He took me and my younger brother to feed the ducks at a pond on base.
When I was 6 and 7, but not so much when I was 8, I would walk the three blocks to the corner near the mailbox where the bus would drop him off after a day’s work at the Pentagon.
Why not so much when I was 8? By then, I would ride my bike to meet him and there was this one time when my mom pulled up in the Woody station wagon with my four siblings and said, “Let’s go to McDonald’s.” But there was my spanking new banana bike that I had received for my 8th birthday. “Just leave it,” he said. But I couldn’t. So the six of them drove off and I returned home to an empty and quickly darkening house. That might very well have been the last time I went to meet him at the mailbox.
He was harsh. Four out of five of us feared him mightily. One stood his ground each and every time. So my brother took the brunt of his force – after my mother, of course – and at least I didn’t get the worst of it. Third worst. Right in the middle. Just like birth order.
I recall violent episodes, but not too many. I think my sister recalls far more. I have blocked it (mostly) out, preferring to remember almost nothing of my childhood rather than recall the bad.
But if you thought childhood was gingerly walking around my father, the teen years were far worse. That’s when my mom asked for the divorce. And that’s when it all fell apart for my dad. No details necessary, really, on this, what would have been his 83rd birthday. Would have been had he not died, with us reunited for several years, when he was 56.
I loved him then. I loved him through it all. And I’m heartened, now, as I near the age of his death, that imperfect parenting can be forgiven, and love remains.
Happy birthday, Dad!