Music and Art

Stories We Tell

We all tell stories in one way or another. Some are true and some are fiction. Some people are excellent storytellers. Not everyone can be. The story and the teller are two different things. My father was a storyteller. When I was a kid he told me we were part Native American. We are not. Genetic testing showed me that. I’m about as Irish and British as you can be without actually being born there.

He once told me that he was in a band in California. It was a popular one, and was going to do a song for Coca Cola (I suppose when I was a kid it was easier to tell me stories, somehow this made sense to me, that a giant corporation would just ask a local band to do a song). Then his uncle, the band leader, folded everything up. He was “this close” to making it. Because of this when I got into music he tried to be very involved. Not just supportive, but wanted to help my bands write songs, wanted to tell us what to do and how to do it. I guess it isn't much different from the kid that plays basketball and has his dad riding him all the time about what he should do. Plus I had the experience that some kids have that I got to be a better guitarist and musician than he ever was after about 2 years of lessons and practice. Combine this in my twenties with his alcoholism and I hated him for this. I hated his interference. I hated that he would get drunk and not remember what he had done the next day. I hated when he’d come downstairs during band practice and try to tell us what to do. He even fell down the stairs once he was so drunk. I hated that he couldn’t just be happy for my accomplishments, he had to try to make them his own.

My dad told me family secrets and I’m not sure if they are true or not. It pains me now to hold on to these because I don’t know who else knows, and I don’t know if the people directly involved should know. At some point I’m going to have to find out who else knows this secret. See, here’s where it shows I’m not a great storyteller. I don’t know how to dance around the truth all that well. I get like the awkward dorky kid I was, trying not to pass out while I ask out a girl for the first time.

My father and I never really got back to a great relationship. When I was little we rode bikes and played catch and went fishing. When I hit my teen I became my own person and he didn’t know how to deal with it, other than continue to tell me what to do. It was his “constructive criticism” that led me to throw a golf club into a tree on a cold, lightly snowing, April day in Wisconsin. That was the end of my one and only season on a school sports team. And to this day I despise the phrase ‘constructive criticism’. There’s a way to suggest, to help, to enlighten. And then there’s just pushing someone to do it your way. There’s teaching, and then there’s bullying.

At his worst he’d get in my face to tell me things, a drunken, rambling philosopher, trying to force me to give some meaning to his life. He was my dad, that should have been enough. I even shoved him once. He was ever violent, though. I’m grateful for that. Eventually we came to sort of an understanding. Mostly forced upon us by his cancer and the disastrous series of problems after his treatment. I had also moved out of my parents house and getting some distance helped. I don’t know if he ever accepted my life as my own and not his, we just sort of stopped fighting about it.

I’m still not sure I’ve figured out what it means to lose a parent as a young adult. It’s not inevitable as it is in old age. It’s not tragic but something you have a lifetime to adjust to when you’re a kid. It’s not better or worse I guess. I don’t have kids and I’d never have asked him for parenting advice anyway.

When I was in my late teens we visited family in Florida. We went to Busch Gardens and came home with one of those souvenir keychains with our picture in it. Me, my mom, and my dad. This was when my Grandma was dying, and it was a last chance to see her and spend some family time together. My dad took her death very hard and he spiraled out of control with his drinking after that. I used to look at that picture from time to time and I realized that any feelings of being wronged by my father were pointless. The man I needed to talk to was in that photo, not the man left over after cancer treatments, surgery, coma, infection, and near death. He was never the same, both from having gone through that and I think from actually being brain damaged. Never really talking to him about these years, not being able to, is something I have to live with, and something I have to forgive both of us for.
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