Prodigal Daughter

The first time I returned to my father’s house wasn’t a happy homecoming, not one of joyful reunion; the prodigal daughter returning only slightly battered by her adventures but welcome nonetheless. This is not to say my father wasn’t happy to see me, he simply didn’t know what to make of me; I disrupted the rhythm he and my brother had established and I was not easy. No, I did not fit into the domestic tranquility they had established without my mother.

The Wild Child returns or was it truly the Prodigal Daughter

There was a silence between us an abyss of unspoken anger and hurt. Occasionally that dark silence would erupt, molten heat flow between us rife with all that would remain unsaid. My father was angered by what he saw as my rebellious nature; he was infuriated by what seemed to him my failure to be bowed by my circumstance, my great failure. He truly had no idea just how tipped over I was, how often I could be found curled into myself begging for relief, my pain beating like a tattoo on the walls of my chest so loudly I often couldn’t hear my own heart beating.

I took back my old room, the walls folded in on me and memories battered me. Memories from before my run and memories of my years away. Memories I could not tell that no one, especially my father, wanted to hear. Memories that screamed in my head and battered my heart. My brother was not happy at my arrival; this didn’t make my homecoming easier. My insertion back into my family home was full of angst, fury even. I was seeking safe harbor, my father was looking for the daughter he never had but thought he remembered as if in a dream. We were both so wrong and both furious at the other for our disappointment.

When my brother was 17 and I was 20, I had been home less than a year my father had three heart attacks. He was just 51 years old and had never taken particularly good care of himself. He had been single for five years by this time and had found he enjoyed life without the harridan that was my mother. He had known for quite some time that his heart was bad; he did nothing to correct the problem. This led to a triple bi-pass and a significant change in his life-style. It wasn’t enough. My father was hardheaded; he thought he could outsmart his own body and his family history. He continued to work, play and not take particularly good care of himself for another ten years. His health suffered and this led to another series of heart attacks and another bi-pass surgery.

While my dad was a brilliant man in many ways, he was emotionally stunted. He had a far easier time bailing me out of my ‘difficulties’, the things I did to force his attention than simply listening to why I did them. Don’t

My brother and I in 1981

misunderstand me, there was not a single time after my return to the fold my father wasn’t there for me, not once my dad didn’t open his wallet if I needed help. I paid for those failures though, paid in rancor and ferocity. Paid also in knowing I couldn’t be enough, couldn’t ever be ‘good enough’. These feelings would engender in me such jealousy of the relationship he had with my brother, the easy camaraderie and friendship it would taint my relationship with both my brother and my father for many years to come making it difficult for us to come together and finally find peace.

Ultimately it wasn’t he and I that found the necessary building blocks to make peace, perhaps alone we would have never found our way back to each other. After my father’s second round with heart surgery he finally determined he would live. He retired from the work he loved after 30 years. He took up new hobbies and new interests, including unbeknownst even to him a love interest. I think by then he had already begun to find his heart back home in Texas, though it would be a while longer before he or any of the rest of us realized just how much of his heart he had truly found.

By the time my father had his second open heart surgery I had been through the stage of trying to distract his attention through my wild child antics. It did of course work, but not in a way that made sense. I did far more harm to myself with nothing really gained but his anger and disdain. Ultimately I married once in haste and with deep regret two years later divorced. I had finally married the man I would remain married to for fourteen years, the father of my two sons and the ex-husband of my favorite wife-in-law.

My brother in the meantime joined the Army making my father ‘proud’, words I heard with regularity but not directed at me.

One my dad disapproved, the Wild Child in Action

I sought my father, his attention but mostly his approval, constantly, but could not tell him what was wrong. Maybe if he had asked, maybe if I thought he could sit to hear the truth I would have told. But I could never tell him, he asked me once why I did the things I did;

Because I hate myself

He shook his head and walked away. He never asked why. Maybe if he had I could have told him.

For a little while I stopped outwardly trying to gain his approval, but inside I was always the little girl that wanted to be Daddy’s girl. I wanted him to love me and to like me. The problem was I simply didn’t like me enough to tell him what had been done, I wanted him to be angry but I wouldn’t tell him so he could comfort me. I wanted him to guess rather than know. I was so ashamed I couldn’t tell and so I was angry that he didn’t protect me and instead bought my silence. That was always what it felt like; he bailed me out because that was all he had for me.

When I was still Daddy’s Little Girl

My father missed my graduation, it crushed me but I never told him.

My father missed my son’s wedding, this also hurt my feelings but I told him this one by then our relationship had changed.

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I have tried to write the story of my father and I as a trilogy and found it to be far too complex, perhaps because it has an ending that includes a reconciliation

Part I – In Your Absence

Part II – Growing up Texas

Growing up Texas-My Fathers Story

My dad was born in 1926 in San Antonio, Texas but spent most of his childhood in South Texas, first in Corpus Christie then finally in Sinton; a small town just north of Corpus. My dad came up rough and tumble with two older siblings, a brother and a beloved sister. I am not sure being the baby of the family got him any special treatment except with his mother, who adored him but I think this might have been because on top of being the baby he was pretty, truly pretty with auburn hair and sparkling hazel green eyes. Yes, my dad in his younger days was a stunner.

During the Great Depression I don’t think pretty got you much of anything, especially with men like my Grandfather. My grandfather was at best rough around the edges, your traditional Texas redneck; perhaps he couldn’t help himself his approach to life and his children, certainly growing up they felt his failure and his fists. My grandfather wasn’t unlike others of his time, he was luckier than many having a skill that allowed him to work more often than his peers. Grandpa was tempered by his times, by poverty and of course by the culture of South Texas. His views and attitudes determined how he treated his wife and children; ultimately they would shape my father but not I think the way his father intended.

Siblings with their grandmother in South Texas
My Dad is the Baby

That my Grandfather was able to work sometimes didn’t change the grinding poverty the family experienced through the years of the Great Depression. What it did accomplish is their ability to build a stable life in Sinton; it led to home ownership and the purchase of my grandfather’s business, a liquor store named after him that would become a hub of activity including sometime poker games with his cronies.  My Grandfather was rattlesnake mean; he was also a bigot and a cheat. I suspect he occasionally abused my grandmother, though I don’t know this and have no proof except my own experience. I only met my Grandfather a few times; one of those times was what led to my intense dislike and fear of him and my identification of his bigotry.

In 1936, when my father was just ten-years old he and his brother were in a car accident. Both of them sustained terrible injuries and while they were home recuperating my grandfather encouraged them to build and fly model airplanes. This would prove to become a life-long interest for my father, becoming his calling and profession. There weren’t many things he followed his father into, amateur photography is one of these; I am the inheritor of his many years of picture taking and his love of recording the world around him on film as well.

Inside with Granddad

My father was different from those around him, he was a thinker, thoughtful and purpose filled. My grandmother once told me he was ‘sensitive’, this wasn’t necessarily a good thing for a boy in South Texas at the time. Although he played football in High School and chased girls, always having the prettiest dates to the dances, my father wanted more than life in small town Texas. He wanted more than what he witnessed around him in his family and his hometown. He watched as his beloved sister fell in love with a boy his father disapproved of and was subsequently disowned, barred from her family. He came to blows, true fisticuffs with his father over minor differences more than once. Ultimately he determined to follow dreams of his own, leaving behind small town bigotry and thinking of a broader world for himself and his future children.

Though my Grandfather was a man of his times, he did instill in his two sons ambition and a work ethic. My father would set his mind to things and achieve them, hobbies or work he did them with single-mindedness. My father carried this through his entire life. He graduated from A&M with a degree and Aeronautical Engineering and ultimately went to work for the premier airplane design and manufacturing company in the world, Boeing. Throughout his career he would be promoted to manager several times and each time would eventually request a return to his true passion, design. He didn’t like management; it wasn’t interesting or engaging (his words).

Dang He was Pretty

When my father met my mother he was following a plan I think.

  1. Finish College – Check
  2. Start Career – Check
  3. Reach Correct age of 25 – Check

He had graduated in 1949, he had his first job at what was then Muroc Army Base (later Edwards AFB); it was time to start looking for a wife. My mother was working at Muroc as a secretary. There weren’t a great number of options; Muroc was extremely remote with little to do and few singles to choose from. Mom must have thought she hit the jackpot with my father’s interest in her. He on the other hand saw a woman who had been raised ‘right’, came from good stock and would be a good mother to his future children (no I am not making any of this up).

The wedding party aka The March to Hell

They dated for just over a year and married in July of 1951. It was a marriage made in Hell, for both of them. I don’t think either were ever truly happy. My mother’s parents, though they attended the wedding, never approved of my father who they did not believe was good enough for their family or their daughter. My father’s family always thought my mother was stuck-up (she was).

Despite the misery they inflicted on each other their marriage remained intact for 22 long years.  I was long gone by the time they separated and did not know they had done so until years later. Perhaps if I had a great deal of pain could have been avoided. The story I heard was this:

Mom:  “When son is 18 I want a divorce”.

Dad: “Why wait?”

Within a week my father had moved out of the house and thus begin a very nasty divorce that saw them duking it out with lawyers for months. The result was my father ended up with custody of my then twelve-year old brother and the home of my childhood. The divorce left both of them bitter for years. Personally, I always asked the question;

“What the hell took so long?”

Thus ends Chapter 2 of my father’s story in Broken Chains. Daddy loved his family; he adored his mother and his sister. He was respectful toward his father and I think he loved his father though didn’t like him very much; he kept us away for a reason. My father created his own hell with his marriage and determined to not divorce, he left his children instead to suffer in silence for his absence. My father remained single for nearly twenty years; it would be his remarriage to the mother of my heart that finally brought about our full reconciliation though we had started this process long before that time.

Part One of my Fathers Story – In Your Absense

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