My “social media advisor” suggests I keep posts short due to short attention spans and “to keep them marketable.”
I’m ignoring that today. This isn’t going to be short nor marketable, pithy nor pretty. It’s going to be cathartic. It’s going to be ugly. But it’s going to be true. Strap yourself in. Get comfortable. Just be glad you weren’t on this ride.
January 11, 1994 was the most eventful day of my life. On that day I took everything I’d ever known or been, rolled it up into a ball, and threw it in a metaphorical waste can. I destroyed my relationship with my father, permanently damaged every other family relationship I had, put myself in significant financial peril, and relocated 500 miles… all in the space of one day. And each would prove among the best decisions I’d ever make, albeit with regrettable fallout that will remain until I die. But I’ll back up…
At 3 years old, my father would beat me with wooden paddles when I misbehaved. By 7, I’d graduated to leather belts. By 10, fists. He had a remarkably deceptive left hook that he’d target at my right ear, so as not to leave a facial mark: WHAP! DOWN GOES FRAZIER! About a monthly occurrence until I turned 18. That’s when I bought a handgun. That’s when the beatings stopped.
Verbal abuse and humiliation though? Another story. “Worthless.” “Lazy.” “Goddamned bum.” “Useless.” “Idiot.” “Stupid Bastard.” After around age 15, “Total Fuck-Up.” All used liberally and daily by my father to describe his son, to me and to anyone within earshot. Family. Friends. Business associates. Total strangers. As if I were a dog that had urinated on the carpet a lot.
December 1981. We move to a small Pennsylvania town the name of which I’ll omit; I have friends who still live there, and there’s no sense in identifying it. My father grew up there, returning at 51 to open an appliance business after 30 years as a repairman. I hated it immediately. Sixteen days after opening his new place? He had a massive heart attack, the product of too much work and stress, but also that two packs of cigarettes a day and a real affinity for cold cuts. He’d undergo a triple bypass. Me? I’d beat him in that race; my heart attack came at 32. I topped him in stress, and while I’d quit smoking I had my own food affinity – a really good, really big, $25 steak, one of which I ate every single workday at lunch – usually my only meal of the day. Heart attacks change you. I changed by eliminating stress and making changes in my business conduct, personal conduct and diet. My father changed by feeling obliged to prepare his son for the real world at an accelerated rate, because he was heeding a harbinger of death.
What this meant to me? More beatings and more beratings, any time I did something he felt objectionable. Within months his left hook returned, stronger than ever. WHAP! DOWN GOES HOLMES! Had that heart attack killed him? I’d have had a better life. Instead I’d lie bleeding from the ear and semi-conscious, in the ear that wasn’t ringing like a church bell hearing my mother explain…
“He’s just trying to make a man out of you,” my mother imparted. “I’d rather be queer,” I replied. LGBT sensitivity hadn’t become a thing yet.
I also had bigger change thanks to my new environs than he did his heart attack – I went from relatively happy pre-teen to downright mean teen, the start of a 30 year depression. In Ohio, I had lots of friends. In Pennsylvania? I had maybe five, and all but two were transient at best. One visited my home once, only to ask me later, “How the hell do you live with (my father) around? He’s insane.” “I duck when I can,” I retorted laughingly. I wasn’t lying. A few weeks later I visited his home. A real “Leave It To Beaver” house. I was envious. My friend’s father pulled me aside…
“If you ever need somewhere to go? You come here. You understand?”
Most kids would be assured by something like that. I got scared to death. My family life was now known outside the house. There were people who feared for my safety. Couldn’t let that happen again. Slowly I disassociated myself from the friend. Feared the potential outcome. Slowly pulled further and further away from everybody, just in case.
I never drank or did drugs as a teenager – but was eager to create my own style of payback for my beatings and beratings. Within weeks of the move, I figured out that between sick days and suspensions? I could get out of school 34 days every year. From 7th grade to graduation? Three suspensions (1 day, 3 day, 10 day) a year. 18 to 20 “sick” days a year. I locked myself in my bedroom – mini-vacations. I made it a point to get into fights for the suspensions… my father understood fighting, and never, ever got on my case for being suspended for it. In 9th grade my father insisted I see the school psychologist. “There’s something wrong with you mentally.” Had I actually said anything more than “Hello” and “Goodbye” to the psychologist? My father would’ve been in prison for felony child abuse. I maintained Omerta though… because the devil I knew (my father) was better than the ones I didn’t. My father was in his own way bipolar…
At 13, I got into broadcasting by lying like hell about my age, somehow getting away with it, and landing a part time job.
To other people, he acted as if I were showing initiative, as if he were proud: “My son’s only 13 and he’s in radio!” In private meanwhile, “You’re embarrassing me with the shit you do on the air. Stop it.” Only when I explained I was doing my job as I was told to do it would I get a pass on that.
At 15, I got into computers, organizing my high school’s computer club (still exists today, so I’m told). I was teaching myself programming. Again, somewhat boastful pride to others, rebuke in private:
“Why are you wasting your life on that thing. Go get another part time job. Make some money.” Only when he learned that by tinkering I’d devised a way to computerize his business’ inventory did it become acceptable.
In retrospect, the “Worthless, lazy, God damned bum” actually had a serious work ethic for most kids 15-16 years old. I worked 20 hours straight on Christmas Day, 1985. Once I got a driver’s license my schedule changed: I’d wake up at 10:30 p.m. Drove to work (a midnight to 6 shift at a local radio station). Drove home. Took a quick shower, maybe a meal of some kind, then walked to school (unless it was one of my “34 days off”). Added 6 hours on Saturdays at one station, 6 hours on Sunday at a third. 48 hours a week plus (usually) 35 hours a week in school. My father’s assessment of it?
“Radio’s not a real job.” I got some real paychecks for it, though.
June 5, 1987. That’s the day I passed my father on the educational achievement ladder and got my high school diploma. I was prouder though of an achievement that November while taking a break before starting college: in the first election I ever voted in, I won election to a seat on my county’s Republican Committee. In the fall of 1987 I was described as a moderate Republican, or what today the party’s leaders refer to as “a Communist.” Made the local paper due to the novelty of it and because I knew a little about media and worked it. Thought I might like helping other people and thought about pursuing a political career. My father’s viewpoint was a little different…
“All politicians are lying, thieving bastards… you’ll fit right in.”
Exact quote. Four years later I’d seek an office that would (had I won) have represented a full-time, well paying job. My father refused to allow a lawn sign in front of his home. Couldn’t even be bothered to vote that year. Thank you for your support, Dad…
At 18, I started an online service: an ancestor to AOL and the internet. That one I didn’t get in the local paper for; I got written up in Popular Science magazine. The day that issue hit the newsstands? What had been a hobby that I was financing by charging people $4.95 a month for preferential access to suddenly became a legitimate business – overnight. Thousands of users from around the world, with about a 15% “upgrade rate.” More phone lines, more computers, eventually putting systems in other towns, in friends homes and garages, because long distance phone bills were still a thing. Every dime I took in? I plowed back into it – new product, new services, new technology. Just as I’d seen my father do in his business.
“This is a waste of time. How much cash are you taking out of this?”
National acclaim? Meaningless. Growth? Meritless unless you could squeeze cash out of it. And because it as he eloquently put it “computer shit?” I wasn’t busting my ass, I was sitting on it.
I also kept a hand in radio, only working one or two air shifts a week but doing a lot of voice over work. Occasionally I’d make more doing a regional 30 second commercial (in a single take) than my father’s business grossed in a day. I got some cash. Bought a new car. Got myself some financial obligations, but nothing I couldn’t work my way out of. Around this time I’d devised a personal goal, one I’d told absolutely no one: I wanted to buy back my childhood home in Ohio, regardless of price, and move ‘back home” by my 30th birthday. Had the whole plan mapped out in my head and was actually around four years ahead of schedule. Then… my father went into the hospital again.
I don’t remember why he went in but distinctly remember it not being something heart related. I remember that while in 1982 I prayed he’d live, this time I prayed he’d die. I wasn’t that lucky. Never had been.
Near the end of 1990, my father called me into his office. My mother was there, smiling. Like I was the last person to be let in on a good joke. “What’s going on?”
“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 guys like Bill. But Bill retiring wasn’t exactly big enough news to bring me into his office for.
Then the joke came…
“I want you to come work for me here. When I turn 62 I want to turn over day to day control of this place to you, and when I turn 65, I’m going to retire altogether and it’s yours. What do you say/”
I missed the punchline. “Repeat that please, word for word.” He complied as I memorized. My mother, sitting to my side, was beaming. I brought that to an abrupt halt by simply laughing out loud and saying “Hell, No.”
“Hold it. Why not?,” my father wanted to know. Without 5 seconds preparation or thought? I had a list for him. This list is incomplete and likely not in the order I delivered it save the last part…
- You have a de facto replacement already. My second cousing Craig had come to my father shortly after he opened the store. Craig “got” the technical aspects of the work, and Craig was my father’s unquestioned favorite because of it – not favorite customer, favorite person. His protege. “Craig has his own business,” he scoffed. “Yeah… the one you set him up in,” I thought to myself, “Something you wouldn’t help me do when I asked you to as the online service took off.”
- I’ll never know enough to meet your standards. I learned at a very early age that I was built for administration, business… management. I had no aptitude for (and I meant it derogatorily neither then nor now) “grease monkey work.” “Nonsense! You rip computers apart. What I do’s nothing compared to that.” No, except that it was far more physically taxing, a washing machine has four times the number of parts a 1980’s computer has, and I’d never touched one beyond turning it on or off.
- I’m not someone you want to put in front of customers. On this one, I knew I had a point. The longer I stayed in Pennsylvania, the more downright surly and mean I’d become. Some type of firearm was now my constant companion, and my temper was such that I’d not hesitate to use it (I once avoided an assault with a deadly weapons charge by having a friend hide my weapon while my victim’s friends were dialing the police; I was ready to turn the guy’s head into a canoe before I got talked down). I wasn’t exactly Mr. Customer Friendly.
- I hate this place, and I want out, not further in. At that point I disclosed a portion of the “return to Ohio” fantasy. “Wait… you’re going to move in with (sister’s name)?” No. But had I thought of it before he’d said it then and there? I’d have at least considered asking her if I could.
- We will have conflict, and eventually, there’ll be a permanent rift. You’ll lay down the law a little too forcefully, or you’ll renege on what you’re offering today. And on that day? I’ll be out, not of your store, but out of your life. And I’ll be out forever. Despite all that had happened, I didn’t want that. “I can separate the personal from the professional,” he protested. I’ve heard truer statements from Donald Trump. But I saved the coup de grace for last, hoping to kill this notion in the crib. To anger him. To actually prompt him to strike me; it’d be worth one more head shot just to make this idea go away:
- “As both a boss and a father? You absolutely suck. In fact, you’re not good at being a human being, period.“ Exact words. my father treated my sisters differently than me (which I always understood and accepted – in some ways I got it better, in more ways they did – but I never judged because the circumstances were different). But with me? He’d failed. Spectacularly. A man who made everyone else around him utterly miserable if you merely stayed in his presence long enough. There was as reason we lived under the same roof but I confined myself to my bedroom; I’m there only because it serves a longer term goal – one that doesn’t involve you, or this place.
My mother was now quietly sobbing.
“I thought you’d jump at this,” was all she could say. Denial ain’t just a river, folks.
From around age 8 I took pity on my mother – she’d taken some beatings from him over the years as well, something that stopped when I was around 12 and jumped in front of her as he was about to knock her down the flight of stairs in our Ohio home. I think that was the last time he hit her. I know it was the first time his son told him, “If you ever touch her again, I’ll kill you that night in your sleep.”
That pity got a “Hell, no” reduced to a “Give me a week to think about this.” Apparently satisfied I wasn’t outright refusing, my father left it there. During that week I devised an idea: I’d learn the administrative side of the business first, and while I’d try to learn the “nuts and bolts,” I’d also try to angle my father toward the idea of hiring more tech savvy people as well. If I got the technical aspects, great, the business could grow faster. If I didn’t? That area was still covered and eventually I could oversee general operations and do “big picture” planning.
But also during that week I identified three people to whom I’d immediately call if, had I actually taken over and found myself miserable… or if I felt I couldn’t hack it. Three people who I knew would buy the place. The week lapsed and I gave an answer, “If you can keep the personal separate from the professional, if you are willing to listen to my ideas objectively and not as the ramblings of your idiot son, and if you give me a measure of latitude so that I have options in case this doesn’t work out (i.e., keeping my online business and voice over work going)? 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 the technical side.” Uh-oh… I’d not been clear enough from the outset, apparently.
We never talked money or an actual transition plan. Never committed to anything in writing. If my father made a commitment to you directly? You could bank on it. And I banked on his word. I banked on myself a little as well – that over time I’d convince him to bring in people with the skill sets he felt important, while I provided the skill set needed to provide oversight and operational management. Banks fail nowadays though, you know?
Year One – Should’ve Run.
Just as I predicted, I showed zero aptitude for the “nuts and bolts” of the appliance business. I tried, but I simply couldn’t grasp it. On the administrative side I took over the entire business operation in a month. Anything that wasn’t technical – I had cold. Anything that was technical – I screwed up. Making an error with a retail customer is one thing; you do a “mea culpa,” you give them a price break on the replaced product as penance for the sin of wasting their time, and while you’re an idiot in their eyes? You’re an idiot who made it right in the end. But that error with a seasoned appliance repairman cost him money. I didn’t have to be told that, and I felt horrible when that happened. I also didn’t have any means of redeeming it, or regaining lost credibility with them.
My father meanwhile was remarkably patient and understanding, downright jovial at times with me. It was rather unnerving, but he was doing what he said he’d do. I meanwhile got a little too comfortable. I found a girl, fell in love and got engaged. “The Ohio Dream” started to die with her arrival. When it started becoming evident that the technical aspects of the appliance business were not to be my strong suit, I broached the subject of hiring others who had the aptitude. He nodded, much in the same way he did when I was a teenager and was trying to seem interested in something that he had no comprehension of. I was screwed.
Year Two – Nowhere to Run To, Nowhere to Hide.
In January my parents took off for three months in Florida. I was allegedly in charge, but the only real freedom I had was the ability to light up a Marlboro at will. My father had attributed his heart attacks to smoking, and out of deference when I took up the habit, I didn’t “fire up” in his presence. Shortly after he returned in April, it returned: “Worthless. Lazy. Goddamned bum.” “Useless.” “Idiot.” “Stupid Bastard.” Only now, these weren’t being said at home in private – they were being said in the store, in front of employees and clients. I’d have quit on the first instance had I recognize it. I’d become so numb to it I didn’t notice it in the workplace until a retail customer who heard me being berated in another room asked another employee, “Does he talk to 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 wanted and laying the foundation for a future.
“Christ, you can’t even handle one location.”
I don’t have that date on my calendar, but that was the moment I knew I’d never, ever see the day when I’d take over the family business. Again, a point where I immediately should’ve walked. But didn’t. By the end of year two, things went from “He’s going to take over when I retire” to, actual quote to a vendor, “He’s killing time collecting a paycheck until he finds something else to do.” That I’d given up everything else I’d been doing? Nope. Didn’t count, because it wasn’t important to him.
In November 1992 we had a lavish retirement party for my father to commemorate his 62nd birthday and the passing of the family business’ torch to his son. Well, that’s what the Social Security Administration believed. There were three changes: my father took himself off the payroll, I got a title that was pretty worthless (“General Manager”), and the top technical man on my father’s payroll essentially got his paycheck doubled – to an amount 40% higher than mine. I didn’t begrudge him a dime of what he earned, in comparison to my earnings or otherwise. But just because my father was off the payroll? It didn’t mean he wasn’t there 45 hours a week, and it certainly didn’t mean he wasn’t getting money out of the business.
His new ‘self-payrolling method’ was to go through each day’s retail sales slips and choose the largest two in terms of dollar volume. He’d take them over to the cash register, open it, and take whatever dollar amount those two slips represented. One set of paper went into his pocket; the other would be set ablaze. Guess which was which? By the end of 1992 I was making $ 5.56 an hour. Minimum wage was $ 3.80. Depending on the client I made between $25 and $300 for a finished 30 second commercial. My voice over work was lessening because I was working more for him. Mistake, mistake, mistake. Maybe I was a “stupid bastard” after all.
Year Three – I See Freedom.
January brought another Florida winter trip for my parents. “Being in charge” where my father was concerned meant getting between one and three phone calls a day to ask questions and/or take abuse by telephone. 7 a.m. at home? First call. If I didn’t answer that, the phone would be ringing upon my arrival at 8:45. If I answered the 7 a.m. call, another wouldn’t come until between 11 and 2. A “check-in.” Finally another call at home each evening, around 9 sharp, to run down the day’s events. At one point during this he instructed me to “handle the skim” for him, and I immediately told him I’d quit. There were a lot of things I did for my father – but embezzlement and tax fraud – even embezzlement from himself, wouldn’t be something I’d aid and abet. We compromised: I took the largest two cash sales receipts each day and put them in a folder in the safe. If he did anything with them upon his return? That was his affair; I at least had plausible deniability.
This seems completely unrelated, but it isn’t: on April 5, 1993, the Florida (now Miami) Marlins played their first-ever Major League Baseball game. I was there, part of a vacation my father generously granted me use of his place in Florida for. The trip was my first adult vacation of any kind. Taken with my fiancee, we marveled at some things: no one knew us there. I wasn’t being harassed or demeaned, but rather treated like a normal human being. There seemed more to life than the drudgery of a town I hated, working a job that was going nowhere, and doing both under my father’s thumb. I saw a glimmer of light at the end of a tunnel. My fiancee did as well, only she saw it clearer than I did. Nine months later? We’d both be on the train., but not to Miami.
My fiancee’s sister had moved to Raleigh, North Carolina during the summer of ’93 and absolutely loved it there. A little lonesome, she asked her big sister to come down and see her for the holidays. I was invited too. My father, about to embark on his 1994 Florida trek, gave me a week off, completely out of the blue. “It’ll be good for you,” he opined. He was right. Raleigh seduced us, and we loved the place immediately. Then my fiancee dropped a bomb on me: “I’m moving here. With you, or without you.” Evidently while I was taking in sights and sounds, she was prospecting for jobs, and she found one that started January 2, 1994. She anticipated I’d end the engagement and head north. I saw my opening: she could return south immediately, but would she give me until April 15? By then I’d have the groundwork laid for my own move. She agreed. I kissed her… and for all intent my birth family, goodbye at that moment.
Year Four – Out The Door.
Upon my return to Pennsylvania I made yet another mistake: I told my father my plans. “Enjoy your vacation. I’ll be here until you return. But when you return? I’m leaving for North Carolina. He was his customary, understanding and supportive self…
“You’re going to fucking abandon me? Fine. Go. Now. You ungrateful son of a bitch.”
Exact words. Should’ve heeded that advice and walked right out the door. But no. I said I’d committed through April, and I’d honor that. But I also made it clear that our prior arrangement was at an end, no matter what. I have an option – one I’d thought of and repeated over and over for the 9 hour trek back north in my car. A nuclear one because no matter the answer, something (my engagement or life as I knew it) was going to die
“I’ll offer an altenative. I’ll stay, for good, if between now and your return from Florida, you sign papers guaranteeing your retirement and sale of this business to be on January 1, 1996. The price is negotiable as are the terms… I don’t want it as a gift. You’d remain available for consultation as needed. But otherwise? You’d be required to stay off the premises. I’ll give you until your return from Florida to decide how you want to go forward.”
No way does he accept that, I surmised. But I offered it more as a means of buying time: His answer would ultimately come back “no,” I figured, at which point it’d be an acknowledgment that I was going upon his return. The business relationship between us is coming to an end, no matter what. Nine days later, every other part of it did along with it. January 11, 1994 began as any other day. Boring. Mundane. My father was four days away from leaving from Florida – from locking me into place until April out of commitment and then ending the business relationship I knew we both now regretted getting into.
At 9:10 that morning, the telephone rang. My father, 14 months and 2 days into his “retirement,” answered. A low-level (meaning small buyer), ever delinquent credit customer was complaining about a late fee on their monthly statement. A 94 cent late fee. On an account now 90 days past due. I knew this because I’d heard my father’s end of the conversation from an adjoining office. As they talked, I pulled this customer’s file and reviewed it. He meanwhile was courteous and polite. He explained that he was the owner, that “my idiot of a son did this” and that “the matter will be taken care of to your satisfaction.”
Upon hearing those words, I put the coat and hat I’d taken off 10 minutes earlier back on, and I started looking around for personal effects – because I knew I’d be leaving in a matter of minutes.
“YOU STUPID BASTARD! GET OUT HERE!”
This was said at volume sufficient, I’d later learn, that it could be heard throughout the building. I walked out, calm as I could under the circumstances, and dropped my vocal range a little: “You bellowed?” The humor was lost on him; in fact, I knew I’d just thrown a little log on his fire. But the coming heat didn’t matter – keeping my cool did.
“You charged 94 cents interest on this past due? Are you stupid? I’m not losing a charge client over 94 God damned cents, you moron.”
“Absolutely,” I retorted. That’s been a company policy which has been in place since you opened the doors. I’ve applied it, uniformly, to anyone 30 days past due, and that situation applies here.
Now I need to note here that also in the past, with certain customers – those that did big dollar volume with us? We would use that finance charge as a friendly kick in the pants: “Pay up.” At that point the client would do a mea culpa, pay the outstanding balance owed (usually within 40 days rather than 30) and the fee was waived. A little cat-and-mouse that kept us from floating clients that could afford it (and this one could) de facto 90 day loans.
I also need to bring up Forrest Pyle. Forrest Pyle was an appliance/television dealer in a nearby town who was, more often than not, late to the tune of 45 to 60 days. He wasn’t forgetful; he was slowly going bankrupt. Forrest bought a lot from us, especially compared to the complainant. Forrest was a nice, pleasant older man who once reached this point – 90 days late – but on a much larger balance. During the second month of working for my father, he wanted to test me a little. “Go there in person and collect this. Don’t come back without it.” My job wasn’t on the line and I knew that it was a test, but I’d spent my childhood growing up in Youngstown, Ohio. I carried a holstered .45 under a jacket to make bank deposits with a .38 in the console of my car just in case. I didn’t have a sunny disposition in general. I will say I never came close to threatening Forrest Pyle. But I’ll also say that Mr. Pyle’s attitude toward Mr. McIntire’s snot-nosed kid changed remarkably the minute I unzipped my jacket, then asked him, politely, to call my father and discuss alternate arrangements for payment, since he claimed not to have the $1,200 or so owed. When all was said and done I left with three brand-new floor model television sets and $650 cash. Forrest Pyle’s account, for the moment? Squared.
From that point forward he’d still run 30 days late from time to time, but even when he wasn’t late, anytime I’d stop by (usually just to say hello, actually), he’d offer to pay whatever the outstanding balance was, then and there, and in cash. Half the time I didn’t even know how much he really owed; I never, ever took a dime in those cases. To me that constituted extortion. Anyway, back to our much lower-level delinquent, a large corporation who I knew didn’t have Mr. Pyle’s cash flow issues.
“Take it off. They don’t have to pay it.”
As an exercise in futility, I reminded my father that Accounts Payable was my responsibility, as it’d been for three years now, all the while I’m watching veins begin to bulge in my father’s neck. The final scene of this act then began…
“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.”
The moment I’d prepared the preceding 37 seconds… the one I’d predicted 37 months earlier, was here. I didn’t miss a beat. “Okay. You run things. From this point on though? You run them without me. I quit.” I took this client’s folder and stuck it out about a foot in front of me and dropped it to the floor. I stepped on it as I walked past my father and out the door. I went home.
Called my fiancee: “Babe? Change of plans. I’m coming down…tonight.” Made a few other calls to iron out personal affairs, the last of which was to disconnect the phone line itself. Started packing. My mother had seen me storm in, knowing something had happened. When she started seeing me carry packed boxes out to my car, she began recognizing what had happened. She tried to intercede on her husband’s behalf; I was having none of it. “If you go to Florida, Mom, call me when you get there. I’ll come back up and get the rest of my things then.” In the meantime I’d just about finished packing the car: trunk, back seat floor-to-ceiling, passenger seat floor to ceiling. I had at least another full car’s worth when my father walked in with reconciliation on his mind. Well… sorta… At least he was a little calmer.
“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’ve backed you up on this.” Not a “Let’s talk this over and fix it.” Not even an “I’m sorry this didn’t work out.” Yeah, Dad. This is what I want. I can be a “homeless Goddamned bum anywhere though, right? I’m gonna go be one in Raleigh, North Carolina.” I reminded my mother to call when they reached Florida to I could start arranging to get my remaining things.
“Don’t bother. I’m going to change the locks. Today!”
Now one of the few truly illegal things I did as a rebellious teenager was “breaking and entering” with friends. We’d break into our school, small places, big ones. We did these as pranks – never stealing anything, and never being destructive… our calling card was always something that was merely a signal that we’d been there: a pre-written note with something cryptic written on it. We never even close to being caught. The reason we weren’t destructive? One member of “our gang” was a state-certified locksmith. As a gag, he once opened my father’s business safe while I watched – in 38 seconds. I decided to let him in on that secret… it was time for him, rather than my mother, to look stricken. For at that moment it occurred to him: I was a signatory on every bank account he had save his personal accounts (in which he kept little) and had access to everything save the title to his business, cars and real estate. Any time I chose, and no matter the security apparatus he put in place? I could have at any time – and more importantly, still could – rob him blind. Whoops.
“Stop. This is just an argument. You’ve not quit. I can overlook and forgive this.”
Another exact quote. The business relationship was dead. I now realized I had to kill the personal one too in order to really break away. And I knew how. I grabbed the nearest pen and paper, scrawled out a hand-written resignation letter and signed it. I handed it to him, then said the one thing I knew he’d never, ever forgive. Again, in some moments you have absolute clarity and recall of words:
“Here’s my resignation. In writing. From this point forward, you can go straight to Hell for all I care. And if you need it? Call me in Raleigh, and I’ll cover your bus fare.”
Gasoline? Meet flame. I didn’t say another word, walking down a flight of stairs toward the door and my final exit. From behind that door as I closed it, I heard him screaming, in frustration at my mother
“When I die, don’t let that son of a bitch come to my funeral.”
Three months later there was a funeral – not my father’s, but his father’s. I was already on a financial rebound and had found more of that glimmer of light I’d seen on my vacations. At the services I said not a word to my parents, and only to others when spoken to. I didn’t sit with the family – I sat in the very last row – four rows behind anyone else, and alone. When the service ended I made a bee-line for the exit. When the gravesite procession took a left turn? I took a right; I’d pay my respects and grieved in private later that day. I flew back to Raleigh the next. I was there, but I wasn’t. A final face to face came a few months later, when a neighbor got married and I was invited to the celebration. My fiancee and I made the trip and were greeted warmly by the happy couple and our shared friends. Around 15 minutes in, my parents arrived. Uh-oh. This time, it was my father’s turn to make a bee-line, for me, with my mother a dutiful step or two behind.
“I’m not going to make a scene here, but you’re in need of serious mental help.”
Honest to God. “I crashed the plane into the ground at 500 miles an hour, but let me tell you how to fix it.” He kept repeating this, to me, to my fiancee, for about 30 seconds. My fiancee demurred and deferred to me. I meanwhile said not a word, deciding on the spur of the moment to let an action do the talking instead; one which only three people in the room understood the significance of: my mother, my father, and me.
I reached into my suit pocket, pulled out a Marlboro cigarette, placed it between my lips, and fired up. 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; they’d been there ten minutes, tops. I never saw him, alive or dead, again.
The fiancee and I married in 1996, doing so within sight of the Grand Canyon. Invitations to my wife’s family were mailed weeks in advance; I just plumb forgot to put ’em in the mail until the day before the ceremony. Tsk, tsk… On a spring Wednesday afternoon a few years later I came home to a phone message. I still have the recording. My father:
“Hey Son, I’m coming through Raleigh Friday and 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 afternoon.” Click.
Note: the first time in my life he’d referred to me as “Son.” Also note – I appreciated the two days warning. I rearranged some things on my calendar to ensure I was out of town that Friday. I got my wife to promise to stay at her place of work on whatever pretext she could, or at minimum not to go home right after work – better I come home to them sitting in the driveway than her; it wasn’t her problem. But I then surmised that knocking on an unanswered door wouldn’t be satisfying, to him or me. He was traveling north from an annual Florida trip, and I knew where his departure point was. I also knew this time (unlike most), he’d stop the night before somewhere and arrive in Raleigh early Friday morning. I gambled a little as to his potential arrival time at my house, and I made a call to my gardener and asked him to mow my lawn – I’d pay him an extra $20, as long as he did it between the hours of Noon to 3 p.m. that day. He was puzzled, but for an extra $20, he’d go along. In fact, he stuck around until I got back, because as he put it, “something strange happened while I was tending to the bushes.”
My parents had arrived around 1:30 – smack in the middle of the time range I’d predicted. They pulled up to my house… my three story house – the largest house they owned to that point was a 1,280 foot ranch cottage (the Ohio one I’d grown up in and wanted to buy for myself); a homeless man’s cardboard box? It wasn’t. Then the gardener said that he’d directed them to my “place of business.” I didn’t ask him to say that or even tip him off that my parents might stop by, but that earned him another, $10 tip. Years later I’d learn that they went there – sitting in the parking lot in front of a brand new, six story office complex full of glass, steel and concrete. They never got out of the car.
My father had come to Raleigh to see his son struggling if not outright failing. Instead, he saw me thriving.
In January 2003 I honored the last wish I heard him utter in my presence on January 11, 1994. I didn’t attend his funeral. I reconciled with my mother shortly afterward – the day, in fact, I learned my first child was on the way. That timing was coincidental; the fact that we waited until my father was dead before conceiving the child? Was not. Like me, my mother would blossom without my father’s presence. Today she’s 90 and spry, living with my oldest sister. Today I have 60% hearing loss in my right ear, Tinnitus, Meiniere’s Disease (I literally can’t walk more than 50 feet without needing to hold onto something for balance), and lately new terms, “pugilistica dementia” and “CTE” (as in the illness that impacts pro football players who suffer constant, repeated head trauma) are ones in my lexicon. Months short of my 50th birthday, my short and medium term memory is spotty; I can remember January 11, 1994 like it was this morning… meanwhile there are details of my children being born I have trouble recalling.
Ironically, today it’s my sisters and I who don’t speak to one another, the product of a misinterpretation of something said in a telephone call, followed by a series of 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 away from the person I was on that date. And I’m happy to be both.
I spent weeks writing this, dredging up memories, painstakingly recollecting events as they unfolded over and over to make sure I got the details correct, and so forth. Striving not to “throw anyone under a bus” who didn’t merit it, and even trying to paint my father in the least demonic or cruel manner I could muster. This is Draft #16, I think; every one I started attempting to make it shorter only to end up making it longer. On January 8, however, I “put it to bed.” Or… so I thought. Yesterday I woke it up to add this aside…
Until yesterday I kept a large cardboard box in my office: 30″ wide, 18″ deep, 24″ tall, into which I tossed all not-obviously junk mail, just in case I needed to reference it. Utility bills, credit card statements, birthday cards, you get the idea. 80% of these were never opened as I knew what was inside, or because they weren’t worth the investment of my time to open and review. I was having a “shredding party,” finally getting rid of the box once and for all; in fact it’ll resume around the time this gets published. Bills get shredded, cards get kept and set aside. Typically I read greeting cards, appreciate them, and keep them. Anything else? Unopened and into the box – a rule that applied to anything sent by my parents from 1996 (they’d send me cashier’s checks; I’d send them back cashier’s checks with interest, “due to their inconvenience in their accounting error”), until my father’s death.
Today I went through some of the cards again – found one from a friend who included payoff of a $10 bet I’d long ago forgotten about. One had handwriting I immediately recognized though: it was my father’s. My parents each had their own distinctive handwriting, and this was clearly his. Normally my mother addressed envelopes so catching this one was particularly odd. I paid so little attention to it that it went into the box when it was received without a second thought. 15 years and 360 days from the day my father died? It was opened today. It was sent shortly after their “drive by” of my home in Raleigh and the “gardener encounter.” He saw fit to send a card.
Inside was a photo of my house – proof that he’d been there (which I’d already knew; that’s why I wasn’t there). But what you’re reading at right is what leads to this postscript. In reading this today, it reinforced something I’d known for 25 years – he never “got it.” He never understood why I left; why I cut him completely out of my life. Never grasped the physical or psychological damage he left in his wake. And while I know they reconciled at his deathbed if not sooner, at some point even my older sisters decided they were better off without him in their life than with him.
And while it’s not written there, let me interpret what’s written here in terms of the McIntire Family Dynamic: “Your sisters won’t speak with me anymore now, and you turned them against us. Why’d you do it?” My sisters are 9 and 19 years older than I am, and from my teenage years on their attitude toward me has vacillated from hatred to benign neglect. Not unjustly so; their last recollection of me was as a truly mean, nasty, maladjusted human being – just like my father. But while I can make a persuasive argument with the best of them? I was never that persuasive with them.
He sought forgiveness, yet had no idea why he felt compelled to ask for it. Oh, and one last point – this is the only time I ever recall hearing or reading the words “I love you” from my father… the only time he ever communicated it in any way, shape or form. By contrast, I heard him describe all his children as “Nothing but fucking financial drags” at least four or five times – using those exact same words each time. I’ll leave you to draw your conclusions on that one. In the meantime, after today? I’m done with him. The shredding party concludes later Friday, and that card? That’ll go with it – another ancient thing I no longer have any use for. Turns out, I apparently never did.