Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Questions of My Childhood

"Well I walk the road of life among the strong, among the weak
And I ask them for the shortcut to the answers that I seek
But it seems nobody understands what is and what will be
Oh, the questions of my childhood weave a web of mystery..."      Kansas    1976

Lillian Webster Raley and young Guy 1908

Hard to believe my father would be 105 this year. I've decided to post a few things this father's day to rid myself of the stink I've put on him. I don't think my father liked kids much. The impression I get when I talk to my older brother (who is in his 80s) is that dad didn't like him much either. I know one thing, I didn't know him. At all.

I know for a fact however, how much my father loved the women of his sons. He adored my brothers wives and mine, too. I remember when I first decided to leave the factory and follow my dream to be a "DeeJay". It was something that my father couldn't understand. Follow your dream? I think my dad in his early life did what his dad told him to do. A lot. He expected the same in return and when he got me the job at the factory, I think he thought it was going to be a forever deal. But, I wanted to be on the radio and he was absolutely furious and when my wife and I split, I swear to God, he sided with her. "You're an idiot to walk away from this job. You could be retired in 30 years." I could also hate my fucking life for thirty years, too. "DJ?" "DJ?" "Stupid pipe dream" he said.

One day, somewhere around 1930, in the middle of the depression, my dad took off from Chicago to LA to "find himself" as my brother told me. He left behind a family(a wife and two kids) in Chicago. He never went back to them. My older brother, who I visited in Spokane a few years ago said his mom told him my dad left for Arizona because of his "allergies". My father was allergic to poison ivy and that was it. When I went out to visit my brother Adam, (who as a priest fell in love with a nun and they both received personal dispensation from the Pope), his first remark to me was, "I hope you're not here to learn about dad, because I didn't know him, either". Great.
My father 1937

As the story goes, my father was, according to who you talk to, a private detective in LA. I never figured my father for that kind of work, but I hear he was pretty good at it. He was also, in his spare time, one hell of a prize fighter in the circuit out there.
I found out how good he was when I was 17 and received one of the worst beat downs of my life over me working and not paying rent at the house. "You make enough money, you can start paying rent." "Bullshit" or something like that I said. I told him that I've been wanting to take him out for a long time but I'd feel bad about beating an old man. There wasn't much left after that. My mom said he hit me twice. I don't remember much after the first one. He caught me dead square on the jaw and that was it. I left home the next day, over the objections and the tears of my mother.

My father was one hell of a handyman. There wasn't much he couldn't fix. Each time we moved into a house, the routine was the same, he'd tear it down and build it back up from the inside to the outside WHILE we lived in the house. Then, he'd sell it and we'd move again. I wish he had the patience to have taught this inquisitive young boy how and what he did. He would just shoo me away.

My father and mother never showed any kind of affection. I never saw them kiss each other and never can remember them holding hands or dancing or...anything like that. The old guy was 50 when I was born and 53 when my sister arrived. Needless to say, we had very little in common. I think he deliberately chose the second shift because it kept him away from us. He never attended a sporting event that his kids were in, never went to a play, never showed much of an interest in anything that concerned his kids. I remember one little league game where I caused the winning run to score. I was crying about it when I got home and his response was ..."well, quit then, shit." So, I did. He never pushed me to be good in school, never inquired about my grades. I never got it.

Randy. William Guy sr, William Guy jr. 1958
I wonder if having kids so late in life caused him to be disinterested or what. I know for a fact that my mom cheated on him. We were cruising along one day and then, out of the blue, we move 500 miles away to a farm. And stay there. Something happened and my theory is this. My father got to an age where he couldn't perform. My mother, being 21 years younger than him, is not going to go the rest of her life without sex. She was a very sexual woman and even as a kid, I could sense that. I also think it was with a family member (by marriage) and my dad found out. So, we were sent away, which seemed to be the way my dad dealt with stuff. Just leave.

William sr, Randy, William jr 12 years later
The farm was myself, my sister, my mother, grandfather and grandmother. Four miles east of Ava, Mo off county road FF. My older brother was there for a short time, became small town restless and bored and got caught breaking and entering into the drug store in town. That's one early Saturday morning I'd like to forget. What to do? Dad's 500 miles away, so they make a plea deal where my brother went into the Army. Shit. Great. It's only friggin 1966. Viet Nam was getting to be a pretty popular name back then.
After three years where I become completely detached from everyone and learn to be alone, we moved to a 800 square foot house on Campbell's Island and while all four of us are there, he decided to remodel the whole thing. By himself. He always did that. He sold the house and we moved back to the farm, this time with him. Not long after he moved to the farm, he remolded the whole thing again, with us inside. He nearly died from a heart attack in 1970. With Springfield having the closest hospital 60 miles away, we decided to move back to East Moline. My father took it easy from that point on, only remodeling part of this new house on Oaklwan Ave.

I, for the most part, am glad I spent a great deal of time on a farm, it taught me that work goes on day after day, no matter the weather, no matter the circumstances. The basic principles of hard work were taught to me during that time.

By all accounts, my father was an honorable man, paid his bills on time, had great, long lasting friendships with people from the shop and the bowling league we went to every Sunday night. My dad worked hard, too.

He went to work every day, sick or well, and did the same job every night for 30 years at International Harvester in East Moline. My father's family hated my mother,too. She was a "floozy". She lacked the proper attributes for being a "lady". She did, however get along with my fathers mother, who, in her day was a stunning woman. Granny did not come from wealth but married into it. She could see the tough, scrappy person in my mother and maybe recognized her as being of a familiar ilk.  I think my mom and my dad's mom were tough, stubborn southern broads who took no shit from anyone. I only remember her as being very old. She died in 1967 at the age of 88.

I also think my grandfather was extremely hard on my dad. I think grandpa (who died in 1953 of a heart at the age of 65) was a stern, serious man. There was very little humor in that household as each of my dad's siblings were dry as toast, except his sister,w ho was one of the most hateful, profane woman I have ever known. She showed outward disgust for us kids. She was a smoking, drinking, swearing almost evil person who was married to the person rumored to have been with my mom. Hell, I don't blame him. I hated Aunt Bette and dad's brothers were...old.

My father upper left. He was the short one. Damn.
My dad grew up on a hemp farm in central Kentucky. They grew, harvested and processed hemp for the most part on their own farm. I drove past the house one day when I was a kid and a had just learned what the word mansion meant. I would today say plantation. A very huge house with servants. There is a picture of my dad with a young black child. Dad called him Seymour.  My dad came from the "monied" part of Hodginsville KY.

It seems all was well in the Raley house until one day, when my dad was in Calfornia, the US Government outlawed hemp. Thank God they saved their money, but really, it pretty  much devastated the whole family and certainly cut into any (none) dollars that may have made it down this far on the genealogy tree. He immediately came back from California and went work to support the family. Apparently, my dad and his dad had a severe falling out also and were never close again.

 My dad was a fair man although his definition of fair is still being debated. He had an underlying feeling that us kids were pretty much unable to be much. I think we were in the way. He didn't have much patience for the nuances of everyday fatherhood. He didn't understand the passion and love I had for a)radio and b)basketball, even though he had to have applied the same principles in boxing. He forced me to quit going to radio school when I was sixteen because he thought there were better ways to spend my money. I was even paying for it. I worked steadily and regularly through high school with sometimes three jobs going on at once. I got that from him. I've always worked hard and have his work ethic.

I never ever saw him look at my mother the way a husband should look. I never saw them go out to dinner. I never saw them do something fun together. I never saw them laugh. I never saw them connect. I never heard him tell her he loved her.

One thing my father gave me was toughness. I have walked through some of the more dangerous, more terrifying mine fields this life has to offer. I've been sick, I've lost everything and gained it back, I've broken hearts and had mine broken. I've lost just about everyone in my family. And I'm still here. So, while my father never really showed much emotion (the only two times I saw him cry was when he hugged his son goodbye on his way to Viet Nam the first time and when his 15 years old daughter told him she was pregnant), he seemed to have answers to everything. He could figure out a way to get something done and if thst didn't work, he woudl have a plan B set up.

One summer day as my dad was unloading plywood from his truck, he and my also ex-boxer uncle got into an altercation. My uncle, being 20 years his junior, was mouthing off and me being 13, didn't have much of a chance to do anything if this escalated. Bang! My uncle sucker punched the old man (he was 65 then) and down he went. As my uncle walked away, my dad grabbed his ankle, tripped him, and proceeded to beat the absolute hell out of him. And then just walked away. That was impressive.

My father, in the normal sense sucked as a father. But as a teacher, I learned toughness, how to be cool and calm under pressure, how to work hard and to always conduct yourself with a modicum of class and decency. Finally, one of the first I learned from him was what NOT to do when dealing with my kids. I love you is spoken freely and there's no question how much I love them. All three have graduated from college, something that wasn't important to my father so he never thought it would be important to me. I have been there to help pick up the pieces when they fall. But, like my father, I've allowed them to fail. So much I've had to unlearn, and so much I've carried from him that lies just below the surface.

He's given me my DNA and as I get older, he appears to me more and more when I look into the mirror. Physically, I'm becoming him. Mentally, emotionally and spiritually, he's not the man I am, but ironically, I wouldn't be this way without the not normal childhood I went through.

Funny thing about the radio deal. After it was all said and done and the pieces of my life were being picked up after having my wife leave me for choosing a radio career, my dad mellowed. After doing a shift on one of my very first radio jobs, I came over after and found him on the back porch with my country station on. That was odd, he didn't care for that kind of music. He was reading the paper and he said from behind it.."was that you on earlier today?" "Yes, that was me". At the time, I needed a "radio" name, so I called myself Randy Lee. "What's this Randy Lee shit? You ain't good enough to be known as my boy?" That was as close as I would ever get to getting a compliment from him and he seemed to be more at ease with it from then on.

There wasn't much of a "then on" as not too long in the future, he came into the extra bedroom while I was taking a nap, kicked the bed and said "get up, I'm having chest pains". Shit. It was 30 minutes to the hospital, we made it in 17. Maybe the ride to the hospital killed him, but he never came home. He died about two weeks later, after waiting for one of his kids to get to the hospital. For a person who didn't seem to care much about kids, we all knew he waited for Carole to get there before he said his goodbye.

Maybe the last picture taken of him. All but two of these people are dead.
While yes, he was a very cold person who really never said or did much, he was a man of great character and when my father gave you is word, it was done. While growing up was incredibly uneven and mostly disappointing time, the only thing I can do is filter out the bad stuff and keep the good. And while the bad was more than the good, hanging on to the good has blessed me with having walked through the minefield with three. 
Jess is so tough and is such a great mother. She has faced the hardship of raising on infant while finishing college by herself. Her day is yet to come. Paul has the mental discipline to do anything, as fisrt diagnosed by his refusal to put the Nintendo game down until the enemy was destoyed. He's now building and designing satellites for the Defense Department. Emily has such an old kind soul but his her grandmothers "fuck you" attitude. When she finds here niche, she'll rule at it.

This exercise will hopefully eject the bad juju I have had for my father for years. Couple his aloofness and unemotion with my mother's alcoholism, and it was a very lonely place to be. But, I made it. Thanks, Dad.

And what I wouldn't give right now, this instant to say hello to you and ask you how I'm doing.
I'd only need a heartbeat to know.

Are you proud of me?

The kids?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very good piece of writing. I really need to do that myself some day.

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