Tuesday, February 7, 2017

My Father

I made a post a few days ago that did not showcase my father in a good light.   While I regret that, I was telling the truth about one side of his personality. My father had several sides to his nature.  Below is an excerpt from the autobiography I am in the process of writing.

                                       BEFORE THEY  END UP ON A TEAR STAINED PAGE SOMEWHERE

My father was a handsome man.  He was short but lean.  He had a full head of wavy Brown hair and a thick beard.  He had to shave twice in one day if he was going out in the evening. He believed in dressing well and never left home without shined shoes.  While he was not a big drinker he had perfected the art of acting drunk and could be the life of any party.  Dad liked people and people liked him.

My father was also a decent poet.  When we had company, he would get up and recite half a dozen for the guest.  As a child, I loved joining the group on the floor that would gather around him. Dad would beam with the adulation.  Without much prompting he would begin to sing from a large repertoire of silly songs like “Old MacDonald Had a Ford”, “The Wheels on the Bus” or “The Ants Go Marching In” and he would soon have the whole room involved and laughter was everywhere.  Unfortunately, Dad never wrote down his poems.  When Dad began to age, one of my brothers recorded as many of his works as he could get him to recite.  But, by that time Dad had already begun to show early signs of Alzheimer’s and most of his poems were lost forever.

My father was also a wonderful dancer.  As a young man, Dad and his brother Robert had taken lessons at Arthur Murray’s dance studio in St. Louis hoping to become more popular with the girls that lined the wall at the local dances.  Both Dad and his brother were naturals when it came to waltzing the ladies around the dance floor.  There has been many a family wedding reception when all the guests would back off and circle the floor to watch one or both of them strut their stuff.  The ladies lined up to be their dance partner. 

I was the only child in the family that did not inherit some of my Dad’s talents.  Among my twelve siblings there are quite a few with beautiful singing voices, several are poets, there are a few artists and all can dance.  I have none of those skills.  Neither does my mother.  I noticed early on that when we attended a barn dance or wedding reception my mother became a wallflower. The only times I remember my father making an effort to dance with my mother was when the party was in celebration of one of their milestone anniversaries or her birthday.                                                                                                                                              

My father loved attention.  He was very generous, even to the point of our having to do without because he didn’t stop to think before making some contribution. Being generous brought him the attention he lived for. I believe that is why he volunteered for every organization or event that came along.  I have to give my Dad credit, he had a talent for persuading people to get things done; provided he did not have to do much of the work and there was some reward in it for him.  He was always telling my mother it was good for business. We never knew when his volunteerism would lead to his next big deal.

Dad was always making deals.  Everything from just trading up a yard sale find, to real estate, to the junk shops and antique stores he opened.   I think that is why he was so successful once he decided to become an auctioneer.

My father did have his dark side, which included a sharp tongue and quick temper.  He also used way too much profanity.  But, no matter how much mom complained about his use of the term “God Dammit” he never expunged it from his vocabulary.  He did not like being crossed and his word was law.  He had a habit of striking out without thinking.  I don’t mean our father physically abused us, because he did not.   Corporal punishment always came from our mother.  Dad would on rare occasions spank one of us but verbal abuse was Dad’s way.

When angered, Dad would have these blind rages and strike out at anything and everything in his path. He was known to throw anything he could touch from the kitchen chairs to the butcher knife lying on the table.  He once took a golf club and broke every light fixture in the house.  Another time he used a hula-hoop to destroy most of our living quarters.  He waved the hula-hoop like a huge fly swatter breaking lamps; knocking over things and raking everything off every surface he could reach leaving piles of rubble in his wake. 

 When I got my first full-time job after high school I was forced to move into a tiny sleeping room in town because it was the only way I could get to work on time each day. I didn’t drive and couldn’t find a ride in the neighborhood.  I still came home each weekend to work the auction.  One weekend I learned that Dad had gotten into one of his rages because one of my brothers had failed to clean the basement.  My father's answer to that affront was to start a bonfire fueled by everything stored in the basement.

I heard several explanations as to what had set him off and to this day do not know which is the correct version.  I do know that everything I owned was boxed up and stored in one corner of the basement and every bit of it was destroyed in that fire.  I lost every bit of my youth in that fire including all my high school yearbooks, keepsakes, saved letters, gifts and most of my clothing.   I had been forced to move it all to the basement because one of my sisters was moving into my side of the bedroom I shared with another sister and my stuff had to be taken out of her way.  I couldn’t take it with me to my tiny sleeping room so it was supposed to be safe in the basement where I could get to what I needed.  All of it was gone, in one raging blaze.      
 Over the years, countless dollars were spent to repair all the damage my father inflicted in a fit of rage. Our house always had some visible damage that was explained to visitors as a remodel in progress or some fluke accident.  

Dad was often remorseful, but he never apologized to any of us for his actions when angry.  He had a long memory, carried grudges and always found a way to get even. I have seen my Dad bad mouth or back stab someone if it settled what he considered an old score or gave him an advantage in some deal.   In business, my Dad maintained his word was his bond, but he had no problem breaking promises where his family was concerned. I learned, from an early age, to never trust anything my father said to me. Dad was inclined to quickly change his mind or be caught up by some opportunity which would supersede his promise.  I admit these traits were much worse when he was younger.  As my father aged, he learned to control some of his bad habits and saw the futility of others.   But, as children, the first five of us learned the importance of reading the signs and making ourselves scarce when needed.  Failure to do so, along with misbehaving, could result in some nasty consequences.  The more successful my father became in his deal making and glad-handing, the less time he spent at home.  While that was a good thing for us kids, it made my mother’s life far more difficult.  

Unfortunately, Dad dropped out of school in the eighth grade and never had enough education or polish to be able to mix easily with the kind of people he wanted to emulate.  Dad was far from stupid and he was always learning. He made sure to stay up to date on politics, sports and current events.  He was never without a newspaper even during our poorest days, but I never saw him read a book.  There were nights when he would be at the kitchen table for hours struggling to complete the paper work his latest real estate deal or business required.  By the time I was in high school Dad realized I had a good head for figures and detail work. Soon, I was doing all his bookkeeping. 
My father never talked about his family.  Actually, he seldom talked about his life before joining the navy.  It was as if he never lived before enlisting.  As luck, would have it, my father’s brother wrote his autobiography as a Christmas gift for his children in 2004. My mother was given a copy and I copied hers.   

 According to my Uncle’s book, my father was known as the family prankster.  He was always teasing his sisters and playing tricks on his family. Dad had developed a reputation while in school for being a horse trader.  He was able to take a small item and continue trading for something a little more valuable until he had increased the value considerably. He hated school and often skipped classes for the freedom of the woods where he hunted small game. Dad finally dropped out of school in the eighth grade to work on the family farm.  Dad hated manual labor and wanted more excitement than working on the farm so he left for St. Louis in 1941. A few months later the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and Dad enlisted in the Navy.


  1. This was a good picture of your father! He was what he was. No need to apologize to your readers for him! I see my oldest brother among your words! But he has mellowed much with age!

  2. You are such a skillful writer ... 'so glad to learn you're penning your autobiography! Hoping you'll continue telling your father's tale (post-enlistment) and perhaps, how your parents met!

    BTW - At any function, I'm normally the wallflower - on purpose. Tom's an uninhibited dancer, but I'm far too self-conscious.