Thursday, November 13, 2014

Fathers and Sons

My father and my youngest son were both born on November 13.  Thirteen is considered unlucky, even in Thailand.  There is no 13th floor in my building, only a 12 and a 12A.  Dad was born on a Friday and always considered Friday the 13th in whatever month to be lucky for him.  My youngest son was spared that decision by being born on a Saturday.

This would have been my father's 106th birthday.  He didn't much like the increasing disabilities that come with age and he died in 1993 surrounded by medications for heart disease and oxygen for his late-onset emphysema.  I think it was all over for him when he was no longer able to walk in the mall in Florida where he liked to exercise with other senior citizens.  There was no funeral, just an afternoon party at my mother's house with a group of friends and my brother and I.  A few days later we spread his ashes on Tampa Bay where he sailed as a boy.  I didn't cry for him.  By then we had lived at opposite ends of the country for a long time.  Though I tried to visit every couple of years, it was hard to maintain intimacy with the occasional phone call. Two trips to Florida stand out: one on November 13 with my young son and family and another on Father's Day where he and I wore tee shirts designated for the day that my mom had had made for us.

Dad was a twin and he and his brother got very different genes.  My uncle was a closeted gay man, an actor on Broadway in his youth, a piano player who had once accompanied Paul Robeson when he stage managed a touring company of "Othello," and a traveler with a home in Cuernavaca.  His brother, my father, was a man's man, who worked as a lifeguard in his youth and loved all kinds of sports.  He also played the drums for a time when he was younger, and with his hands on the dash board of his car as I grew up.  He was a traveling salesman for much of his life, a heavy drinker, and a friend to everyone he met.  His father had died young and after fighting with his new step-father he was sent away to military boarding school in New Mexico. With me he was a stern disciplinarian but he loosened up when my brother came along and they had an easy friendship that I missed.  With the boy who was born on his birthday he was the ideal gramps (as you can see from the photo)

By the time my fourth child was born I was beginning to get the hang of being a father, I thought. My 2nd wife had put most of her maternal energies into raising our daughter and left me to bond with the boy while she went outside the home to exercise her body, first by lifting weights and later with Jazzercise and finally African dancing.  I had an easy job on the computer at school before I started taking classes and there was lots of time to cook dinner for him and for us to hang out together.  I encouraged his early interest in music and he took up the drums like my father, later learning the mysteries of electronic music.  I taught him to drive in the parking lot of a lumber yard. The two boys I had with my first wife suffered from my absence when I got caught up in the glamor of the music business in Hollywood, and when the marriage broke up and I left they were traumatized.  But in my second marriage, after learning how to co-parent with out daughter, I thought I'd become the ideal dad.

But after the second marriage ended and I moved out of the family home, our relationship changed.  When he was a teenager I'd gone back to school and poured myself into my studies.  I think I let him down at a time when I should have been throwing the football with him (unlike my dad, I was lousy at sports and consequently uninterested in most forms of it).  Troubles with his mother led me to put my attentions elsewhere.  Still, I helped him to move into an apartment in San Francisco and visited from time to time as he learned to take care of himself and worked at a variety of retail clothing stories. He continued with his music and I encouraged him to following his dreams, and for while he was quite successful.  He came to Thailand in 2009 with his sister and I shared with them the new life I'd made.  But something happened a few years later and he wrote me what I regarded as a "fuck you" letter, letting me know that he would never love me as much as his mother, that my constant queries about his life were unwelcome, and (the kicker) he thought my relationship with a much younger woman was evidence of a deviant life style.  It seemly came out of nowhere and it shattered me.  I did not reply and I ended our Facebook connection.

And yet...he is still my son.  And I think about him every November 13th.  Today he turns 32.  I don't know where he is or what he's doing.  My relationships with my ex-wife and my daughter have likewise soured.  Sometimes I wonder why I could not create the close intimacy with my kids that my friend Jerry has with his son and daughter.  They accept his outrageously deviant behavior here in Thailand far away from their families in California and Washington.  My closest friend Peter, who died of prostate cancer ten years ago, was an incredible father and I tried to emulate him without success.  His three children all flourished under his love.  Both my youngest son and daughter have struggled with their paths in life and I don't know how much is due to my poor parenting.  But it's what I've got and I have to accept it.  Happy birthday, dad, son.

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