My father grew up in the small town of Noel. The people in the rural community were, for the most part, simple hard-working folks who enjoyed the lifestyle afforded them in the Southwest Missouri Ozark community. The man who I called father was born in 1924 and was forever to be known as Floyd Fine Jr.
This son of Floyd and Phoebe would be their one and only child. The family was, like most others in the area during his youthful years, struggling to make ends meet. Floyd senior was for a time, the McDonald County Sheriff but that wasn't until Floyd Jr. had entered high school. That was a time when the family moved to Pineville and for four years lived there in the Sheriff's house. It was there that my father met his future wife, my mother, Mary Barr.
Mary took Junior, as my mother often called my father, as her husband and the two began a life together. The years passed, as did their addresses. My father spent 20 years traveling the world as a United States Marine while my mother worked, usually as a salesperson at various local department stores.
My grandmother Barr, Mary's mother, cooked, cleaned and kept house and, for the most part, raised my brother Bill, my sister Beverly and I. I suppose my parents did their best but, as they were absent from the home a great deal of the time, I now realize how much my life differed from the childhood friends I grew up with.
I remember my father as a stern man but not one who used castigation to correct and teach but one who used it solely for the sake of punishment. My brother and sister may disagree with me on this point, but I doubt it.
My father and I were never very close. While growing up, I considered my father, at least in many ways, to be very little more than an acquaintance. My father seemed to be busy with work and other activities that occupied his time and interests which kept him away from home while the childhood years in my life seemed to pass away all too quickly.
My father was a career military man and, through no fault of his own, was frequently away from his home and his family. There were, however, many times when he found the company of outsiders more suited to his liking. A casual acquaintance once told me that former Marines were just like that. I remember thinking that, although he may be right, it didn't make me feel any better.
If I was asked to recall good times we spent together, I'd have to give that some thought. Oh sure, he took me to the mountains and the Pecos River fishing for trout but, even then, it seemed I couldn't properly attach the lure to the line.
I remember seeing him seated in the stands while I played baseball, basketball or football. Afterward, he seemed to find fault with the way I pitched, lofted that jump shot or passed the football. I remember once thinking that my coaches were more pleased with my efforts than was he. It's funny how some things just seem to stick in one's memory.
He always wanted me to be more like him but I couldn't and really didn't want to follow along his path. I didn't think he was a terrible person, but there is something that dwells deep within all of us that pulls at our very core and demands that we be nothing less and nothing more than who we are, and so it was with me when I was a child.
He may have loved me, however, I can express that belief only in the form of a supposition. He may have needed me but only when my presence was requisite to fulfilling his wishes and only when my presence would serve to satisfy his needs. I was no more or less than a drug which he needed for only a day or a night; at least that's how I felt.
Fathers teach their sons how to live, raise them to be good people and love them. Sons learn from their fathers, grow up to be good men and have love for their fathers. I fear that I will spend many a dark and sleepless night wondering what went wrong.
Did I love my father? I have asked that question of myself so very many times and the query certainly begs an answer. Quite honestly, I don't know. I wish I could say that I did, but that would not be the truth. If I were to say that I did not love him that also would not be the truth. Did he love me? Once again, I don't know the answer to that question and only he could provide an answer. He never answered the question when he was alive and, now that he has passed on, the question must surely and sadly remain unanswered. I truly want to believe that in his own way he did love me.
If I was afforded the opportunity to talk to him one last time, what would I say? I wouldn't say, "I'm sorry," because I don't know what I would be sorry for. I might say that I wished that things could have been better between him and me,but maybe he wouldn't have wanted that.
In no other relationship can the differences in people be expressed more so than in that of father and son. This is so because the son is torn between searching for an identity that beckons him as if called by some far off and faintly-heard voice and the inherent responsibility to be like one's father, to follow in that parent's footsteps, thus, hopefully, gaining his respect and love. However, when our masks are removed and all the facades are stripped away, our true natures are exposed for all to see.
If there is one thing above all else that I have learned in the latter part of my life, it is that nothing lasts forever. Whether it be places, people or feelings, I have come to realize that things change and that is inevitable. Places are never quite as nice as remembered, people aren't as good or bad as we once perceived and feelings change with the passage of that guiltless monster -- time.
There were times when I thought of my dad as father and times when I thought of him as a stranger. There were moments when I wanted to thank him for bringing me into this world and moments when I cursed him for it. I suppose that, given time, I will come to terms with these feelings and hopefully learn to live with them.
I have far too many questions for which I have far too few answers. I lay awake wide-eyed and afraid in the darkness of night, afraid that I will live to regret the feelings not shared with my father but knowing that it didn't seem possible. How can a relationship grow and be nurtured without willing gardeners?
I believe that, in many ways, life is like a giant Ferris wheel. It continues to make its giant arc only stopping when a passenger filled seat comes to rest at the bottom of its arc. Then, and only then, do people unhinge the restraining bar once needed to keep them in their seat and exit the ride. Never to waver from its course, once again the giant rotating wheel sets off, only stopping so another passenger can leave, never to return. For the past few years, all I could do was watch as my loved ones exited that imposing wheel.
I have watched as my mother Mary, my son David and my wife Robin have exited their seats on the machine's platform. For some reason, not known to me, my place on the Ferris wheel, my safety bar latched seat, has not come to rest at the wheel's lowest point.
I attended my father's funeral the other day. As I sat that day on the hard wooden pew, I recollected all that I had learned about life in the past few years, hard lessons you would call them. The relationship, or lack thereof, between my father and me was never very good and even less over these past 10 to 15 years. I guess I always blamed him for his lack of concern shown for both my son and wife as they faded away from me. My father lived his entire life as a taker, never a giver.
For most of my life, I thought there would be second chances, more opportunities if you will, to reconcile or fix things, but I have come to learn that life doesn't always afford us second chances. Some words can't be taken back while others are left unsaid, and those must surely be the most painful words of all.
I have decided to leave the past alone and release my father and myself from any guilt. Things were and are just as they must be and no amount of regret can make things better. All I have left in my life are memories and I'll keep the fond ones close to my heart.
Will there come a day when I will forget him? Of course not, he is my father. Will I miss him? This may seem an odd answer to that question but, as I sit here writing about him, I can only answer that question by saying, "I don't know but I hope so."
I visited my father shortly before his death and looked at a man sleeping in a wheelchair. It was a man I did not recognize, a man who had that look on his face I had seen before. It was the unmistakable look of death.
Once again the unwelcome dark angel crawled from beneath the stone where it dwells and soiled the air with the putrefied stench of death, an unpleasant and vile odor which has offended my nostrils far too many times before.
Maybe we both did our best and that's all there was, no more, no less. I know that I'll forever wonder if there is nothing more to say except, "Goodbye father."
Stan Fine is a retired police officer and Verizon Security Department investigator who, after retiring in 2006, moved from Tampa, Fla., to Noel, Mo. Stan's connection to Noel can be traced back to his grandparents who lived most of their lives there. Stan began writing after the passing of his wife Robin in 2013. Opinions expressed are those of the author.Editorial on 01/02/2020
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