I’m a writer.
As writers go I’m not very emotional. I do not have gigantic mirths nor gigantic melancholies. I do not battle depression. I am very even-keeled and stable almost to the point of being a bit emotionless.
But the holidays occasionally make me a bit maudlin.
In this, my final Magical Words post for 2013 I’m going to share some of that. This is an intensely personal post that really has nothing to do with the season. It’s been written for a while and I have pecked at it whenever I feel the need. But it relates to my current WIP which is not genre at all, but a literaryly-minded mainstream book. (It’s all very new so no news on it other than I’m near 10k in and it feels really special)
This is your last warning though: from here on out it might be a bit sad.
MY DAD NEVER REALLY UNDERSTOOD ME.
Not truly, not in any way that really matters. It doesn’t make him a shitty dad or me a shitty kid, it’s just kinda the way it all worked out. We had almost nothing in common from the time I began making my own personality until the day he died.
He was a mechanic, a grease monkey, a wrench turner. He worked with his hands and lived, what looked like to me, the simple life of a quiet man. His own dad up and died on a wife and six kids (I don’t know what from and it doesn’t matter to the story at hand) the point is my Dad had to quit school and go to work before he was a teenager. His father’s death meant he became the man of the house and, by God, that was just the way it was back then in pissant, rural Alabama. To keep a roof over the heads of his widowed mother and a passel of tow-headed siblings he hustled and jived his way into turning wrenches.
He took up smoking menthols about the same time.
One gave him a life, the other took it away.
But we’ll get to that.
My Dad worked his way to manhood and out of Alabama. Somewhere along the way he started wearing his hair slicked back in a Conway Twitty-styled pseudo-pompadour, and if you don’t know who that is then shame on you but it doesn’t matter to the story.
Stay with me, there is a point to all this. Maybe.
Somewhere along the way he met my Mom and slick talked her into marrying him. Not long after I was born and then a little later my brother.
My Dad listened to country music, hunted, fished, watched some TV, drank coffee from waking until bed, and worked. He worked his ass off. He was a great mechanic, he could listen to a car run and tell you immediately what was wrong with it. No diagnostic machine, no 280 point checklist, you had a problem just let him sit in your running car for one minute, maybe drive it around the block, and he’d get out and tell you what needed to be fixed. He honed his ear and his mind to do this across all makes and models of cars.
It was impressive to watch, even to a kid like me who couldn’t give a rat’s bare ass about cars. He didn’t do it because he wanted to though. He did it to keep a secret.
My Dad could barely read and write.
He could sign his name and maybe read street signs; just enough to get by. If you gave him a book, he would struggle to just read the title. There’s this thing mechanics have to do when they work for a dealership like my Dad did, it’s called Advance Training. Once a quarter or so, the manufacturer would call for a group of mechanics from the dealerships to go and sit in training on the new improvements made to upcoming models. This is the time cars made a leap in using electronics for many functions that once were mechanical. The manufacturers were real assholes about this training, if you didn’t pass the training class then you were ‘pulled from the floor’.
Translate that as ‘your ass was fired’.
My Dad needed his job. He had a mortgage and a family. Advanced Training came with three-inch binders full of information, pages and pages of instructions and diagrams and information on how the new advancements in vehicular technology worked.
As far as my Dad was concerned it could have all been written in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. He couldn’t read a damn word of it. Instead he listened and remembered everything the instructors taught, transcribing all that information on the walls of his mind to be retrieved later.
Now that you have a picture of him step sideways and realize that dealing with an artistic son who always had his nose stuck in a book was a few steps beyond his comfort zone. He never quite knew what to do with me as a kid and by the time I was an adult we could have been born on different continents and had more in common. It never caused problems between us, no hateful words or angry declarations of rebellion or clashes of will. No, it simply fostered a fuzzy disconnection between us where we could see that we were tied by genetics but not by substance, him on one side of a dark glass I could barely see through.
I loved my Dad. I know he loved me.
Hell, I even know he was proud of me and still would be today if he hadn’t caught the cancer.
It set up in his lungs thanks to the 3 packs of Kools he sucked down daily. He never quit but he did cut back . . . he was down to a pack and a half on the day he died.
One of my Dad’s favorite stories to tell was of his bookworm son.
As he told it I was a late four, maybe an early five years old. We were in the car going somewhere and had stopped for gas. Now gas stations were not the same when I was growing up as they are now. Now they’re sterile links in a chain, crammed full of disposable crap that all blends together in a homogenized line of cheap doodads and wasted money.
When I was a child gas stations were family-owned oasis’s of wonder. They were wonderlands of terrific stuff, most of it quality made, and each store had its own mix and flavor. They not only had snacks and drinks they also carried toys, gadgets, and comic books, oh Lord every gas station had its own selection of comic books. These four-color wonders where what caught my young eye, drawing me in with a superheroic battle or the richest little rich kid in the world, or even Hot Stuff, the precocious offspring of Satan himself.
I went to him, clutching whatever pulp paper masterpiece it was I wanted.
“Dad, buy me this.”
“You don’t need that, put it back.”
“I wanna read it.”
“You can’t read, you’re too young.”
“Yes I can. I can read it.”
“No you can’t. Go put it back.”
Apparently he used the ‘Dad’ voice in the last sentence, the voice that meant ‘don’t ask again’. My little brain would not be deterred however and I looked around for an alternative.
“Buy me this and I’ll read it to you while we drive.” I pointed to a newspaper.
Now comic books at this time were only about 20 cents apiece. Two dimes would get you over 30 pages of full color art and story. Newspapers, with their cheap pulp paper and their basic black words must have been dirt cheap. They probably gave you a nickel to take one with you. I am sure this factored into my Dad’s next move.
He bought me the paper.
In the car I sat in the backseat and proceeded to read that paper to him from cover to cover. They didn’t worry about things like car seats back then and I’m sure I wasn’t even wearing a seatbelt, it was just me and the paper held between me and the seatback to cushion my 4 year old skull if we found ourselves in a head on collision. Thankfully my Dad didn’t wreck the car, but he was amazed at his bookworm son.
As he used to put it: “. . . and he sat back there and read that whole damn paper to me like a man.”
He told that story my whole life . . . well, I guess he told that story his whole life. When I was twenty-eight my Dad left this shitty old world, taken out by a complication of the lung cancer that was in remission but left his immune system to weak to kick a cold before it turned to pneumonia and then congestion that choked the life out of his heart.
What’s the point to all this? Hell, I don’t know. It’s not about how awesome my Dad was. He had his truly amazing points, things I’ve touched on here and things I’ve left out. He was loved by a lot of people and had lifelong friends who would have died for him. He worked and showed me by example that a man does what he must to provide for his family.
And it’s a cliché, but he had his demons.
I don’t know what happened, but he went to prison once. He had the crappy little hand-poked JRT on his forearm as a souvenir. It made him tell me to ‘never get no damn tattoo’. (Ah irony, sometimes thou art a bitter herb.)
He and my mom divorced when I was young, about the same age his Dad died. His Dad left him and he left us, going to Colorado for a long time. I was was young, I couldn’t tell you how long. He and her remarried, but it didn’t last.
He struggled with alcohol after that and at one point I had to tell him he couldn’t leave with his grand-daughter because I just didn’t trust him to stay sober while he had her.
It sucked as much as you might think it did.
The point of all of this isn’t how awesome I am either.
The older I get the more of my Dad I see in me. Not the shitty stuff, thankfully I don’t even have to work to avoid that. It’s small things. My hands look like his in a weird way. My fingers are longer and have tattoos on them, but the skin of my hands, the wrinkles of my knuckles, look like his. It’s a strange reminder every time I notice it. That one has only been in the last few years. My nose is his nose and it’s the same nose my brother has. I love country music because of him. The corners of my eyes have the same scratch-line crows feet his did.
I think about him sometimes, when I’m tempted to let my own kids breeze through a room without talking to them, just to let them be in their own world because we’ve been home together all day and nothing has happened to talk about. It usually makes me tell them, one more time because, dammit you just never fucking know when you won’t be able to again, that I love them. I think about him sometimes when I drink coffee at Waffle House because he used to drink coffee at Waffle House on the early, pre-asscrack-of-dawn trips to hunt or fish together. I can’t go to the lake without thinking of him and his ability to slalom ski in cut off denim shorts with a cigarette dangling from his mouth like some white trash version of the Fonz. I think about him when I sit by the firepit with my Son (who has no memory of his Grandad) and the smoke smells just like it did when we would be in the deer woods of south Georgia. And oh Lord do I think about him when I hear Conway Twitty sing “That’s My Job” and that one, dammit, that one makes me cry every time.
My life is in a weird flux of incredible right now. I have the love of a good woman. I own my own tattoo shop. I just started photography and I think I’m doing well at it. I just landed the amazing Lucienne Diver as my agent, something I have wanted for years now.
My Dad was proud of me when he died. He’d be more proud of me now.
And almost everyday that’s enough.