musgrove died. I've asked my dad how SK died and his reply was that "he got his brains splattered all over the road." I didn't ask more, but don't know what truly happened. I heard he and a friend were going hunting early one morning and got into a wreck with a logging truck in the dense fog. The logs rolled off the truck. I don't know how much or what of that is true, and wonder if alcohol was a factor. Both of them were killed in the accident, leaving Grandmama a widow with a one year old, two year old and pregnant with a third and living in the 1940's Southern Georgia. My daddy was born in Macon Georgia on Feb. 22 1945. Home of the Allman Brothers.
He was totally spoiled growing up and got everything he wanted. Corvettes aplenty, which he'd wreck. His mother, Virginia, remarried several times after SK died, and married a wealthy banker, who happened to be Jewish. That made my dad hate Jews and talk poorly of them my whole life. The only group as a whole ,other than successful white men, that he ever seemed to hate.
She also remarried a guy named Johnny Johnson. So I knew her as Virginia Johnson my whole life. I never liked him because he was a gruff, pomade-pompadour-wearing, homemade tattooed Navy man who left Playboys laying around when we'd visit. With my Grandmother and me and my mother and everyone there. And he cussed, which was a stupidly unspoken rule in the family. He was a recovering alcoholic as was she, and they met at AA. Normally that doesn't work, but she seemed happy. He spent ALL her money though, on wasteful junk like cars and poor real estate investments. Shame. I have a lot of fairly worthless and tacky trinkets from her travels around the world which you will inherit.
His mother was my favorite by far. She was into kids, a great cook a sportman(she hunted dove and quail and caught cleaned and cooked fish, wrung chickens' necks and was pretty much a frontierswoman) and dripping southern sweetness. She ended up getting dementia/alzheimers and going to Montgomery, where she died i a nursing home near Penny and Casey, my aunt and your mother respectively, lived.
So, back to pater. Here's his resume: Albany High School; Georgia State(a couple of classes); US Army - slick sleeve private; Phillips 66 gas pumper; UPS deliveryman; Collections Agent; Salesman for Union Special; Disability.
While I was alive, he worked for Union Special as a salesman for industrial sewing machine equipment. It was a job he had just gotten after I was born, and it required us to relocate to Chicago for a brief but miserable while before moving to Lexington, SC. His uncle was the President, and gave it to him. It required getting drunk a lot and driving around to hotels, and that was about it. Perfect for him and most of the other guys that had that job there and wondered why the company wasn't doing better financially. Hint: the guys hired to bring in the revenue are getting hammered at strip clubs and eating steak on the company dime. That job was one that couldn't last forever, if one were paying attention to technology and politics.
He only had that job for a few years but talks about it like he was a career man there. I never understood it. I worked longer than that at companies, and I've jumped around a lot. Same with his brief experience in the Army 50 years ago. It seems to be all he has so he's latched onto those memories as good, somehow. The Vietnam War. Good times, indeed. He wants to go back. He won't.
He seemed to be in a state of arrested development from his teen years when he got back from Viet Nam. Mama actually left him before they got married according to my aunt Roz, but came back for an unknown reason. It wasn't because she was pregnant, either. I did the math. But he never grew up. And never took anything seriously, such as his marriage or raising his child.
When Bill Clinton, who I'm sure now he voted for, signed NAFTA, his job, whatever it was, was done. Textile plants across the south closed and moved to Mexico, so he was no longer in lukewarm demand. Fortunately for him that coincided with impending liver failure. He insists the doctors were wrong and he didn't need it, but a) it's a little late and 2) saying something beforehand would have been better, if he believes that. Which I don't think he does. An issue with him is that he has "cried wolf" aka lied so many times, you don't know when to take him seriously. So you just don't.
So, job with Union Special fading fast, with disproportiantely generous severance packages given out. Of course, he complains. Problem is, what to do for $? No skills, no desire to work, and no friends to help. Hello disability. So he rode that out until Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid. Another Baby Boomer success story.
When I was about 4 or 5 he was out drinking and racing motorcycles through the woods "practicing" for an Enduro, which is a type of motorcross race. He hit a tree, the handlebar went through his kneecap, and the doctors said he'd never walk without a cane nor climb stairs again. He did both of course after nearly killing himself, mutilating himself instead, and knocking himself out of commission for a LOOOOONG time. This is when he claims he became an alcoholic, but there's evidence it began in his early 20's or so.
I remember when he came through the door in a wheelchair with his torn up blood-stained jeans. He hit the couch, and stayed there for months. I also have been laid up like that so I can empathize. But I used that opportunity to learn and be productive, not become an alcoholic. I would do that later in my own way, and never see it coming.
This was the house where I got my face bitten off by a dog on his watch, discovered a huge stash of porn in the trunk of one of his junky old cars which was the first time I had seen anything like that, was given several motorcycles before 8 years old, planted a sycamore tree which is still there and huge, buried a time capsule in the back yard, learned some boys weren't circumcised but not why, played doctor with a girl, caught my first fish, got my first dog Scratchy, saw a little dog die which was heavy, was in a wreck, was introduced to Halloween, and where I have my most consistent memories as kid. I went to college at USC in Columbia, which is about 10 miles from the house where we lived. During runs for the law firm, when I would have to go out to Lexington, I'd go by the old house. It's still there, and everything in that neighborhood (Sycamore Acres) looks exactly the same, except the Sycamore tree we planted is bigger and our well is gone. I believe I remember hearing my parents paid $19k for that house. Tiny house, but giant yard. I had a dirt track in the back, and forts with playground toys. That mysteriously disappeared one day. That was right after I nearly blinded myself for the second time. This time with a wire coat hanger I had untwisted and was spinning around. I spun it right across my cornea. I can still see a scar when I close my eyes. The first time was when I crawled under a table when a toddler I looked up, right into a nail that was jutting out underneath. Right next to my right eye. Stuff like that happened a lot. I used to thnk ti was because boys are rougher. But coincidentally, every time I was hurt in a major way, whether electrocuted or brained with a railroad tie, my dad was on watch. I even remember him shaving my head on the bathroom sink after bashingit open on the aforementioned RR tie. He'd attached a porch swing to it and placed it atop the supports, but didn't secure it to them in any way. A total boobytrap. Perfect for a little child to kill himself with, or at least brain damage. And the verdict's still out on that.
My mother found out she had leukemia when I was about 10 or 11. She fought it for a little over 3 years and died in the early Summer of 1983 when I had just turned 14. So those were some years that were very different than most kids. I spent a lot of time alone taking care of myself. I walked to and from school a lot and stayed with friends of the family, the Brice's and the Hinson's, while my mother was at Johns Hopkins being treated. My father was either up there with her or off "working." Which I later learned was off in Atlanta going to strip clubs and drinking with his work buddies and hanging out in rural Southern motels drinking.
I learned a lot during those years, like how to take care of myself and not be afraid of things in my imagination. I was still young enough to be afraid of the unknown, which was a lot. Noises, shadows, unexplained bumps in the night when I was laying in bed alone in an empty house. We lived sort of out in the sticks, tucked away in the woods, not near anything I'd call sanctuary. I had an overactive imagination, which didn't help. And some friends who loved to play pranks on me, which also didn't help. But I still keep in touch with my friends from those days.
I was left some money, and did my own laundry and dishes, and got myself up, fed and to school each morning, played sports afterward, and walked home, did my homework, fed myself, and put myself to bed each night. We had an IGA grocery store, which was very humble by today's standards, about 2 miles from the house. I've seen convenience stores with more groceries these days. I could ride my bike there for food, and when I was 14 I was allowed to drive my mother's green VW Rabbit, which would eventually be my first car, there and back when needed. I was really on my own in life from that point on, since after my mother died I didn't get much help from my father for anything. He was busy staying drunk or going out of town or courting my uncle's ex-wife, only to marry her and bring her and my cousin to come to live with us in total dysfunction and social humiliation beset on me. Explaining to my friends, parents of my friends, teachers and gossipy women in town why my father married my aunt and my cousin was now my stepsister was just loads of fun for a teenager, who already felt as awkward as possible.
I spent some time with my Aunt Roz and grandfather on vacations from school and eventually went off to boarding school in Virginia, thank goodness. But that only showed me what an abysmal place my home was. Life and fun died in that house when my mother did. What remained was an embarrassment, chaos, ennui, and stepping into the doorway was like stepping into a dark, dusty, messy, smelly vacuum. Nothing seemed clean. Open cans of cat food on the dining room table. Dirty water bowls on Pee-pee pads on the floor. Reminiscent of Buffalo Bill's charming little house in The Silence of the Lambs. Nothing was kept up, and it turned into a place to store car parts and tools and "junk" on metal rack shelves he'd bought from Sam's club. The little dog my father adopted was allowed to urinate wherever it pleased, so the whole house smelled like ammonia with cheap fragrance spray to try and cover it up along with WD-40 and oil and rusty metal. But it didn't it just compounded the stench. Rolled up dirty rugs hid in every room. I actually got on my hands and knees and helped him pull up all the carpet in the biggest room, which was carpet and foam that was 20 years old and saturated with stink.
The house that my mother carefully decorated with antiques she'd found and accumulated over time had been replaced and taken over by salvage from a run-down garage.
The yard, which once was a verdant zoysia-carpeted lot that could compete with any golf course had been cleared of all the pesky, once beautiful old trees and replaced with rusted out hulls of junky cars with no wheels or hoods and muddy tire tracks running from the road into the back yard. A new roadway he'd made from towing cars to and from the back yard where he's built a huge metal shed and aluminum carports to cover his various unfinished projects. A museum of failure. A makeshift 12-foot fence had been placed along the sides of the house to deter my father's longtime girlfriend's son from stealing anything else from him to pawn for drug money. He'd already stolen his nickel-plated .357 magnum, money and a list of valuables that my father never even began to bother to recover.
So for about one more year I stayed in SC, and played my sports and did my homework and looked forward to going to Virginia. There was one night I remember well.
I had a basketball game on a Friday night. A home game at the private school that was about a mile from my home. The game finished up about 10:30 and everyone headed home. The people in the audience, which didn't include my dad, the cheerleaders, the other team, my teammates, the coach, the people that ran the snack shop, and all that was left was me and the Headmistress. The lights in the gym had been cut off and she was locking the gym up while I waited on my father to pick me up. Since he wasn't there, she said she'd drive me home. We pulled up into the driveway, with the headlights shining into the den window across my father, passed out in front of the tv, with nothing but static on. Head in his chest. My headmistress walked me to the door, and I knocked on it because it was locked. No movement. I banged on it harder. Nothing. I had to break the door down in front of my school headmistress to get into my own house because my dad not only didn't come to my game, he got so drunk that he couldn't come to pick me up or answer the door when I had to be driven home by my school's headmistress. She left, and fortunately, it was a weekend so I didn't have to face her the next day at school. That was just one of many such humiliations I would face during my adolescence and young adulthood.
I somehow made it to the next Fall, and my dad drove me up to Woodberry Forest where I would begin my real learning. It was the last time he would come onto that campus until my graduation day. He never came to visit me once during those years I was growing up away from home. Just as well, in retrospect. When he came to my graduation, we were seated next to the father of a good friend of mine from SC, Craig Wall His dad was there to give the keynote address, and was seated next to my dad, who probably didn't know what a keynote was. Craig's dad had amassed more land in SC than the SC government and was one of the most powerful men in the state. By comparison, the man who sat next to him had amassed more nothing than no one and didn't know how to tie a necktie by himself.
When should you cut someone a break? Always? No matter what? Is that realistic or healthy? According to everyone who didn't have to live such a life, yes. Is that being empathetic to me or him? I don't want pity, because I had it good. I went to one of the most elite prep schools in the country. I dated one of the most incredible girls during that time. Despite that scenario, I had a great teenage life. I don't know what could have made it better except my dreary, tragic home life that was omnipresent.
Here's another childhood memory that I just recalled: coming into the kitchen to see my dad slumped over the kitchen sink eating a can of dog food, drunk. Not even the good stuff like Alpo, either. My role model. I don't even know what we were doing with that in the house, because I don't recall feeding it to our dog. So, any respect for was pretty much out the door. And even when I forgave him for things like forgetting to get me from my basketball game, which he didn't attend and lived a mile from the school, he'd blow it again time and time again by leaving me on the side of the road in the middle of the night, or any number of dysfunctional memories I could recite.
My dad was distant from my mother who always wanted more affection. Regrettably, I have the same affliction. Females, including Casey, always want more from me emotionally. I can cite my parents relationship as Exhibit A and my grandparents' as Exhibit B. They hated each other by the time it was all said and done, but stayed together their whole lives. At least I had a good examples in loyalty and commitment and sticking by someone's side through more thin than thick. Although my Grandfather's bank accounts helped in their case. I have no idea what kept my mother around except a hidden masochist trait or concern for me. I woudl have been a cloud of dust time after time if I were my mother. And even as a young man/teen, I was foaming at the mouth to get out of there. I escaped every chance I got, which was quite a bit. My dad was lenient, to say the least. I got do largely what I wanted, and had the money to always do it. For the funding, I appreciate the generosity and selflessness he showed. He was always there, usually, with the money, and a loan was actually surrounding the end of our relationship. He wanted a small personal load repaid right before I was to graduate from grad school. Most people are never as broke as they are that day, so it wasn't the best timing to be making a margin call. We never agreed to any terms, which was the error.
I explained I'd pay it back ASAP, and he said that wasn't soon enough and wouln't stop saying it. I explained he couldn't get blood from a turnip and to be patient. I cuold repay him very soon. He persisted in wanting me to repay him then, immediately. I didn't have the money, or really want to sell my possessions to get it when we never agreed on terms. The refusal to listen to reality was too much. It was a raw glimpse of the last 40+ years of my life with him, and I realized he had never embraced reality. I was talking to a child.
That wasn't problematic. What is the core issue is that he is so negative, he's dangerous for me to be around, as well as my family. Literally and figuratively dangerous. He's almost killed his own family more than once as I mentioned. His negative attitude is too much and it's poison to others, especially other alcoholics. Doctors have told me not to hang around people exactly like him. Schadenfreude galore. Writing him off was one of the hardest things I've had to do, imaginably, but I felt like a 10,00 lb weight had been lifted. He had been becoming a heavier dead weight for a while, and that was getting to be too much for anyone to bear, including Penny and Roger, who are incredibly patient and generous people. People he called "Jesus freaks" my whole life.
Since my dad was looking at a life of poverty and hardship thanks to, well...all his life decisions, Penny and Roger, the people he avoided my whole life and called some pretty ugly things, offered to build a house for him to live in on their property and take care of him as he ages. And pay to move him and all his things, and sell his house and any cars and crap he's amassed on the property. He didn't even say "thank you." He didn't even say no. He just wiggled out of the whole thing.
My dad seemed to always be jealous of Roger's success and feel he earned his money unfairly and at least was lucky in life. Time and time again, apparently. He also was afraid to be around people as spiritual as the are. He made fun of him, as if, and refused to have anything to do with him until my dad finally stopped drinking and I guess felt more comfortable showing his face. Whenever my dad was around the "Albany crowd" all they can talk about with him is what a screw-up he was growing up. As if that changed at some point. Roger and Penny were there driving him around after he had his hip replacement in Atlanta, GA, liver transplant in Charlottesville VA, and every other time in his life he could count on a family member to save his ass. They've always been there. When he needed money to buy that stupid house in Montgomery, another disaster in every measurable way, they arranged the financing for him.