I didn't certainly plan to piss in anyone's potatoes this fine Thanksgiving, but unfortunately this year the anniversary of the death of my father happens to fall on Turkey Day. And since I cannot afford 100 bucks a week on a therapist, this blog allows me to get around that little wrinkle and purge myself of the junk that trips me up.
If you are celebrating with friends and family, that's great, have a good time, go away (what are you doing on the Internet anyway?). Besides, this is a SUPER long blog and probably breaks every Blog Etiquette rule there is. So, you may want to skip it.
In memory of Dad, I decided to re-post a letter I wrote to him three years ago, which I actually published in a blog I used to write called Grey Matters, on a website for the company I started called Creatus Maximus. The company and the website and it's blogs are history, but I have saved some of those blog entries, and I'm glad I did. Especially ones like these.
Re-reading this several times brought back a lot of feelings. But I'll get to my thoughts on that after the letter.
So...how’s everything going these days? It’s been, well, nearly thirty years since you and I have seen each other. Or talked. Damn. That is a really long time. I can imagine you have a lot to tell me about. After all, that’s a lifetime for some people. Hell, the way my health has been of late it might even BE my lifetime! But that’s a long story, and better saved for another time. Although I will say that I often wonder how my health relates to yours. When I go to any new doctor and I need to give a medical history and they ask me about my father’s health, it’s tough to have to say “My Dad's health history? I just don’t really know.”
I remember the last time I saw you, though. Will never forget it. It was in a County Courthouse in the great state of Missouri. I was 10 years old. You had initiated a hearing in order to gain custody of me and my sister. I have later been told that it was an attempt by you to get out of paying more child support. I don’t know how true that is, actually. All I have to go on is hearsay and memory and all of that is coming from people who have every reason in the world to hate you or put you in a bad light. I mean, why WOULDN’T that be a leading theory, but how in the world would I know what the primary motivators were? Doesn’t really matter anyway, does it?
It certainly didn’t matter then. Hell, I was seeing my freakin’ DAD! That was the coolest thing ever for me. We never saw each other all that much, and getting a chance to see you at all was a thrill and a half for me. I remember just running up and yelling “HEY DADDY!!!!” and being totally excited. I don’t recall what your reaction was, in fact I don’t remember much about any of your feelings, but more on that later. It was just great to see you then. That's all I knew. It wasn’t so great when I was in the Judge’s chambers and I had to answer the question “Who would you rather live with your Mommy or your Daddy?”
How do you answer that as a kid? How do you even begin to try and choose between one and the other? I mean, granted...my life after you left the house when I was around 5 years old was pretty scary. Sure, I had to deal with you leaving and only seeing you from time to time, but what you didn’t know and probably still don’t know is that we were delivered into the hands of a real monster. The man who would become my new father was mentally ill, though no one really knew it at the time, and if we did know I think we were all in some kind of denial. All I knew was that he was a very scary guy and Dad, if I told you some of the things he did to me you’d probably be chilled to the bone. Or maybe not. You might not have cared.
I wonder sometimes what my life would be like if you HAD known. I mean, would you have come in to save me? Had you known the various tortures and abuse I was going through, would you have been around more? Would you have tried to kick his ass? Could you? Hmm, the eternal question...who would win in a fight? Absent Dad or Monster Dad? Now that’s a Pay-Per-View. Of course, in those days there WAS no Pay-Per-View. There wasn’t even video tape yet. OR Betamax. Just TV re-runs, music, play and imagination.
I doubt you could have saved me. Hell, Mom was there and she couldn't. The Monster was VERY good at hiding his true nature, and would only unleash his fury when she was not around to protect me and in ways that did not leave a lot of physical evidence. It wasn't her fault, she never really saw it. And when a huge hulk of a man leans in close to you, teeth clenched, hands around your neck, breath stinking of cigar and says 'If you tell your Mother about this I'll kill you.'...well, Dad, you tend to believe it.
I said nothing.
So I sat there and pondered the question the Judge asked. Living without Mom? How could I do that? I mean, I wanted to see you more certainly, but Mom was the only constant I’d had in my life, how could I turn my back on that? Why would I want to? Besides, she was always there for me. You weren't. And when the Monster was not around, it was BLISS hanging around with Mom. I wouldn't trade that for anything, even if it meant seeing you more.
I can’t remember what my answer was to be honest with you, and looking back as an adult I am not so sure Randi and I were being asked this because we actually had a say in it or not. I mean, I was ten, she was twelve. Can kids that age really determine their own fate in a situation like that? I don’t really know, but it doesn’t seem likely.
But the decision was for us to stay with Mom. We said goodbye, and as I recall it was warm enough, though I also recall being very sad. I can’t remember if we hugged or embraced or anything. If I had known I wouldn’t see you again for nearly thirty years I might have tried to think of something more thought-provoking or profound to say I’m sure. Not sure what that would BE at ten years old, but it does often cross my mind.
Days passed. That's what they do. Days became weeks, which became months, which became years. We didn’t see you anymore, and you never called. When we would ask about calling you or talking to you or seeing you, Mom did her level best to make something up for the longest time. My guess is it probably broke her heart to have to tell us that you didn’t want to be a part of our lives. But eventually that Truth had to be surmised, and I reluctantly accepted.
In those early days, probably the first couple of years, I used to daydream that you would show up someday and save me. When Monster Dad was in one of his rages, I would shut myself off and often think how cool it would be if you came bursting through the door like Superman, picked me up and flew me the hell out of there.
Of course that never happened, and eventually I had to figure out how to save myself. But man...I gotta tell you; those first few years were some of the toughest of my life. But the sadness over losing you turned to anger, and that anger mixed with the abuses I suffered at home hardened me. It turned me into something cold, something blank, something not easy to navigate.
In some ways, as I look back, that may have been a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that I really learned some pretty good survival instincts in those developmental years. I don’t think that a kid should have to endure anything like I did, and I would never wish it on anyone, but it did have a plus to it in that it is tough for anything these days to rock my world.
And that, ironically, is the curse. It is very hard for anything to rock my world. I have to really reach in pretty deep to find myself and get in touch with some of the emotions I really need to have better access to. It’s easier now, MUCH easier especially with Carter (that’s my son, by the way, more on that later), but it is still a great effort at times.
As I got older, I have often been asked why I never tried to reach out to you. I’ve never had a great answer. Sometimes I think it was because I was afraid to, other times I think it was because I was never sure of what I would say. There are probably a million reasons that I didn’t, and if I was ever close to doing it that would have been the year that you and my sister started talking again. I would hear stuff from her about speaking to you and she would tell me that you would ask about me sometimes. She told me you asked her to ask me for my address, and I told her that you could have it.
That was the year you sent a Christmas card. I think it was 1991, not certain though. When the card arrived, I must have stared at it for hours. I was trembling over the thing. This little piece of paper. I wondered what might wait for me on the inside, what answers might be there. I was almost too afraid to actually open it, but I eventually did, and on the inside it said “Merry Christmas. Love, Dad.”
Merry Christmas? Love Dad? FUCK you AND your fucking card. I was so pissed. What was I thinking? That you were going to say something in the card that was profound? That some clue would be in there as to why you didn’t want to be my father? I don’t really know what I was expecting; all I remember doing that night was getting very high and being very pissed off. I threw the card away, and it is one of the few things in my life that I regret deeply. I should have kept it. It was, at least, something from you that I could have held on to.
Eventually, you stopped taking Randi’s calls. I think she must have started asking you for money. At least that was my going theory. She was like that a lot. A taker. Working an angle. She’s still that way from what I hear. I don’t know that much about her life, I haven’t spoken to her in about ten years. She did something to Mom I can’t forgive, or forget. But that’s another story too.
Sometimes you had your new wife tell her that you were dead. That was pretty cold, for anyone, and I wonder why it was so important for you to cut her off like that. I mean...was it so tough to listen to your kid for a few minutes? I guess maybe it might have been. Giving the “He’s dead.” directive is a pretty big deal.
But again, time did what it does. I graduated from college, even went to graduate school. I had some tough years, I had some good years. I fought a lot of battles, both internally and out in the real world. Lost some. Won some. I had a difficult time with relationships, which I figure must have something to do with you leaving, or it could have been the shit at home with the Monster Dad.
I had some problems with drugs, depression, anger, selfishness, self-centeredness, all kinds of stuff, but I also had some really special moments, some wonderful things, and I also had been blessed with a gift of being able to make art, and that was and always will be a huge deal to me. It has gotten me through some very tough times.
I used to be the Poser Goth Art Guy, all black wearing fool, and I used to paint the Monster Dad in all kinds of weird pieces of artwork. That helped me work a lot of his shit out; though I never painted or drew you. I guess I never felt a need to. Or again, there’s that fear thing. He was a pretty easy subject and the ferocity of his personality made the artwork more intense. He was the direct opposite of you. As far away as you were from me, he was right there, in my face, and usually putting a boot in it.
You should know that in the end he was a broken shell of a man, eaten alive by his hate, his rage and his self-loathing. I didn’t give a shit. Once I got out of the house I kept as much distance between him and me as I could and eventually Mom did divorce him. Pretty much everybody in his life did too. After Mom left he couldn’t even function that well on his own. His own kids wouldn’t take him in, and I sure as shit wasn’t letting him anywhere close to my world.
So he ended up in an assisted living home of some kind. That’s where he finally blew his brains out with a .357 revolver, the same one he pointed at me twice. Isn't irony a twisted bitch? But the real question is...how the fuck do you have a gun in an old age home? I would figure that was something that wasn’t allowed. But what do I know? All I do know is when I got the news it was like someone had told me what they had for breakfast. I simply acknowledged the news and went on with my day.
But despite all of that, and all of the albatrosses I had around my neck, eventually my life started to settle. I got a good job, then a GREAT one. I bought a car, bought a house, all that adult type stuff. I even got married. Can you believe that? Yeah, and I even had a son like I mentioned before.
Now THAT has been a mind job let me tell you. The whole nine months of the pregnancy I was a mess. Ended up with a diagnosed clinical depression and PTSD. I didn’t realize that during those nine months I was actually having anxiety attacks, I thought I had a heart problem or something. I was tested six ways till Sunday and no luck figuring out what was wrong with me, until the day Carter Maximus Lilly was finally born. I had a BIG anxiety attack. Worst one yet. Almost hit the floor of the delivery room. They had to wheel me out on a gurney and I missed the whole birth. I had to get some help after that.
But what a wonderful, amazing gift Carter was, and is. He is a remarkable boy, and is the most incredible thing I have ever seen. I would get, and still do get, so blown away by him, on a level I wish I could explain to you. Each and every day he does something that makes me laugh, that makes me smile, and that makes me feel...good. Does he sometimes do stuff that rakes my nerves or annoys me? Yeah sure, who doesn’t? But as he started to grow and as he has become his own person, I can’t imagine, I can’t fathom, I can’t conceive of what my life would be like without him. It’s simply outside of my ability to see.
And yeah, of course that has had me asking questions. Questions about you. Why did you leave? What was it about our situation that put you in a place where you were able to do that? Maybe I’m projecting though, putting my thoughts into your head, because it is possible that you didn’t look at me the way I look at my own son, you could be an entirely different breed of cat for all I know.
I do wonder though, I have to admit. Sometimes when Carter gets cranky or fussy or is just a plain old pain the ass I ask myself if that’s what I did to turn you away from me. Maybe I was just too much for you to handle, or maybe you just didn’t have it in you to see it through. Only you really know these things.
When he does something remarkable, I wonder if you ever thought I was remarkable? When he runs up to me and says “Hi Daddy. HOLD YOU?” and jumps up into my arms I feel like I just won the gene lottery. I wonder if you ever felt that way? Were you ever moved to tears of joy when you realized I was a part of you? Were you ever happy with me? Did you ever think I was a cool kid, or charming, or funny, or good-looking? Did I ever bring anything to your life other than burden, and a reason to deny your fatherhood to such a degree that you would walk away from your children and never see them again?
Over the past year or so you have REALLY been on my mind, especially as Carter really started to become Carter. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but it does to me. As he has started to develop a relationship with me, I wonder about you. Where were you mentally when I did this or that, how is it similar or not similar to my relationship with my own son? See, that’s what happens when you are in introspective, somewhat damaged guy. You question a lot of things. You think about all kinds of angles and you try to learn things about your life that you were never given any answers to. You sort of get to place in your head where you have to surmise this or suppose that. It makes my head hurt though. Sometimes I long for less thought, less questions. Only sometimes.
In fact, this past year the thought of maybe picking up the phone or writing you a letter has been getting a lot more activity in the front area of my head. I really don’t know how that would go, or if I would even be capable of it, but my relationship with Carter has at last softened me to the point where maybe it would be OK for me to make the first move, though I have to be honest and also tell you that I am really concerned that you wouldn’t say the things I want you to say. Though to be perfectly honest I can’t be certain WHAT it is that I DO want you to say.
Randi called Mom a couple of weeks ago, and she was after some cash or something, and she brought up contacting you to Mom. Mom gave her the information that she knew to be accurate, although she warned Randi that every time she has tried to reach out to you in the past it has resulted in more pain for her, and confusion, and of course the ‘Dead Dad Excuse’. But Randi kept insisting, and I fear this means that she might be back on crack. If she needs money that badly, that may be where she has ended up again. That’s sad, though there isn’t anything I can do about it. Her pain is hers, and only she can get it healed. She's too far gone to be helped by me. Or Mom.
But she did call you, and Mom tells me that she got the ‘Dead Dad Excuse’ again. Your wife is a real bitch, you know that right? I mean, you are an ass for asking someone to tell your kids that you died to avoid a confrontation, but she is a Grade A bitch for going along with it. From what I have heard you all should be on an episode of Springer.
When Mom told me about that, I was pissed, but I also had a little voice inside my head nagging at me. I mean...for all I know, maybe you COULD be dead. If you were, how would I know? Would anyone from your world reach out into mine and let me know that you had passed? I don’t think so, but I can’t be totally sure of anything when it comes to you. So I went online and started searching the St. Louis obituaries. I searched all over in there, through a ton of dates, and I even went to national databases to check if you’d kicked it. Nope, you weren’t in there. And I have to admit that I was a little relieved.
But something still doesn’t feel right, you know? I mean, you have to be...what? In your seventies by now? From what I remember, you weren’t a thin guy as you got older (hey thanks for the shitty genes, by the way) and I think you smoked. More power to you to make it to your seventies, I sometimes wonder if that’s as far as I’ll get. Or how far I’ll get. But like so many things in this letter, that’s another story too.
But I started to wonder, maybe this was a chance to try to find out some things about you. I mean, I’ve searched for people on the internet before, and I usually can find something, so maybe you were in some clubs or something, or maybe you’d saved a local boy from a fire or something. So I turned to Google.
Sure enough, you ARE in a club, imagine that. A Hunting Club, and I found you in a few other places too. Hey, waddya know, you have a real life. In these thirty years you kept hunting and fishing and doing other outdoorsy type things that you always loved to do, and you were a member of a few things. I noticed you dropped the “Sr.” from your name.
I wonder when you decided to do that. I don’t know if you ever found out that I changed my name when I was 18. Maybe you did and felt that “Sr.” wasn’t relevant anymore since I was no longer “Kenneth William Ayslworth, Jr.”. Maybe you changed it because you never really felt like you actually had kids, or maybe you changed it because the “Sr.” would always be a reminder to you that I was out there somewhere.
Eventually in my search I came across a bit about you in your local newspaper, dated a few weeks earlier.
Kenneth W. Aylsworth, 70, of Troy, died Sunday, Nov. 26, 2006, at his residence. Funeral services and burial with full military honors were held at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2006, at the Bray Cemetery near Troy. Rev. Robert Vinson officiated. McCoy-Blossom Funeral Home was in charge of arrangements. Aylsworth was born on July 15, 1936, in Council Bluffs, Iowa, to William and Barbara (Grider) Aylsworth. He was married to Carolyn J. Pollard on Oct. 27, 1976, in Troy. She survives. Other survivors include one daughter, Jeanette Boyd, of Moscow Mills; two grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and one brother, David (Karen) Aylsworth, of Nebraska. Aylsworth was in the U.S. Air Force for 38 years as an aircraft mechanic. Memorials may be made to the American Cancer Society in care of the McCoy-Blossom Funeral Home, 1304 Boone St., Troy, MO 63379.
Oh. So your wife WASN’T lying this time. huh? Well, how about that. I gotta admit Dad, I was pretty shocked even though this was the piece of information I was originally looking for. Very shocked. I can’t even remember how long I sat in front of my computer or how many times I read this over and over and over again. There are so many things that jump out at me from just these words. The missing “Sr.” from your name which I mentioned before. The date you died, which ironically was a day I was actually with Mom, who was visiting for Thanksgiving. Your career in the military. 38 years. Holy shit that’s a long time. The fact that you have a brother (I never knew that). The mention of the American Cancer Society for donations, which makes me wonder if the big “C” paid a visit to your house.
But what stands out the most is the fact that in this summary of your life there is no mention at all...of me. I guess that’s to be expected, but Dad, I gotta tell you, that really hurts, probably more than anything else you’ve ever done. And you didn’t even do it. I mean, you’re dead, buried, worm food...someone else wrote this. But the fact that I was so far out of your life, so unimportant to you to where the people that were around you would not only not let me know that you died but also not even think to mention it in your obituary...wow, you must have really hated being my father, and that hurts me on the deepest possible level.
Why Dad? What was so bad about it? What was it that made you so unhappy and so discontented? What was it that would stop you from being a part of the life of your only son? I guess I will never know, and I guess that is one of those things that I will always question. Would I have found out if I had tried harder while you were still alive? Would you have said anything to me that would have been enough to take away the pain of not having you there? I don’t know. I never have known. And now? I will never know.
I hope it wasn’t something that I did. I wonder about that sometimes, which is normal. I hope I wasn’t a cranky, horrible child that drove you nuts and you just couldn’t take it anymore. I wonder about that sometimes, when Carter gets a little out of control. Did I do that? Did I get so out of control that you just had no other option but to get the hell out of there? Will I follow in your footsteps? I wonder that too, and it does scare the living shit out of me let me tell you the truth. The instinct to flee, to abandon, to walk away, these have been a part of me for years, and it takes some real extra effort on my part to stay a course, to make a difference, to make sacrifices, because I wasn’t built with a real sense of tenacity. We learn a lot from our fathers.
But I can’t do it, Dad. I look at Carter and I could never live with myself if I knew that I caused him the deep level of sadness and loss that you had caused me. I couldn’t get up and look myself in the mirror and feel anything other than shame if I knew he was out there somewhere alone, with no support from me, with a wall of my own construction keeping him as far outside of my life as your wall kept me. I don’t know how you were able to do it. Did you ever care? Did you ever regret? Did you ever miss me? Did you ever think about me and smile? Did you ever really love me as your son?
I wouldn’t let Carter go through his life with that type of sadness. I think I would rather have gone though what I did if it means that it has taught me the value of that relationship. As crazy as it sounds, it is true. At the very least I have that. A deep, unshakable appreciation for the fact that I am his father and he is my son.
I would not change that for all the wealth in the world, all the fame or all the glory. Unless I could give all that to him...then maybe I’d THINK about it. But I wouldn’t think about it for long.
Well, I guess that’s it Dad. We won’t be able to have any resolution, huh? Does that suck or what? I won’t ever know the answers to the questions I have, and I have to accept that. It’s a hard road, and since I found out you died I have had a really tough time. I avoided most of the Christmas stuff going on around me as I tried to wrap my head around all this and make sense of it. Knowing that I will never be able to resolve this, and accepting it, is some form of resolution.
All I can do is hope that wherever you are now, you are at peace and that you are not suffering. As much as I have been angry and hurt and felt like I have, I would never wish that on anyone, and I especially would never wish it on you, no matter what did or did not transpire between us, no matter how you might have felt, or not felt, or whatever. Because in the end you are my father and I am your son.
That will never change. It can’t ever change. And I will always, no matter what, love you with all I have and try to honor you by remembering only what was best about you.
Goodbye, Dad...I hope you will rest in peace. I would have given anything, anything and everything, to have known you.
Man, I had a lot to say that day didn't I? This blog is already too long so I'll be brief. It's interesting how now, today, with the added aspect of Bennett and his disabilities I have an even greater appreciation of the weakness and cowardice and general lack of backbone that my father had. And I don't say that with any malice, either, don't get me wrong.
I don't hate the man. He is who he is. Or was. He should never have been a father. Period. He wasn't cut out for it. I'm glad he got jiggy with my Mom, don't get me wrong, I like being alive, but the fact is that he was simply not constructed, as a person, to handle the level of responsibility that comes from being a parent.
In a way, now, I actually feel sorry for the guy. He missed out on SO much that I will not. That's the real shame of it. His life was a lot less fulfilling than it could have been and he never even knew it.
Anyway...Dad, Happy Thanksgiving, wherever you are. I think about you often.