A SIMPLE ACT OF KINDNESS
Written by Rick Archer
2015, Richard Archer
THE MYSTERY OF MY
The great mystery of my life has always been
why my father would stop caring for a child
he once loved.
I have a
confession to make. Although I enjoyed talking
with my father, deep down I harbored an
animosity that would never heal. During my adult years, the
main reason I continued to meet with my
father was to seek an answer to
I wanted to confront him over his abdication
of any meaningful role in my upbringing and
his preferential treatment of my two
half-siblings. I decided the direct
approach would be a mistake.
I was convinced if I
confronted my father directly, he would clam up
and stop seeing me permanently. I did not think my father was
the kind of person to answer a direct
question. He was evasive and not prone
But how to pry the answer out of him? I
choose instead to maintain a friendly yet highly superficial
relationship that consisted of lunch
three times a year. Sound familiar?
Rarely talking about myself and never revealing my
true thoughts, I made sure to encourage my father to talk about whatever made
him happy and leave it at that.
I hoped that if I remained cordial, perhaps he might
let some clue slip.
Unfortunately through all those years, my father never let down his mask.
My father never talked about his childhood nor my childhood
either. Instead, we pretended High School Hell didn't
exist. The happy talk continued and the mystery endured.
Dad and Mom reunite at my
1984 wedding to Pat, my first wife.
Despite my intention to
sever ties with both parents following
high school graduation, I changed my mind
and maintained a relatively
amicable relationship with them both following
college. My father and I got along
just fine, my mother and me, not quite as
I refused to stop
looking for answers to the mystery. One day I decided to reexamine his childhood. I was
always fascinated with my
father's rough childhood because it was filled with so many unusual parallels to
Like me, Dad had no
father. His father died of appendicitis when he was six.
Mine died when he met Stepmother.
Like me, Dad had only one eye... a
falling brick from a stone wall had struck him in the eye as he walked home
Like me, Dad had a battle with acne.
Sure enough, when I looked closely, I realized he had a
set of pockmarks too. The scars weren't as bad as mine,
but he evidently had a rough time of it at a similar age.
Like me, my father
was an only child. There were no siblings, no extended
Like me, Dad lived
alone with a wacko mother. The woman smothered him.
She was kind of creepy too.
Dad reported to Mom there were times when his own mother was a
little too touchy-feely and overly fond of him for comfort.
Like me, money was
always a serious problem in the home.
Like me, my father turned to academics as a salvation.
Like me, he was
deeply worried about how to afford college.
Fortunately for Dad,
he found a way to get college paid for... he got married. A handsome man in
addition to his intelligence, marrying the rather plain daughter of a wealthy man
became his ticket
out of poverty.
I could not get over how
our childhoods were the same. Given my admitted tendency to
seek the supernatural in every shadow, I was understandably very
curious about these uncanny parallels. I often wondered if
there was a hidden clue in there.
To my surprise, one
day those clues gave me a possible answer to my lifelong mystery.
I studied my father with
the same intensity Sigmund Freud might have reserved for his most
interesting clients. I peered into my father's psyche for any
possible clue. I was dying to understand
why my father was so weird towards me.
In the beginning, I
loved my father very much. It drove me crazy when he left me.
His desertion hurt so much that I went nuts trying to understand
what I might have done to drive him away.
There was one thing
about my father that
really stuck in my craw. I used to think that if
anyone on earth could understood the loneliness I was going through, it would
be my father. He surely went through the same loneliness as a
Doesn't hardship make one more aware of it in
others? Obviously not in his case.
If Dad understood my
pain, he never let on. If anything, at times his neglect
seemed deliberate. I often wondered if Dad was determined to
make sure I didn't have a father just like he didn't have a father.
Whatever the reason, his disappearance guaranteed my childhood would
have a nearly identical life script to his own.
I was forever at a loss
to explain the man, but that didn't stop me from trying.
After my father died in
1999, I gave the issue of his abandonment further thought.
If my father had a
childhood just as miserable as my own, then surely his childhood
must have left him damaged in some way. He was undoubtedly
just as lonely as I was. I began
to wonder if my father became twisted in many of the same ways as I did.
That gave me an idea...
what if his past was something he preferred not to think about any
more? Like a D-Day survivor who closes his mind to the past
permanently, did he decide to wall off his emotions?
What if my own childhood reminded him too much of his own pain?
Would that be a reason to avoid me?
It was just a theory, but it made sense.
things as superficial as he possibly could lest we discuss something
meaningful. My father never talked about himself other than to
discuss his projects at work or his children. The eulogies at
his funeral demonstrated that nobody had any clue who this man was
inside. I concluded my father
avoided introspection for fear of reopening his buried
pain. He wasn't going to open Pandora's Box.
In this regard, our lives diverged.
My dismissal from graduate school in 1974 forced me to accept that I
was one heck of a screwed up kid. Although it hurt like hell,
I deliberately opened my own Pandora's Box. I would spend four intense years
facing my childhood pain in a concerted effort to cure my demons.
I guess that is the major reason why I am different from my father.
No doubt Stepmother
interfered in ways that made things worse.
was shameful. I needed my
father to reassure me that I was an okay kid, but for the rest of my life my stepmother
found a way to
keep us apart. I will never
forgive the woman for her ceaseless efforts to make my
miserable childhood more miserable than it had to be.
Still, we all know who is really to blame here. What kind of man
lets his second wife bully him into avoiding his child? Shame on
No, my father didn't
die on me like his father died on him. But once my stepmother
appeared on the scene, I effectively lost my father.
What about Dad's
considerable love for the other two children? Dad dropped me like a hot potato after the new
children came on the scene.
My father wasn't a bad
person, he was just "limited" or crippled in some way. I am
convinced that deep
down Dad wanted very much to be a good father. For example, he really
tried hard in the beginning with me. However, once I became
toxic to his defenses, he transferred that love to the two children
who didn't threaten him.
Given a second chance, he made sure
to give his new children the kind of father he never had.
Throughout their lives, they were given every privilege money can
buy. Dad paid Joy's private school tuition at Kinkaid.
He paid her college tuition at Tulane and law school tuition at SMU.
The cumulative tuition at those three schools back in those days
added up to somewhere around half a million dollars.
To Charles my father
gave lavish attention by setting him up in a lawn care business,
then helping him with bookkeeping, paperwork and generous amounts of
I was given $400 by my
father to attend college. As for encouragement, well...
I am not bitter towards
Joy or Charles. What my father did with his money was his
business. I offer this contrast merely to illustrate my
father's contempt for me.
Did he understand what a
slap in the face it was for me to see him dote on those children and
ignore me? I guess I will never know.
No doubt my father's difficult childhood
affected him in some peculiar way towards me. I am not excusing my father for his behavior.
Not at all. But I finally came to grips that his abandonment
was never my fault. That knowledge put a major demon to rest.
Neglect is an insidious
beast. To love someone and then
inexplicably take that love away is like a receding glacier that leaves deep
scars in the
earth. I felt an emptiness towards Dad that made
me want to magically restore that love my entire life.
The funny thing is that no matter how much I disliked my father, I
also missed him. I have heard of women who can't stop
loving a man even though he mistreats them terribly. I think I
had the same problem.
I spent my entire adult
life waiting to hear my father say he was proud of me. It
What a shame that I was
not born with mechanical ability.
I have one last story
about my father.
When my father was on his death bed,
I went to the hospital to visit. His door
was open and I could see into his room as I
approached. I could see his wife sitting in a chair beside his
bed. Stepmother spotted me. Just as I
was about to enter the room, I was
incredulous when that witch jumped up and blocked the door. She
literally stood in the doorway and refused to allow me to
"Your father is very weak right now,
Richard. Why don't
you come back tomorrow?"
It was a
bizarre situation. With my six foot frame towering over
tiny woman half my size, I could see my father sit
up in his bed and wave
to me. My
father couldn't speak; he had a ventilator in his mouth.
Nevertheless, despite his weakened condition, he knew I was here.
His expression and animated gestures made
it was obvious the man
wanted to see me.
exactly was this woman's objection? Did she
think my presence would hasten a dying man's demise?
I was very
tempted to ignore her. One
flick of my wrist would send the woman flying.
I stood there for the
longest moment. My eyes darted from Dad waving to me and this woman I despised blocking the door.
Do I tell the bitch to
fuck off or be polite and honor her wishes?
To this day, I
still regret being polite.
I don't have many regrets in my life, but that's one
father was unconscious when I returned the next day.
He died shortly thereafter.
not invited to the funeral. I had no idea when
or where it was. I only showed up
because I saw a notice in the morning paper at
the last possible minute. Dressing hastily and
speeding to the church, I was the last person to arrive.
I was also the first to leave.
I understood that I wasn't welcome.
Stepmommy Dearest. Not a classy bone in her nasty little body.
memory of my father alive would be seeing him wave to me
from his bed as my stepmother steadfastly refused to
That powerful image
remains seared in my mind's eye. It serves as
the dominant image of my stepmother... a woman who
devoted considerable effort to separating me from my
I never said or did a single
mean thing to my stepmother in my life. Why
she treated me this way speaks to character.
First she stole another woman's husband, a woman who
was not prepared to be on her own. Then she proceeded
to separate the man from his son, a boy who really
needed his father. Her lack of basic human decency
damaged my life considerably.
what? I contend my father got what he
As for my inheritance,
that is an interesting story as well. I never
expected to be included in my father's will and I
"I, Jim Archer, sound of mind and body, hereby bequeath unto my first son...
not a goddamn thing."
Not a problem. I didn't
want my father's money, not after the way he had
treated me. Let Stepmother keep her damn money.
However, I did expect
something, a keepsake maybe?
Perhaps my half brother
read my mind.
surprise, a few days after the funeral Charles phoned to ask if I wanted anything.
I said I would like to have a couple of my father's
prized Civil War books to remember him by.
Lord knows no one in his family intended to read them.
at some pizza joint, he handed me three non-descript paperback books,
the kind you find for three for a dollar at a garage
Not one book had a thing to do with the Civil War.
I wasn't mad; in fact, I laughed.
I did not blame the boy.
He undoubtedly took orders from Stepmother. "Charles, don't
take those books, we can sell them..."
This final snub was
perfect. It encapsulated an entire lifetime of rejection at
the hands of father's second wife. Smiling grimly at the
irony, these three
sad little books served as the perfect closure
to the memory of Father and Stepmother.
No doubt any random
sperm bank donor or one of my mother's countless one night
stands would have been equal to the father
mother was admittedly a mess, but she was a
good human being. There were a lot of things about
my mother I admired and respected.
my father, a very superficial man, my mother was a real person. She
had a big heart and was well-liked by a wide circle
of friends. Mom was a kind woman who loved
dogs and children. She went out of her way to help the
watch my mother from a distance and see her befriend
everybody on the planet no matter their race,
nationality, or religion. Mom embraced the
world. Mom was a warm, decent person through
my jerk of a father, my mother tried to raise me
right. I never lost sight of this fact.
Yes, she made a lot of mistakes, but I was willing
to forgive Mom because she did the best she could
given the cards she had been dealt.
failure to release my bitterness towards her
remains a major regret. As an adult, I liked
my mother most of the time. In fact, deep
down, I believed I had the potential to love her
again if she would ever stop antagonizing me.
I found my mother living in squalor in some shack in
a Mexican neighborhood here in Houston. The
house next door to me had just become available, so
I bought it and gave
her a decent place to live. Mom
would live there in comfort and security for her
final 22 years.
first, I thought we could patch up our differences. Unfortunately, Mom refused to meet me halfway.
Despite her love for every person on the planet, she
took a perverse delight in angering me.
Whenever we would start to get close, she would
invariably do something curious that would push me away.
We would have to start all over again.
found a way to break through this vicious cycle. There
was an uneasy peace between us. Although our
windows were only 15 feet apart, it could just
easily have been the Pacific Ocean forming a moat.
our proximity, Mom and I
lived separate lives. Although I
visited about once a week, there was always resentment
between us that prevented any real sharing of private thoughts.
I think both of us were terrified of the pent-up anger we
felt towards one another. Fearful of
setting the beast free, we avoided any risk by
addressing each other in a polite, formal way.
the fact that my mother and I stayed in close contact,
we never solved our differences.
Sad to say, we still carried considerable resentment towards
each other till the day she died in 2008.
loved the Mexican culture.
Nemescio, her fourth husband
I could write a
book about my mother's unusual life, but I think I will
stick to two stories that sum up our relationship well.
daughter Samantha was born in 1991, I was astonished
to see my mother ignore the girl from the moment she
was born. Her neglect made no sense to me.
Aren't grandmothers supposed to dote on grandchildren?
assumed Mom would eventually warm up to Sam. However,
two years passed and my mother still hadn't made the
incredulous; Sam was a great kid. She was funny,
intelligent, and not shy at all. Sam
talked up a storm with everyone and made them laugh. What possible
reason did my mother have to avoid her granddaughter?
Part of the problem was a tension
between Mom and my second wife Judy. From the moment
they met, it was clear the two women were uncomfortable
around each other. They were polite, but distant. Mom was more than happy to ignore
the baby and Judy was more than happy to let her.
One day in 1993
I decided to try again. Let's see if I could mend
fences with my complicated mother. Jurassic Park
had just been released. I saw an opportunity that
might lead to a breakthrough. Sam was almost two years
old, but she had never once had a babysitter at our house.
Maybe Mom would consider helping out. If so, perhaps Mom
would warm up to my daughter and the two of them could develop a rapport. In
addition, maybe the babysitting gesture would soften the uneasy tension
between my mother and Judy.
Judy had not had
a single break from watching Sam since the day the child was
born. Meanwhile my mother lived 15 feet away and was
home most of the time.
This was ridiculous. Judy needed a break. I also
knew Judy wanted to see the movie.
Why not take advantage of Mom's
I spoke to Judy. Let's go see the movie. Why not let Mom watch Sam?
Judy shook her
"I have a better
idea. Let's take Sam with us."
"Well, the movie
is supposed to be terrifying with huge dinosaurs chasing
kids. Is that what you want?"
Judy crossed her
right. I agree. That's no movie for a two
year old. But I do not trust your mother to be alone
I told Judy she
was being needlessly paranoid. I assured Judy my mother would
never hurt Sam in a million years. Sam was nearly two
now and not at all fragile. Why not give it a try?
Judy shook her
"Rick, I have another reason. Every
time your mother comes over here, she insists on bringing
her three dogs with her. I refuse to let those dogs in the house and so
your mother leaves in a huff. To her, it's like I am
insulting her babies not to let them in the house.
Why can't your mother come by herself? It is
almost like she does it deliberately so I will push her
Even if I agree
to let your mother in my home, I am positive she is going to
bring her dogs with her. I don't want another
confrontation. I won't let those dogs in my house.
Those dogs have fleas.
I see them scratching in your mother's back yard all the time. I
do not want fleas in my home. Our dogs do not have
fleas and I want to keep it that way. I don't
want to take the chance of having to fight a flea
infestation. We can see the movie another time."
"Some other time? When? You work six nights a
week at the dance studio. I work six nights a week at
the dance studio. Saturday is our only night together.
Furthermore we have no other babysitter. Mom is our
only choice. You need a break and I know you
want to see this movie. So do I. Let's give Mom
a try. Just this one time and see what happens."
Judy was right
mother's dogs. I didn't want my mother's dogs in
the house any more than she did. Every time I
visited Mom at her house, I watched those poor dogs scratch the entire
We had three dogs
of our own, but not a single flea in the house thanks to Judy's vigilance. She
combed each dog once a day looking for fleas. The
moment she found one, our understanding was that I would give all three dogs an
immediate flea bath.
This was a lot of time-consuming work. I didn't want to risk fleas in
the house any more than Judy did.
completely agree with you on the fleas. Don't
worry, I will tell my mother that I insist the three
dogs stay in her house."
"Rick, you will
make your mother PROMISE not to bring the dogs over...yes?"
I nodded. "Yes,
I heard you the first time. Don't worry, I will handle it."
concerns, Judy reluctantly gave in.
So I went next
door and asked my mother if she would watch Sam. This
was a big step. As I said, in
two years, Mom had not babysat for us once. I had
never asked and
she had never offered.
To her credit, Mom readily agreed to
watch Sam. I was proud of her. Maybe this would
lead to that breakthrough.
Then I said,
"Mom, I have a favor to ask. Would you please leave
the dogs here in your house? I don't mean to make you
feel bad, but your dogs have a flea problem and I would
rather not take the chance of letting the problem spread to our
Mom looked at me
quizzically for a moment, then replied, "Okay. I will
leave the dogs behind."
night, Mom came over at 5:45, the appointed time. Sam did
not know my mother very well, but had seen her enough times
to be at ease. It wasn't like Mom was mean to Sam,
they were just strangers.
Sam was very
used to being around adults. At age two, Sam came with
us to the dance studio every night and enjoyed her mascot
role as the studio's resident cute kid. She got a lot of
attention this way. Therefore,
Sam didn't blink an eye when we said her grandmother would
be staying with her. Sam just slipped in a Disney
movie and got comfortable. Mom found a chair nearby
and pulled out a crossword puzzle.
I looked at Judy
and she shrugged. Let the experiment begin.
We got to the
theater at 6 pm. Even though we had arrived an hour
early, Judy and I were incredulous to discover the 7 pm
showing was already sold out. The two of us didn't get
many free evenings and I was determined to see this
movie, so I went ahead and purchased tickets for the 9:30 pm
For lack of
anything else to do, we drove back home. We
were both very curious to see what we would find.
When Judy and I
walked in the door at 6:15 pm, there were six dogs in the
house. Three were ours and three belonged to Mom.
The pandemonium was ridiculous. There were dogs everywhere chasing each other.
The place was a zoo and the dogs were jumping on furniture.
I stared at my
mother. My mother stared back at me. I didn't
say a word about the dogs. To avoid a scene, I simply said, "The movie
was sold out, so we came home early. Thank you for watching
Sam, but we will take it from here."
Without a word, Mom got off the
couch and called the dogs to follow her. Order was
In short order,
I heard fifteen variations of "I told you so" from Judy.
To be honest, I think Judy was pleased to be proven correct.
We went ahead
and took Sam with us to the next showing. I put her on
my lap and let her curl up against me. Judy put a
blanket over her and then I put my arm around my daughter. Now I crossed my fingers. As I
hoped, by the time the movie started, Sam was sound asleep.
The movie was great,
but so was the bitterness I felt.
In the days that
followed, I expected my mother to step forward and
apologize, then offer to do better the next time. Mom
never said a word. Not once did we ever discuss this
I felt betrayed.
I had tried to extend the olive branch and
felt like my mother spit at me for my effort. There was
absolutely no explanation for the woman's action. I
assumed she was demonstrating her contempt for me and
most likely for Judy as well.
I never asked
Mom to watch Sam again.
When Marla came
into my life, she and my mother got along much better.
Nevertheless, Mom came very close to ruining our 2004
wedding. Marla and I got
married on a cruise ship. I paid for a cabin so Mom
could come along with us to see the service and then share the
weeklong cruise trip as well.
I was just about
to begin the proceedings when I noticed Mom was missing.
Grabbing my two groomsmen, the three of us immediately took
off to look for her. I made a mistake by not
explaining where I was headed to anyone else. This
left poor Marla with no idea what was going on. She
immediately began to cry when someone said I had left suddenly with an angry look on my
face. Marla was terrified I had changed my mind.
As for me, I
didn't anticipate I would be gone long. However, this
was an ordeal. Since I didn't know which room
my mother and Aunt Lynn were staying in, I wasted valuable
time looking for her. Finally I had to go down the
front desk and get her cabin number.
When I did
finally locate her, Mom and Lynn were asleep in their cabin.
They had decided to take a short nap.
Our wedding was
delayed 30 minutes. This kept people waiting
needlessly and cost us 25% of the two
hours we had paid for.
Marla understood what had happened, she forgave me.
The rest of the wedding went well.
Aunt Lynn, her sister in law
the things Mom did to upset me, nothing bothered me
more than my mother's unwillingness to show the
slightest interest in her granddaughter who lived
next door. Not a single photograph exists with my daughter
and my mother together. This is odd because my
mother loved kids. I have pictures with
Mom and other children... but none with Sam.
Sam like the girl didn't exist. No
occasional visits to say hello, no birthday cards, not even
my mother did
to hurt me. If so, she was quite successful.
My mother's continued cold shoulder towards a girl
who had never done anything to deserve this
treatment upset me deeply.
Ordinarily Mom was friendly, affable, and generous
in spirit. But when it came to me, she seemed
to go out of her way to aggravate me.
Approximately once a year, Mom would pull another
stunt that made sure that wall between us stayed
very much intact. I have no idea what
satisfaction Mom derived from her odd behavior.
I was baffled.
would an otherwise amiable woman go out of her way
to upset me?
do know is my
mother's ongoing spite served as the major reason why I was never able to
bridge the gulf between us. So close and yet
IN THE NEXT LIFE
has revealed that I was a confused, mixed-up kid
during those terrible years of High School Hell.
understand that surely I have some responsibility in
the sad state of affairs that existed between me and
can say on my behalf is that I tried to mend fences
in my adult years.
Unfortunately, I failed to a large extent.
Although I had a cordial relationship with my
father, it was superficial to the point of being
vapid. Right up to the day he died I was still
trying to figure out a way to get closer to him.
My father was a man who preferred to keep things
superficial, so I never got past the mask.
my mother, well, she had some kind of a bee in her
bonnet where I was concerned. I am positive
that deep down she loved me very much, but Mom would
be damned if she ever let her guard down and showed
parents died without bothering to say they loved me
or were proud of me.
forced to guess where I went wrong, I think they
both sensed that I never forgave them. This
was certainly never discussed out loud, but I
believe that people have an intuition about unspoken
things. I imagine this undercurrent prevented
any complete reconciliation.
admit that "forgiveness" is not one of my strengths.
Sensing my disapproval, they kept their barriers up.
the Hindu system of reincarnation isn't just a bunch
of mumbo jumbo, I suppose this means I get to see them both
again in the next lifetime. No doubt they will
something to say about this book.
can say is, if I turn out to be their parent, I
certainly intend to do a better job raising them
than they did me.