Now in our ninth calendar year!|
PCR #442 (Vol. 9, No. 37) This edition is for the week of September 8--14, 2008.
Hello gang! Memories of my father overwhelm the Rant. Shall we begin?
I've had two weeks now to reflect on the passing of my father and the relationship we had. My father was a tough man to love, both for me and his wives. Yes, plural. All in all my dad was married five times. I guess the positive thing here is that he never had trouble getting a date. My father and his first wife, Marjorie, adopted me at the age of 16 months in Cleveland, Ohio. When I got older I would often ask questions about the adoption and my father would always remind me that I was special because he had chosen me to be his son. As I mentioned in last week's film column, one of my great childhood memories consisted of spending an evening at the drive-in. Not for the movies, though they were always enjoyable, but for the time before the films started. We'd find our parking spot and then head down to the playground in front of the screen. Though drive-ins still exist I don't know if playgrounds in front of the screen do. Too much liability. Usually we'd take our baseball mitts and have a catch. A special thing between a father and a son. I didn't realize this until my own son and I started tossing a baseball around when he was young. And I still enjoy it. This summer I played on my son's men's league baseball team and he and I always warm up together before the game, tossing the ball between us. This past weekend the smell of the grass and the sound of leather popping brought back memories that washed over me like a soothing shower. One day my son will toss a ball around with his kids and I hope he smiles the same way I do today. Baseball is an important ritual for fathers and sons, one that never changes. As a boy my dad would come home after work and take me to the local playground to hit me fly balls. As a dad I did the same with my son. My dad played baseball into his mid-20s...second base. It was something he loved and I'm glad he shared that passion with me.
Having grown up a child of the Depression (in fact he was born the same week President Roosevelt declared a "bank holiday," closing the nation's banks for four days) my dad often associated being tough with growing up. He was also raised in a period where "spare the rod/spoil the child" was a highly held belief. Not that he was a monster, but the belt hanging in the closet was always a reminder to be good. Of course, sometimes there were worse things then the belt. When I was 7 or 8 a woman in our neighborhood passed away. It was summer and I had a wonderful babysitter named Mrs.Dillon. She had a daughter in her mid-teens and together we decided that we would go door to door and solicit donations for flowers for the deceased. After a few blocks we had managed to raise over $10.00, a fortune to kids in those days. Unfortunately, when we got home we decided that, since the woman was dead and all, she really didn't need flowers. So instead we split our proceeds. I headed up the road to our local Giant Tiger store (Cleveland's local favorite) and purchased a couple of Johnny Lightning cars and some assorted goodies. When my dad came home he was naturally curious as to why I was playing with such nice new toys. When I told him (eventually) what we had done he took me and my cars back to the store and had me confess my sins to the store manager, who proceeded to give me my money back. Then, horror upon horror, he marched me through the neighborhood, canvassing each house. When we got to a person that had donated money for the "flowers" my dad made me tell them what I had done with the money and then give them back whatever they had given. As we approached the last house I was horrified to see a police car in the driveway. "Hope he doesn't put you in jail," my dad commented as we knocked on the front door. Thankfully he didn't but later that night in bed I was wishing he had. The embarrassment was worse then any whipping I could have gotten and the lesson learned stays with me today.
My dad started out his career working in my grandfather's print shop. He eventually joined the newspaper union and got a job in the composing room of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. His job was to set the type to print the paper while at the same time copywriting what was written to make sure it was accurate. As the years progressed and we moved around the country he came to work for other papers including the Cleveland Press, Toledo Blade, Seattle Post Intelligencer and the Chicago Tribune. It was while we lived in Chicago that he left the newspaper business and went into construction. In 1968 he had Marjorie divorced and he went on to meet, and marry, my mother Rose. There was a 13 year difference in their ages only noticeable by the fact that my dad's hair began to turn gray in his late 20s. One day my mom and I drove into the city to pick dad up from work. My mother was a beautiful blonde and when we pulled up at the job sight she received a few good natured whistles. As my dad walked toward us one of his fellow workers yelled out, "Hey, Tony, why don't you let your daughter drive?" Ouch! On the way home, we stopped at the local drug store and that night began the ritual of my dad dying his hair black, something he did for many years.
In 1975 my folks separated and my dad and I moved to Tampa. My dad was shocked by the low cost of living and, even more so, by the low wages being offered for construction work. So, rather then work for $12.00 an hour less then he was making in Chicago he started his own company, Quality Home Repair, a company he ran for almost 30 years.
I would not be telling the whole truth here if I leave you, the reader, with the idea that my father was a saint. He wasn't. He had his run ins with other people, as all of us do. And he drank. Heavily. I'm sure his drinking is why he lost five wives and countless girlfriends. I know that it eventually drove a wedge between us. As nice as he was sober, he became a totally different person with a bottle of vodka in front of him. As I became an adult and moved away I would often get a phone call in the middle of the night from him, intoxicated, chastising me for some slight of the past. Over the years it began to really wear on me. In 2001 my father was hospitalized and I returned to Florida to be with him. I stayed with him until he recovered and returned to Kansas. Not two days later he called me, drunk, and accused me of stealing his prized camera (I should point out here that my dad loved photography and owned a very nice "box" camera -- professional quality). Of course, I hadn't and when he finally hung up I sat down and wrote him a letter. He needed to stop drinking or he would lose everyone who loved him. He took this letter as an attack on his character and, like children, we held a grudge for almost five years.
As I mentioned in the beginning, I was adopted. I had occasionally questioned finding my birth family, curious to see where I came from. My dad took this suggestion as a personal attack...as if I didn't think he was a good enough father. Obviously this wasn't the case but it was how he felt. When I did track down my birth family in 2006, I felt he deserved to know. After all of our years of silence I wasn't sure how he would take the news. To my surprise he seemed fine with it and our conversation took on a life of its own. When we said goodbye there seemed to be a new connection, one that I had longed for. For the next two years we not only renewed our relationship but, more importantly to me, our friendship. We would talk often, sometimes about the past but mostly about the future. I remember how he asked me about my 10 new brothers and sisters and how he seemed genuinely happy that I had found them. I also remember him weeping with emotion when I told him that my birth parents were named Tony and Rose, just like my adoptive parents. The last two years of his life we were father and son again, sharing ideas and plans for the future. He was a prolific writer of poetry and when I boxed up his papers I found that he had written at least two novels. I'm still going through his writings and next week I will publish a couple of his poems in his honor. And if Matt doesn't tell the "Toga Party" story, I'll throw it in for good measure.
AND THE OSCAR FOR 1997 SHOULD HAVE GONE TO...Next week, the ship they said couldn't sink sails into Oscar history!
Well, that's all for now. Have a great week. See ya!
"Mike's Rant" is ©2008 by Michael A. Smith. Webpage design and all graphics herein are creations of Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2008 by Nolan B. Canova.