Monday, June 21, 2010

Someone I Never Knew

All my life, Father's Day was a day that was painful for me. Why? Because I never had the opportunity to know my Dad as he died when I was 17 days old. He saw me one time, when I was 10 days old and my Mom took me to the hospital where he was dying then of cancer so he could meet me, see me, etc. I was the only child as they had only been married for a short 14 months before he passed although they had been dating for close to ten years. That was a fact that I always resented too and used to tell my Mom if she and my Dad had married earlier on, I could have had at least a brother or sister, maybe even more, who knows!

My "issues" if you will, about Father's Day stem solely from the fact I never knew my Dad but not because I grew up with no father figure in my life. Mom and I lived with her parents so until I was a little over 12 years old, I had my Grandpa in my life. And let me say this too -I adored him! Several of my cousins have told me in recent years that they felt he was just a stern, old man and they feared him but the only time I was ever the least bit afraid of him was a couple of times in the last 2 years of his life when he was very senile, or had dementia or Alzheimer's they probably would call it today. Now and then he would lose his knowledge base, not know my Mom or Grandma but for some odd reason or other, he always seemed to know me. It was a difficult period for my Mom and Grandma then because he would often try to run away and then, if I was at home, my Mom would call out to me to run after him till she could get the car out to go pick him up. He would, you see, always let me accompany him on his wanderings and usually, if Mom got the car out and pulled up beside him, she could then trick him into getting into the car and bring him back home.

But besides my Grandpa, I had several others in my growing years -uncles -who stepped up to the plate you could say -and were at least kind of temporary father figures to me.

My Dad's youngest brother was one who lived the closest to us so he was one who was high on my surrogate Dad list. Uncle Arch was not only just as cute as a button, but he was also one who really lavished me with lots and lots of love. If I was at my Dad's homestead -where Uncle Arch and his family lived, along with my youngest Aunt -and if one other aunt happened to be there too (my Aunt Sis) there was absolutely no getting past either of them without first getting and giving hugs and kisses galore. (Demonstrative, with respect to showing major affection, was not a big trait with my Mom's family so this was an attribute I relished very much when at that Uncle's home. That, plus his daughter was only a year older than I so we grew up quite close then. Today, we have rekindled that relationship even though she is well over 2,000 miles away from me -down in Austin, Texas -but we e-mail back and forth frequently. And, we also use each other often as sounding boards too when we are ticked off about various things too!

My Mom's older sister and her husband had no children of their own but they doted on me -a lot! I lived with them for over a year from 1951 until Thanksgiving of 1952 and spent the better part of all my summer vacations from 1952 until 1962 at their home, with them. Anytime, when I was a kid and would get mad at my Mom and decide I was going to run away from home, my plans were that I would take off, hitchhike and go to Jamestown, New York and live with them.

The summer of 1964, when it came time for my Mom's family reunion -which until that year, I had never missed any reunions of that part of my family -I was working in D.C. and one of my roommates was from back home here. She also had a car and was going to be coming up home that weekend so I was going to ride up with her. I don't remember now what went haywire with those plans but we didn't get here till about 1:30 in the afternoon, the day of the reunion, and everyone had gone to the park probably about 2 hours earlier and I had no way then to get to the park. When they came home that evening, when my Uncle Butch pulled up in front of the house and I came outside to greet the family as they returned home, he broke down and cried and cried to see me. Why? Because when I didn't show up at the reunion, he was worried I was angry with him over some silly thing or other and that's why I wasn't there! Well, we both sat and cried then too because I was really upset at having had to miss the reunion!

Uncle Butch could be a bit of a taskmaster at times -had very high expectations for folks, especially for his nieces and nephews -which sometimes didn't go over all that well with my cousins and with myself either. But he was also the most tender, soft-hearted person you'd ever hope to know. He and my our neighbor two doors over here (also my best friend Kate's Dad) loved to go fishing and every year when my aunt and uncle would come home on vacation, Uncle Butch and Howard would make plans -big fishing plans -to go trout fishing down outside Bellefonte on the State Prison grounds there. Actually, they would plan to make to fishing excursions there -one for just the two of them together when they could do some serious fishing and another day, they would take Kate and me with them! My aunt would pack a big picnic basket with all kinds of food for the four of us and Kate and I would have a ball, wading in Spring Creek (scaring all the fish is more accurate what we were doing though -according to my Uncle and Kate's Dad). We would fish from the bridges used by the guards and convicts as they transported them all around the grounds there and the thing we usually caught -nothing! Well, other than a good time, that is!

My Mom's younger brother -Uncle Cookie, as he was always called by my cousins and me -had four children of his own, taught school in Corry, PA and because that was back in the days when teachers were grossly underpaid, he also always worked at least one part-time job all the time. But in the summers, when I would go to my aunt and uncle's in Jamestown, it was always figured in for me to have a chance to spend usually at least a week at Uncle Cookie's house, with his kids and all the many animals they always had too. They always had at least one -sometimes several -collie dogs, for openers. Then my uncle got the idea to raise a pig to slaughter for their freezer, their older daughter loved cats so she was allowed to have a cat and the oldest son for a while was into raising rabbits too. The younger girl got control over some ducks they had for a while and the younger son -well, his pet was the pig! One year, my uncle got the notion he'd love to have lamb so he went and got this really cute little white lamb and had it "farmed" out on a back section of his property. That was all well and good until he started treating that lamb more as a pet -naming her -and he would come home from work and go check on her, ending up sitting on the ground beside her, gently stroking her. When it came time to plan to butcher, he lost his taste for lamb!

But he was such a fun uncle to be around. He had a fantastic sense of humor and could cajole his kids and me into doing a lot of things that other kids may not have seen as a fun way to spend the time. Actually though, I credit the time I spent during my summers at their home as the only time I was really exposed to what it was like to live in a "normal" family. At home here, our lifestyle was often pretty disorganized and as a result, we had no set time for supper and I had no bedtime schedule during my growing years either. Probably explains a bit of why I have always been a major night owl I guess!

My Mom's older brother and his family of five children often came here for weekends and were always here for Christmas -usually spending the entire week after Christmas here too. I loved that but my cousins weren't all that keen on country life as they lived in a suburb just outside of Pittsburgh and this little village was way to tame and quiet much of the time for them. Actually, it was more to the point that they had their life there and friends of course so they gave up a lot just so we could all be together for every holiday during the year.

My uncles played very important roles in my upbringing but not in a way that was always really visible to me at the time. Sure there was a lot of hugs and kisses and being demonstrative with affection from my Dad's brother and yes, my aunt and her husband -who were made my legal guardians when I lived with them -did give me a goodly amount of things my Mom would never have been able to provide -my bicycle, roller skates when I was in my teens, clothing, jewelry and such -and my younger uncle did provide things that weren't tangible but were ever so important to my growth and maturity as well as my education back then. But it was something I didn't recognize then as the surrogacy factor in action. I do today though and I do thank my lucky stars that each and everyone of them was a part of my early life, my learning process.

After I left home and went to work -spending eight years working in D.C. for the National Rifle Association -I didn't realize it at the time but in hindsight, I often gravitated towards men who were sort of along the lines of "father figures" to me then. In particular, the guy who was my last boss at the NRA became a mentor for me and in all the employment I have had since I left that place back in 1972, I have never had a boss who I respected as much as I did that man and whose friendship I truly valued over the years very, very much. He taught me so much while I worked for him and also, showed me that people can work together in an atmosphere that also includes lots and lots of fun, joking and pranks too and still get the work processed in a very timely fashion. It does help a whole lot when you love to get up and go to work as opposed to being in a place where your work, your skills, your entire being, is regarded more along the slave lines or that you are a lesser person and undeserving of decent working conditions! Put that in your pipes and smoke it -any of my previous employers who operated in that manner!

About 2 years after my divorce, while working as a waitress at a nearby truckstop here, I met someone who truly epitomized the "father figure" for me as well as becoming a grandfather figure to for all three of my children. He was a trucker and quite the character too! He and one of his sons both drove tractor trailer back then for the now defunct Interstate System and his cb handle was "Old Granddad!" Short, a bit rotund, with a deep, deep often gruff laugh, he was one of the nicest men I have ever known. He and his wife lived at Conneaut Lake Park -two blocks from the Kiddy Land section of the park -and they also owned a cottage across the street, on the park grounds, that they rented out each summer. I don't know how I lucked out in acquiring Regis Ryan Sr as such a great friend but I did and my kids were enthralled with him and his wife, Mary Ellen too! "Pap" -as my kids often called him -took them (and me) under his wing and we had standing invitations to spend "Teamster Picnic" weekend at their home every summer from 1982 until 1993. (He died in August of 1993 and my younger daughter and I made the drive out to western Pennsylvania to his funeral, while my son had to stay at home as he couldn't get the day off from work. It meant as much to Mandy and to me to be there for Pap's funeral as it would have if he had actually been a full-fledged member of our family.) His wife had died about 2-3 years before him and because I was away when she passed, I didn't learn of her death until the day after the funeral when he called to tell me. That was a jolt too because again, my kids and I had come to love Mary Ellen as much as we did Pap! They even took Mandy and Clate up to their home for a week to relax and enjoy the lake, the park and Mary Ellen's great cooking too!

When Pap died though, the loss of this guy who had taken me under his wing, treated me like a daughter he'd never had (as did his wife too), saying goodbye to him was for me, much like I would reckon it would have been for me had I ever known my own Dad as my kids and I loved him dearly. Purveyor of great advice, giver of pats on the back of the pride he had for my decision to go to college as a returning adult student at the grand old age of 46, my graduation was bittersweet for me then because I know, had he still been alive, he would have been there, watching me receive my little blue leather folder from Penn State with that hard-earned B.S. in it! He had confidence in me, and he pushed me to keep doing what he felt was a move in the right direction for me. He also provided my family and me with more laughs too than maybe folks even have a right to have!

It's been 17 years this summer since we said goodbye to Pap and I still miss him greatly as does my daughter, Mandy, especially. I'd love to go up to the Park again to visit the old place but somehow, without him being there, without him poking fun at us and everyone else within his range, to not hear that good deep belly laugh too -I don't think the Park would be the same. Although, some day, I hope to live long enough to take Maya and Kurt there to show them around and tell them what a wonderful person they missed out on knowing but I hope somehow to keep his memory alive by incorporating a bit of his attitude and sense of humor any way I can in their lives.

The thing though that I finally figured out about my Dad and my not being able to have ever had a relationship with him is that for years and years, there was something missing that I couldn't put my finger on until probably in the last ten years and that was that I really didn't know who I am, deep inside, because I never knew what he was like -his demeanor, his attitude about all kinds of things, what had he liked, what talents did he have that he enjoyed using.

That, plus the fact that I really didn't know his siblings -other than the one uncle and especially my youngest aunt. I knew who my other uncles were, as well as both my other two aunts -but how were any of them like my Dad? My Mom's family, on the other hand, I knew all my aunts, uncles, first cousins as well as all my Grandpa's siblings still living when I was growing up! And I knew almost all my Mom's cousins and their children too! I was raised primarily as being in THAT family and not so much a part of my Dad's family. And as a result, often I felt a void, that I was part of them yes, but not fully.

Not until I really got interested in family tree research and as I dug around online and such for information on both sides of my Dad's family tree and met some of his cousins, then also, finally got to get better acquainted with my oldest uncles children, I began to feel "at home" within myself. I was able then to figure out a few things about my temperment that hadn't always jived with my Mom's family but with my Dad's -a whole different story there.

But now, this brings me to a bit of a different quandry because you see, since my ex and I divorced 30 years ago and his siblings are scattered all over the place -with the exception of one brother who lives near to us -my kids don't really know their Dad all that well and they could probably run right into a cousin or even one of their uncles or their aunt and not have a clue that they are related. With all three of my grandkids now too, they are not in a position -nor am I now -to really get to know their roots, first-hand, by knowing all their extended family either.

And, this is something I really would like to change if at all possible for them -that they learn as much as I can pass on to them about their roots and traits that are acquired through genes often way, way back in their family history.

So -my word to you -if you are in a situation within your own family of distance from relatives or bad vibes for whatever reasons and not getting along with this relative or that or an ex-spouse situation, please at least try to share whatever good factors you can find about your family with the children left in the wake.

Trust me, it is very important for children to grow up knowing who they are, deep inside themselves and it helps immensely then for them to learn how to be more comfortable within their own skin from having that knowledge.


Maggie May said...

That is a sad story losing your dad when you were 17 days old.
My grandsons always find that it is painful to have to go through Father's Day after losing theirs less than two years ago.
I think it is essential to have father figures in a life.
With my grandsons it is definitely my son! Pity they can't see him very often.
Maggie X

Nuts in May

Sandee said...

How sad that you lost your father when you were 17 days old. I learned something new about you again today. Looks like you made the best of it though. Good for you.

You are also right in your advice.

Have a terrific day. :)