I had so few good times with my father, I’m pretty sure I can remember them all.
There was the time when I was about five or six and he took me and my best friend Tommy Fox to get ice cream.
The time when I was about seven or eight and he took me to see the Phillies play the Cincinnati Reds at old Connie Mack Stadium, and as we sat 100 feet behind home plate, he pointed at the Reds’ young catcher Johnny Bench and told me that kid was going to become a legend.
The time he wrote “Happy Birthday, Jim!” on the chalkboard near our telephone for my tenth birthday before he went to work.
The time he hugged me when I was twelve after I opened my Christmas present, a little black-and-white TV.
Otherwise it was a solid block of drunkenness and meanness and misery and violence. He had a pair of feral wolverine eyes that I remember glaring at me with hatred a hundred thousand times.
He stopped hitting me when I was around sixteen and strong enough to hit back. I knocked him flat on his ass with one punch, cracking his dental plate in half.
Besides the ice cream and baseball game and Happy Birthday wish and Christmas present, the only other good memory I can dig up out of my mind was toward the end of my senior year in high school. I came home with three hits of crudely made blotter LSD, each hit about the size of a postage stamp with a dime-sized brown acid stain. Thinking I was home alone, I dropped all three hits, crawled into bed, lied on my side, and watched as the room started to spin.
Suddenly I heard a groan and realized my father was in the next room, waking up from a nap.
He got up and went into the bathroom to pee. As he came out, he walked into my room and asked me some trivial question that, because I was on acid, morphed into a deep three-hour conversation that was the only time I ever felt like I connected with him as a semi-adult. I wish I could remember the topics we covered, but I can only recall two specific lines:
“George isn’t a man in the bedroom.” (Apparently my brother-in-law was impotent.)
The other thing he said, again and again, was, “I didn’t know you were like this. We should talk more often.”
Yes, we should have. But we never did. In a matter of weeks, again while I was tripping balls on acid, I had the ever-loving shit kicked out of me after hitching a ride with the wrong guys, and my stubbly, drunk-ass father initially balked at the idea that he should get dressed and take me to the hospital.
I’ve seen plenty of shrinks in my life, but I only remember crying once. It was while I was in college remembering the time that my mom shouted directions while my dad was whipping me with his belt. The idea of both parents conspiring to hurt me had me bawling.
I spent two-and-a-half years behind bars, but I only remember crying once. It was while reading a SPIN magazine article on my criminal case. When asked about my childhood, a friend of mine told the reporter, “Some people beat their kids because they can’t help it. I think [Jim’s] parents had a willful desire to destroy him as a person.” Reading that line, I lost my shit because I knew it was true.
My brother and sister had multiple kids, all of whom called my parents “Mom Mom” and “Pop Pop,” so that’s what we all wound up calling them. Pop Pop died of colon cancer when I was 19. On his last day on Earth—as much as I hated him—it hurt me to see his coughing, wrinkled, bony frame strapped to a wheelchair by ambulance technicians en route to his deathbed. When the doctor at the hospital told me my father had less than an hour to live, I leaned over dad’s bed and whispered in his ear, “I love you, Pop Pop.”
Still, he was a blunt and tactless and mean, mean man, and even his friends told me that at his wake. Fuck, even the priest said as much at his funeral.
Part of that was due to the fact that he had a hard, hard life. His dad had been the town drunk in the little hillbilly Vermont village where my dad was raised. My paternal grandfather, whom I never met, was said to blast his shotgun in their little shack when he got pissed. My dad survived a psychotic father and the Great Depression and WWII. I survived a psychotic father and prison and brain surgery.
I’ve imitated some of my father’s worst behavior. I’ve been mean and vicious and violent to plenty of people, even ones I loved.
But now I have a son of my own, and I’ve never been mean to him, not for a fucking second. NEVER. I can’t imagine being capable of it. It would be hard for me to restrain myself from murdering anyone who’d try to harm him in any way.
Here’s this little five-year-old ball of love, this goofy guy I’d step in front of a train for, the son whom I love far more than I ever thought I was capable of loving anything—and he’s my father’s grandson.
Blood is something you almost wish you could erase but can’t. I can’t deny that my dad played a role in my son’s creation. Like it or not, my father is in there. He worked eighty-hour weeks—half as a plumber, half as an oil-company foreman—for as long as I knew him. The fact that he busted his balls, no matter how many times he busted my chops, played a role in creating this little boy that I’d die for.
And until the day I die, I’m going to make sure that my son has so many good times with me, he won’t be able to remember all of them.