I don’t talk much about my father who died of psoriasis of the liver when I was 18. I want to say right out of the gate there was a lot more to him than his on and off drinking habits.
Yeah, I know, he sounds perfect and in many ways he was. I want to say his downfall was alcohol but that was merely a symptom. What compromised him his whole adult life was his blind, insatiable love for my mother.
They met when she was 17 and he was 20 right before he went into the service. Their storybook romance sadly was interrupted by two plus years of war. I spoke of the letters they wrote to one another in my essay ‘Soldier To Soldier’ and not because they were penned by my parents, but they are some of the most heartfelt missives I have ever read. Their mutual longing seeps through every page pleading with the other to please come home and Darling will you wait for me?
I’d be the first to say it sounds like a bad movie script except it’s not, it was real.
When Frankie came back still smitten with her, Ricky was what he called her, it was as though she had outgrown her attachment. She had gotten a job, spread her wings a bit and wasn’t sure she knew this man when she finally saw him again. He had lost his hearing in one ear flying planes and his wavy chestnut hair had already begun to gray.
But she married him anyway because in 1945 you didn’t back out of a deal. She was promised to him and to her credit kept that promise hating him because of it for the next 28 years.
They bought a house with her parents dividing the two stories, mistake number one. My father never felt he was really the head of his household since he vied for it with my grandfather whom everyone, including me, was simply mad for.
His jealousy would end up enhanced in a double Manhattan, straight up, absolutely no fruit. I remember being little asking if I could have the cherry my mother would throw in just to annoy him.
He wasn’t mean when he drank, more melancholy and withdrawn. My mother, despite her resentment, always took excellent care of him treating him more like a son than a husband. She was a 4 star caretaker careful to omit all affection for fear he’d think her love had been rekindled. Her eyes would wander more often than not but I couldn’t blame her really since she was still such a kid. She was also lovely thriving on the attention from other men, basking; flirting right in front of my dad who would look the other way drinking for comfort.
On the outside everything looked “Leave it to Beaverish” from my mother’s neat off white shirtwaist to my father’s perfectly pressed slacks. They entertained, were seen at mass, never revealing their truth. From what I understand, their story was a common one.
I loved them both even when they fought falling to my knees to beg God to please make them stop. She liked grabbing his hearing aid that was attached to his glasses breaking it so many times he couldn’t get it insured anymore, even on the GI Bill.
Despite his sorrow though, he still loved to laugh finding the humor that I believe in between drinks kept him going. I was a moper from the time I was 2 so he’d do whatever was necessary to make me smile. He did a mean dancing bear imitation that got me every time.
He was tall, and very handsome, even when his drinking started to show.
My grandmother, his mother, would tell me he drank because his father did, it had been passed down. I see now there was some truth in that, but the romantic part of me believes he died of a broken heart.
After 28 years of marriage my parents divorced. While my mother soared like an eagle in her new found independence, my dad spiraled down.
The last time I saw him was at a bar in Westport Connecticut. I was visiting a friend and we saw his car parked in front so we boldly went in. When I approached him he didn’t even recognize me so lost in the catacombs of alcoholism.
“Daddy, it’s me, Susannah.”
He just looked at me in a unrecognizable haze that truly broke my heart.
The bartender then made us leave saying I was harassing one of his customers.
That was the last time I saw him till I got a call from his lawyer telling me he had died alone in a hospital ward after someone had found him living out of his car suffering from the DTs.
I was so young, living in New York in a sublet with two other models. I was told I had to come to Connecticut at once as his next of kin to claim his body and make arrangements for burial. It was as if someone had hit me over the head with a bad dream.
I did everything that was expected of me including insisting the coffin be closed since I couldn’t bear people to see what happened to my handsome dad.
I say this often; if you want to lose your looks, drink everyday, all day and see what happens to the beauty nature gave you. Think of it as larceny of face and body.
No one was better looking than my father but Chevis Regal on the rocks had the last say.
He’s buried at Oaklawn Cemetery in Fairfield Connecticut in its military section. I used to write notes to him that they promised to prop up on his grave. I was trying to make up for not being a more devoted daughter but what I’ve learned after years of painful therapy is; when you’re a kid you don’t think about death and loss. It’s one of the gifts of youth when your life is just beginning. You wave as the train pulls out of the station never thinking for an instant that good-bye will be your last. And as my shrink said repeatedly as I sat there week after week weeping, “and that’s the way it’s supposed to be Susannah. You have nothing to feel guilty over.”
My guilt at last was transformed into sadness for a man who loved too much.
I’m happy to say I have a lot of him in me. The silly streak, the willingness to reach out to others along with an over the top adoration for animals. But what I really got from him is my capacity to love because I too love big, same as him, because when it hits the earth shifts and sails back and forth like a swing that soars higher and higher.
Daddy, I am thinking of you today in your double-breasted blazer and crisp chino pants, your arm resting from the window of our ice blue Impala. Mommy, looking ethereal and beautiful, is staring into space a homemade sponge cake on the seat between you.
Gramma Mary is waiting along with Uncle John and Aunt Hedy, Aunt Mary and Uncle Ted, cousins Laura and Audrey, Teddy and Jim, where we will all sit down and have an old fashioned Sunday dinner with a canned ham and pineapples, mashed potatoes and fresh corn.
Happy Father’s Day Daddy…