It’s after midnight. I’m sitting in my garage watching a beautiful lightning storm pass through my little slice of paradise here in central Illinois with a can of Bud Light and a bottle of Fuzzy Navel Boone’s Farm left from my birthday party (don’t judge me). That’s normal, right?
Okay, maybe my normal and my reality are a little different than yours. Your parents probably didn’t meet in a prison. I hope your dad wasn’t an addict, whether it be booze, pills, gambling, or whatever (mine was addicted to all of those, including the whatever). I have the same type of personality, but I’m trying not to let it hurt too many people in the process. In the past, I’ve usually ended up just hurting myself and alienating those closest to me, but I like to think that I’m done with that.
I’ve been trying to focus on the positive things in life these days. I own a home. I’m finally taking a shot at what I’ve been wanting to do for a living. I’ve got people around me that love me and support me (I think, anyway). I have two amazingly smart and beautiful twin daughters who validate my entire existence. I’m closer than I’ve probably ever been to the elusive answer to a question you don’t even know.
But that doesn’t mean that the dark side of me has completely gone away. That doesn’t mean my mind won’t go to places that haunt me, that anger me, that leave me feeling completely alone from time to time. But maybe that’s just part of who I am.
I don’t try to pretend that I had the worst upbringing in the world; I’m not that delusional (I don’t think). So many others on this planet have or had it way worse than I ever did. Hell, at least I had clothes on my back and a roof over my head.
But it’s not easy to hear at eleven years old that your dad killed two people. It’s not easy to have your dad ask you for money from your paper route to buy cocaine. It’s not easy, after the divorce from your mother, to watch your dad leave for two years, missing perhaps the most influential time of a young man’s life. It’s not easy to try and fill the void of a father to a younger brother that’s nearly seven years your junior. It’s certainly not easy to deal with a man, that when he returns, isn’t the same man you knew. His breath is different. His actions are different. But he’s still your dad.
He would get better from time to time. He would realize his mistakes and that what he was doing was wrong. He would see the impact it had on other people, and I’d see glimpses of the father I once knew and the father that I wanted. But hey, backslides happen, right? So much for easy.
Have you ever talked to your dad through that thick piece of glass with the cheap telephones that you see in the movies? I did on a few occasions after he got put back behind bars in my early twenties. But it was only for three months….that time (another story).
The next time he went away was for nearly two years (another story), and I swore up and down that I wouldn’t put myself through that again, and I didn’t. The hardest part was trying to take my younger brother, now fifteen, to the prison to see him, but they wouldn’t let him in without someone over eighteen. I didn’t budge. My brother hated me that day. It was almost as hard as not answering the letters he would send. It was almost as hard as when the girl I was engaged to broke things off while he was still on the inside with two months to go. That was pretty goddamn hard.
But when those two months were up, I tried to let it go. I saw him the day he got out and I still remember the feeling of the embrace we shared. But I wasn’t going to let him off quite that easy. We ended up sitting in a car later that night and I was ready to let him have it, and to my surprise, I did. I wanted to clear the air and really get everything off of my chest, out of my gut, or whichever term you prefer. I told him that if he interrupted once, I’d let it go. If he interrupted twice, I would never speak to him again. He interrupted….once. He saw the look in my eyes and I’ve gotta tell you, I’d never felt so powerful in my entire life.
So I let it go. Don’t get me wrong, I was still angry, as those who knew me then would attest to. But he’s my dad.
The next few months were rough as we tried to ease back into a “normal” life, but we got through it. He was released in December. That June, we decided to take a trip, which was actually the point of this post in the first place. For those who don’t know, I’m a big Superman guy and have been since I was a kid. There’s even a story that when Pop took my sister and I to see Superman III, there was a big rock outside the theater (the hollow and decorative type), and he told me that if I could pick it up that I was the real Superman. Well, of course I picked it up, which is a story we talked about on our way to Metropolis, Illinois, which is about four hours south of where I live and the only town with that name in the United States. Even in my twenties, I thought that was pretty damn cool to be going to Metropolis with the guy you always thought, or maybe wanted, to be Superman.
So, we go to Metropolis. And there’s a Superman museum full of memorabilia from the comics and television shows, and movies. There’s even a yearly festival/celebration, which wasn’t that particular weekend, but we always talked about getting to someday. There’s just all kinds of great Superman stuff all over town.
Over the next nine years, I watched him battle , but he fought through. He was there when I got married, and was the first to notice me crying the day after my wife and I split up. I watched another rough stretch with him after the fire (another story), which left him in a coma for four months. But he fought through that too, even bucking the odds from doctors telling him he’d never walk again, which led to perhaps the most inspirational moment of my life as my brother and I stood by the groom as my father walked my sister down the aisle.
Pop died nearly three years ago. Even now as I sit writing this, it still sometimes seems easier to remember the negatives and forget the positives (which I referenced in his eulogy which you can read HERE), but as I said earlier, I’ve been trying to focus more on the positive side of things these days. So I remember the good times. I remember the rock at the theater. I remember the strength he showed to walk again. Speaking of walking, I remember that he was the first person to notice on Christmas Day that one of my daughters was taking her first steps, two of them to be exact before falling into my arms. And I remember Metropolis. That trip made us father and son again. That’s why after he died I took some of his ashes back there so no matter what, there would always be a part of him in that town. It just so happens that the aforementioned prison where my parents met is only a short drive away, which is where most of the ashes were spread that day. But a small piece of him remains along the Ohio River in that little town, where a little piece of me will always be as well. That’s why, after a dozen years, I’m leaving in a few short hours for the annual Superman celebration that we never got to, because it’s something he always wanted to do. It’s why I have this tattoo on my shoulder.
I’m gonna go ahead and geek it up for the finale, and I’m completely okay with that. Let’s be honest, we’re all “nerds” about something. Just about every child wants to think that their dad is Superman, and for a while, maybe I thought so too. First of all, let’s go ahead and state the obvious that a better analogy might be that he’s Darth Vader and I’m Luke Skywalker. You’ve got the “evil” father and….well, the son named Luke (which I’ve never heard by the way….it’s hard to type sarcastically), and the fact he had his hand cut off (yet another story). But let’s keep with the Superman theme for this one. He’s not Superman. Actually, he’s probably more like Catwoman for all the times he should have died and didn’t. But I digress. He’s not Superman. He’s Jor-El, Superman’s father. He wasn’t always around, but he would impart wisdom and guidance from time to time through a special connection that he shared with his son. So, I guess that makes me….
Oh, and my mother’s name is Lois, so I’ve got that going for me, which is nice. But that’s another story to tell at another time in another place, more than likely somewhere over the rainbow.