Occasionally, without warning, the 2)drunken 3)wreckage of my father would 4)wash up on our doorstep, late at night, stammering, laughing, 5)reeking of 6)booze. Bang! Bang! Bang! Beating on the door, pleading to my mother to open it.
He was on his way home from drinking, gambling, or some combination thereof, 7)squandering money that we could have used and wasting time that we desperately needed.
It was the late-1970s. My parents were separated. My mother was now raising a 8)gaggle of boys on her own. She was a newly minted schoolteacher. He was a 9)juke-joint musician-turned-construction worker.
He 10)spouted off about what he planned to do for us, buy for us. In fact, he had no intention of doing anything. The one man who was supposed to be 11)genetically 12)programmed to love us, in fact, lacked the understanding of what it truly meant to love a child—or to hurt one.
To him, this was a harmless game that kept us excited and begging. In fact, it was a cruel, 13)corrosive 14)deception that subtly and unfairly shifted the 15)onus of his lack of emotional and financial investment from him to us. I lost faith in his words and in him. I wanted to stop caring, but I couldn’t.
Maybe it was his own complicated relationship to his father and his father’s family that rendered him cold. Maybe it was the pain and guilt associated with a life of misfortune. Who knows. Whatever it was, it stole him from us, and particularly from me.
While my brothers talked 16)ad nauseam about breaking and fixing things, I spent many of my evenings reading and wondering. My favorite books were a set of 17)encyclopedias given by my uncle. They allowed me to explore the world beyond my world, to travel without leaving, to dream dreams greater than my life would otherwise have supported.
But losing myself in my own mind also meant that I was completely lost to my father.
He could relate to my brothers’ 18)tactile approaches to the world but not to my 19)cerebral one. Not understanding me, he simply ignored me—not just emotionally, but physically as well. Never once did he hug me, never once a pat on the back or a hand on the shoulder or a 20)tousling of the hair.
My best memories of him were from his 21)episodic attempts at engagement.
During the longest of these episodes, once every month or two, he would come pick us up and drive us down the 22)interstate to Trucker’s Paradise, a 23)seedy, smoke-filled, truck stop with gas pumps, a convenience store, a small dining area and a game room through a door in the back.
My dad gave each of us a handful of 24)quarters, and we played until they were gone. He sat up front in the dining area, drinking coffee and 25)being particular about the restaurant’s 26)measly 27)offerings.
I loved these days. To me, Trucker’s Paradise was paradise. The quarters and the games were fun but easily forgotten. It was the presence of my father that was most treasured. But, of course, these trips were short-lived. And so it was. Every so often he would make some sort of effort, but every time it wouldn’t last.
It wasn’t until I was much older that I would find something that I would be able to 28)cling to as evidence of my father’s love.
When the 29)Commodore 64 personal computer 30)debuted, I convinced myself that I had to have it even though its price was out of my mother’s range. So I decided to earn the money myself. I 31)mowed every yard I could find that summer for a few dollars each, yet it still wasn’t enough. So my dad agreed to help me 32)raise the rest of the money by driving me to one of the watermelon farms south of town, loading up his truck with 33)wholesale melons and driving me around to sell them.
He came for me before 34)daybreak. We made 35)small talk, but it didn’t matter. The fact that he was talking to me was all that mattered. I was a teenager by then, but this was the first time that I had ever spent time alone with him. He laughed and repeatedly introduced me as “my boy,” a phrase he relayed with a 36)palpable sense of pride. It was one of the best days of my life.
Although he had never told me that he loved me, I would cling to that day as the greatest evidence of that fact. He had never intended me any wrong. He just didn’t know how to love me right. He wasn’t a mean man.
So I took these 37)random episodes and clung to them like a thing most precious, 38)squirreling them away for the long 39)stretches of coldness when a warm memory would prove most useful.
It just goes to show that no matter how 40)estranged the father, no matter how deep the damage, no matter how 41)shattered the bond, there is still time, still space, still a need for even the smallest bit of evidence of a father’s love.