Farewell Fayette County & Environs

I’m help­ing my moth­er move from my ances­tral demesne this week. I feel lit­tle sor­row regard­ing the move from this par­tic­u­lar home, the third of three I lived in when I lived in Fayette Coun­ty; but a much deep­er sense of loss regard­ing cer­tain oth­er places that have sen­ti­men­tal val­ue to me. Of course, me being I, they almost all revolve around food.

For lunch today, Abra­ham and I stopped at J’s Dairy Inn, locat­ed in Lib­er­ty, IN. Since the pre­vail­ing wind is from the west, if you’re in Con­nersville and you spit, it’ll land in Union Coun­ty. In addi­tion to being the loca­tion of J’s, it is also home to White­wa­ter Memo­r­i­al State Park (the only lake I’ve ever swum across), and the pret­ti­est girls per capi­ta of any­where I’ve ever been. I used to stop in at J’s semi-reg­u­lar­ly dur­ing my high school days, and quite reg­u­lar­ly when I worked as sum­mer help doing warehousing/teamster work for E.W. Brock­man Com­pa­ny. When they’d place an order I’d basi­cal­ly deliv­er any and every paper good they’d use. The most deli­cious greasy-spoon burg­ers, crispest crin­kle-cut fries, and most gigan­tic milk­shakes around. You could dri­ve from Con­nersville to Lib­er­ty, eat at J’s and get back to work in just bare­ly under an hour.

Din­ner was from Lee’s Famous Recipe Chick­en. Just a reg­u­lar fast food joint. Can’t hold a can­dle to the St. Gabriel’s Fried Chick­en  din­ner at the Fayette Coun­ty Free Fair, but it was the best fried chick­en in town oth­er­wise, and to my taste-mem­o­ry, no oth­er fast food fried chick­en will ever be the same. We ate our chick­en din­ner at Robert’s Park, home to the afore­men­tioned fair, demo­li­tion der­bies, har­ness rac­ing (and ille­gal gam­bling), clas­sic car shows, and fre­quent cross-coun­try prac­tice des­ti­na­tion. In the pre-sea­son, we’d run past the dirt track, into the woods and go swim­ming in the White­wa­ter Riv­er.

Tomor­row will be Kunkel’s Dri­ve-in for lunch. Ten­der­loin bas­ket with heavy mus­tard and a vanil­la coke. The cute girls always worked at Dairy Queen, K-mart, or Kunkel’s in high school. I remem­ber sit­ting in the back of my dad’s van as a lit­tle kid and unwrap­ping the smell of deep fried pork, the lat­er taste of mus­tard crust­ed in the cor­ner of my mouth. Piz­za King for din­ner. Holi­est of holies. St. Louis-style pie. Do you pre­fer west­side or south­side? It mat­ters. I’m a south­side feller, the over­sized gooey choco­late chip cook­ies and table­top arcade games as a boy, and its liquor license as an adult. I spent more time at west­side though, where the teens hung out in my day. Dairy Twist for dessert, even if Abra­ham doesn’t eat his din­ner. I went there every evening one sum­mer for a large cher­ry milk­shake, try­ing to put on some weight, and nev­er had the con­fi­dence to ask out the girl who hand­ed them to me night after night. Didn’t put on any weight either. Fenc­ing in col­lege final­ly did that. Now, the fight is to keep it off. Just not this week.

I’ll still have the mem­o­ries of being perched on the hill at 514 Franklin Street, over­look­ing the whole city and feel­ing like a trip-step would send me sprawl­ing onto St. Gabriel’s steeple. But I won’t be dri­ving past that house any­more. I’ll still have mem­o­ries of the house on Stoney­brook Lane, the entire days spent in William’s Creek, swing­ing on grape vines, socks cov­ered in bur­docks, being forced to strip out­side and be cold-hosed off before even being allowed near the house. But I won’t be near that creek again. I’ll still have mem­o­ries of rolling up toward Rich­mond with the boys, 45 min­utes to the near­est movie the­ater, the back­road route, Pen­nville to Pot­ter­shop, late night truck stop stop for the Night Owl Spe­cial: a plat­ter of bis­cuits and gravy for $2.00. Now just a 10 minute stretch on I-70 as I bar­rel toward Indi­anapo­lis.

I’ve hat­ed on Con­nersville in my day. Even wrote a let­ter to the edi­tor once upon a time. But it’s a great place to raise a kid, and the grow­ing-up-to-hate-it-and-leav­ing is kind of nec­es­sary; if we didn’t drift away like dan­de­lion fluff, Con­nersville wouldn’t be Con­nersville. Water flows away from the spring to nour­ish oth­er areas.

My Dad Died

My dad died awhile back, on Wednes­day, 19 Jan­u­ary 2011. He was diag­nosed with lung can­cer in the lat­ter half of 2010, had a lung removed, and then devel­oped an untreat­able infec­tion.

Don’t smoke, peo­ple.

The Past

Here’s the thing: shame though it may be, for me, my dad died one sum­mer after­noon about 17 years ago. As a 13 year-old, I jumped out of the 1970 Pon­ti­ac GTO (that I helped him restore) on West­ern Avenue & 18th Street in Con­nersville, Indi­ana. He was yelling about how he was going to beat the hell out of me when we got to his home. My father died dur­ing the ter­ror of those min­utes in the car, while I fever­ish­ly weighed the options on how best to pro­tect myself. I nev­er dri­ve past the ram­shackle house halfway down that block with­out remem­ber­ing.

At first it wasn’t like he’d died, but grew into death as the years rolled by. Through­out high school and taper­ing off in col­lege there were awk­ward instances at cross-coun­try meets, cards wish­ing me Hap­py Birth­day & the like. I was unable to rec­on­cile the man he appeared to be in pub­lic (which seemed an act to me) with the man who once spent an entire day of vis­i­ta­tion dri­ving me around in his van and yelling at me & my mom for mak­ing his oth­er chil­dren bas­tards in the eyes of the Catholic Church. I was unable to rec­on­cile the man who said he want­ed to be a part of my life with the man who fought tooth & nail to avoid con­tribut­ing to my upbring­ing & edu­ca­tion.

He was eas­i­er to for­get as those attempts at inter­ac­tion came few­er and far­ther between. Once I start­ed my blog, I knew he read it, he left strange, stilt­ed com­ments from time to time, but by then it was easy to just see these as com­ing from one more stranger among the bunch. The awk­ward attempts to com­mu­ni­cate with me via the occa­sion­al card, email for­wards, blog com­ments & prox­ies were the my father could do. I think he had a per­ma­nent vic­tim men­tal­i­ty. This allowed him to twist the wrongs he did to oth­ers into wrongs done unto him. There is no need to admit mis­takes or ask for for­give­ness (two things I nev­er heard or saw him do) when one is the chron­ic vic­tim. Repeat the spin enough and oth­ers will believe it, repeat it long enough and you’ll start to believe it your­self.

In high school, one of my teach­ers (and a one­time friend of my father) had a talk with me about his abort­ed rela­tion­ship with his father . He con­fid­ed in me that his one regret in life was that he didn’t make peace with his father when he had the chance. I wasn’t any­where near a place where I could have done that when I was giv­en that advice, but it has always stuck with me. I fre­quent­ly thought about con­tact­ing my father, but con­tin­u­al­ly put it off, some­times through my own reluc­tance, but some­times that deci­sion was rein­forced through the actions of peo­ple close to him. I’ve received hate-filled emails through the years, most long-since delet­ed, but here’s a recent sam­ple, from a com­plete stranger:

Hey, can I be any clear­er now? Do I have your atten­tion? I know Don has kept in touch with you and let you know what is going on, but I dont know if you seem to under­stand the sever­i­ty of this sit­u­a­tion. Are you real­ly that shal­low that you are going to allow your own father, who gave you life, to go through this surgery, that he may or may NOT live through, and nev­er let him meet his grand­son? You are a sick, pathet­ic excuse for a per­son and you have no feel­ings. My kids are so hurt by this. He is their grand­pa and they love him and he treats them won­der­ful and they dont judge him by mis­takes he has made in the past. I am cry­ing on a night­ly basis and pray­ing to God that he makes it through and you cant even reach out to him in his time of need. He is not even my father, but he has treat­ed me like a daugth­er since the day we met.…..You should be ASHAMED of your­self. Every year that man has bought Christ­mas presents for you and they have just piled up in a clos­et in his and my moms house because you nev­er had the guts to show up. BE A MAN ADAM and let your boy meet his grand­fa­ther. Stop run­ning. You are going to regret this deci­sion for the rest of your life if he dos­nt make it through the surgery. Please make peace. Your dad wants to be a father to you and ALWAYS has. Sor­ry your mom ruined that for you but your old enough to make your own deci­sions now. Be the adult and face him and let him know you give a damn. He loves you with all of his heart and it makes me sick the way he aches to meet his grand­son and wants to see you. You make me SICK. You so deserve an ass beat­in!!!! I wish we could have been friends or fam­i­ly but you refused to let that hap­pen and I tried to give you the benifit of the doubt over the years and keep my opin­ion of you to myself but seri­ous­ly, how do you look at your­self in the mir­ror every­day? ????

Do the right thing for your son Adam. Stop being self­ish and think­ing about your­self. The world dos­nt revolved around you. Are you old enough to under­stand that yet???

MAN UP BOY.…MAN UP!!!!!!!

When­ev­er I thought that rec­on­cil­i­a­tion was a pos­si­bil­i­ty I would receive a reminder of the unhealthy envi­ron­ment I’d been delib­er­ate­ly avoid­ing. I’ve nev­er felt the need to accept that neg­a­tiv­i­ty into my life.

Things could have been much dif­fer­ent these past 17 years if at any point in that time I had got­ten the sense from him that he had changed in any way, but that nev­er hap­pened. In some ways, I’m still that scared 13 year-old boy when think­ing of my father, and I think my father was nev­er able to see me as more than the scared 13 year-old boy he didn’t under­stand. Not only did I nev­er get an indi­ca­tion from him that he had changed, but bits and drib­bles of rumor made their way to me through a vari­ety of sources that con­firmed my sus­pi­cions. Once my son was born, I start­ed hear­ing from peo­ple that he would show folks a pic­ture of Abra­ham and tell them “That’s as close as I’m ever going to get to meet­ing him.” I think the only way he knew to get atten­tion from oth­ers was to manip­u­late them into giv­ing him what he want­ed.

For 17 years there have been things that I’ve need­ed to dis­cuss with my father; now I will no longer have a chance to do so. It might be cow­ardice on my part for nev­er hav­ing attempt­ed to make those tough con­ver­sa­tions hap­pen, and I think I bear a small amount of respon­si­bil­i­ty (the same respon­si­bil­i­ty any per­son has for resolv­ing unfin­ished busi­ness with anoth­er) for not hav­ing con­tact­ed him once I was mature enough to know my own mind, but a greater respon­si­bil­i­ty lay upon him to seek amends with me. Not once in the 17 years of our estrange­ment did he approach me forth­right­ly, con­trite­ly or non-manip­u­la­tive­ly. The approach­es were always oblique, con­de­scend­ing, retard­ed, as if he could not notice the giant red flag of his abuse. I don’t know, maybe he couldn’t see it. Noth­ing could be eas­i­er than to spread blame around; the fact remains that the sit­u­a­tion will always remain a sad one. It’s a shame; espe­cial­ly since I for­gave my father years ago. How­ev­er, for­give­ness is only pro­duc­tive when it is shared with some­one who seeks it; and for­giv­ing some­one for an abu­sive rela­tion­ship does not require main­te­nance of that rela­tion­ship. I made my peace with him, but he nev­er gave him­self the chance to find out.

For 17 years I didn’t want the grow­ing pile of Christ­mas presents in his clos­et, I want­ed my father to respect him­self, our rela­tion­ship, and me enough to say that he was sor­ry.

A lot of buried bit­ter­ness per­co­lat­ed to the top in this sec­tion. I’ve known about it and rec­og­nized it for years, and since I’ve done that, along with know­ing and rec­og­niz­ing oth­er dan­ger­ous emo­tions and prob­a­bil­i­ties that are my inher­i­tance from my dad, I’ve been able to chan­nel them into pro­duc­tive ener­gy, towards myself, my son, my kith & kin. And bit­ter­ness is a pas­sive emo­tion; I bore and bear my father no ill will; I was sad­dened to hear of his can­cer and decline in the same way I would be sad­dened by hear­ing that news about any per­son that I know.

The Future

Because I’ve lived over half my life with­out a father, I’ve had to learn most of what it means to be a man on my own. That’s both a hin­drance and a help; a hin­drance because I’ve had no con­sis­tent pres­ence to set an exam­ple or offer guid­ance, a help because that very lack of pres­ence has forced me to work hard at defin­ing man­hood for myself, and I feel that I’ve reached an under­stand­ing that I would have been inca­pable of if I hadn’t had to do the work myself. The learn­ing process began with sim­ple things, like teach­ing myself to shave, but has expand­ed and mor­phed through­out the years into some­thing as com­plex as a phi­los­o­phy for my actions & deci­sions as a father. There will always be holes in the foun­da­tion, but that just means I need to change the metaphor for man­hood from a struc­tur­al one into a pro­gres­sive one; it’s a jour­ney, not a house. A jour­ney changes, a house set­tles.

Because of my father’s dis­ap­point­ment that I wasn’t the boy he want­ed me to be, I’ve learned the oppo­site of his exam­ple: to accept that what I want has noth­ing to do with what is. I’ve learned that the impo­si­tion of will is less pow­er­ful than run­ning water. Instead of beat­ing on a wall and get­ting nowhere, flow around it and move beyond. The dif­fer­ence between being stub­born & being implaca­ble.

I’ve been blessed to have sur­ro­gate father fig­ures through­out the years, not the least of which have been my uncles. They have always been there with the right advice — right when I need it. I haven’t gone through this alone, and though I’ve done my best in this post to stick to the core and key (my father, for­give­ness, myself) of this many-ten­ta­cled inter­per­son­al con­flict, there is much more that could be said. For my part, I think I’ve shared what has been most impor­tant to me. It is nice to final­ly lay the bur­den down.

The whole par­a­digm I’ve been talk­ing about and work­ing through is a sad and com­plex sit­u­a­tion. This sto­ry could have been about repen­tence, for­give­ness and heal­ing; so what I mourn most is what the last 17 years could have been if things had been dif­fer­ent. One thing I do know, my future will be dif­fer­ent; I’ve got my rea­sons and I’ve got the moti­va­tion.

514 Snapshot

Rosie & Adam circa 1986

This image has been on my About page for years. Before that, as evi­denced by the crinkly, thumb­tack-bestabbed bor­der of the pho­to­graph, it was on my bul­letin board for years. It was tak­en at my first home, 514 Franklin Street, in Con­nersville, Indi­ana.

There’s a spe­cial place in my heart for this pho­to, despite the com­plete­ly incor­rect white-bal­ance. Rosie, my bea­gle, was my boon com­pan­ion for 10 years. I still remem­ber the moment this was tak­en, the con­crete on this side porch was always cold and slight­ly damp, I could feel it through my sock-feet, and the sand­stony grit under my hands. I’ve got my arm locked around Rosie so she would be forced to look at the cam­era for the pho­to.

There were always slugs on the side­walk.

PLI

When I was very small, the worst word I knew was “hate.” I could get smacked for using it too freely or inap­pro­pri­ate­ly. Lat­er, I was taught the typ­i­cal tru­ism “if you can’t say any­thing nice, don’t say any­thing.” Once I’d processed that by being required to sit in a chair and think about man­ners a few times, I then became con­fused about the dif­fer­ence between a com­ment and a com­pli­ment. I under­stood per­fect­ly well what a com­pli­ment was, but a com­ment was a conun­drum. Appar­ent­ly a com­ment didn’t have to be com­pli­men­ta­ry. So to my tiny bina­ry mind, this cer­tain­ly meant that com­ments were not some­thing that was good.

It’s tod­dler log­ic, like the time I asked Mom to name every­thing that began with the let­ter m. Hey, Mom begins with m doesn’t it? She must know every­thing else that begins with m then.

Refection Reflection

Since my library books and Ama­zon order haven’t arrived yet I start­ed reread­ing David Cooper’s Exis­ten­tial­ism last night. I picked this up at a table in the fac­ul­ty build­ing at Notre Dame many years ago. This was a very cool table. Profs would drop what­ev­er books they no longer had a use for there for oth­er profs [and pirat­i­cal stu­dents like myself] to snatch. Unfor­tu­nate­ly I didn’t find out about this table until my junior year, there­by miss­ing two years of poten­tial­ly awe­some library build­ing.

In any case, apart from a few copies of The New York­er whose cov­ers I cov­et­ed until I threw them out, this vol­ume is the only one I can actu­al­ly be cer­tain came from the holy table. Com­ing as it did, post- my exis­ten­tial­ist phi­los­o­phy course, this book has served as a refresh­er since that day. Last night, the same sec­tion that always catch­es my eye caught my eye last night in the same sec­tion. If you use Amazon’s Search Inside This Book fea­ture and go to page three you can read it for your­self and a bit more. I’ll still excerpt the crit­i­cal point.

…to quote Kierkegaard again, ‘an exist­ing indi­vid­ual is always in the process of becom­ing.’ …no com­plete account can be giv­en of a human being with­out ref­er­ence to what he is in the process of becom­ing. … “As Hei­deg­ger puts it, the human being is always ‘ahead of him­self’, always unter­wegs (“on the way”). …Unlike the stone, whose essence or nature is ‘giv­en’, a person’s exis­tence, writes Orte­ga y Gas­set ‘con­sists not in what it is already, but what it is not yet…Existence…is the process of realizing…the aspi­ra­tion we are.’

This is always a good reminder for me when I get frus­trat­ed about the dif­fi­cul­ty in real­iz­ing my aspi­ra­tions. As long as I exist, I’ll be in the process of becom­ing some­thing new. Sat­is­fac­tion and must arise from the jour­ney while moti­va­tion must arise from the des­ti­na­tion, even if nev­er reached. That’s almost exact­ly the point of Camus’s The Myth of Sisy­phus.

My appli­ca­tion and under­stand­ing of this idea doesn’t bind ful­ly to a pure exis­ten­tial­ism [which prob­a­bly doesn’t exist], but it works well enough for me.

Ice Cream When You’re Sick

When I used to get sick and mom would take off a bit of work to care for me, I wouldn’t have much of an appetite. Often, I’d request ice cream, and, not get­ting it, would be told that I’m obvi­ous­ly not that sick if I want to eat ice cream. A com­pro­mise was usu­al­ly reached with straw­ber­ry gelatin, which I only want when I’m sick.

Mother’s day this year was kind of a bust. I went home, but halfway through Sat­ur­day mom came down with a fever so we left the auc­tion we were at and I hauled her home and attempt­ed to care for her. Now I know where my crotch­ety nature when I’m ill comes from. I final­ly con­vinced her to get in bed and lat­er in the evening she want­ed some­thing to eat. What did she want to eat? Ice Cream. I gave her some.

Ensalada

After my run yes­ter­day I went to Dave’s and made myself a sal­ad and grabbed a Brae­burn apple. It was what my body was crav­ing, so appar­ent­ly I need­ed some iron [the major­i­ty of the leafy greens were spinach] and sundry oth­er ruffage. It dis­ap­peared in no time. When I was work­ing over the sum­mer at Notre Dame, I used to take my lunch break and dri­ve over to the Martin’s in Mishawa­ka with one of the guys on the ND cross coun­try team who lived next door to me in the ath­lete dorm. There was a very lim­it­ed and some­what cost­ly DH option, but the Martin’s sal­ad bar was a near­ly nev­erend­ing source of rel­a­tive­ly cheap and fill­ing health­i­ness. Espe­cial­ly when I didn’t want to make tuna mac in the com­mu­ni­ty kitchen.

Last night I also pur­chased some choco­late morsels, because I real­ized I didn’t have any­thing to bake with. So I antic­i­pate cook­ie bak­ing in the near future.