About Daddy Series
About Daddy (1)
Daddy had his own emotional problems. Everyone in the family was affected, of course. It’s hard to lose a parent at twelve or thirteen years of age. That’s when Daddy lost his dad. He’d already lost his older brother before that. So, double whammy, so to speak!
I guess he loved that dad dearly. All his life he kept a framed photo of him on the chest of drawers in his bedroom. It was a sort of sacred ‘shrine’ that nobody touched. He didn’t have so many good things to say about his dad, however. He’d say his dad was a butcher who never ate vegetables—only meat (large cuts) and potatoes and other starches. That habit probably helped to lead him to an early death from arteriosclerosis as well as the other sclerosis (atherosclerosis) at age thirty-three, I think it was.
He said his dad would give spending money to his siblings, all three smaller than he, but never to him. He’d tell Daddy to go earn his spending money if he wanted some. I don’t know if he did that to try and encourage independence in my dad or because of some ill-will toward him. My Daddy was somewhat arrogant and boastful, so, maybe his dad did that to combat those traits. I really don’t know how his dad was in that respect. I know his dad liked gambling and would (at least?) take my Dad, who was seven or eight years of age I suppose, to the places in which they would play cards, etc. for hours on end. From this information I wrote my poem, ‘The Manly Gamblers’, posted at abctales.com.
Then his dad died after being bedridden for maybe a year. This illness was a disaster on their meager funds so Daddy had to go to work at age thirteen, more or less. He had actually had a rich childhood of intense ‘adventures’ up to that time. I say rich in terms of experiences. Fortunately he was intelligent (although, I think, dyslexic) and was able to keep his jobs and earn what the incomplete family needed.
After all, he had those younger sisters and brother to help.
About Daddy (2)
Daddy was a complex person, to me at least, so when I wrote the first ‘About Daddy’, I put a (1) after it thinking I’d probably end up writing a series of ‘About Daddy’.
Daddy was honey and vinegar. At his most charming, he could charm just about anyone. I remember working for him in his and mom’s real estate office. Shoppers for housing would come in and Daddy was ready for them. He would see them getting out of their automobile to come into the office and say something like this: ‘These people coming in need a house and we need to sell them one!’
I agreed, of course, for selling those people a house meant more goodies for us kids (us ‘apples of his eye’). Spoiled and rotten kids we were and we enjoyed every minute of it. Today I have my own spoiled and rotten child and love her dearly. I guess the beat goes on.
At his meanest, Daddy could be cruel and despotic. I am reminded of Maureen O’Hara, the actress, talking about John Ford, the movie director, on one of my DVDs. She said Ford could be the cruelest thing. Of course, we know now that he made some of the greatest, finest movies in U.S. cinematic history, so, I guess he got what he wanted or most needed from John Wayne, O’Hara, and his other actors.
Daddy could be intolerant. Sometimes he would be these things when you didn’t expect it; then, when you did, he’d go and be the opposite! That’s being complex, I think.
Once I was home after I’d moved to Atlanta and ‘broken free’. We were talking about long hair on boys and hippies, etc. and Daddy said to me if I had any ideas of wearing my hair long (I hadn’t actually), I could forget about coming home. I felt bad, of course, and believed him. Later, however, I learned I shouldn’t have believed him. He was lots of bark and little bite (He loved us that much.) it was proved later. He told a brother of mine that if he divorced, he could forget about us, the family, or him, the father. Well, my brother did divorce and what Daddy said turned out to be ‘baloney’. Life went on with all of us living, grumbling and loving.
About Daddy (3)
Daddy loved to ‘torture’ us kids by taking us camping and fishing regularly. I say torture because many times we didn’t want to go, especially after we were teens and especially go fishing only. It could be so boring. It was ‘good for us’ to do those things, he’d say. It kept us off the streets (that it did!) and Daddy knew all about the streets.
I liked camping more than fishing because we were usually a party of anywhere from eight to ten. I was ‘protected’ then. I was sort of a mama’s boy and when mom didn’t go fishing, I disliked it intensely. Daddy could say hurtful things and even more, it seems now, if mom wasn’t around.
Daddy would fish all day or at least for hours on end. He loved being on a lake or river and soaking in its tranquility. We kids had to paddle (or row, if you will) the boat just the way he liked it to be paddled. If not, watch out! He would fume and fuss whenever the fly got caught in the weeds or lily pads, sending any interested but sensitive fish to Timbuktu! I’d laugh inside but never outwardly. (I wasn’t very suicidal.)
Still, we’d almost always manage to go home with ten, twelve or fifteen perch or bream or bass—more than enough for a good supper.
We kids had to help daddy scale and clean (gut) the fish (ugh!) and mom would have a hot fry pan ready. Many times we’d have fried fish, hush puppies with onions, always a vegetable or two and French fries or grits for those weekend suppers. (Grits are much like polenta in Italy, but yellow, I’d learn.)
Whenever we went away camping for a few days, Daddy would get all excited about it. I have to say his excitement WAS almost always contagious, of course. Mom and I both were Daddy’s near alter egos, so to speak; therefore, we probably needed his boosts. Mom fussed about lots of things on those trips—that daddy had brought us to the jungle, that we were gonna get stuck in the mud—loaded car and trailer (and we did more than once), that daddy made too much noise, etc. But the trips did represent a break from routine and that, in itself, was cause for some joy. I think not one of us offspring will ever forget those trips and the many things we learned being in a tent out under the twinkling stars and so close to nature.
About Daddy (4)
Daddy seemed to like St. Paul’s writings a lot, so, he frequently quoted this saint. He’d say the important thing in life was to have a great love for people. He’d also say people needed people and that that state of humankind would never change. I agreed completely with this stance as regards love and need. The problem I saw with the ‘great love’ business was condition. I thought Daddy just could not love unconditionally, even though he may have wanted to. (Maybe he was never loved unconditionally in his childhood, which could have played a pivotal role.) For example, he found it very hard to relate socially to people who were different, such as gays or lesbians, yet one of his own offspring could be in a heterosexual relationship of adultery or fornication. If he was dismayed with this offspring, he didn’t overly dwell on it. So, it was a question of ‘giving in’ to the offspring, but no way to some distant non-relative. I’m the first person to admit how hard it is to love unconditionally, so, I can understand Daddy’s difficulty in this respect. At least at this time of my life.
The world, basically, should have been as Daddy had wanted it personally, and not as it was or still is in reality. I guess a lot of us feel that way even though we may not freely admit it. Daddy also had conflicts with tolerance. Of course, historically speaking, we sometimes think the native person of the state of Georgia and intolerance must be synonyms.
Daddy had many gaps in his education so that certainly could be one reason for his intolerance. It seems that thongs or flip-flops became popular in the summers of the late 1950s. Daddy had been to the Orient during the Second World War, so, that could have made a difference as regards his attitude toward such ‘footwear’. Nonetheless, he practically despised flip-flops, I think. I loved them and would flop them louder and louder just to agitate him (little devil in me). On a recent vacation, even my wife got dismayed with my flip-flops in the hot climate we were in, so, I again flopped them louder and louder. This is forty years later! Truthfully, the only time I really wear anything like flip-flops now is in the house at night, never in the streets of our cool Andean capital. However, wearing flip-flops in the U.S.A. in July and August is anything but out of the ordinary!
About Daddy (5)
As I mentioned earlier, Daddy could be super charming at times and was quite generous for most of his life. In the sense of charming, he could practically ‘knock people off their feet’. He could also be obstinate, hurtful and bellicose.
I was majoring in business administration in college. The general idea was for me to graduate with my real estate major and work as a broker with Daddy all of my life, just as my two brothers would also work with him for many years. The family on the TV show, ‘Bonanza’, was the model for us; only they had no mother and we had a very dear one, luckily. After completing my second year in college, I had to do some soul-searching. Did I really want to work side-by-side with Daddy all of my life? Did I want to take the hurt he practically had to or would throw off onto others from time to time? Didn’t I have a great interest in writing and literature and literary fame and money from that source? Was it better to work in an area or a field of my high interest or to work for just money, as I’d be doing if I worked for Daddy? I’ve never been the sacrificing type (or so I think), so, I chose to change my major in mid-academic career to English literature. One factor, also, was that I knew Daddy was weak when it came to managing money wisely. (He said many times that he certainly could manage it—he could manage to spend it!) I thought how awful it would be to work all of my life just for the accumulation of some money and then, for whatever reasons, end up with barely a nickel. I’d seen it happen with my own eyes more than once. That would be sad. Of course, I’ve ended up too modestly as it is, but, at least I’ve enjoyed and still enjoy my working life. That satisfaction has to represent some value I think.
Daddy and I weren’t so close in a supportive sense (one morally supporting the other like troops, for example), so, I think my decision to change majors didn’t affect him intensely. Besides, he could plan on working with my two brothers for most of their lives, as it would turn out. The three of them seemed to have a greater kinship also.
When graduation from university neared, I married, not really knowing at the time that I would never live permanently near my parents again, though we remained close and in frequent contact the rest of their lives. To be fair, I have to mention that there were times in which one or the other of us five offspring fell short of money and that Daddy never once said no, that he couldn’t send any money whenever he knew it was truly needed. Fortunately, he was earning quite well in those days. There was not a one of us Daddy and Mom didn’t help.
For some reason before he died, he said to one of his kids that he wasn’t put on this earth to be taken care of BY his kids but, rather, to take care of his kids. Regardless of why he said it, that’s about the way it turned out. Sadly, I now often wish I had been able to do something more significant for him in a monetary sense. He would have loved it.
About Daddy (6)
I’m the son of a cat killer because Daddy killed cats. I guess he killed them all his life, including his boyhood, but I know from first-hand knowledge that he killed them commencing when I began to grow and could ‘size things up’. He would wait until five or six cats collected in the backyard somewhat permanently, then take an iron bar and whack each one over the head once or twice. Then he’d go dig a hole and bury them. All that work! This happened every three or four months as I remember. It might have been a bit less often. There was always one cat he never killed and that was the current ‘family’ cat; at least, he never killed it till it got incurably sick in some way. Then he would ‘relieve’ the animal of its suffering. We’d then get another ‘family’ cat by adopting one of the bunch that stayed around our house. We cleaned a lot of fish, so that was one reason there were always cats hanging around. My sister had cats named Winston and Salem. Daddy would cat sit for her now and then, but he’d never touch Winston or Salem in any sinister manner out of love and respect for my sister. She must’ve known that or she wouldn’t have left the beloved pets with him.
I suppose we kids got desensitized to the cat killing since we were familiar with this practice from childhood. Rabbits Daddy killed, too, but for food. They were fat and delicious; especially fried, I remember, but cleaning them was horrific, to say the least. The stench of the guts alone could send an unsuspecting visitor running ‘for miles’ in the opposite direction! When I reached adulthood and left home, I realized how horrible this practice of Daddy’s was, but what could I do about it? He would rarely listen when he disagreed with someone. That and argue. He loved arguing his points with someone. I rarely argued with Daddy about anything for I thought it a waste of time and my breath and still do. Life’s too short, if you ask me. Today if there’s anyone I sort of look down upon it’s the hunter hunting for mere sport. The only hunting I can stomach today is that done for food, and even at that, I don’t like the idea of a murdered deer.
So there you have it. This is not one of Daddy’s good sides, and he certainly had both good and bad (as I think we all have), but I want to be honest. And I want to write about both sides. A good trait is that Daddy could be highly generous with family, friends, workers, and relatives whenever he was economically capable of being so. He got many people out of a ‘bind’ at one time or another. I hope Daddy’s resting in peace now. He certainly deserves to.
About Daddy (7)
Laura Ingalls said she didn’t want it forgotten that her father played that fiddle of his so beautifully out on the prairie during those evenings under the Western skies when it was pretty out and all the chores had been done. This was in the second half of the nineteenth century. Well, I think I know a bit about how she felt. I don’t want it forgotten how serious and conscientious my Daddy was concerning the welfare of his five children and his incessant, lifelong efforts to meet their needs. It is, of course, one of the most important concerns of any father. Where it is lacking—well—things just don’t go right, do they?
Daddy always, repeat always, ate the chicken back, the neck, the wing, heart, liver, gizzard, etc. so that we kids had the choice pieces. Same with any other meat during a meal. After we got a bit bigger and started to notice things, I realized the sacrifice for what it was. He wouldn’t take our piece of chicken, even though we sometimes offered it. I remember convincing mother one time in the supermarket to buy only chicken breasts so that we all had to eat the same pieces. She did it that one time, I think, but, of course, she was unfailingly economical in her shopping for five kids and a husband, so, common sense and her purse won out.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, Daddy would tell me himself, sometimes, how his own daddy would eat the best and biggest cut of steak or piece(s) of chicken, and the kids would get what was left: the little pieces, in other words. I don’t know what his wife, my grandmother, got. Maybe a little piece or two, too, same as the kids.
The few personal or intimate things (and how few!) Daddy told me about his daddy during our talks were things that obviously affected him deeply or he wouldn’t have kept them on his mind all his life. Anyway, to conclude this segment, that grandpa I never knew lived his life, Daddy lived his, and I’m now living mine. Agatha Christie once said that a life of any length was a complete life. That woman, I think, knew a lot more than people normally think she knew. Thanks for reading.
About Daddy (8)
In the mid-sixties things were going downhill steadily in Daddy’s construction business. It could have been a recession at that time. Those come and go, do they not? We always had good years and bad years, anyway. My mother had almost always worked alongside Daddy as bookkeeper and office manager. I began to help a lot in the office too since I didn’t like outdoor jobs. That I learned quickly! I was about 16 and 17 and listened to music on the radio a lot when I was alone. I loved “Silence Is Golden” and the stations played it over and over.
About this time we thought Daddy had an affair. (A family member said to me one day that Daddy had a lot of affairs. I don’t know about that and didn’t care to at that moment or, actually, at this moment.) He would’ve been 42 years old more or less. He bought some farm land in the neighboring county and we left our little city and went to live there. My maternal grandparents did too, which was especially nice for me as I loved them very much. In different ways we were all happy. Almost like the Waltons, but flatlanders. It helped that mother was very close to her parents; hence, we kids were also. Daddy didn’t have much choice there. But Daddy generally liked most people, it’s true.
Anyway, mother at the time was out of the office more often than in it. I went in with Daddy a lot on Saturday mornings to answer the phone, type letters, collect rent, etc. Daddy and a very close brother-in-law of his began drinking beer again after having sworn it off about 20-odd years because of religious convictions. Soon, one thing led to another as that which we seek, we find.
A secretary was hired to fill in for mother, sort of. This secretary had a great sense of humor and a great laugh, I remember. No one (well, almost no one) could fail to like and laugh along with this woman.
Previously, Daddy had had only construction offices. Now he wanted to expand and be able to sell existing property as well as new. This meant a real estate office. I was learning a lot in my teen years!
Overwhelming temptation came in the form of the real estate broker who was hired. She was quite a package. I could see that, even though I was 20 years younger than she was. She was very unlike our mother. It still angers me: We men want ‘saintly’ wives at home who’ll practically bear everything good or bad that comes their way, but for fun we want a fancy dresser who wears generous amounts of make-up and who wouldn’t wash a dish to avoid death even. We want a luscious siren.
Anyway, to wind down, the alleged affair didn’t last too long. No marital breakup occurred (though perhaps it was seriously considered). I went on to graduate from high school and start college. Mom and Dad moved to Florida while I was in my senior year. Mom didn’t really want to move to Florida. She didn’t want to be that far from her family: her two parents, her six sisters and their families. Dad was going with or without her, it seems (Home building in many parts of Florida was far more active at that time than it was in Georgia.). In the end, Mom went. Thus, when I went home for holidays, I had to drive 8 and 9 hours one way (from Atlanta to central Florida) instead of the 3 hours I’d been accustomed to.
About Daddy (9)
Daddy couldn’t stand it when a parent would say they just couldn’t “do anything” with Suzie or Johnny (now not so little and maybe attracting the attention of the local police). He’d tell the parent what was wrong and, later, let us kids know that the reason the parent couldn’t do anything was that when s/he could (when the kid was 3 or 4 years old), s/he didn’t! Daddy was so emotional about that topic because he knew that that was his ‘strong point’—being able to do something with his kids. It wasn’t so nice when he refused to spare the rod, though. I know adults who were never ‘touched’ physically as children and they didn’t grow up anywhere near ‘crooked’. So, the ‘rod’ doesn’t necessarily guarantee anything, although it is spoken of in Scripture.
One thing was for sure: Daddy knew where his 5 growing kids were every single day! His kind of work allowed him to “pop in” any hour at home, so, we kids also learned to stay “on guard” most of the time. Cat and mice. The learning took some time, however. One brother was always slipping away from our property and going far down or up the unpaved alley. He’d been warned over and over not to do it. He was only 4 or 5 years old (even then he had a stubborn streak that would only ‘ripen’ as he aged)! Daddy would pop in and, not finding this one, would go into the alley and spank him all the way back. He’d yell and make promises, but to little avail. The other brother committed equal or worse little ‘crimes’. Me? I was too chicken and the little ‘goody’.
About Daddy (10)
To focus or “zoom in” on the one leper who returned to offer the Lord his thanks, I wrote my short story “One”. I tried to do a good, albeit brief job. Later I remembered how much Daddy had helped others. And how few helped him later in life. Obviously his reward was not to be here on planet Earth.
About Daddy (11)
Something Daddy and I agreed on completely concerned the “good old days”. One of our pastors would get into high gear talking to Daddy about the good old days and how both people, things, and situations in general back then were better. Daddy would listen a bit then fire back that he didn’t want anything to do with those good old days! Days of hunger, cold, joblessness, less efficient transportation, and so on. No thank you! Since Daddy grew up in the days of the Great Depression as well as lost his dad at a young age, I’m sure he knew a lot about cold and hunger. Perhaps grandma (his mother) did her best. I can’t be an “absentee” judge of that. I was there listening when the pastor and others talked about those days. I tended to agree with Daddy and now, many years later, have not changed that position. Here I note some of the people, situations, and things of those good old days:
Adolph Hitler; no air-conditioning; Joseph Stalin; soup lines and kitchens across our America; almost no frozen foods such as those we have today and, as a result, longer hours in the kitchen sweating over a hot stove; less-educated teachers; schools with far less supplies and special services for our students; racially-motivated ‘lynchings’ in the South; home ownership out of reach for many Americans due to lack of financing and programs that now exist for it; no Internet; and on and on…
Some say there was more love back then. More helping your neighbors. You think so? Many people have plenty of love nowadays. Others have none. I suspect that situation has never changed. I’ve got 2 or 3 neighbors right now who, should I ask them, would do just about anything they could to help me. I just hope I never have to ask. I mean, we do like being a little independent (I don’t say self-sufficient, which no one truly is) as long as we can, do we not? I suspect what really happens is we remember certain days that were or seemed halcyon to us. But see, we were young. Our parents loved us and acted responsibly in order for us to have the things we needed. In most cases, of course! Some parents were, as parents, disasters! No love and no responsibility. But they were isolated cases. Even today (and I see this when I go home to visit) all across America families still live near each other in thousands of communities sprinkled from sea to shining sea. In-laws, brothers, sisters, cousins, best friends, you name it.
Copyright © 2008 Randall Barfield