Wednesday, June 15, 2011

My Four Fathers: Father # 1 - Ed


Yep. That's me. Pooch nose. Slight grin. Blonde hair. I came into the world in the dead of night - kicking and screaming. It's almost as if I knew the darkness that was coming and I wanted out before I was even placed into my mother’s arms. But the picture you see above is proof positive that Ed and Jacqui brought me into this world 37 years ago. Where does the time go?

For years I knew very little about Ed except for the fact that he was my biological father. Any man can be a father. But fewer and fewer men know what it means to be a dad. I'll go one step further - fewer and fewer men know what it means to be a daddy. You see, I don't remember him. Not at all. I only know what he looks like through pictures that are now fading. I have no idea what kind of aftershave he wore. I don't know what his favorite food was. He didn't teach me how to throw a perfect spiral or a curve ball. He didn't exemplify to me how to be a gentleman or how to have a proper work ethic. He didn't start a business to pass down to me. I have no legacy at all from him when it comes right down to it. Most of what I do know about him can just about be summed up in what you’re reading now. For years I knew so little about him. In fact, it's only been in recent years that I have begun to learn more about him. For instance, I now know that he was a sergeant in the Air Force. I now know that he worked on the railroad by occupation - which makes sense because I have pictures of me when I was very little dressed up in little train conductor outfits and playing with locomotive toys. I now know that he loved boxing and was an amateur boxer. Again, I have pictures of me as a small child playing with his punching bag. I now know that he loved to bowl - he was in a bowling league in Beavercreek. I have a wooden trophy he won in the shape of a bowling pin forever recording the fact that he bowled a 237 one night. I have never bowled a 237. I bowled a 212 once but that was years ago and I’ve gotten nowhere near that score before or since. But that trophy is on my chest of drawers. I also know that he smoked - I don't know how much - but I have some of his old lighters now in my possession. My mother is the one who gave these and other things to me. It means more than words that she gave them to me. One of my most prized possessions was his class ring, but I lost it accidentally. Without question that is one of the biggest regrets of my life. I especially love his old school leather toiletry bag. I usually take it with me whenever I travel. I have a lot of his things now and I'm sure there's more that I could share about them but there are more important things to share right now.

I’ve always been amazed how someone that I don't remember has had such a profound impact on my life. But it's true. Now, I don't know how far back you can recollect, but my oldest recollection is of kindergarten. That memory takes me back to a day when it rained so much the garter snakes came rushing out of the ground. Recess outside was cancelled and while all of the other kids were inside playing in another room I sneaked out and collected as many garter snakes as I could and brought them back inside and put them in the girls desks. To me, much hilarity ensued. Not so much for everyone else. I had made a muddy mess of the place. I had caused a panic. The girls began to scream hysterically all at once upon discovering the snakes in their desks. And, of course, those same snakes got loose - inside. Not one of my finer moments. Or maybe it was? Anyway, that is my oldest memory. But nothing comes to mind at all about Ed – my real dad – and probably never will. So I have to go on what's been passed down to me over the years, mostly from my grandparents (Ed's parents), my mother, my sister and other relatives.

My sister is six years older than me, but Ed was not her dad. That story is for another time. But the one thing that they always tell me about Ed is that he was a good man. That has always been important to me, but it was also confusing. You see, he was a good man but troubled. He battled mental illness. I'm not sure if he faced any hardships in the service or not, but I do know now that he had moments when he completely isolated himself during the years after his military service. Sadly, mental illness runs deep on his side of my family. I can recall fifteen years ago or so now when my grandpa - Ed's dad (now deceased) - said to me with a tear in his voice about how he thanked God that I didn't get cursed with the mental illness so prevalent in my family. That’s one of two times that I ever saw my grandpa get emotional. The other was when he told me about the space shuttle Challenger blowing up. He was there. He was like John Wayne to me and to see him get emotional when he shared his relief to me about my lack of mental illness – well, let’s just say I’ll never forget it. I have not suffered with any mental illness in my lifetime and for that I am thankful. Mental illness is so very serious. But Ed was not as fortunate as me.

It all came to a head in July of 1975. We lived in a subdivision in Dayton, Ohio. Obviously, I don't recall the place and I've never been back to that house. But this summer I plan on doing so. That is, if it’s still there after all these years. We’ll see. I just found the address to that house - in Ed's wallet which is now in my possession. In case you haven’t guessed yet – it’s the house in which I was born. On that summer day, I'm told it was hot and sunny, and my grandma was down visiting with us (my mom's mother). There was a community pool and we were all going to go swimming. I was just one year old. My dad told everyone he wasn't feeling well and he was going to stay behind. This was nothing new and was getting worse by the day. So away we went - my mom, my grandma, my sister, and the little pooch-nosed handful that was me. I don't know how long we were gone, but it was long enough. When we got back to the house, my sister ran inside calling for my dad, "Eddy, Eddy, where are you?" It pains me to know she found him. You see, Ed took that time alone to make a choice – the kind of choice that you never get back. He died by his own hand that day. It’s believed that a bad mixture of medications prescribed by two separate doctors each unaware of the other seriously contributed to his extremely volatile state of mind. To my knowledge there was no note or explanation. I could be wrong, but I am very delicate with my dear mother whenever we do talk about it, which is so rare. To this day it breaks her heart. Perhaps one day I will know more about it. I often wonder how much more difficult things would have been in my life had I been old enough to find him – to see him in that horrific state. My sister and I have never spoken of that moment that she experienced to this very day. I can't bring myself to do so. And I'm so sorry for her. Now understand - I had no idea what happened then and, frankly, I didn’t know for many years. As I started to get older whenever I would ask about where my dad was I seem to recall everyone just saying that he was gone. Gone where? It took a while to get the truth. I think everyone thought they were being helpful and protective. How do you tell a child about their own dad taking his life and that he’s never coming back? The truth came when I was a troubled boy of seven or eight, but that's another story that I will share later and an important one. But all of what I just described to you is most of what I know about Ed - my real father. And I grew up without him. And I ultimately grew up knowing how he died. And words cannot adequately express how that affected me and, candidly, still affects me even to this day. I will never know him. There is such a heavy finality to that and it is part of who I was growing up and who I am today as a man. It is part of my history.

Every July, I go to the cemetery in Xenia where he is buried. I bring a flag and stick it in the ground above his grave. I pray for him. I salute him. I ask him questions. I get mad. I get sad. I stand in silence. It’s not as lonely now because Erin goes with me. Her support has been so precious to me. For years I did it alone. But every time I am there I wonder about his eternal soul. I'm honored to have the flag from his military funeral in a beautiful case - also on my chest of drawers. I touch it every day. I have his dog tags draped over top of the case. My mother gave those to me as well. I'm proud of his honorable service to our country. I have a framed letter from the President that I hold dear about my real dad. I'm glad he was a good man. I'm sad he was troubled. And all I can do is hope that he is in Heaven. My grandpa called him a Christian. I will only know in eternity. In the meantime, I do everything I can to be a good man as well, and what’s more, a godly one. I still bear his name so I seek to honor the name that he gave to me. I look like him. His blood is in my veins. He will always be the dad I never knew, but he's still my dad. On Father's Day a few years ago I finally found the words to write for a song of dedication to him. Knowing that he loved trains and worked on the railroad, I always wanted to write a song about a train - especially one for him. There have been a lot of great songs about trains, so I wasn't in a hurry. But it finally came to me, and I wrote it down. The music came with the lyric as happens with most of my songs. I put it down so as not to forget it and then I recorded a rough demo of it. It's called "North Bound Train" and every time I sing it I think of him. I wrote it as if he was searching for something here or elsewhere - maybe he found it - maybe he didn't. But it is a song of longing. How could it not be? I will forever long to know the man I never knew. But know this - as hard as this story may be to read I am thankful for Ed - the man who is my real dad. And if he's in Heaven today, I pray he's proud of me and that he knows I'm doing everything I can to make his gift of life in me worthwhile - in this life and hopefully in eternity.

Happy Father’s Day, Ed.

From your son, Lance

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