In early 1957, my father committed suicide by driving his car at high speed into an ancient California Live Oak tree in the San Joaquin Valley somewhere between Fresno and Bakersfield. My mother says he died instantly. Because of that night, I’ve spent most of my life fatherless.
My mother did receive Social Security checks for my sister and I. When I was in high school it was $105 each month. As a child I always thought that she got $105 for my getting to live without a father to love me. It made me mad as hell and probably has a good deal to do with why money isn’t the most important thing to me. I was mad at her and I was mad at him. She never said she loved me and he wasn’t around to do it. He was unhappy, but for a kid, that kind of unhappiness is not fathomable. I would have liked to have someone to talk to, someone who wanted to eat breakfast with me at the beginning of the day. I longed for that but it never came.
My stepfather was an alcoholic and I avoided him as much as I could because I was hellbent on stopping him from drinking. I would steal his vodka and pour it into the storm drain on the corner and then throw the bottle in someone else’s trash can.
He tried to kill me once when he was drunk. He wore Acme cowboy boots with the big Spanish heel and spurs because he was a quarterhorse trainer. He came into the house clumping along loudly while the spurs scraped the floor and rang like some kind of weird bell at the same time. He raged and yelled and threw me down on the floor when he knew what I had done and if my mother hadn’t come in he would have stomped my head with his boots and spurs.
So I didn’t really remember what it was like to be loved by my father and my memories were murderously interrupted by the fear and the screaming loud life provided by my mother and her drunken common law husband.
My grandfather did everything for me that could be done. He loved me and tried to teach me what he could about living a good life. He was generous to all of us and it wasn’t until later that I learned that he was my step grandparent. It broke my heart I wanted so much to be his granddaughter, since he was the one who I knew really loved me without trying to make me be different than the self I experienced on the inside.
But I didn’t always live near Grampa and sometimes I needed some fatherly advice. As the years went by I consulted the inner held memory of my father as I remembered him from the last time I saw him. A dim memory from when I was three. He wore a wool felt fedora, he had a harmonica in his pocket and he had clear, blue eyes and sandy hair.
I would picture sitting next to him talking, and I would ask him questions, seek advice, and the father I pictured responded to me within myself. He told me to try hard, to do my work, to not give up. He told me not to listen to gossips who said cruel things about me, or about my mother.
Of course, it was really me advising myself, but as a father I wasn’t half bad in encouraging myself to make it through the perils of a fatherless childhood. Not once have I celebrated Father’s Day for myself. It’s been for my much beloved Grampa, or for my husband the father of four, and now my son-in-law but never has Father’s Day been about fathering myself all alone as a little girl with no one capable of explaining to me why I had to do this thing for myself. Now that I know, there’s no one left to explain it to who was there at the time.