Happy Birthday, Dear Da-Da

This morning, I woke up and wrote the first thing that popped into my head, which was this:

My dad would have been
seventy-five today, but
after some consideration
he decided to end his contract early.

Some melt slowly,
others blaze 
at twice the speed of light, 
then
Poof
they’re gone. 

Bummer huh? And as far as poems go, it sucks. It’s not even really a poem.  But it’s how I was feeling, on this, the 75th anniversary of my father’s birth. And you know, I want to commemorate him somehow.

He was only fifty-seven when he died, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. I’ve written a lot about him over the years. About his craziness, his temper, the damage he caused to others. He was one of the most selfish men I’ve known, and certainly the most tormented. He hurt a lot of people. But today, I want to tell you some good things. I want to honor him. It’ll probably sound pathetic–these are probably things that normal fathers do as a matter of course. But my dad was far from normal, and I’m incredibly thankful for every kindness he was able to show me.

So here goes:

We shared a weird bond–it seemed his genes swam a bit deeper in my pool than in my sister or brother’s. It wasn’t just that I looked like him, although I do. There was an invisible, powerful connection that ran between us, some sort of simpatico. I was his eldest, and he lost his enthusiasm for parenting by the time the others arrived. But I was the baby he held once or twice, the one he fed once, the one who pooped all over him. Once. He was proud of these paternal efforts, and reminisced about them until the end of his life.

He could make me laugh until my sides nearly ruptured. I inherited his silly sense of humor. If I stood near him during a solemn occasion–a religious service or a funeral–I was a goner. He’d be there beside me, our heads bowed in respect, and before long, he’d start vibrating with repressed, inappropriate laughter. It was horribly contagious, and soon, I’d start shaking too. We’d turn red as bricks, tears rolling down our faces as we struggled to stay silent and respectful. Occasionally, we blew it and made snortling noises, which caused the more reverent to give us the evil eye (and rightly so). It was awful at the time, but I now look back on our looniness very fondly.

He co-signed on not one, but two cars for me. In fact, he even picked out my first one. This is akin to saying that he parted water for me, or gave me busload of doubloons. Dad wasn’t magnanimous as a rule, and these were huge gestures, especially in light of the fact that I burned the engine up on the first one within a few months and abandoned it on the side of the road (no one told me that cars needed oil). Of course, he never let me forget that he’d done these nice things–not for years and years, or ever. But that was okay.

Between his marriages, we hung out as friends a bit. He was drinking a lot then, blacking out and falling down and taking who-knows-what kind of pills. I worked up the courage to tell him he had a problem, and offered to attend an AA meeting with him. He took me up on it and stayed with the program until the end of his life.

When I became pregnant at twenty-five, Dad was the person I feared telling most. I wasn’t married, and he disliked the baby daddy (later, my husband). I broke the news as we sat across from each other in a crowded restaurant. Not only was he not angry, he seemed to really care. He asked questions about due dates and finances and by the end of the conversation, he was happy for me.

After my son arrived, Dad and I went shopping. He sat on a bench and ordered me to go pick out things I’d need for the baby. I was unused to such gestures (it had been years since the co-signing). Timidly, I selected a little package of t-shirts and brought it to him. “More,” Dad said. I kept putting things into the basket, one by one, and he kept saying, “More.” This went on for quite a while, until he was satisfied that his grandson had enough.

A year later, I moved away and married my son’s father. My dad was the only family member in attendance on my side of the family. He drove six hours to get there, and I was proud to have him standing by my side.

Okay, all of this is making me cry. I’m going to have to stop soon, because the more I add to this list, the more I miss him. It’s been eighteen years since he killed himself, and though I understand and respect his reasoning, I often find myself still wishing he was here. He was a huge presence, and he left a big rip in my universe.

He’d like Amadeus. He’d be proud of my kids and me.  He’d be older and calmer, and the fire that blazed in his brain would be, by now, just softly glowing embers. Maybe he’d have found some happiness. Maybe he’d have bitten the bullet (no pun intended) and gone to physical therapy and regained the dignity he lost when they amputated his leg. I imagine him discovering the joys of the Internet, finding a community of people he could relate to, looking up information on Post-Polio Syndrome, traveling the world from the comfort of his wheelchair.

As I was growing up, he was always more of a buddy than a father, and we kids were more of a burden than any sort of pride and joy. In fact, he found it  difficult to even say the word “Dad,” and instead referred to himself jokingly as “Da-Da.”  He just couldn’t do the parenting thing. My mother had remarried a despicable man, and for the better part of eight years, we kids were on our own. I never shared my problems with my father during weekend visits to his house, and he never seemed to want to know. We were a horribly fractured family.

When I was eighteen, a freshman in college, my world began to fall apart. I don’t want to go into the details right now, but trust me, it was a bad time, the worst of my life.

Even my father noticed, and in a weird show of concern, he sent a friend, an emissary, to talk to me and find out what was going on. She and I met at a restaurant, two rather awkward, uncomfortable strangers. As we chatted over coffee, she began to quiz me a bit, I guess in order to report back to Dad on my well-being. It was beginning to get on my nerves. In fact, it ticked me off. Finally, I looked her in the eye and said something like, “Listen. I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but I don’t want to talk about it. And I sure as hell don’t want to talk to my father about it. He’s never been involved in my life. He’s never given a shit about me. I’ve been handling things on my own for ten years–I’ll handle this too.” I considered myself very tough at the time, although in reality I was quite lost.

Just then, I looked up, through the large, plate glass window across from us. There was my father, sitting in his car, blocking other drivers, trying to get my attention. His window was down, he was waving his arm, he was saying something.

“I love you.”

Those were the words he formed as he slowly drove by, ignoring the honks of the people behind him. He circled that restaurant at least ten times, and with  each rotation, he’d ride that brake and mouth, “I love you.” And at that moment, I knew that he truly did love me, probably more than anyone in the world. He seemed so helpless as he rolled by, looking through the glass, moving his lips like a fish in an aquarium. He wanted to be there for me, he wanted to fix things, he just had no idea how to do it. How could he? He was broken himself. But I knew he cared. I knew that someone gave a shit after all.

So here’s to my dad on his 75th birthday. I loved him dearly. I still do. I hope that you’ll send some good wishes his way, if you believe in that sort of thing. He probably gets lonely.

Here’s an old post that lists more nice things about my father. And here’s one of his favorite tunes: 

I’m Back, She’s Back, His Back

The best hug ever.

My daughter and the Pea reunite after 8 weeks.

There’s been so much happening around here lately. It’s as if a bee and a one-armed paper hanger mated and produced a dam-building beaver. Seriously busy. The Pea turned three, then we had Christmas, immediately followed by Amadeus’ birthday, then New Years Eve. My ex-husband remarried, which caused quite a commotion, and my daughter went off to Basic Training at Lackland Air Force Base for eight weeks. Amadeus and I took up some of the slack, chasing the Pea and playing games, singing songs, reading books and tucking her bright and tiny personage into bed at night. Her father is very much a part of her life, and we were both impressed and thankful at how well he cared for her while Mommy was learning to kick ass in Texas.

I returned a few days ago from her graduation in San Antonio. Amadeus had planned to go with me, but he came down with the flu and we decided it was best for him to stay home. It was the first time we’d been apart since, well–ever. I had separation anxiety something awful. It felt as though I’d left my left arm behind, with my purse and cell phone attached.

Still, it was a fun and action-packed week. Baby Daddy, Pea and I rented a car and drove for what seemed a hundred hours, and for a few days we were a part of Lackland, which is sort of like Disneyland without the rides, the enchantment or the fun. Actually, it was pretty exciting. I wouldn’t have traded seeing my daughter and her daughter (the Pea) reunite for anything in this world. It was beautiful and tearful and oh-so-happy. My daughter got a weekend pass and she was able to undo her severe little bun and take a solo shower at the hotel–the first thing she’d been able to do alone since her arrival in Texas two months before. At basic training, recruits aren’t allowed to eat or breathe or pee by themselves. They also stay incredibly sleep-deprived.

I was surprised at how herself she still was, the way she’d gone through the entire experience with her gorgeous, shiny personality still intact. At the same time, she was abiding by a huge new set of rules, especially when in public–the wearing of the starchy blue uniform, the hat pinned in place, the salutes and the strict curfews and the flashlight that she had to carry on the way back to her dorm. She took us to an NBA game one night (go Spurs), and I couldn’t believe how many people walked up and congratulated her, thanking her for what she’d done. She was a little embarrassed by the attention, especially when the announcer asked all of the military people in the audience to stand and be recognized. I’m amazed by the woman she’s become, by her confidence and the fact that she’s ready and willing to do what it takes to defend our freedom. Hell, I got lost trying to buy her some cotton candy that night.

We were there for five jam-packed days. There was a parade and a coin ceremony and a graduation. My ex-husband came with his new wife and step-daughter and their hotel room was five doors down from ours. The Pea wore a snazzy bath towel cape and flew between our rooms, until she conked out from exhaustion. We adults hung out and drank wine and talked late into the night. My ex’s new wife is sweet and rather fascinating, and I’m truly happy for the two of them. It felt as though we were all old friends, and it was just so nice.

We drank gallons of coffee and ate at a gajillion restaurants and by the end of the week I was so full that I was ordering appetizers instead of entrees. We took the Pea to SeaWorld and cruised the San Antonio River Walk. The downtown area was a wondrous mosaic of palm trees, colorful old architecture, bustling people and streets made of brick. Amid the traffic were trolleys and carriages, Segways, bikes and pedicabs. It was peaceful and harried all at once, and it made my heart and eyeballs very happy.

Throughout it all, I felt this background longing, missing Amadeus’ presence and wishing he’d been there. We all missed him. Despite the fun, there was a hole in the fabric of the celebration. My daughter bought him a cheesy t-shirt that said, “Proud Air Force Step-Dad,” which almost made me cry. I love the fact that she loves my husband, that she considers him her family, and vice versa. He’s as impressed by her accomplishments as I am. I’m also pretty delighted that the new step-mom is so swell. My children and the Grandpea have a new loved one.

The festivities were fun, but I was excited to return to our home sweet home. In my mind, I saw my sweetie standing in the doorway in anticipation, or the two of us running toward each other across the driveway to greet each other, like lovers running in slow motion across a field of daisies in the movies. Instead, I found him laid out on the sofa like a slab of ham. He’d finally gotten over the flu, and had planned to surprise me while I was gone. He’d bought a beautiful rug for the living room, hung a pretty shelf and a new towel rack in the bathroom. He’d even gotten another new rug for the kitchen floor. His next task was to rearrange the living room furniture, but he has a stupid and unfortunate condition called Spondylolisthesis (which hurts to even say), and when he bent to move a chair, he wrecked his poor back, a few short hours before I returned. He didn’t tell me because he didn’t want me to worry. So, instead of our anticipated hugs and kisses and squeezes, we instead squeezed him into the car and made an emergency run to the doctor for an exam and some meds. He’s been in ham slab position for a week now. Oh, the joys of middle age. We’re sexy as hell in our brains, bent and achy in our bodies. Did I mention that we joined AARP?

The same day we returned from our road trip, my daughter flew home from Lackland, and my sister and her family arrived from Nashville to celebrate her achievement. Amadeus had been eagerly looking forward to all of it, but was so incapacitated he could barely move. Weeks earlier, he’d bought basketball tickets for himself and my brother-in-law–perfect, center court seats–but there was just no way he could go. My sister and I put together a small “welcome home” party for my daughter one night, and Amadeus attended for a while, sporting his new t-shirt, but he was miserable and we left early. As I write this, days later, he’s on the sofa with a heating pad in a mild Hydrocodone fog. He thinks my name is Janelle and that we live in Argentina. My poor baby.

Anyway, everyone’s left, and things are almost back to normal. It’s been a whirlwindy couple of months. In between all of these life changes and celebrations, I’ve been writing like a madwoman. I just published a new story, finished up some essays and I’ve started a novel. I’ll tell you about all of it soon, but I’m going to end this little update and check on Amadeus.

Love,
Janelle

(Red, White and) Blue Monday

Formerly a fashion statement, now a work requirement. My youngest child (who, technically, isn’t a child anymore) is leaving for Air Force Basic Training (aka boot camp, aka Hell) tomorrow. We’re not quite sure how long she’ll be gone, because after graduation, she’s due to attend two or three technical schools. The length of her absence depends on the availability of space at the schools. She could be gone for two months, she could be gone for six or more. We just don’t know. In the meantime, she’s leaving behind the Grandpea, whose loving care will be provided by the Pea’s father, Amadeus and me, among others. It takes a village to raise a child, and this kid’s got one the size of Bangladesh.

I’m incredibly proud of my daughter. She’s as strong as a steel beam, as determined to succeed as Moses was to get to the Promised Land. For her, the Promised Land is an expanse of G.I. Bills, education and a secure future for her and her toddlerette. It blows my mind that she’s made this decision. You may remember reading about this little hellion over the years (I’ll add some links at the end of this post in case you don’t). This is my wild child- she of tats and piercings and detentions and in-your-face arguments with teachers and principals, usually regarding her principles. She refused to even pledge allegiance to the flag for a while there. But here she is, just a few years later, ready to kick ass, defend and serve. She scored extremely high on her ASVAB exam, which is the reason they’re sending her to all of those schools.

Despite the fact that she’s gutsy and intelligent, I worry about her on an almost hourly basis. She’s lovely, she’s tiny, she’s a girl working amongst a bunch of Big Burly Guys. My little girl. Behind her tough-broad façade lies a gentle, trusting angel of a thing. Her heart is beautiful and marshmallowy soft, and she’s still at an age (twenty-two) that she sometimes gives it too freely. It’s a rite of passage that we all go through, those years in which we learn to make it on our own, discern who the good guys are and determine who we let into our circle. For me, it was a difficult age, and I’m having flashbacks of creeps and predators and soul suckers. I was a lot more naïve and confused (and stupid) than she is, but still…

They’re going to scream at my baby, those Big Mean Drill Sergeants. They’re going to make her run forty miles a day and sweat until she collapses like a wilted collard green. They’ll force her to wear granny panties, sleep under an itchy wool blanket, eat K-rations and scrub toilets with a toothbrush. Worst of all, they’re going to take away her hair products and makeup. They obviously don’t understand the power of femininity. The eyeliner pen is mightier than the sword.

Anyway…it’s been a rough week. Amadeus and I took her to dinner on Friday, invited her over on Sunday and she’s coming to hang out with me later today. She and her little nuclear family are clinging to each other for a few last hours, and we’re clinging too. Tomorrow, I’ll go with her to her base to see her off, and though it’s only about forty-five minutes from here, I’m guessing that the ride will seem as long as if we were driving to Potsdam (Germany, not New York). It’s a new chapter, an exciting time. We all know she’s going to excel. She has no doubt she’s made the right decision. It’s one of those retrospective deals, where in the end, we’ll all be thankful that she did it. But for now, we’re as blue as the square behind those stars on an American flag, the one she’ll be proudly saluting from here on out.

I’ve come here seeking solace and distraction. If you’re reading this, and you send me a few words of cheer– a joke, advice or a happy little line or two (or a quarter of a million dollars)– I’ll send you a coupon for a free copy of my e-book, Peculiar Rhymes and Intimate Observations. This offer ends tomorrow, December 4th. After that, I’m sure I’ll be okay. I think. I hope.

Cheer-Sending Options:

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E-mail: moonbeammcqueen at yahoo dot com

Twitter: @moonbeammcqueen

Thanks so much, everyone– I hope you have a happy, healthy, wondrous week. ♥ ♥ ♥

A few wistful, long-ago posts about my daughter:

Mother-Daughter Tattoos

My Daughter: In Trouble Again

A Visit From My Daughter: The Worn Carpet Treatment