Parents Revisited
Home Up Coincidence Examined

   

Book One:

A SIMPLE ACT OF KINDNESS


PART FOUR: RETROSPECT
CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT:
PARENTS REVISITED

Written by Rick Archer

  2015, Richard Archer

 


SUBCHAPTER 104 -
THE MYSTERY OF MY FATHER

 

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 the mystery.

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 to self-examination. 

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. 

Here 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 well.

 

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 my own.    

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 from school. 

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 family. 

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 child.

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. 

Dad kept 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.  Stepmother's callousness 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 him. 

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 encouragement.

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 never happened.

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 enter.  

"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 a 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. 

What 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 of them.

My father was unconscious when I returned the next day.  He died shortly thereafter.

I was 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.   

Ah, Stepmother.  Stepmommy Dearest.  Not a classy bone in her nasty little body.

My final memory of my father alive would be seeing him wave to me from his bed as my stepmother steadfastly refused to move. 

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 father.

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.

You know what?  I contend my father got what he deserved... her.

As for my inheritance, that is an interesting story as well.  I never expected to be included in my father's will and I was correct. 

"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.

To my 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.

Meeting Charles at some pizza joint, he handed me three non-descript paperback books, the kind you find for three for a dollar at a garage sale.  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 I had.

 


SUBCHAPTER 105 - MY MOTHER

 

My 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.

Unlike 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 downtrodden. 

I would 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 and through.

Unlike 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. 

My 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.

In 1986 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. 

At 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. 

I never 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 as easily have been the Pacific Ocean forming a moat. 

Despite 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. 

Despite 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. 

My mother loved the Mexican culture.
 

Mom with 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.

When my 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? 

I assumed Mom would eventually warm up to Sam.  However, two years passed and my mother still hadn't made the slightest effort. 

I was 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 proximity?

So I spoke to Judy.  Let's go see the movie.  Why not let Mom watch Sam? 

Judy shook her head. 

"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 arms. 

"No, you're right.  I agree.  That's no movie for a two year old.  But I do not trust your mother to be alone with Sam." 

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 years old now and not at all fragile.  Why not give it a try?

Judy shook her head again. 

"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 away.

Even if I agree to let your mother in my home, I am positive she is going to try 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."

I disagreed.

"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 about my 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 time. 

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.

"Judy, I 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."

Despite her 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 house."

Mom looked at me quizzically for a moment, then replied, "Okay. I will leave the dogs behind."

The following 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 showing.

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 restored. 

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 incident. 

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. 

Fortunately once Marla understood what had happened, she forgave me.  The rest of the wedding went well.

Mary and Aunt Lynn, her sister in law
 

Of all 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. 

Mom avoided Sam like the girl didn't exist.  No occasional visits to say hello, no birthday cards, not even Christmas presents.

I believed my mother did this deliberately 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. 

Why would an otherwise amiable woman go out of her way to upset me?

What I 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 so far.

 


SUBCHAPTER 106 -
IN THE NEXT LIFE

 

My story has revealed that I was a confused, mixed-up kid during those terrible years of High School Hell.

I understand that surely I have some responsibility in the sad state of affairs that existed between me and my parents.

All I 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. 

As for 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 it.

Both parents died without bothering to say they loved me or were proud of me. 

If 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. 

I fully admit that "forgiveness" is not one of my strengths.  Sensing my disapproval, they kept their barriers up. 

Assuming 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 both have something to say about this book. 

All I 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.

 


CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE: COINCIDENCE EXAMINED

 

 

Intro 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30
SSQQ Front Page Parties/Calendar Jokes
SSQQ Information Schedule of Classes Writeups
SSQQ Archive Newsletter History of SSQQ