I had some dreams ... they were klowns in my koffee.

(With apologies to Carly Simon)

This is my journey through job transition from a toxic environment to a better life. Join me for a few thoughts and a few laughs along the way.
What are "klowns in my koffee"? They are the factors large and small that make you less than you are. A "klown" can be a grossly incompetent boss,
a short-sighted policy or a moronic coworker. They won't kill you, at least not immediately, but they abrade the soul
as you scrape past them to get through the day. Sometimes it's best to dump them out of the cup.


Day 86 - Father's Day

My father died in November, 2005. He was a quiet man in a family of hearty laughers and frosty, veiled silences, a slight man in a family of heavyweights, a perfectionist in an imperfect world. He kept his car very clean. He had a place for everything. He rode a motorcycle but he sold it. I barely knew him at all.

My father was the third son of a machinist and a former school teacher. My grandparents got married during their lunchbreaks from work one day when she was 20 and he was 18. Then they went back to work. In the course of time, my grandmother became pregnant and was dismissed from teaching when someone noticed.

They worked hard and raised Jack, Bob, Bill, Noreen, Gary and bonus baby Greg. The family’s hopes were pinned on Jack, who was handsome and talented and who appeared in a sepia-toned photograph staring at me from the dining room wall as he sat on a rock with a cigarette in his hand. He looked like young Joe Kennedy.

When Jack was eighteen, he told my grandmother that he felt odd. Then he put his head on her lap and he died there in the living room. I know this because my grandmother once opened the huge family Bible that she kept on the shelf and showed me the newspaper clipping. Somehow, the result of Jack’s death was that my father was sent to live with my grandmother’s feisty great-aunt and her husband, a railroad retiree who lived for hunting and fishing.

When I visited the aunt’s house as a little girl, I saw pictures of my father as a grim young man holding a fishing pole or standing near a deer hanging from a meat hook. He once told me that these were the happiest days of his life.

My father was drafted, served stateside and came home as soon as he could. He married my mother, a tempestuous redhead, in a quickly organized Thanksgiving ceremony because my mother was engaged to another boy who was returning from the service and my mother didn’t know how to break the engagement. This was a unique solution to the problem. I was born ten months later.

My parents had a house but then moved to one of the houses on my mother’s mother’s farm. The house burned down and they lived in an apartment in the big farmhouse with my grandmother. Eventually, they bought a trailer and parked it where the burned house had been. My father worked for Pittsburgh Paint Glass and my mother was a civil engineering technician for New York State. My father had a canoe; my mother went to night school so that she could take the civil engineer test. My father had a maroon bathrobe and once he let me lie next to him on the white naugahyde couch while we watched Gunsmoke. I spent most of my time with my grandmother.

One day when I was seven, my mother came for me, took me to her bedroom and gave me a tissue. The only time I’d seen my mother cry was two years before when she came home from work early and said that someone shot the President. We prayed that the President would be fine and for his wife with the pink suit. The next day, the President was still dead, which surprised me since we had prayed, and I learned that God could not be trusted. That day in her bedroom, my mother looked sad but she didn’t cry. She said that my father had left and he wasn’t coming back. She expected me to cry so I tried, but I was secretly relieved because I was afraid that something had happened to our cat or the new President.

My mother flew to Mexico and, when she came back, things were pretty much the same for me except that my father would pick me up on Wednesday nights while my mother bowled and take me to his hotel room to watch television for two hours. Sometimes he would take me to his parents’ house. My mother remarried and became pregnant. I was very excited. My father had not told his parents that he was divorced. He managed to camouflage my mother’s absence for a year. I was not clued into the subterfuge and shared the good news with my grandmother that I was going to have a little brother or sister. The next time I saw my father, he had moved out of the hotel and back into the room in his parents’ house that he had before Jack died.

I sang, painfully and haltingly, in school musicals and my father called me ‘Kate Smith;’ he explained that it was not because I could sing well but because I was chubby. We went for a ride on his motorcycle and I melted the heel of my sneaker on the muffler; he dug and muttered at the smudged chrome. He took me fishing and I talked too much.

Still, he picked me up every week until I was old enough to think of ways to avoid it and he faithfully paid his child support of five dollars. My mother seemed to regret encumbering my father with the fast marriage, quick pregnancy and finally the rapid divorce, so she requested the judge to grant the lowest amount of child support permissible under the law.

When I married the first time, he walked me down the aisle. When I married for the second time, his wife sent a card. When I married for the third time, he said, "I’ll catch you next time."

My father and I never had a falling out because we were never exactly in.

When my own daughter was born, I made a concerted effort to connect with my father on at least the superficial level of Christmas cards and periodic calls. He had married a wonderful woman and she made sure that cards and presents and phone calls were exchanged, providing the costuming for my father to wear the mantle of a dad.

And so we reached a measure of acceptance. I forgave my father for not being more than he seemed capable of being. I guess he forgave me for – I don’t know what – existing or maybe for being the witless symbol of something beyond my control or perhaps, as my mother told me, for not being someone he could relate to at all.

My father had a massive heart attack and stroke when we were in Kazakhstan. He told his wife that he felt odd and then fell down, just as his older brother had done sixty years before. He was on life support in the ICU while it was determined that the cognitive centers of his brain had been destroyed by the lack of oxygen. I could not leave Kazakhstan early without surrendering my visa and risking losing the children. My dear sister, product of that second marriage, interrupted her own life to represent me and join with my father’s family when they disconnected the respirator. I can never repay my debt to her.

They held a memorial ceremony a week later in northern New York. We were on our way back from Europe flying the Greenland route that slingshots you over the top of the world and then down the coast of Canada, entering American airspace over New England. At the exact time of the service, we were above New York and looking down through the clouds. I’d like to think that my father’s spirit passed us as we flew, looked in and maybe, finally, approved.


Capissen said...

"My father and I never had a falling out because we were never exactly in."

Family isn't necessarily blood, and vice versa. I had a similar relationship with my own father before he died in '07.

Kim Barron said...

Just because you are related to them doesn't mean you have to be close. We won't discuss my family.

Burning Khrome said...

I've been doing some formal writing study with an approach based on authenticity rather than ability to be published. This was a stab at saying something that I needed to express personally for some measure of closure. I value my friends for providing a safe place in which to do so.

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