Finding Fathers: A Warner Bros. Picture (Beginning)

This is a piece I wrote years ago for my dad during a time when we weren't talking for more reasons than could possibly be expressed in this blog. After events of the past few days concerning my family. I felt I needed to re-read this, to remember that it's possible to forgive. Man, I hope it is.

The first memory I recall with my father involves a small, round, brown corduroy throw pillow. The pillow had been in the house for years, relegated to the dusty couch in the basement den. My father used to lie on the couch, his afternoon beer in his hand, and would prop the pillow next to his chest, or his shoulder. In my eyes it was a ritual, although I doubt he saw it that way. He would make the necessary preparations: grab a drink, pull the shades, turn on the television. Beckoned by the completion of these acts, I would sidle over, then scoot onto the couch. My tiny head fit perfectly in the pillow's soft center. It smelled of sweat, grass, dog, beer, and smoke (non-mentholated). It smelled of me, and my father. As far as I know, we were the only ones besides Trixie, our dog, who ever used the pillow. Even now, I still hold a small pillow next to me whenever I'm lying on my own couch, reading or watching movie. I can almost during those times recall the dusty scent mingling with the sweat that beaded between the ribbing. We lay there together, on afternoons and weekends both sunny and rainy, paying our oblations to the pixellated alter that was our television.

We watched everything. My father was P.T. Barnum, delighting my senses with acts and personages I'd never known before. The curtains would part, and with a wave of his whip (or beercan in this case), all my father's heroes were presented to me. We both became the same age ,reveling to the exploits of Bogart (our favorite), Wayne, Flynn, and Grant. I fell in love with the cool cynicism of Sam Spade, the "true grit" of Rooster Cogburn, the merriment of Robin Hood, and the suave sophistication that was the trademark of so many of Cary Grant's characters. More than the characters, more than the plotlines, it was the shine in my father's eyes as he watched the screen, explaining to his six year old son who everyone was, what was going on. And all the while I soaked this in, I nestled my head in that brown pillow, that tiny pillow that was always at my father's side.

Even before my parent got divorced, I think my father never really played the role of parent. He was always the one to mention a new author I had never read, a new film (always an older movie) I had never seen, but it was my mother that always helped with the homework, cooked my favorite meals (knew my favorite meals) when I was upset, played Atari with me and taught me how to play D&D when I was too timid to explain to my friends that I had no idea what the game was or how you played (which seems odd considering my favorite author at the time was Tolkein). But that was something I'm convinced children take for granted - that was what a "mom" did. But a dad didn't have to explain that Steve McQueen couldn't help but keep getting thrown in Solitary, that Maureen O'Hara was going to hit John Wayne in every movie they'd ever appear in - these were all bonuses from his normal role of working and hanging out with his friends all over town. On the night my father left our house, I was upstairs with my sister, watching the remake of King Kong on the television with the volume turned all the way up to drown out the screaming we could hear from the basement. Now I can't remember where my brother was - he may have been with us, but I don't recall.

I think that bothers me more than anything else.

A door slammed, and the next thing I see is my mother, standing on that couch in the basement, somehow managing to hold all of us in her arms as she cries that Daddy was gone, she didn't know where, and that he wouldn't be coming back. Everyone was crying, and when she cried that he wouldn't be coming back, we all wailed. Just the sight of my mom crying brings me to tears, so I know I cried for her, cried for her sorrow, but also cried (perhaps more?) that my father was gone, he had gone and hadn't even said goodbye.

I don't remember ever seeing the brown pillow after that.

I was about thirteen.