Sunday, June 17, 2012

Wishing I could love Father's Day

Some Father’s Day questions for my father(s)

Think of it this way, when you read what I’m sharing on this Father’s Day, you may think it’s a downer. But I’ll bet it will make you appreciate your own father even more.

Questions I wish I had asked my father:

Even if you believed that you weren’t my father — that your brother was — how could you be so cruel to tell me such a thing when I was only seven? 

If I hadn’t looked up just in time those two times when I was playing with my toy truck while you were digging in the planter, would you have crushed me with the shovel as you were poised to do?

OK, I was only nine the last time I saw you — before the accident that would put you in a coma and eventually kill you, but why can’t I remember just one kind word or one bit of encouragement, or remember you ever touching me with something other than your belt?

Why did you get so angry with me at Gilmore Field when I was unable to pick out which player the batter was? You kept shouting that he was the guy standing in the box. I looked and looked, but there were no boxes lying on the ground — much less someone standing in one.

And when you took me to watch that football game at The L.A. Coliseum (easy to remember, it was the only one), why did you tell me that the name of the surrounding neighborhood was Nigger Town?

Even though we were sitting five or six rows above any other football fans, did you have any idea how embarrassed I was — for you — when that man down below turned around and said to you, “Hey Buddy! Stop with the profanity! It’s only a game! Imagine how your kid feels hearing that garbage come from his dad’s mouth?”

When you finally came home and found my friend and me shouting and pounding for someone to help us get out of the closet we accidentally locked ourselves in, why did you choose to beat me instead of comforting me?

Did you ever know how much terror I felt when I would wet the bed and lay there petrified that you would find out and punish me with the belt again?

Finally, what did your father do to you that made you so angry — so angry that you could hate and hurt your own son?

These are some questions I wish I would have asked of my stepfather, who came into my life about the time my father died. By the way, I’ve figured out most of the answers now, but I should have asked these questions back then:

Why do you think that a skinny kid a third your size would actually believe that he could kick your ass? Did you think that offering to take me up to the desert and giving me a baseball bat to even things out was something I would want to do?

Why do you forbid me from doing or having anything else the other kids did or had?

What made you so enraged that you could punch in the face for coming the door late for dinner and then make me get up and clean up the blood off the floor?

And when I tried to tell you that joke that involved asking you “What’s a goatee?,” why couldn’t you just play along instead of shouting at me to “look it up in the goddamned dictionary?” And did you really need to nearly rip my ear off as you dragged me around the house by it looking for that damned dictionary? Did you enjoy hearing me read the definition through my snot-nosed sobbing?

And the biggest questions I wish I could ask you now:

Why did you keep it a secret until the day I returned from Vietnam that you had spent more than a decade in prison for robbing a gas station as a 19-year-old?

And when you did tell me about it, why did you lie about the real crimes you committed — a home-invasion robbery where you tied up grandma and grandpa and held them at gunpoint, and embezzling thousands of dollars from a bank?

And I want to ask him one last question: Why didn’t you tell me about the two other sons you had with two other mothers? Did you think I would never find out about them? Or that they wouldn’t find out about each other? Well I did and so did they!

To both my father and my stepfather:

Do you have any idea how much I dreamed of being a father and knowing how to do a better job than you did?

Do you know had sad I get on Father’s Day?


helpingmedia said...

Hi Don,

Amazing read. Thanks for sharing. I didn't realise you had gone through so much.


Wm Prather said...

Geeze! Is all that possibly true? In comparison, I feel like I got of pretty easy with my own abusive father. I feel like I probably should go over and give you a hug.

Don Ray said...

Bill, it reminds me of the time I decided I needed to learn how to become affectionate. I went to the library and, being a guy, refused to ask for help. I wandered around the stacks for the longest time and finally saw a book with these words printed on the spine:


Immediately, I grabbed it and went to check it out. That's when the librarian harshly told me, "Sir, you can't check out Volume four of the encyclopedia!"

Alan O'Day said...

When you're a kid, with little perspective, insanity can feel sane. In truth, you were a kicking boy for the man's anger at himself. Thank God you survived, to turn it around & become the loving person that you are. I applaud you for that, & for daring to write the truth.
Love, Alan

Kent Barcus said...

Don, you've never in any way seemed to emulate the negative examples set by two men who could have been heroes to a vulnerable little guy. But your courage in sharing this helps many others to appreciate their own parents as role models, even though imperfect.


Efrem said...

Don, I am so sorry for the pain you had experienced with not one but two fathers. It is unbelievable how insensitive and absolutely heartless human beings can be and unfortunately you experienced a massive dosage of these ruthless people.

I am glad we had a breakfast this morning together to share fathers day and to hopefully put some brightness for you during this day. Hang in there buddy.


Don Ray said...

Thanks David, Bill, Alan, Kent and Efrem. As you all know, I'm trying my best to be a good human. It's on Father's Day that I'm so envious of my friends who got to experience wonderful fathers and those who were also successful at being good fathers as well.

Efrem, I was honored to join you, Pam and Rebecca this morning. I was pleased to be able to join a family that is doing its best --- and succeeding.

Kathy A. said...

Don -- your questions moved me deeply. Hope you keep writing. I'll bet you've had one incredible journey starting from such a painful place and moving into adulthood. A lot to overcome. Thanks for your comment on my Denver Post piece. That was the first time I've written about my dad in such a public place.

Don Ray said...

Kathy A.,
This is also the first time I've written about my father this way. Something told me the time was right to unload some feelings and make room for newer, better thoughts. Your story in the Denver Post made me feel as if I'm not alone. Thanks again.

Unknown said...

Don, thank you for your heartfelt thoughts. Sharing this helps you heal, as well as helping others of us who suffered at the hands of sick and abusive parents. I wish we could have talked and shared and helped each other understand way back then that none of that was our fault and we never deserved any of it. We were innocent helpless children. You have turned your life into something caring and good. There are many ways to touch and influence other lives for good, beyond parenthood. You do that with care, goodness, and strength. Celebrate yourself. You have risen above garbage to become a genuinely good and caring person. You do touch lives.

Unknown said...

Had to smile at this.
"Unknown" aka linda willson nelson

Don Ray said...

Hey Linda,
Even before you belatedly revealed your name, I knew that such a message of love, wisdom and assurance could only come from you. If I could have only imagined that the shy little girl in elementary school was, herself, suffering. The best part is that you devoted your life to helping people find ways of healing themselves. Thanks so much.

Anonymous said...

Dear Don,

Here's some profound caring coming from someone you've never met, floating your way. As a survivor of similar abuse, I have found the "inner child" paradigm useful ... the idea that as adults, we can take loving care of the fearful, damaged child within, as the child should have been cared for, when young.

Your incident(s?) with the ear-pulling reminded me of the hair-pulling terror my father perpetrated on his daughters. And oh God the belt whippings. Our society has evolved somewhat since those days ... I'm just appalled at the number of adults who knew of the abuse in my home and allowed it to continue. Neighbors, teachers.

I hope you've been able to become a full and kind human being, unlike the beasts who caused you such suffering. Thank you for sharing.

Don Ray said...

Dear Anonymous,
Thanks so very much for the encouraging words and the loving and sound advice. It's interesting that I probably became an investigative journalist because of the injustices people experience and, too often, their inability to ask questions. I found that, many times, I would seek out people of wisdom and interview them on behalf of a bigger audience. In reality, however, I was often asking questions that were important to me. Here's one example:
Fortunately, I've been taking your sound advice for a long time. I've been caring for that inner child and telling him that it's not his fault. It takes a lot of talking, however. Again, Thanks.

Michael R. Morris said...

Wow. Let it be said that a child will never forget, despite careless claims to the contrary.

David C LeSueur said...

Hi Don. This is Dave LeSueur. I just read this today. . . I was deeply moved. You should be proud to have become a good person in spite of your fathers.