I am glad to say that I rarely ever saw my father intoxicated after Brian was born; but by then something else had taken over Dad’s physiological being in the form of what we used to call “blackouts.”
The slightest thing would initiate a blackout; his jaw would start to quiver, his eyes would roll back in his head, and, if standing, he would fall to the ground. Although it was frightening at times — I would witness one with him on an average of once a month — it made me angry that something so minor as, either me challenging him on something (“Dad, I can’t sit with Brian right now; my friends are all waiting for me down the street”), or him answering the phone and having no one on the other line, would cause him to go into one of his fits.
Dad did see a doctor regarding this condition, but he wouldn’t share with us what was going on. My mother called the doctor and tried to get some information, but (the story goes) at the time we still owed a couple of payments and the doctor wouldn’t share any information until we were paid up.
Many years later, when I saw a young woman having an epileptic fit at work, did I realize that what my father had was a form of Epilepsy.
Along with the blackouts Dad had a habit of falling asleep at the drop of a hat, and sometimes in embarrassing situations. Family and friends used to joke about a time when he fell asleep at the table and his face went right into a plate of spaghetti. Narcolepsy was the culprit there, but since very little was known about the condition, we just credited Dad’s crazy truck driving schedule and not really having a sleep routine, to that.
When my father was around I was sort of distant. I know at times this must have hurt his feelings. Once when I went to spend the night at a girlfriend’s, I left without saying goodbye, only to find out later from my mom that Dad was hurt by that. Truthfully, I didn’t think he cared, but I made a bit more effort after that. Just the same, I stayed sequestered in my room a lot when he was home.
Once when I was eleven, I was stung by a wasp in our backyard. I was arguing with my friend Loretta, and I plopped down in a folding lawn chair, tucked my feet under it, and then felt the sudden sting on my right big toe. I screamed, not knowing what it was until I looked up and saw the big wasp nonchalantly floating away. My outburst scared the shit out of Loretta, and I was crying hysterically, it hurt so badly. My parents came running out and my father scooped me up and carried me inside. A bittersweet moment, that is the only time I can remember him carrying me anywhere.
Unfortunately, any tender moments where my father was concerned were so very few and far between. Even more unfortunate is the fact that my family dynamic, dysfunction and even financial situation prevented any remedies for what my dad was going through physically and emotionally at the time. A loved and respected man would have gotten the help and support he needed from family and medical professionals — just as a man who loved himself enough would have felt he was worth reaching out for help.
By the early 70’s we were all so weary of his unpleasant disposition, short fuse and raining on our parades — especially during holidays — that we all just became apathetic toward whatever the root of his problems were.
I never experienced such cruelty as having presents removed from under the tree because of my misbehavior, but I know Tom did, which I’m sure contributed to his emotional imbalance throughout his life.
Dad inflicted his cruelty on me in another form. A good example is one Christmas season I (about age 12) was settling in to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas – a show I had seen a handful of times, but was still a Christmas tradition for me . This was long before you could record favorite shows via VCR or DVR; also we had just the one TV. The show’s opening credits were barely over when Dad came into the living room and asked, “Where’s the TV guide?”
“Uh-oh,” I thought to myself, “that’s never a good thing.” Sure enough, his next words were, “Change it to Channel 7;” no “please,” and definitely no consideration on his part. I protested, “Dad, it’s Charlie Brown’s Christmas! It only comes on once a year!” My pleas became whiny, and before I knew it he was barking at me, “Go to bed!”
I don’t remember my mom being around to intervene; she was probably working the swing shift at Crown Zellerbach. I stormed off to my room in tears. Yes, I was twelve; most kids my age may have cared less about seeing A Charlie Brown Christmas for the seventh or eighth time, but I had very little else going on in my life, especially things that brought me joy. Once again, Dad was raining on my parade — hard.
Once sequestered under the covers and in the dark I prayed to God, “Just get him out of our lives. I hate him. I’m sick of him. He’s hurting people.”
Tragic, that a child of twelve could possess the evil to pray for something such as death upon another person, let alone a family member; but by that time, being a good girl had gotten me nowhere; I was bullied at school and at home. Evil had permeated my spirit to the point where I just wanted the conflicts that were making my life miserable to just go away.
The bullies from school had (conveniently) moved away, but the one living in our house was still alive and not well.
What a young age to learn the old adage, “Be careful what you wish for…”