Father's Day is coming up, and it will be a day on Facebook full of sappy tributes. My tribute to my dad isn't sappy, but it also isn't with ill intentions. It is what it is. Knowing that it could be misinterpreted, I very likely won't post this on Facebook. Please know that it isn't meant to be snarky or malicious; it's merely from my scant memories.
I was from a divorced home. My mom moved away from her hometown of Pittsburgh after her father died, and she and I moved to Middle of Nowhere, Texas (aka Muleshoe, TX) for a bit before moving to various other towns and occasionally--cities with an actual McDonalds. Part of the custody deal was that I got to see my dad two weeks during the summer. Back in the wild west of the 1980s, you paid the airlines $20 to take care of your unaccompanied minor. What this actually meant is that the airlines would pawn me off on a lone female passenger and upgrade her to first class for watching me during a layover in Chicago or Dallas. Ah, the simple 1980s.
I would get off the plane in Pittsburgh, and my dad (and sometimes my grandparents too) would be waiting for me at the gate. After the obligatory hugs and "how was your flight?," we would have awkward silences, as 8 year old me and my 35 year old father would try to find something to talk about. In my defense, there really wasn't anything to say about Muleshoe, TX (there's a statue of a mule!), so it would mostly be my dad updating me on his life and what was going on with my grandparents and uncle.
My dad wasn't that traditional dad. He couldn't figure out how to live independently, so he lived with his parents for the majority of his life--except when he was married to my mom. He couldn't pay his bills, despite not having to pay rent, and his cars would get repossessed on a regular basis. Most of the time he didn't even care about having a sheet on his bed, so he slept directly on his mattress in the basement of his parents' house. As for employment, it was spotty, probably because he couldn't get to work on time. Friends? Spotty. I honestly only interacted him for two weeks out of the year, but even as an 8 year old I could pick up on how much of a mess he was if you considered those boxes you mentally check when you meet someone: job _, living situation _, takes care of himself _, goal-oriented _.
But the thing was - he was a nice guy. He wanted you to like him. He'd buy you a drink and talk with you for an hour. Would he be someone you would want to date or would want to rely on? Probably not because most women would pick the guy who didn't live in his parents' basement and had sheets on his bed.
I think my dad suffered from depression and low self-esteem. He had health problems that he chose to ignore. He drank too much; he ate crap food for every meal. It was all very sad to watch, even if it was for only two weeks a year.
When I was there for those two weeks, my dad would usually still go to work. He sold flooring, and I still remember frightful outfits of dark brown polyester pants and pale yellow short sleeve shirts. I would wake him up around 9:30am. He'd go to work around 10am, and he'd sometimes come home around 7pm, pick me up, and take me to the bar. Or sometimes he'd go directly to the bar from work and come home at 11pm or 1am. Because Saturday was his busiest day in the flooring business, he'd usually work then. He'd usually have off Sundays and one weekday a week. On one of his days off, he'd take me to Kennywood, which was the awesome amusement park in the area. I loved Kennywood Day because I got to spend it with my dad. It was the most time we'd spend together during my visit. Usually he'd take me to a movie or two and dinner out. But most of the days he'd work and then either take me to the bar after work or be at the bar while I was home with my grandparents.
I spent a lot of time with in bars before I was 21. Again, it was the wild west in the 1980s, and kids could go to bars. My dad would either ply me with quarters to play pinball, or he'd be out of quarters and I would spin on the barstool next to him sipping on a Shirley Temple. Sometimes I'd sit on his lap and play video poker with him. He'd even let me push the buttons, which I know now was completely illegal.
I love the smell of bars to this day. I can sniff out the smell of stale beer. It reminds me of all that time I spent in the bar with my dad. I was usually the only kid (imagine that, most people don't take their kids to bars!) there, and I felt so adult doing anything in that setting.
On those trips, I'd probably only spend 40-60 hours with my dad. Most of it was spent with my grandparents, who were older and sickly. FYI, my grandfather had a favorite bar that he took me to and plied me with quarters for the pinball machine. In my mind, it was a classier bar than the one my dad took me to, mainly because my grandfather's bar was a private club. I don't know what the membership qualifications were, but it seemed to have the same clientele and less bar-like since everyone knew each other. Of the time I spent with my dad, 10 hours was at Kennywood, and I'd say at least another 20 hours I spent with him at bars. The other time was split between watching TV at home in the middle of the night, going out to restaurants and movies.
Memorable highlights from trips to see him:
- Him taking me to the circus and running out of gas. We ended up getting there just before it ended.
- The aforementioned playing video poker
- Him dropping me off at the library and then going to the bar and forgetting to pick me up.
- The decline
The summer visit I was 14 was ominous. My grandmother's health was in great decline. She had glaucoma, Alzheimer's, and a slew of other medical conditions. She was at the door trying to wave goodbye to me, but she was waving in completely the wrong direction and leaning against the door for support. I knew that would be the last time I saw her. Even more than that, I knew something was wrong with my dad. He was … off. In what way was difficult to pinpoint, and it could have just been sadness in seeing his mom in decline. Looking back now, I think he knew he was sick. My grandmother ended up dying 6 months after that, and a month after THAT he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and soon unable to work or even take care of himself. I felt sorry for my grandfather who was the caretaker for my ill grandmother for over 10 years and then became my father's caretaker after his wife died.
All that being said, I enjoyed those two weeks in the summer. I appreciate getting to know my father more and spending some time with him. While he wasn't the kind of guy Father's Day cards are written for, he did the best he could with what he had. And that's all we can ask for.