My Father – 1929 to 2016 – Diamonds and Rust – Part 1

Well I’ll be damned
Here comes your ghost again.
But that’s not unusual.
It’s just that the moon is full
And you happened to call
And here I sit
Hand on the telephone
Hearing a voice I’d known
A couple of light years ago
Heading straight for a fall.

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Note: I wrote this a year ago when I was still feeling salty about a lot of things. I’m fine. I’ve forgiven everyone and life is better than it’s ever been here in Philly. There may be moments in this tome that seem angry or bitter. I am not either of these things. I’m just telling a story about a man who struggled with himself and my relationship with him.

I have done dozens of edits on this peice and even thought about cancelling the series the night before it was published. But I have to go with my gut and just tell the story.

One day I’ll be gone too. But this will blog will live on the internet forever.

And I know no forever.

Everything in you life is finite.

The only thing that feels like forever is the Universe.

“The universe is everything that ever was, is, or ever will be with no limit to time and space.”

The rest of everything and what we are is simply dust in the wind.

 

The holidays are rapidly approaching Dad and you’ve been gone for a couple of years. I was looking at some family photos recently, and I saw one in particular. It was your wedding photo with mom. A couple starting their life together full of promise and hope.

I was listening to the rock opera, Tommy by the Who. A brilliant rock opera you turned me on to in the basement of our original home in Northeast Philly.  I listen to all kinds of different music all of the time, but something happened during this combination of words and music.

I looked hard at the photo and the first thing that struck me was what a beautiful bride my mother was. The next thing was how much my sister Janice’s son looks like you. Thankfully he has more hair and a sweeter disposition, but the eyes and smile are there.

Janice has always been more like you than the rest of us. I love her very much and she’s definitely not you but most like you of any of the kids in this family. I’m definitely A Barr from mom’s side of the family. (Barr is my Mom’s maiden name.) Her brothers were charming, musical guys that kept their hair, youth and liked to drink and hang out with the ladies. My daughter Lorelei agrees that we are both Barrs.

April, our middle sister is probably a combo of my grandmother on mom’s side and your Aunt Margaret. Fiery, with a take no prisoners personality. The most beautiful of all of the children. Baby sister Gabrielle is firmly ensconced in Mom’s family as well. I hear my mother in her words and mannerisms. Gab is the closest relic we have left of our mother.

Dad, you and I had a challenging relationship. But it mirrored yours with mom in a way. We were both sort of at your mercy most of the time. Mom and I were family and you were the king that ruled over us. A fickle king that didn’t really know who he wanted to be. But always stepped up and did what he had to provide for us, and for that I’m eternally grateful.

You’re mother although a sweet woman married safe. Grandpop worked hard and knew how to make money and provide for his family. But he didn’t like being a father. He had no idea. You told me you looked upon like him like he was Superman. But he was just a man who worked hard, and liked to hang with is buddies at the bar. You wanted more, but got nothing in return. He’d tussle your hair and call you Pete. What the fuck is that? Your name is Horace.

(English and French form of HORATIUS, and the name by which the Roman poet Quintus Horatius Flaccus is commonly known those languages. In the modern era it has been used as a given name since the Renaissance, in honour of the poet.)

That’s a very old name, and it was his name and he made you Horace jr. because you were their first-born. Like my sister Janice, you unfortunately are the children that have to go through life with a sickle, where the rest of the siblings follow giggling and laughing. But you both have always carried a burden.

You were first, adored your father but struggled. Your younger brother Jackie was smarter, cuter and could do no wrong. I loved your brother very much. He has always felt like the dad I should have had. I would have flourished better in that family. Just leave me alone and let me do my art and music.

But you always had the cross to bear. I’m sorry that happened to you, Dad. That’s no life for a kid.

I love you, Dad.

I will love you until the black wings of death scatter my days and we will both be equal.

Your parents split up and got divorced when people didn’t do that. You were in Wildwood with your mother and little brother Jack, and my Grandmother sent you on a mission.

You were fourteen years old.

Your mother sent you to Philadelphia on the train to tell your dad that you all wouldn’t be returning to Philadelphia at the end of the summer. A cowardice act but understandable at the time.

On a side note. The building she sent you to where your dad worked was at 5th and Chestnut. The Hotel Monaco stands there now and they couldn’t alter the building in any way because of its historical value. I have partied my ass of at the rooftop bar now called Stratus in the Dusk and Vapor rooms!

When I was at my lowest at age 14 I remember your mother saying, “He’s going to be great. Someday, he’ll make you so proud. ” Grammie knew. Grammie saw the inner fragility and strength in me. I loved her. Everyone had turned their backs on me in 1976 but Grammie was the only one that vocally held out hope for me. At the time I didn’t even know what was going to happen to me.

I remember years later my own mother said “I didn’t love you back then.” (Puberty)

Think of how devastating those words were to a child.

I forgive you mother. I was a fuck up and brought nothing to the table. I understand why you said that, and it’s okay.

Dad you took the train to Philly and went to the building at 5th and chestnut. That’s were your dad worked for an insurance company. He was great at his job, because he knew that all clients were equal regardless of their race. I remember when you told me that, and even though grandpop was a shit dad he did teach you some great core values.

He said to you to never say anything bad about black people, because they had the same needs and wants that we wanted and should be treated with respect. He may have liked to party at the bar with his crew, but I like this guy despite his shortcomings as a father. He taught you some important lessons, so that’s something.

My grandfather’s values still stand proud with me today through you.

Not you. Him. Shitty Dad, but honorable Grandfather values.

Dad… You’re just a collection of things you’ve been told. It’s okay. I understand.

Jack is the one with the original thoughts.

You still did good.

You go there, nervous and scared. You’re a kid. You go up to is office.

“Hey Pete.”

“Hey dad. Listen, we’re going to stay at the shore. Me and mom and Jack aren’t coming back to Philly.”

I can’t imagine the fear you must have been feeling in that cold, lonely moment.

“Ha! You’ll be back!”

And that was it.

My frightened father had to tell the man he worshiped and had failed him that he and his wife were separated.

How fucked up is that?

What does that do to a boy’s mind?

His brother Jackie is the cute one. He’s the star. Jack is as smart as a whip. My uncle Jack was the first graduating class of Margaret Mace in Wildwood NJ and he was Valedictorian. He never cracked a book. Jack was brilliant, funny and charming and built for business.

Very successful, married twice, plenty of kids, not around much, busy with work, but an amazing guy. All of his kids for the most part are wonderful and I’m happy to have them in my life to this day.

I can’t wait to see my cousins at my sister Janice’s annual holiday party this year. I love looking into the eyes of my cousin and seeing Jack’s eyes.

His light still flickering in his first daughter’s eyes.

 

The winter was rough for my grandmom, dad and Jack. I’ve heard tales of them waking up in their beds and condensation coming from their mouths it was so cold.  These are old seashore houses with no heat. My father forced to go to shitty resort town schools. (Wildwood High School) Funny how this would repeat itself with me many years later. (Sins of the father)

Why would you put me through this dad?

When he was a kid, my dad would go to get his toothbrush in the morning and it would be frozen in the cup in the bathroom.

All they had for heat was a little wood burning stove in the corner of the common space.

One day a neighbor called on my grandmom and said that someone had been dismantling and stealing his fence at night. His wooden fence was literally disappearing.

It was later learned that my uncle Jack would go out at night and take pieces of the neighbor’s fence and burn it in their stove to stay warm.

I love my Uncle Jack.

My father dropped out of high school and fell in with the wrong crowd. At one point they got their hands on a gun and were going to mug some guy to get money. He was rudderless in his teen yearsand losing his shit.

I felt this same darkness living in Wildwood in the winter of 1980, so I get it. No crime, but what a nightmare to live in a thriving resort town in the winter. There is NOTHING to do. It’s a ghost town.

It was awful. I felt cursed to be dropped there.

I lost all of my Philly friends, my band and everybody I knew. It was all about my dad escaping Philly and making sure that Janice went to Franklin and Marshall. After that his wife and kids would have to start over in a fucking ghost town.

 

My father ran away from home at age 17 and joined the army in 1946.

He said that it’s what made him into a man and brought order to his life. So basically it saved his life.

He had a great time in the army and learned much. Traveled the south and met many wonderful people. He fell in love with a beautiful girl named Naomi, but she eventually threw him over for another man.

Just young love doing what it does…

He comes back to Philly and goes to Temple University to get his GED. He meets a cute secretary who works there and starts dating her, and the rest is history. She became my mother.

 

Were they a good match? I’m going to go ahead and say no. But they made it work with what they had and knew and isn’t that what every fool does? I certainly have!

My mother always said, “Marriage is a dice roll. You just have to hope it comes up that you win most of the time.”

For the most part, I have a really normal family. That stability and core values, love and discipline worked and made some good people.

All of my sisters have turned out well.

What does that tell you?

It tells you that DAD was a good dad. If the girls turn out well he was a good dad. They are all wonderful women and I’m proud to be related to them.

It all worked out.

 

I’ll continue this tomorrow…

 

 

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Author: phicklephilly

Copyright © 2016 by Phicklephilly All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. All stories and characters are based on real people and events. The names and images have been changed to protect their privacy. Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation!”

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