Wednesday, July 1, 2009

My parents split in 1981. Even as an 11 year old at the time, I gave this decision both my blessing, two thumbs-up, and an emphatic, "JESUS CRIMINY, GOOD IDEA!" Everyone benefitted from this frightening, daunting, and absolutely 100% necessary choice.

As a result, my dad and I never really bonded, nor did I have a male figure to pattern myself after. We always kept in touch, he saw us as often as he could, however you can't replace good ol' "Havin' someone around to guide you." Again, my father and mother's split was as good as a longtime idea as, say, alternative fuel choices. Or flossing your teeth. Because that gunk would have built up over the years, and holy hell, the only choice you'd be left with is to yank out each of those suckers and start over.

Over the last 2+ years, Pops and I have reconnected, as adults. Well, as adult as one can possibly be whilst wearing a t-shirt that reads "International Order For Gorillas" on a regular basis (me, not him). And for 5 days, my father stayed with us in Portland this past week. It was - most sincerely and humbly - one of the most memorable weeks in my life.

I think we tend to know our parents in one-line summaries/fabled stories from their pasts. Case in point: Things I knew about my father as of 7 days ago:

• He joined the Army during the Vietnam war, even though he opposed it.

• He had some girlfriend before meeting my mother named Marcia.

• He worked as a salesman of packaging machinery.

• He rarely attended church with the rest of us (trust me, I looked longingly back at his pajama-ged visage as the three of us pressed out into the frigid, Chicago winters early Sunday mornings).

• I was born 12 months nearly to the day of their one year wedding anniversary. I mean, I'm no dummy. Accidents will happen.

What I learned in only 5 days of talking with my father:

• At 19, he, quite literally, tossed his college books into the trash, hopped on a bus, and enlisted in the Army. He was sick of college. 3 months later, landing in Bangkok, one of the first things his pal said to him: "Let's go score some grass." And they did.

• In early 1969, he was moping in his apartment, as his girlfriend, Marcia, had been out of town. As he describes it:

Marcia had gone on an extended trip to Florida and I had not seen her for quite awhile. All of a sudden I get a phone call. It is Dennis Murray (his friend) calling from the Holiday Club saying that he was going to drive back and get me. And that he had a surprise. He drives me to the Holiday and there she is (Marcia) in the middle of the dance floor. Jimmy Ford and the Executives were playing a Motown song (they were very good with Motown songs) and I just walked up and started dancing with her. I can still remember the song that was playing---------Sugar Pie Honeybunch by the Four Tops. Turns out when the Murray Brothers showed up at the Holiday Marcia asked them "where is Bob?" "I sure would like to see him." And Dennis drove back to get me. Did you ever see the movie "Dirty Dancing"? There is a scene in there where Patrick Swayze walks onto the dance floor and everyone parts and there is Jennifer Grey. It was just like that. Jesus, the tears just well up every time I read that.

• In his spare time, my dad has been volunteering for FIFTEEN YEARS helping tutor/train tutors for illiterate adults.

• My father leans towards Buddhism. He only attended church as a social function for the short time he did.

• I was planned. VERY planned. I can honestly say that it never "bothered" me to think that I was a "surprise" (my quotation marks key is getting quite the work out), but hearing that my existence on this planet was thought out and a gesture of love? To be frank: Shit, that's fucking cool.

Lastly: His final, full day here, we drove to Silver Falls State Park and then spent the following 6 hours driving up and down Oregon's winding, 2 lane highways, with no particular destination: Windows down, Beatles blasting out from the speakers, chatting at times, comfortable silences during others.

This was the first song to grace the CD player on our road trip.

Two of Us

You and I have memories, longer than the road that stretches out ahead.

I love you, Daddy.


Gretchen said...

How awesome! Thanks for sharing the story.

aartilla the fun said...

sigh. gorgeous russ. gorgeous.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully put - I can totally relate to this.

My dad left when I was 4 and I'm only just getting to know him.
In some ways I think we get a better deal - we can get to know our dads as people, with less of that stuff that comes with being part of a nuclear family.

mallemaroking said...

I loved reading this--beautiful.

Lisa said...

incredible - you made me well up. again. i really have to stop reading your blog.

Mike said...

What Lisa said.

fatozzig said...

{sigh} An absolutely fantastic read, Russ. Thanks for sharing.

(And CRIMINY! I've known anyone else who says CRIMINY! I knew I liked you for some reason.)