My “social media advisor” suggests I keep posts short due to short attention spans and “marketability.” I’m ignoring that today.
This isn’t going to be short. It’s not going to be pithy, and it’s not going to be pretty. It is, however, going to be cathartic and true. Strap yourself in. Get comfortable. And be glad you weren’t in on this particular ride…
January 11, 1994 was the most eventful day of my life. On that day, I took everything I’d ever known, rolled it up into a ball, and threw it in a metaphorical waste basket. From the day of my birth to that one, the only home I’d ever known was that of my parents. But I left it behind, destroying my relationship with my father, permanently damaging every other family relationship I had, moving 500 miles away and putting myself in significant financial peril… all on the same day. And it was the smartest decision I ever made.
But first, a little backstory…
At age 3, when I would misbehave my father would take me into our garage and beat me with wooden paddles. At 6, for having the temerity to place his car’s license renewal tag sticker on the wrong corner of the plate, this 240 pound grown man would tackle me in the hallway of our family home, hold me down, and beat me with his fists. Leather belts were introduced at age 7, and by age ten I’d learned that my father had a remarkably deceptive, Joe Frazier-like left hook. You didn’t see it coming half the time, but it invariably landed squarely on my right ear. WHAP! Down I’d go. More on those left hooks later.
In December 1981, the family moved to the small Pennsylvania town where my parents had grown up. He did so to open a new appliance business, having done repair work for the prior twenty years. Being all of 12, I had no say in the matter. I hated the place immediately. Sixteen days after opening his new place, my father had a massive heart attack – a product of overwork and stress, coupled with a two pack a day cigarette habit and an affinity for really fatty lunch meats. The result would be a triple bypass. During his recovery my mother, one of my older sisters, and countless family friends pitched in and helped keep his nascent business alive. Knowing what I do now I realize he made these changes because he sensed the heart attack coming. At the time though? I thought the changes caused the heart attack… and that just made me hate it even more.
Heart attacks change people. I’d learn this on August 23, 2002, when I had one of my own at age 32. You have a sense of imminent death. My father initially feared his; I would’ve welcomed mine. But you also look at your life and give it a sort of reboot. In my case my changes were deliberate. I minimized stress wherever possible. I gave up several unhealthy habits, and most important long term, I found a moral compass. My father had taught me a certain code that wasn’t entirely ethical, one of “gaming the system” as he called it: lying, cheating, doing whatever you needed to in order to gain advantages and improve your lot in life. You stood your ground when it was called for. If attacked you didn’t respond in kind – you responded with massive retaliation. And provided you weren’t a thief or a murderer? Pretty much everything else was graded on a curve at least to an extent.
My most deliberate change was pitching this ethos in favor of a policy of absolute honesty in dealing with other people, even when I knew doing so would ultimately hurt me in some manner. I also got on a sort of moral high horse: there were business opportunities I knew would make lots of money, but turned down because I was uncomfortable with the premise behind the business. There were personal situations where it’d be easier to lie than to say what I believed to be true, but I no longer did that, either. I deepened my loyalties, but only to those who demonstrated themselves worthy of it. To everyone else however I nonetheless had a less jaundiced eye. I soon found I could sleep better at night.
My father’s deliberate change, at least where I was concerned, was to prepare his son for “the real world” at an accelerated rate. This meant more “teaching” his son, an education that came with beatings at regular intervals and berating and belittling at a consistent, daily rate. Within months of the heart attack? He found his left hook again, only this time thanks to better blood flow, it was sharper and stronger than I’d remembered it. WHAP! One such beating came because I “missed spots” mowing grass. Decades later I’d learn I was color blind with respect to certain shades of green. So in that case, I took a beating for being unable to see clearly; or, as my father put it at the time, being “too fucking stupid to understand what I was seeing.“
“He’s just trying to make a man out of you,” my mother would impart.
LGBT sensitivity hadn’t yet become a thing, so my retort was pretty non-PC: “Mom? If he’s what a man is? I’d rather be queer.”
But to get back on track here, the move to Pennsylvania changed me… and not for the better. I went from relatively happy, precocious pre-teen to downright surly, incredibly depressed teenager; the start of a three decade bout with depression. In Ohio, I had lots of friends. In Pennsylvania, I had maybe five during my entire 12 years there. And even then? They weren’t that close, because bringing them in brought risk along with it.
I learned this when I was 15. A friend stopped by my house, witnessed some of my “family dynamic,” and the following day commended me for not shooting my father dead. “How the hell do you live with that (man) around? He’s insane.” I jokingly retorted, “I just duck when I can.” But I wasn’t lying, either. A few weeks later? I visited his house – a real “Leave It To Beaver” type existence by comparison. One of which I was immediately envious – not jealous, but definitely envious. During this visit my friend’s father pulled me aside…
“If you ever need somewhere to go? You come here. You understand? You’d be welcome here.”
My friend had talked about what he’d seen at the McIntire household, and there were now people who feared for my safety as a result. Some might have found what my father’s friend did as comforting or reassuring. I found it terrifying, and I never let another friend into my house, ever. In fact I slowly disassociated myself from this particular friend; I’d let him get too close. And I pulled further and further away from everyone, just in case. If you were my friend you never had to come to my house – all you had to do was call, and I’d come to you.
“Worthless.” “Lazy.” “Goddamned bum.” “Useless.” “Idiot.” “Stupid Bastard.” All terms of endearment, used liberally by my father toward, and to describe, his son to anyone within earshot. Family members. Friends. Business associates. Total strangers. I never drank or took drugs as a teenager, but I was eager to create my own style of payback for the occasional beatings and daily berating. My father’s code of “gaming the system” manifested itself first when I figured out I could be out of school up to 34 days out of an 180 day school year if I behaved in certain ways. From 7th grade to graduation, I was “sick” anywhere from 15 to 20 days a year… and in retrospect I was, as most of those “sick” days were brought on by depressive episodes. I also got 14 “vacation days” via suspension each year: the first was one day, the second was three, and the third was a nice ten day respite that I usually saved for around mid-May. A fourth misbehavior would have resulted in expulsion – I knew where the line was, and walked right up to it, each and every year.
By ninth grade my father insisted I see the school psychologist because “There’s something wrong with you mentally.” In retrospect he was right… and a root cause as well. I met with the guy a half dozen times. Each time I said two words. “Hello” as I entered, and “Goodbye” as I left. In between? Omerta applied. The reason was simple. Had I actually disclosed my home life? My father would’ve wound up in prison for felony child abuse… even back then. But I didn’t know that at 15. What I knew was that if I did say something? The beatings I got before would be nothing compared to what I’d get afterward. Or, alternately, I’d wind up in foster care somewhere – another “stick with the Devil you know” outcome.
I wasn’t completely shiftless, however. At 13, I lied like hell about my age, somehow got away with it, and landed a part-time job at a local radio station; the start of an on-and-off career in broadcasting that continues to this day. My father was a little bipolar when it came to my early radio days…
“My son’s only 13 years old, and he’s in radio!” he’d express with pride to others.
“You embarrass me with the shit you do on the air. Stop it,” he’d express to me in private. This attitude evaporated though when I explained, “I’m doing what my boss tells me to.” In other words? This was part of the business. This brought money in. And money? That’s what mattered. Your behavior is now acceptable.
At 15, I got into computers as a hobby. I organized my high school’s computer club and taught myself rudimentary programming. Another bipolar reaction would result…
“My kid can do things with those machines I can’t even understand,” he’d tell others.
To me? “You spend too much time on that stupid shit… Why don’t you spend that time working another job somewhere?” But when I devised a way to computerize his business’ inventory? Acceptance was gained – my knowledge could make him money. Again? Your behavior is now acceptable.
Looking back I actually worked fairly hard among “worthless, lazy, Goddamned bums” who weren’t yet old enough to vote. On Christmas Day 1985, I worked 20 hours straight on the air at WNQQ. Upon getting my driver’s license, I took the station’s midnight to 6 a.m. shift. The fact I was a junior in high school? Well… that was just a matter of scheduling. I’d wake up at 10:30, p.m., drive to work for a midnight to 6 a.m. shift at the station. I’d then drive home, take a quick shower, grab something to eat or finish homework, then walk to school (if not taking one of my “34 days off” a year). I’d eventually add a 6 hour shift on Saturdays at another radio station and 6 more hours every Sunday at a third. So in total I was working seven days and a minimum of 42 hours a week at a paying job, and save summers or “days off” was putting in another 35 at school. But, per my father…
“Radio’s not a real job.”
I turned 18 in 1987. I did two things that year, one of which finally brought an end to the beatings: I bought a gun, and I carried it on me at almost all times. My father had a temper but he wasn’t stupid – he knew I had a temper. And a temper with a left hook, no matter how good, isn’t a match against a temper with a Ruger P90 .45 caliber pistol. Another thing I did as a goof. I registered to vote, but I also decided to run for something – a seat on my county’s Republican Committee. Back then I was a moderate Republican, or as it’s known in modern parlance, a “Socialist.” I did it because getting on the ballot was remarkably easy, and because I thought it’d be funny to see my own name on my first ballot as a voter. I voted for myself. Turns out a lot of other people did too… I got elected. Oops. But I then thought I might enjoy politics. I liked the idea of helping people and saw potential in parlaying broadcasting into a political career. After all, Ronald Reagan did it, right? My father’s assessment of this potential career path was a little more contemplative…
“All politicians are lying, thieving bastards… you’ll fit right in.”
Six years later, I’d run for an office that, had I won, would’ve represented a full-time, well paying job. My father wouldn’t let me place a yard sign in support of my candidacy in front of our own house. Couldn’t even be bothered to vote that year, yet alone do so for his own kid. Thanks, Dad.
In 1988 I started an online service: an ancestor to AOL and ultimately the internet. Gained national recognition in Popular Science magazine for it, and the day it hit newsstands what had to that point been a hobby became a business. People from around the world began using the service. It started making money. Every dime it brought in got plowed back into it – into new products, new services, new technologies. More computers, more telephone lines, more modems for people to dial in to, and ultimately a series “spin-off” services. That practice I learned from my father, who I’d seen do with his appliance business. When he did it, it was building a business. When I did it? It was viewed differently…
“This is a waste of time. How much cash are you taking out of this?
National recognition? Meaningless. Growth? Meritless unless you’re cashing out while you’re doing it, evidently. And because what I was doing didn’t involve physical labor (“computer shit,” as he termed it), I wasn’t busting my ass… I was sitting on it. “Worthless. Lazy. Goddamned bum.” I still kept a hand in broadcasting during this time as well, working one or two air shifts but doing more work in the then-lucrative field of commercial voice overs. I’d devised a small goal for myself during this period, one I told no one of: I wanted to buy back my childhood home in Ohio, and move back into it by my 30th birthday.
Sometime around 1990 my father went into the hospital again. I don’t honestly remember the details, but while in 1982 I prayed he’d live, by this time I was praying he’d die. I wouldn’t be that lucky. But it proved another incident that changed him and his mindset. The episode passed, he called me into his office one day. My mother was there, smiling. That in and of itself was unusual. Something was up. Did she just hear a good joke or something? Little did I know…
“Bill’s retiring at the end of the year,” my father explained.
Bill was an older fellow. Nice guy. My father hired a lot of “Bill’s.” But Bill’s leaving wasn’t exactly important to me until he let me in on the joke: “I want you to come work for me here. When I turn 62, I want to retire and turn day to day control of this place to you. And when I turn 65? I’m going to retire altogether, and it’ll be yours. What do you say?” My mother’s face beamed, right up to the moment I couldn’t help but bust out laughing, after which I simply said, “Hell, no.” My father was, somehow, surprised. Why would I so quickly reject this passing of the torch? This was his legacy, he said, and he wanted it to be mine. It made lots of money (in case I hadn’t mentioned it, my father liked money… a lot).
With no more than about five seconds thought, I gave him a list of reasons why I’d laughed at the proposition. It was an extemporaneous list, but it was by no means a short one:
- You have a de facto replacement already. I had a second cousin who, after a period of unemployment, my father took under his wing. My father taught him the “nuts and bolts” of appliance repair, and guided him toward launching his own repair shop. As a result, this cousin was my father’s unquestioned favorite. Not his favorite customer. Not his favorite business associate. His favorite person on Earth. He was my father’s protege. While his son could do no right, his protege could do little wrong. I presumed when the time came my father would sell this cousin the business, and I didn’t care. “He has his own business already,” my father protested. He knew because he set him up in that business, of course. When I set myself up in my own business? I didn’t get help, I got ridicule.
- I’ll not live up to your expectations. By this point in my life I’d already learned I could be an effective administrator and manager. But I also knew I had little to no aptitude for what my father termed the “nuts and bolts” of his business. I lacked technical aptitude, and I was smart enough to know I’d never gain it. “Nonsense! You rip computers apart! What we do here with appliances is nothing compared to that.” And he was right. It’s more physically taxing and more complex in many cases. A washing machine for example had fourteen times the number of parts a computer of that era did. And while I’d worked with computers since I was 13, the most technical thing I’d ever done with a washing machine was to deliver one to one of his customers when he was short-handed.
- I’m not customer friendly. On this, I knew I had a point. The longer I’d been in Pennsylvania, the more surly I’d become. I carried a gun pretty much at all times and had a hair-trigger temper. I once managed to talk my way out of an incident that should’ve resulted in a few criminal charges with names like “Assault with a Deadly Weapon,” “Assault with Intent to do Bodily Harm,” and depending on my aim had I pulled a trigger anywhere from “Attempted Manslaughter” to “First Degree Murder.” I was not “Mr. Customer Friendly.”
- I hate this place. I want OUT, not further in. Without going into detail I explained that I’d intended to return to Ohio. My father misinterpreted this into thinking I was planning on moving in with an older sister who had stayed in the area. “I wish I’d have thought of that,” popped into my mind. It had never occurred to me to ask.
- There will be conflict between us, and it won’t end well. Either he’d cross the line between employer and father, or he’d outright renege on the offer he was making. And if either happened? I’d be gone, out of his business and his life. Forever. And despite all that had happened between us, I didn’t want that. “I can separate the personal from the professional,” he assured. I’ve heard truer statements from Donald Trump. Everything he took personally at least to some degree. Everything. But I saved the one I hoped would nuke this idea from orbit for last…
- “As both a boss and a father? You absolutely suck. In fact, you’re not good at even being a human being.” My exact words. My father treated each of his kids like dirt, only to varying degrees and in different ways. His daughters got benign neglect when he wasn’t talking about their perceived missteps in life behind their backs, his son got beatings and open ridicule. My father’s employees tolerated him because they were poorly educated and didn’t realize they could land jobs for similar if not more money elsewhere, while in the process not working for an asshole. But I told him as a parent, with me, he’d failed spectacularly. He was a man who made everyone else around him utterly miserable if you merely gave him the opportunity. And at my first real opportunity? I’d escape that rather than further immerse myself in it.
My mother, who ten minutes earlier had been smiling, was now sobbing. Maybe because she knew I was right. Maybe out of denial. “I thought you’d jump at this,” my father said, apparently not listening to a single word of what I’d just said. From around age eight, I pitied my mother. He’d given her a share of physical abuse over the years as well – something that stopped after an incident in which, as he was about to knock her down a flight of stairs in our house in Ohio, I jumped in front of her to protect her. At that point I promised him, “The next time I see you lay a hand on her will be the last day you live, because I’ll kill you in your sleep that night.”
Watching her sobbing at that moment softened me. It changed a “Hell, no” into a “Give me a week or two to think about this.” During that time, I devised a notion: I’d learn the administrative side of the business and try to pick up the “nuts and bolts” end. But failing that I’d angle my father toward hiring more technically apt people – reducing the need for me to have a really high level of technical knowledge and allowing me to focus on client recruitment, planning, administration, and maybe even opening new locations down the road. I also had another thought: that I’d be utterly miserable no matter how things turned out, even if he followed through on everything he’d said and I wound up owning the place when all was said and done. For this I made an alternative plan. I would keep the real estate the business was on, but sell the business itself, leasing the building to the buyer as part of the purchase. A mental list of buyers came to mind far more readily than a mental image of this ending well, though.
Two weeks later he pressed for an answer, and I gave one. If he could keep the personal from the professional, and be willing to listen to my ideas objectively without being dismissive of them out-of-hand… if he was prepared to accept a transition that allowed me to gradually bring in others to handle the “nuts and bolts” end of the business, and to complete a transition that included full ownership of both the business and the property it sat on by my 25th birthday (about 13 months earlier than his timetable)? I’d give it a try.
“I’m glad you came to your senses. You’re smarter than I am. You’ve studied business. I know you can pick up the technical side.”
At that moment, I wish like hell I’d have had written papers drawn up by a lawyer in anticipation of that response. The reasons I didn’t were two-fold. First, I never thought he’d agree to the early transition or giving up actual ownership. But also because, as much as my father was abrasive, abusive, depressive and mean? He was trustworthy. If he told me the sky was red? I might look, but it’d be out of curiosity and not doubt. You could bank on his word, and I did. I banked on myself a little, too. Eventually, I thought, I’ll be able to bring people in here with the skills he sees as important, then implement my plan and hopefully build a better overall business.
Banks fail nowadays though, you know?
YEAR ONE: SHOULD’VE RUN.
Just as I predicted, I had virtually no aptitude for the “nuts and bolts” of the appliance industry. I tried, but I simply couldn’t grasp it. Meanwhile, on the administrative side, I’d taken over the entire operation in around a month. Anything that wasn’t technical, I had cold. Anything that was technical, I screwed up. Surprisingly my father was patient, understanding, and at times seemed actually happy I was with him. I was surprised – he was doing what he’d promised he’d do. “The Ohio Dream” began to fade. As my first year ended I began broaching the subject of implementing my long term plan – to bring in people with better technical aptitude and manage the “nuts and bolts” aspects under our joint supervision. I used Ford’s “Whiz Kids” as an example of what I had in mind. He saw it as the sign of a lazy son trying to avoid “real work.”
I should’ve known then that I was talking to a brick wall. But I thought, “I’ve only been here a year. I’ll keep at it. I’ll turn him around to these ideas, or I’ll outlast him and implement them on my own when the time comes.”
YEAR TWO: NOWHERE TO RUN, NOWHERE TO HIDE
In January, my parents took a three month vacation to Florida. I was “in charge,” but the only real difference was that I handled my regular responsibilities plus anywhere from one to three telephone calls a day from Florida, asking me about this, that, or the other mundane detail. He returned in April. When he did, something else returned with him.
“Worthless.” “Lazy.” “Idiot.” “Goddamned bum.” These phrases returned. Only now, they weren’t being said at home and in private – they were being said at work, in front of employees and clients. Had I not become so desensitized to it in my private life I’d have quit the first time he uttered one of these, but I’d become numb to it. In fact, I didn’t even notice it had crept into the workplace until a retail customer who’d heard me being berated in another room asked another employee, “Does he talk to all of you like that? Christ, I’m glad I don’t work here.” I kept pitching the idea of bringing in people with the aptitude he seemed to seek, pitching a vision to lay the foundation for a bigger, broader future. More sales, more locations. “Christ, you can’t even handle one location.” That was the point I should’ve walked away. But I didn’t. Instead, I changed my strategy: unless he fired me (which I figured by this point, he wasn’t going to do), I was simply going to outlast him.
As far as the Social Security Administration was concerned, in November 1992 we staged a lavish retirement party for my father, commemorating his 62nd birthday and the “passing of the torch” to his son. The reality? Well, it was a little different. My father had me take him off the company payroll. I got a title bump to “General Manager” and a small raise. The top “nuts and bolts” employee got his paycheck doubled, to a salary that was 40% higher than mine. Please note – despite technically now being the guy’s boss? I didn’t begrudge that. At all. In fact, I didn’t think he got as much as he deserved. In my mind, if and when the transition between my father and I occurred? I’d give him the “General Manager” title and the raise I thought he should have received.
But just because my father was off the payroll didn’t mean he’d retired. He was still there, 40+ hours a week. And it certainly didn’t mean he wasn’t getting money out of the business. His methodology simply changed. Instead of being on the payroll, he “self payrolled.” He went through each day’s cash, retail receipts, choosing the largest two. He’d walk over to the cash register, open the drawer, and take whatever amount those two slips represented, slipping the cash into his pocket. The receipts would be burned.
YEAR THREE: A GLIMPSE OF FREEDOM
Another January brought another months-long Florida vacation for my parents. In his absence I was instructed to “handle the skim” as he put it. In other words, to set aside cash receipts and the money he extracted from them. There were a lot of things I did for my father, but committing embezzlement, and aiding and abetting income tax and sales tax evasion were not going to be among them. Ultimately we compromised. I took the largest two cash sales receipts each day and put them in a folder in the company safe. No cash, just the slips. What he did with them after he returned? Not my problem – I had plausible deniability. But as my father was preparing for his return, he made an innocuous, but ultimately fatal error in his plan for whatever he had in store for my future: he let me take a vacation of my own.
On April 5, 1993, the Florida (now Miami) Marlins played their first Major League Baseball game. I took a week’s vacation, my first ever as an adult, to be at that game. My father let me use his place in Florida, and I took my then-fiancee. I had a marvelous time. Major League Baseball history in Miami. Witnessed a night space shuttle launch. But moreover, I noticed two other things. I noticed a far nicer environment than anything I’d ever seen in Pennsylvania or even growing up in Ohio. And I noticed that I wasn’t being harangued or demeaned by anyone. For the first time, I really envisioned a world that went beyond my current drudgery; went beyond a town I truly hated. I saw a glimmer of light, in a tunnel I didn’t realize existed. My fiancee saw it also, but unlike me she went toward the light.
Later that year her sister moved to Raleigh, North Carolina. She quickly fell in love with the city, but feeling a little lonesome she asked her big sister to come down and join her for Christmas. I was invited too, and as he was preparing to embark on what I jokingly called “The 1994 Florida Winter Tour,” my father offered to give me an early week off when I mentioned her trip. I didn’t ask him for time off and his offer of it caught me by surprise. “It’ll be good for you,” he opined. He had no idea. I arrived as a tourist and was immediately seduced by the city. Four days into this “vacation” however, my fiancee dropped a bomb on me.
“I’ve decided to move here. I’d like you to come with me because I know how miserable you are with your father. But I’m coming. With you, or without you.”
She explained though she didn’t have to: she had no real prospects in this grubby little Pennsylvania town we lived in, and maybe a move to Raleigh would improve her lot in life. Within 48 hours of getting into town, she’d found a job that paid triple what she’d been making “up north.” She expected me to end the engagement; while she said she didn’t want to, she was, to use a sports metaphor, “offering me my unconditional release.” Instead, a signed a long-term extension: I told her my parents had planned to leave for Florida a few days after my return with her, but that upon their return in April? I’d come down as well. I figured it would give me three months to get my affairs wrapped up, something she actually hadn’t done. After three-plus years I’d had enough of the appliance business, after 12 I’d had more than enough of Pennsylvania, and after 24, enough of my father as well.
YEAR FOUR: OUT THE DOOR
Upon returning to Pennsylvania, I told my parents my plans: I’d commit to stay until their return from Florida that April, but after that I was leaving the business and moving to North Carolina. I said I’d been trying for three years to overcome the very things I said from the outset would be problems, and I had come to the realization that they weren’t going to be overcome. My father was his customary understanding, supportive self…
“You’re going to fucking abandon me? Fine. Go. Now, you ungrateful son of a bitch.”
Exact words. Words I should have heeded and walked, right then, right there. But I was going to man up. I’d made this commitment, and I intended to honor it. But before it occurred to me to do that, another side emerged…
“I thought we’d agreed you were going to take over when I turned 65. That’s less than two years away.”
At that point I reminded him that we’d agreed to a transition not on his 65th birthday, but my 25th – 13 months earlier. In lieu of this I offered an alternative – but one I knew would be a “deal breaker:” have your lawyer draw up documents selling me the business, and the property it sits on. Name your own price and terms, and provided they’re reasonable and you’re willing to finance the sale? I’ll buy them. Closing date is January 1, 1995 (after my 25th birthday, but before his 65th). You’d be available for consultation as needed, but otherwise, you’d be barred from the premises if we do this. It’s time for me to go my own way.
I know he never accepts that offer. He was like Jay Leno and “The Tonight Show” fifteen years early: saying that he wanted to step down, but not really wanting to step down. But I offered it all the same, mostly as a means of severing our business relationship but salvaging the personal one. I also had a back-up plan in mind, on the million-to-one chance he actually did accept them. I’d have done what I could to keep my relationship with my fiancee alive for the year, taken possession of the business and property… and immediately sold the business to one of the people I’d identified on my mental “buyer’s list” from three years earlier; after which? I’d be moving to Raleigh anyway, just nine months later than intended.
I didn’t have to wait an extra nine months. In fact, I would wind up in Raleigh nine days later.
January 11, 1994 began as any other day. “The 1994 Florida Winter Tour” was four days away. At 9:10 that morning the business line rang. My father, now 14 months and 2 days into his “retirement,” answered. The call was from a low-volume, often delinquent in their payment commercial client, complaining about a finance charge on their monthly balance. The balance was now over 90 days past due. The amount of the finance charge? 94 cents.
I overheard my father’s end of the call from an adjoining office, and as the conversation took place, I pulled this customer’s file and reviewed it. My father was courteous and polite, while at the same time throwing me under a proverbial bus. “I’m the owner,” he said at one point. “My idiot of a son did this,” at another. “The matter will be taken care of to your satisfaction,” at a third. In other words, to him the 94 cent charge was going to be waived. To me? It meant “The 1994 Florida Winter Tour” had just been postponed. I began gathering personal effects from my office before he was even off the phone.
“YOU STUPID BASTARD! GET OUT HERE!”
This was said at volume sufficient, I’d later learn, that it could be heard throughout the 3,000 square foot, two story building that housed the business. I walked out, the file in my hand. “You bellowed?”
“You charged (client’s name) 94 cents interest on a past due? Are you stupid? I’m not losing a charge client over 94 Goddamned cents, you moron. Take it off.”
“I absolutely did,” I responded. I reminded him that doing so had been his company’s policy since its inception, and that I’d applied it, uniformly, during the three-plus years I’d been handling his books.
“Take the 94 cents off. They don’t have to pay it.”
At this point I’m going to go on a Quentin Tarantino-like bit of exposition. This client was by no means a “mom and pop” operation, but it wasn’t one that did $500 a year worth of business with us. They were always late with payments, and they always, prior to my arrival, skated. By contrast there was a fellow named Forrest Pyle. Forrest did run a “mom and pop” operation, but Forrest also bought $10,000-plus a year from us as part of operating his appliance repair business. Forrest was occasionally late, but when he was 30 days late? You knew he was going to be 60, 90, 120 days late. Forest was a really nice, older man who, sadly, was slowly going broke.
Two months into my time with my father’s business, he decided to test me – as his collection agent. “Go there and collect this. Don’t come back without it.” Now I knew it was a test and my job wasn’t on the line here, so I decided from the outset to just pay Mr. Pyle a friendly visit, ask him for whatever I could get, and return saying I’d collected something. While I was always courteous with Mr. Pyle, my reputation was not one of someone with a sunny disposition… and that day, for some reason, I was carrying my .45 caliber pistol, holstered under my left arm, while wearing a satin baseball jacket.
I went into Mr. Pyle’s store and chatted with him a bit, ultimately getting around to the reason for my visit. Mr. Pyle was similarly courteous, but was making it clear: you’re not getting anything from me today, kid, because I don’t have it. Fair enough, but the longer I was in his store, the warmer I got. After about 20 minutes of talking with Mr. Pyle and without thinking about it at all – I opened up my jacket. I didn’t say a word about it, and I absolutely didn’t in any way try to intimidate or threaten this relatively sweet old guy. But things changed. Rapidly. Mr. Pyle’s attitude toward Mr. McIntire’s snot-nosed kid went from “I’ll stand here and shoot the bull with you, but you’re leaving here without what you’ve come for,” to “Could I please call your father and try to work this out, young man? Please?”
I still wasn’t really aware of what I’d done. In fact, I’d pretty much figured this had become a social call more than a collection endeavor. “Sure, give my father a call. I need to head back anyway…” “NO!,” he insisted. “Please. You stay here. I’ll have something for you. Just let me call your father. Okay?” About five minutes later, Mr. Pyle summoned me over to his telephone. “Your father would like to speak with you.” I got on the phone, whereupon I was told how Mr. Pyle’s account was to be settled up: I was to load up three brand-new 21″ television sets, plus accept $650 cash that Forrest Pyle had apparently found under one of the mattresses he was trying to sell from his showroom floor. Fair enough, I thought, and did as I was told. It would only be as I began driving back did I realize the pistol was exposed; and when I did get back, my father asked for a full accounting of what had transpired, because I’d “obviously scared poor Forrest shitless.”
My point of this story is that my father’s company financing and collection policies? Were flexible at times. But for the prior three years? Tacking on finance charges to delinquent accounts – in fact handling all accounting for the business as a whole – was my purview, and my purview alone. This responsibility, I reminded my father, he’d made mine years before. He responded in a slightly more animated manner than I’d anticipated, but exactly as I expected otherwise:
“Let me be clear, you idiot. I RUN THINGS HERE. You go around doing the jack-off administrative work, but I RUN THINGS. This gets taken off. Now.”
37 months before I’d predicted this type of conflict would occur. It had happened in other situations and I’d for one reason or another let it pass. This time? I didn’t miss a beat in responding.
“Okay. You ‘run things.’ But from this point on? You ‘run them’ without me. I quit.”
I took this client’s folder and dropped it to the floor, walked past my father, and out the door. I went home and called North Carolina. “Change of plans. I’m coming down. Right now.” I made a few other calls, the last of which, ironically, was to disconnect the phone line itself. I started packing. My mother came home to see me carrying out packed boxes to my car. She tried to talk me out of leaving, but that wasn’t happening. “If you go to Florida, call me when you get there. I’ll come back up and get the rest of my things while you’re gone. I’m heading to North Carolina. Today.” She left, panicked. I kept packing up my car: trunk, back seat from floor to ceiling, passenger seat from floor to ceiling.
My mother returned, this time with my father. He had reconciliation on his mind. Sort of. Well, he had something on his mind. I’ll never know what. He was at least a little calmer, but still not at a loss for the perfect phrase to throw gasoline on a flame.
“You’re throwing everything away and you’re going to wind up a homeless Goddamned bum. Is that what you want?”
Not “You know what, Son? You’re right. I should have backed you up on this.”
Not a “Let’s talk this over and straighten things out here.”
Not even an “I’m sorry this didn’t work out.” But I had a retort:
“Yeah, Dad… this is what I want. I can be a ‘homeless Goddamned bum’ anywhere though, right? So I’m gonna go be one in Raleigh, North Carolina.”
Deciding it was better at that point to just “abandon in place” what was left of my personal belongings rather than continue a discussion, I reminded my mother to call when they reached Florida, so I could return and get what was left.
“Don’t bother. I’m going to change the locks. Today!”
Time for another, but shorter, Tarantino-like sidebar… one of the myriad illegal things I did as a teenager was “breaking and entering” with friends. Specifically, we broke into our high school and other places, as pranks. We never broke into anyone’s houses, never stole anything, and never caused any kind of damage; it was always with harmless fun in mind. We always left a “calling card” that tipped off that we’d been there, but again never did anything malicious. One member of my “gang” was a very capable locksmith and safe cracker. He’d opened the safe to my father’s business while I watched once – in 38 seconds.
I decided to divulge that last point as I took my house keys and those to his business of a key ring I had, putting them on the kitchen table. I’ll save you the expense. I don’t need keys to get into your buildings. If you change the combination to the company safe? It won’t matter should I decide I want to get into it. Oh, and by the way… don’t forget that my name’s on all the business’ bank accounts, and in obvious cases of arson? Insurance companies don’t pay up. It was time for him to feel stricken. He sure looked it.
“Stop. This is just an argument. You’ve not quit. I can overlook and forgive this.”
Exact quote. And one that told me something I’d known all along but couldn’t really face: to be truly free, I had to kill the personal relationship along with the business one. And I decided to do both at the same time. Grabbing the nearest pen and paper I could find, I scrawled out a hand-written resignation letter, signed it, handed it to him, and then said the one thing I knew he’d never, forgive. I knew this because someone said something similar to him in an argument, causing him to fly into a rage that required him to be physically restrained by three people.
“Here’s my resignation. In writing. From this point forward? You can go straight to Hell. And if you need it? Call me in Raleigh. I’ll cover your bus fare.”
With that I turned and headed for the door. The last words I heard as I closed it were, “When I die, don’t let that son of a bitch come to my funeral.”
And in closing, a few epilogues…
Six weeks later I’d return to Pennsylvania and retrieve the rest of my things from my parents’ home. My friend got me into the house in about 20 seconds by picking the lock – and yes, my father had had it changed. I also did a “B&E” at the business to look for any personal effects I might have left behind. As a gag I had my friend crack the safe, depositing inside leaving an unsigned sheet of legal paper that simply said, “I was here.” I made no withdrawals.
Six weeks after that? I was back again. My paternal grandfather had died. I had already found a job and as my fiancee did was making triple-plus what I’d been making working for my father. I said not a word to my parents at the funeral. I didn’t sit with the family at the service – I sat in the last row, and alone. When the processional to the gravesite took a left turn toward the cemetery? I took a right. I’d pay my graveside respects on my own, in private, that evening.
My final face to face encounter with my father occurred on June 4, 1994. A friend of the family got married and my fiancee and I were invited to the celebration. We made the trip and were warmly greeted by the happy couple and our shared friends upon our arrival at the reception. Around 15 minutes later, my parents arrived, and my father made a bee-line for me, my mother a dutiful step or two behind. I thought the Awkward Meter was about to be pegged. He greeted me just about as warmly as you’d expect any father to greet a son he’d not spoken to in five months…
“I’m not going to make a scene here, but you’re in need of serious mental help.”
Honest to whatever God you’d care to pray to. “You really need to see someone.” “You’ve got anger issues.” He turned to my fiancee and started trying to talk with her. She took one step back, making it clear that she was not going to be entering the discussion at any level. She didn’t say a word nor did I, but on the spur of the moment, I decided to let an action speak for me. An action that only three people (my mother, my father, and myself), out of the 500 or so in the room that night, recognized as the act of defiance, and of independence, it was.
I reached into my suit pocket, pulled out a Marlboro cigarette and a gold Zippo lighter, and I fired up a cigarette in his presence. “Declaration of Independence via Philip Morris.” I took my fiancee’s hand and we went to the bar. Five minutes later, I watched as my parents left the reception. I never saw him again.
Several years pass. I go from broke and essentially living out of a Chevrolet Beretta to gainfully employed, from gainfully employed to managing a group of 105 employees, and from managing a group of 105 employees to starting my own business. One April afternoon I came home to a message on my home answering machine. I still have the recording somewhere:
“Hey, Son. Your mother and I are coming through Raleigh Friday on our way up from Florida, and we want to see you. It’s time to bury the hatchet. This has gone on long enough. I’ll be at your house sometime Friday. See you then.” Click.
I appreciated the call. Because thanks to it, there was no way in Hell I was going to be there. What I did instead was a little estimating, gambling as to when my parents would likely arrive at my house. I called my gardener and asked him to mow my lawn and trim some hedges, scheduling him for a four-hour window during which I suspected my parents would pay their visit. He agreed. In fact, he stayed until I returned, nine hours later, just to tell me “something strange happened while I was tending to the bushes.”
The gardner told the tale: my parents arrived at exactly the mid-point of the four-hour window I’d predicted. My house at the time was a three-story, 2,500 square foot colonial on a hill; a house twice the size of the 1,170 square foot ranch house I’d grown up in as a child. A homeless bum’s cardboard box? It wasn’t. Approached by my father and asked as to my whereabouts, my gardener did something I didn’t expect him to – he told them I wasn’t there, but directed him to “D.P.’s place of business.” I didn’t ask him to say that. In fact I didn’t even tell him my parents might stop by. But that phrase alone merited a $10 tip that day. Years later, I’d learn that they went to my “place of business,” a brand new, six story office complex full of glass, steel and concrete… and never got out of the car. My father had come to Raleigh to see his son struggling if not outright failing. Instead, he didn’t see me at all. But he did see that I was neither failing, nor struggling.
In January 2003 I honored my father’s last wish as he expressed it to me nine years earlier. I didn’t attend his funeral. I reconciled with my mother shortly after his death – on the day, in fact, I learned my first child was on the way. The timing of the child was not coincidental. I deliberately waited for him to die before having children of my own. I didn’t even a chance of my children being exposed to him. Once out of my father’s shadow? My mother blossomed, like someone who had a 240 pound gorilla taken off their back. As I write this epilogue she’s a spry 90, living with my older sister and doing well.
Also as I write this, I have 60% hearing loss in my right ear, tinnitus, a permanent disability known as “Meiniere’s Disease,” and have also been introduced to terms such as “puglistica dementia” and “CTE” in relation to my own health. A product of decades long, permanent damage caused by taking too many good, quick, sharp left hooks. My memory is affected: while I can recall direct quotes associated with this article, I have trouble remembering the events surrounding the births of my children with clarity.
Ironically, today it’s my two older sisters and I who don’t speak to one another, the product of a miscommunication compounded by subsequent events both sad and comical. Maybe that’s for the best. I’m 25 years removed from January 11, 1994… but I’m 25 light years removed from the person I was then. And I’m happy to be both.
On January 8, 2019 I finished writing the initial article you’re reading (including the above epilogues) and thought I’d put this episode in my life to bed once and for all. I then went on to my next project: emptying “The Box.”
“The Box” was a large, cardboard box I’d kept in my office seemingly forever: 30″ wide, 24″ deep, and 24″ tall. In it I tossed any and every piece of correspondence that didn’t require immediate attention – a repository for bills and statements I paid online, birthday and holiday cards I never bothered to open, and the like. I decided to have a “shredding party” to rid myself of the box and its contents. My kids and I spent two days going through “The Box,” separating and stacking correspondence. and on January 10th fun was had by my 9 year old daughter in taking large envelopes with a lot of paper and turning them into confetti.
I finally got around to opening the cards, in the process finding among other things a card from a friend that included paying off a $10 bet I’d long forgotten about. One card however featured handwriting I immediately recognized – it was from my parents, or more to the point, my father. It had been written in the aftermath of the “gardener encounter” I mention above, and on January 10, 2019… 15 years and 360 days after his death, I finally opened the card. Inside was a photo of my house at the time (proof he’d been there) but there was also this:
“What did I do for you to treat me as you are doing. My God, I love you. Why? Why? Why? Forgive me. (My sisters’ names redacted) don’t speak to us. Why???”
In reading this, it reinforced something I’d known for 25 years: he never “got it.”
He never understood why I left.
He never understood why I cut him completely out of my life.
He never grasped the physical, and particularly the psychological, damage he left in his wake.
And the inscription tells even more. My sisters are roughly 10 and 20 years older than I am. Throughout my life, their attitude toward their “baby brother” has ranged from benign neglect to jealousy, from hatred to shame, and all points in between. Some of those attitudes are not without justification. Prior to getting out of my father’s orbit, I gave them no real reason to maintain sibling affection or even connection. I’m not the person now that I was then, but some damage simply can’t be repaired; I understand and accept that. I know it wouldn’t be permanent for them as it was for me, but at some point, and evidently for an extended period of time, each of my sisters came to the same realization that I did back on January 11, 1994 – that they were better off without him in their lives than they were with him. I spent 25 years blaming myself for what transpired between me and my family. That card’s inscription told me, as plainly as it could ever be conveyed: “it wasn’t you… it was me.”