I grew up without a father, only seeing him for six weeks in the summer and very occasionally during Christmas. In fact I found out the truth about Santa Claus during a Christmas visit, when I woke up and found no tree or any presents. I was very upset, thinking that Santa had skipped me. He said that there was no such thing as Santa and my mother had been lying to me. That was traumatic.
I viewed him as the epitome of manliness: always involved with sports and shooting. Me I just wanted to read. I couldn’t live up to what I thought he represented as a man, and I resented him for that, because I was just the weird son who might be gay. I viewed him as the perfect specimen of manhood and I was just his faggot son. I couldn’t even be the person I thought he was.
My first clue that he wasn’t so pristine was when he started talking about hippies. Lubbock is an extremely conservative area. He talked about in his youth how he and his buddies would drive around and when they saw one, they would stop and beat them up and cut their hair. He almost seemed proud of that. How would he feel if he knew that I had an attraction to men? I distanced myself further from him, just when I needed him most. Mom seemed to delight in telling me that he cheated on her with the very woman he later married.
He was a complete stranger to me, and then when his wife (my stepmother) told me that David was burning in hell, our distance only increased to that of an ocean. I only told him I was gay to piss him off, and was taken aback when he told me he loved me anyway. We only spoke on occasion, for his birthday or Christmas. I knew very little about him except that he had been in Vietnam and that he had been an alcoholic.
Then about a year before Mom died, she told me about Vietnam. He joined the Air Force right out of high school, not waiting to be drafted. He went into the medical corps, working as a dental technician; but it was also his job to identify dead GIs through their dental records. All this while he was eighteen. When I think of the horrors he must have seen…
He became an alcoholic when he came back to the states. He was called a baby killer when he arrived in San Francisco. There were no parades for him or anybody celebrating his return, just a lot of downcast eyes. He resorted to drinking and was very paranoid, having night terrors that the Viet Cong was trying to kill him. He once pulled a gun on his best friend who made the mistake of sneaking up on him. His drinking led to womanizing. Mom never forgave him, drowning in self-pity and anger.
After she passed away, I was going through her things and found old pictures of him in Vietnam. Again, my illusion of him being perfect was shattered. One was a picture of him ogling a Playboy and the surprised look on his face when somebody unexpectedly snapped the picture. Another was that of him sitting in front of his open locker with a nudie picture in the back. While I don’t condone these pictures, I presented to me a more well-rounded view of him. They and the stories Mom told helped me understand that he had struggled with similar things I had. Life had been a living hell for both of us and we did our best to survive.
Love you, Daddy.