Thursday, June 16, 2011

My Four Fathers: Father # 2 - Bob

My mother did her best for three and a half years to take care of my sister and I after my dad's suicide. But he left us with nothing. She was a single mom barely getting by but doing the best that she could. But she couldn't do it alone. Her family helped out, but it became obvious that she needed a husband. I still had no clue what had happened to my dad. He was simply gone and we were alone and struggling.

I don't remember when Bob came around. I was only five years old. I don't know how they met. I never asked and I never will. But the next thing I knew they were married. I don't recall any wedding. Maybe there was one. All I do remember is it seemed like one day we were living in the suburbs of Dayton and the next day we were on a farm in Hillsboro. It was a new beginning to be sure. I took to the farm as if I was born to it. It was a small farm. We had 18 acres of corn fields, soy bean fields, and pastures. We had our own woods and a creek. We had numerous out buildings - including one of the oldest barns in Highland County. The farm needed work when we got there but we all dove right in to get it done. Bob brought a much older son in his early 20's to the marriage as well as a daughter my sisters age. I honestly don't remember things being that bad at first, and maybe they weren't. Maybe they were, but I was too busy becoming a farm boy. To this day I will always claim being a country boy even though I was born in the city. The farm had that much of an impact on my life even though I only lived there for just over three years.

We had just about every possible farm animal. I had my own horse, cow, goat, lamb, chicken, and pig. The pig was named Lucy and I remember when she came to our farm as a piglet - in a feed barrel. Bob gave her to me to take care of and I did until she was huge. Then she was gone. I didn't know it at the time, but Lucy - well, you can probably guess what happened to her. She was still with us, just not in the same way as before. I remember whittling a profile of Lucy out of wood and carving her name into it. I hung it on my bedroom wall. I loved Lucy. I also had two dogs - Chip and Lady. I had a beagle for all of a few minutes. She was brought home to me only to jump out of the truck - running out onto the road and getting hit by a car. That crushed me. I don't remember her name. I may not have even named her. Of course, we had barn cats and a lot of them. But as a kid I was allergic to cats so I didn't do much with them. That's hard to fathom now because my wife and I currently have four cats. I outgrew my allergies and I'm glad I did. On the farm we had more than one each of the above animals. In fact we had a lot of each. My sister and I were involved with 4H. We went to the fair each year and showed our animals that we loved. The fair was a place of wonderment for me and I couldn't wait each year to go. I especially loved the tractor pulls. I always took good care of my animals but when the fair was coming around I took extra special good care. We won a lot of ribbons. There was no better feeling.

I had plenty of chores on the farm. I was the "egg-getter" in our family - going to the chicken coop each morning to gather the eggs. I took that task very seriously. I sang to the chickens. They seemed to approve. I can remember the egg production being low for a time. I had told my mom that I liked to sing to the chickens. She asked me if was singing to them during this low production period. I realized I had stopped singing to them for whatever reason. So I started singing to them again and the eggs came in abundance. I don't know that there is any scientific data for this, but singing to chickens seems to help. You can use that. Now that was a typical start to my day followed by a country breakfast my mother would make - just about everything we ate came from our farm. Then I continued my chores - first inside. Making my bed and putting my toys back in the chest. And then I had my outside chores. I milked cows, cleaned stalls, let the animals out to pasture, fed the baby animals bottles - typical farm chores. Once my chores were done it was just me, the farm, and my imagination. We didn't have XBoxes's back then. I played outside. That was what kids did and it was just fine with me. I swam in the creek. I caught crawdads. I caught snapping turtles. I ran with the dogs through the fields - gathering burs and ticks all along the way. I built forts in the hay loft of the barn. I fished. I would make good and bad use of my BB gun and slingshot. You name it - I did it. I was allowed to watch Looney Tunes, but that was pretty much all the TV I watched - that and old movies. I loved John Wayne, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Gene Kelly, and Fred Astaire. When I was done watching an afternoon matinee - often with her - I would go out to our massive garden where every possible vegetable was grown and we would gather our vegetables. I would help my mom in the kitchen as she would can just about everything and I would help her carry it all down to the cellar to keep. Then I would go outside and climb trees. Sometimes I went to the woods, but we had some great trees in our yard outside the farm house. And we had fruit trees - a pear tree and an apple tree. I ate plenty of both. I would do this until the supper bell rang calling me in to clean up and eat. Some of my favorite times on the farm were when my mom and I would sit out on the porch in the cool of the evening after supper snapping beans together. You could hear the fly zapper working over time in the distance. Before getting cleaned up to go to bed I would run out into the yard with a large mason jar and catch lightning bugs. I got as many as I could then I would run in and take them to my bedroom and set them on my night stand. I had holes punched in the lid so they could breath and I would fall asleep watching them with utter fascination. I suppose much more could be said about this part of my life on the farm, but this is the good part. And the good is what I try to remember. The bad I try to forget.

I don't think Bob was all bad at first. In fact, I remember a lot of good times. He had a speed boat and we used to ride it on Rocky Fork Lake. To this day I love being on the water and it has everything to do with the excitement and exhilaration I felt in that boat bouncing off the water at top speeds. We were always at the lake. Swimming, grilling, and partying. The best way I can describe Bob is to liken him to the Marlboro man. He was a ruggedly handsome man. He seemed a man's man. He could do anything. And he taught me a lot. He even taught me how to shoot a gun. That was awesome at first but over time became a terror. He drove me on our tractors in the fields with him. He would take me to the pony keg in his pickup truck on his beer runs. I loved that old Ford. He was fine when he was sober. He must have been well off to be able to move us to the farm and set us up the way he did. That had to have been a relief at first to my mother. I know he had at least two businesses. He owned a Schwinn bicycle shop and a doughnut shop - both in town. He brought home my first bike and taught me how to ride it. I took to it like a fish to water and me and that bike were inseparable. And he would take me to the doughnut shop early some mornings to be the official taste tester of the first batch of doughnuts. To this day I am addicted to doughnuts. So far this probably doesn't sound that bad, right? But as time went on the outside of farmhouse became a safe haven for me to escape to because what was starting to happen on the inside was the makings of hell on earth.

Bob drank. And he drank a lot. We soon discovered that when he drank he became a mean and dangerous man. He was a full-fledged alcoholic.As time went on abuse set in when we was drunk. He never harmed my sister and for that I'm grateful. Perhaps it's because she was the same age as his daughter. I don't know why. But he more than made up for it with what he put both me and my mother through. I became an easy and helpless target for his drunken rages. I won't say much on this but I will always have with me the marks of this abuse. And it wasn't just physical. In fact, the physical was almost bearable. But it was the verbal and emotional abuse that rained down upon my young ears and mind that affected me the deepest. At times I wondered if he even knew my name because he never called me by it, and the names he used instead were horrible for a child to hear. And he hurt my mom. That was the worst part. I would do my best to help her but what could I do? Most times when I did try to help her at least it stopped what he was doing to her - turning his attacks on me instead. But that was better than seeing her hurt. Things got worse - especially when she became a Christian. A couple of people came by the house and told her about Jesus. The next thing I knew she was no longer the life of the party. She became altogether different. She was always a great mom, but now she loved God. I didn't understand it, but I went along with it. I was just a kid. My sister followed suit. My road to belief was a lot longer and winding and will be talked about later. But almost immediately we were in church and we never missed. Bob never went. In fact, it seemed to provoke him even more. The abuse got worse as if that were possible. And then the cheating happened. Maybe it happened before. I can't always keep the times of it all straight in my mind. But he became a serial adulterer. My mom would always find out and confront him and it never went well for her which meant it never went well for me. He would be gone all night and I would hear my mother crying softly in her bedroom. These were the darkest of dark days for us. He became the embodiment of evil. One day it all came to a head. I don't know what set it off. I only know he called drunk and said he was on his way home to kill us. My mom called the associate pastor of the church we went to at the time for help. He rushed over and thought it best to get the guns out of the house - which he did. But while he was gone Bob came home and brought his last round of hell with him. I remember very little of the episode. I remember my mom running to the bathroom screaming for me to come with her. I never made it. My sister wasn't around thankfully. Mom locked herself inside and I could hear her sobbing as I did all I could to keep him from beating down the door of the bathroom. At some point I lost the time. I think the law came. The sheriff lived the next farm over. I honestly don't know the sequence of things and who came to our rescue. I just know that we found ourselves in the home of the pastor of our church. He put us up secretly in their basement for a period of time. It could have been days, weeks, or months. To date I've not worked with the exact details of some of these things with my mother. It's too much to talk about. But we were safe and unharmed there for a period of time. Then one day came the news that he would never hurt us again. I know he went to jail. That's the last I know of that man and I'm fine with that. Much, much damage had been done and I was a long way away from being OK.

All during this time my mother was my rock. She was my protector and healer. She loved on me - telling me it was going to be OK and I was not bad. None of this was my fault. I know she did the best that she could. Of course, many times during this whole chapter of my life (which lasted just over three years) I would ask where my dad was. Why couldn't he help? It was during this time that my mother sat me down on my bed and told me the awful truth. My dad was never coming home. My how I felt alone! And angry. And scared. So many things. I thought for sure he would come and rescue us. And while this created in me the beginnings of hatred for so many things it amazingly drew me very close to my mother and sister. They were all that I had. My mom's faith certainly sustained her and sheltered us. I would watch her faithfully read her Bible and pray. She was always serving at church and ultimately worked there for a time. She later put me and my sister in a private Christian school. I had no business being there candidly, but she did what she thought was best. I needed structure and discipline because I was becoming a very troubled child. But I have so much gratitude now for what my mother was trying to do for us. She was and is a godly woman and her faith affected me profoundly and ultimately made a huge impact on my life. One of the most precious moments I have in my life was the day when I was in college when my mother gave me her Bible from back in those days. It has become one of my most prized possessions. The first time I read the Bible through I used her Bible. By that time it was well worn. And I could literally see the tear stains on so many pages. And I would read note after note in the margins of the pages where she would cry out to God to save us from Bob. I read pleas that God would take care of me and help me. Prayers for healing. I read her sorrows and I read her joys. And I read how God had become the love of her life. Such sweet phrases of adoration flowed from her pen to those pages and no doubt made a huge impression on me. It took years before I was ready and able to appreciate them fully, but hers was a faith that endured through so much pain and suffering. Yet she never wavered and she's my hero for loving me through those days with a godly, motherly love. I didn't understand for many years just how significant this was, but she's truly my hero and I wouldn't be where I am today without her.

It seems odd to say it but for a while she was both mother and father to me and I couldn't appreciate Father's Day the way I do today if it wasn't for how she helped me survive the man who was father # 2. And I am forever grateful to her. Now as Father's Day approaches I'm happy to say, "I love you Mom."

From your son, Lance

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