Twelve Faces of Father
Alcoholics Anonymous wanted Harry to stand up in front of everyone and say, ‘I’m Harry and I AM an alcoholic.’ Shoot, isn’t it enough to try to stop drinking? He was more than these other people standing up and touting addictions, comfortable with the restrictive label of alcoholic, recovering alcoholic, or recovered alcoholic—always an alcoholic and forever measured by chips and days sober. But he wasn’t only an alcoholic, and he cringed as he was whittled away to a single thing by a bunch of people who didn’t know him. He was also a husband, father, and hard working man. He’d served in World War II as a Merchant Marine and sailed the Mediterranean for Pete’s sake! Why couldn’t he just stand up and identify himself fully? He’d rather say, ‘I’m Harry and I’m a husband, father, veteran and hard working man who has alcoholism.’ But no, everyone just accused him of denial. – Harry Sloan, Tiger Drive
Hello, My Name is Harry…
Harry Sloan is a character in my novel, Tiger Drive. Though it is literary fiction, one of my brothers refers to Harry’s chapters as faction because Harry Sloan sounds a lot like
our father, Richard Case. In truth, my dad’s alcoholism and aversions to Alcoholics Anonymous, religion, cults, and the IRS, were my muses rather than Richard himself. How can I say that? I accepted one day—hindsight goggles in place—that I never wholly knew my dad. I only had access to my face-to-face relationship with him, while he, my mom, and my nine siblings have, or had, their own experiences and opinions about the makings and inner workings of Richard Case.
Tiger Drive came to light one day as I was sitting at my computer. I was supposed to be writing but found every excuse to avoid the blank computer screen, and instead, I stared aimlessly around the room until my eyes landed, became anchored really, on two photos of my young parents taken long before their lives would intersect. Despite having seen the images countless times, I paused and wondered, who in the heck are those two people and where did they come from?
Who Are You?
I can honestly say it was the first time in my life I saw Mom and Dad as individuals, two wayward youngsters navigating their way through choices and outcomes. I had that pinch of understanding that parents promise their children will come someday, “You’ll understand when you have children of your own.” Since I don’t have kids, I will adapt this to, “When you’re an adult you’ll understand.”
It’s safe to say life didn’t work out for my parents the way they thought it would. What happened to these two young people? When did their choices and secrets begin to catch up with them, taking them from derailment to full on train wrecks? * I’d spent my entire life knowing how to describe them as my parents, but not as individuals. I started speculating about their respective choices and began picking at the holes and pulling the loose threads of their life stories, and I fabricated hypothetical events and scenarios, and Voila! —Janice and Harry Sloan were born on a computer screen in font Times New Roman. Every tap to the keyboard introduced and explained Janice and Harry Sloan to me. Yet, as I typed The End on my first draft of Tiger Drive, I still didn’t fully know my muse, Richard Case.
He used to quote a saying, “To dream of the person you could have been, is to waste the person you are.”
As a kid, I interpreted this to mean I needed to accept my situation, stop comparing myself to other kids, and make the best of it. Specifically, I was in kindergarten and my crush, Teddy, preferred to spend recess with a classmate, Heather, and she had beautiful, straight hair, while mine was curly and frizzy. Dad’s advice was well received. I was an optimistic child and I’ve grown into, mostly, an optimistic adult. I actually recall and apply this quote often. Now, with my newfound adult understanding, I wonder what this saying meant to my dad and what guidance he derived. It’s easy for me to assume his interpretation was the same as mine, based on the scenario in which he dealt the wise words to me. However, the saying has morphed for me—I like to accept and improve my situation. I think my dad may have accepted his choices and settled for his lot in life or the bed he made. **
Namesakes & Keepsakes
I adored my dad. Based on my relationship with him, my face-to-face, there are several characteristics I loved and appreciated about him. I even named my first parakeet after him. But I have nine siblings, and he was not a gracious host of fatherhood or humanity with all of them. My mom has always said, “I never knew if Dick was a good man with a few really bad moments, or a bad man with good moments.”
Wait, who’s Dick? Born Richard James Case, everyone—except his parents and siblings—knew Richard as Dick Case. I can now confess I named my parakeet Dickey-Bird, and we drove Dad crazy as we tried, in earnest, to teach his namesake to say “Dickey-Bird.” But we’d also catch Dad, more than once, up on a chair with his face near the cage singing, ‘Dickey-Bird’ to Dickey-Bird.
During my quest to describe the man, Richard-Dick, I was given three items he kept in his keepsakes box—a green, army-issued ammo box from World War II of which he was a Merchant Marine (like Harry) and on the ground in Germany in 1945. The items are two pay stubs, a salvage receipt, and an article from The Nevada Appeal, “Put kids to work and save money.” All of which spoke volumes about my father and flooded me with memories.
I could write a list of characteristics, descriptions, labels, and diagnoses attempting to describe my dad. I could tell stories that stop my heart to this day of how he worked ten hours per day as a garbage man and then scrapped metal he found in the landfill late into cold evenings, diligently pulling copper out of wire bundles until his fingers were blue and numb just to have enough money so I could participate in the middle-school ski program. Or how he insisted he could dance like John Travolta in Grease and he gave it his all despite our harsh ridicule, or how he would laugh so hard while watching Cheech & Chong movies he would double over, wheeze for breath, and then just as he started getting enough oxygen to his brain, he would repeat Cheech’s line and struggle for control all over again. I could tell you how he insisted I start cutting his hair with clippers when I was only ten because he fervently believed someday I’d be an artist, and how he let his youngest daughter put pink curlers in his thinning, silver hair while he was glued to the TV, consumed by National Geographic and Wild Kingdom. I could tell you some bad stories, too. Remember my mom’s question: was he primarily good with bad in him, or was he primarily bad with good? As his daughter, I wonder if he had lived longer, what choices he would have made and if he would have liked himself. And if I could ask him to describe himself, what would he say? Maybe I can say he was a complex combination of labels, layers, ingredients and fabric. Maybe I should say he is the good memories, the bad memories, the good parts and bad parts.
Who do you want to BE?
Or maybe labels are best left for products and diagnoses rather than saying whom someone IS, WAS, or who people ARE.
The only person who could’ve wholly known Dick, face-to-face in the mirror, was Dick, or perhaps Dick didn’t know——Well, I’ll leave that horrible urban-pun hanging right there.
I didn’t introduce a new concept of self-identification or awareness. I haven’t been profound and I certainly didn’t arrive at or solve any theories for you or the rest of the world. I shared some stories about a man, and I guess I arrived at an answer that works for me. For now. How would I best describe my dad with all of his layers, relationships, unspoken thoughts, and choices? Was he a good man? Was he a bad man? Perhaps Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola say it best in Moonrise Kingdom:
Suzy: Was he a good dog?
Sam: Who’s to say?
It’s All in the Name
Funny enough, I’ve just realized my character Harry Sloan has indeed helped me identify my dad—I guess Harry’s choices just needed to percolate in my brain and heart a little longer than the number of pages I brewed him on. I’ve whittled ‘us’ down to one label each—a simple name for identification that allows for growth, expansion, change, contradiction, acceptance, and even settling. I’ll ‘let’ my ego, id, and superego figure out the rest in the days and years to come. I’ll practice mindfulness, too. I’ll need to learn to meditate first. I’ll read more philosophy and ponder existentialism. And as for my dad, well, I’ll just let him be. I’m going to let it go and let it grow and offer up:
My father was Richard “Dick” Case.
Hello, I am Teri Case.
Who are you? I’m happy to meet you.
* In my opinion ** Not that I’m judging…
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Vitality Stories that have inspired me this week:
- Where do you live, HEAD or HEART? – Rich Whitney
- “One thing I would tell my younger self is to not be afraid to take risks.” – Dan Blank, We Grow Media
- Bring Your Parents to Work – Stephen Jon Thompson
John Bullis is still writing tax advice columns.
Ken, how cool! I’ll have to send him a note to let him know his article is a keepsake! Thanks for letting me know. xoxo