Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Patrick Flynn and Ronald Tipton, 2016.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Some Daddy Issues

My mother’s notes say dad received his honorable discharge from the Navy in January 1946. According to her, he got an emergency leave in November 1945 because his mother was dying of cancer. She died January 19, 1946. This indicates they gave him a leave of two to three months, and then simply converted it to an early discharge about the time she died. This is certainly a possibility. My father entered the Navy in March 1943. The enlistment length at that time during World War II was “for the duration of the war, plus six months”. World War II ended on August 15, 1945. This would place the expected discharge date in March
1946. The Navy may have felt with the war over and the circumstances of his mother’s death there was no need to force him back for another two months.
Mother’s notes say dad got the job in Glenloch driving milk tankers after he left the military. This does not fit my timeline. Dad’s discharged coming in 1947 would have fit better, but I know
for a fact it was in January 6, 1946. I know because I have his discharge papers and that is the date they all contain.
I also know for a fact that it wasn’t until September of 1947, when I was a couple of months past my sixth birthday that I began to attend East Ward Elementary School.
This leaves me with a year I can’t fill. Other than his discharge records, I have no other paperwork listing my dad between January 1946 and September 1947. There exist only a few photographs within this period that would prove my dad was there in 1946. These were all obviously taken on the same day, for everyone is wearing the same clothes in each pose. The setting is the same as well, in the backyard of 424 Washington Avenue. Besides my direct family, the only others shown are the Lukens, Bill, Mary, their son Bobby and a friend of their’s named Peg. I remember the Lukens. Bill Lukens served with my
dad in the South Pacific and they remained friends in civilian life. I remember them visiting us at our home and we visiting them, and I remember playing with Bobby on those occasions; however, I don’t remember the specific event in the photographs.  I guess they were taken in the Spring of 1946; therefore, this may have been a get-together right after Bill Lukens got his Navy discharge. Still, there is no data in my memory bank about my dad being home during my Kindergarten years. My first memory of dad being back in my life was that milk tanker job and the consequences of both on my life after December 1947.

However this raises a question.
Where the heck was my father the next year and a half?


Lets talk a bit about my dad.
My father’s hero was John Wayne. He never missed a Wayne film and sometimes he took
me with him. I ran into John Wayne on Market Street in Philadelphia once. He was appearing at a premier or promotion of one of his movies. I was walking back to work on my lunch hour just as he stepped out of a car. I stopped and watched him stride up the sidewalk. He was imposing, tall and broad, with a deep tanned and rugged face. He looked every bit the rough and ready characters he played on the screen. His presence dominated the area.
My dad (left) bore a physical resemblance to the actor. Dad wasn’t as tall, but he had the broad shoulders and rugged countenance. He was very handsome in his younger years. He sported a muscular body with defined six-pack abs and large arms. He earned those muscles, molded from building mountain roads in the CCC, working in the steel mill and his service time. He didn’t build them working out in a gym. His hands were hard and rough from heavy use.
He was disdained by his grandparents for being born, punished for the perceived sins of his mother. They often denigrated him when a child. A mistaken diagnosis of Tuberculosis forced him from school and landed him in an institution for the contagious. I wonder how common this type of diagnosis was back in those times when TB was quite a threat.
A very similar instance happened to my mother-in-law to be when she was a 17 or 18 years old (pictured at Cottage Green in 1925, my wife’s mother is the one in the center with the turban on her head) She was institutionalized at a sanitarium called Cottage Green. I believe Cottage Green was her residence at the Trudeau Sanatorium (formally the Adirondack Cottage Sanitarium) in Saranac Lake, New York.  This was founded in 1885 by Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau and consisted of a number of cottages for the patients, each with its own name such as Sunshine Cottage AKA as Cooper Cottage or Little Red AKA Jenks Cottage. Cottage Green may have been the Little Green Cottage AKA Reid-Folder Cottage. Like my dad, her TB was discovered to be a false read and she was released.

My father was sent to one of the many sanatoriums that sprang up in Tucson. Arizona, where it was believe the dry air would help cure the lung of Consumption, as TB was often called in those days. However, at some pint, Doctor’s discovered his TB had been a speck of dust on the x-ray plate and released him. He went back home, but he never returned to school. (Right, my dad about the time he dropped out of high school.)
Dad lost his own father while still a teenager and became the soul support of the family earning his wages doing hard labor. He lost his job just before his marriage and was too poor to live with his bride. He pleaded with the grandfather who considered him illegitimate to rent them a bug-infested apartment. I was born and to rescue me from the bedbugs, he moved in with his in-laws. He left to fight in a war before any chance for us to bond.
I did not make it easy for him when he came home. To me he was a stranger, an interloper and he was getting attention from my mother who I felt belonged to me. Our coexistence was never what it should have been or could have been. I rejected him, feared him and avoided him. Part of this was my resentment and jealousy that he expected to share my mother. Part was the brutish way he treated me. Added to this was the sense of rejection and desertion I felt when he left for the Navy reinforced by his choice of occupation. Our family structure resembled that of a single mother with a part-time boyfriend rather than a cohesive family of father, mother and child. This was not Father Knows Best.
Does any of this excuse my father’s treatment of me?
Not really and I fear my dad will look bad in these pages as I write of my childhood. However, my father never abused me physically, never struck me or beat me. He never touched me in any offensive way. He wasn’t much for hugs or pats on the back either. He wounded me many times verbally, embarrassed me in front of others and too often showered attention on other kids more than he did on me. I am certain I was a great disappointment to him as a son. I didn’t lived up to his version of “maleness”.
I never saw or heard my parents fight or argue, except when it was about me. These
“discussions” often happened in public places, such as at a pool or amusement park.
My dad wants me to ride the Ferris wheel, for instance, but I am afraid of heights and don’t want to. He insists and tries to drag me into line. I struggle and yell. My mother says, “Bill, leave the child along. He’s scared.”
“How’s he gonna get over his fear if you won’t let him,” he says. In the end he says, “Okay, go on, go to your mommy.” (Picture right shows dad and a friend at the 1939 NY World's Fair, dad is the one seated to the left.)
This tug of war played out often at the swimming holes we visited such as Hopewell Lake (pictured left). Dad was an excellent swimmer, mom not so much. (pictured right my dad and mom in 1939).  I seldom saw my mother get in the water. I seldom saw my dad
get out, unless it was to dive off the board. I loved the water, but I stayed in the shallow end where even if I sat down my head was above the surface. My father thought I should learn to swim. He would swim up behind me underwater and grab me. He would pull or carry me toward the deep water and I would begin screaming.
My mother would yell at him, “Bill, leave the boy alone.”
“It’s time he learnt to swim,” he would say.
“He’s too young,” my mom would claim.
“You’re never too young,” he would reply. Then he would say to me, “I’m gonna throw you off the diving board. You’ll either sink or swim.”
I would scream bloody murder.
“Bill,” my mother would shout.
“Okay, Gertrude, go play in the shallows with the other babies.”
(Pictured left is me sitting in the shallow end of Lake Hopewell, 1953.)
Whenever my dad was peeved with me he called me Gertrude. He didn’t care who heard.
I don’t hate my father, although I may have at times during my childhood. I took a different
view in later years. I decided my dad’s abrasive approach to child rearing was akin to that man in Johnny Cash’s hit song, “A Boy Named Sue.” His early life was not an easy one. His world was a tough place where only the strong survived. He wanted to make me strong.
My dad changed in his nature as he grew older and I changed in my viewpoint of him. I came to admire him for how he always provided for us no matter what. We had many lean times where we had little, but we always had food, shelter and clothes on our backs. He worked long hours on demanding jobs. He suffered setbacks and injuries, but he never complained. He simply kept on going like the Energizer Bunny. He didn’t stop working until he was 90 and forced to stop.
I can’t say he never treated my children the way he treated me and some of his actions were unacceptable and frightened them. Usually he was civil and caring toward his grandchildren, but there were enough issues that he eventually alienated them. My regret is he and I was never able to fully close the chasm between us and there was also a chasm between him and my children as well. In the end I believe he lost more than I did, which is sad. My dad, for all his failings as a father, was basically a good man.
I believe my father changed for the better when he shattered his arm. He was 59 years old
at the time it happened. He was changing a tire on his truck when the locking rim blew off. He threw his arm up and it glanced off him and sailed several yards back into a woods. “If’n I hadn’t got my arm up it’d prob’ly took my head off,” he said. As it was, it blew his arm bones to pieces.
He was ambulanced to Coatesville Hospital. This was the first time in his life he was ever in a hospital. The doctor put his bones back in place with a number of steel pins. The operation left a thick scar from shoulder to forearm as the only reminder. He was lucky.
It was at that instance he realized he wasn’t John Wayne. He was absolutely right about one thing. The rim would have killed him if he had not diverted it with his arm. For the first time in his life he understood he was mortal. He became a much different person after that. (Left is dad in 2009 upon his 91st birthday.) I consider him today a great man, but a weak father. Despite what he became and how I feel now, I can’t change the past and can only write how I saw my dad through my own eyes.

2 comments:

slugmama said...

A touching tribute Larry.
My dad was also one of those "could have been better" types. We were estranged when he died in 2002. There was a lot of hurt between us.
My brother though likes to say that it wasn't all dad's fault the way he was.
He grew up with a really bad role model for a father himself....my grandfather went out for a proverbial pack of smokes and never came back, abandoning his wife and kids in 1942 when my father was 10 years old.
It's easier to see why he failed as a father to us given his history and his father.

Ron said...

Lar,
Wow! You father looked a LOT like you when he was young. Another well written story Lar. Thanks for sharing.
Ron