Memories of my Father

My father was killed a year and a day ago. Shortly after his death, I began writing down things I remembered about him. I’ve been keeping it in a Word Document on my machine, and have thought about posting it several times. I feel like today is a good day to do that.

Aside from some minor editing, I haven’t added to this file for several months. This is by no means the sum total of my memroies of my Father. There are several more little stories that I’ve thought of recently (or was reminded of while talking to family members) that I haven’t added yet. I’ve been writing this document slowly, and will probably continue to add to it for years to come.

I just did a quick read-through, and cleaned up some of the bad grammar and spelling/typos. What you read below should be considered a very rough draft. A stream of conciousnes like attempt to get things out of my head and onto the screen. (If anyone is interested, this is the word document I was referring to on 2003.07.18)

[Spoilers] I want to write about my father, I’m afraid that if I don’t it will be too easy for me to forget things about him that I want to remember

First time I consciously swore in front of him was after a little-league game where I thought I had lost the game. He told me I did good. I looked up and said, “No I didn’t. I fucked up, dad.”

He taught me how to drive a stick shift. The clutch on his car wasn’t very good, but I didn’t know that. After practicing a bit over at the cul-de-sac that was to be the entrance to oyster point park, he told me to drive over to Marina Faire. I already had my license, so he wanted me to keep driving around the parking lot while he went into a store (I don’t remember which) to buy something (I don’t remember what.) I kept stalling the car trying to get it moving again. There were a bunch of cars behind me, and I was getting more and more frustrated. I finally got it moving just before he came out of the store. My first car was a stick, and the clutch was nice and smooth. I was surprised how easy it was to get into gear. Maybe practicing on a car with a tricky clutch helped.

Once, on Fourth of July, we had gone to a BBQ at a friend’s house (I think –from his work) he had brought a couple of really big firecrackers (probably illegal), and at one point after dark I saw him sneak off outside. I followed him, and watched as he walked out to the middle of the street, bent down, lit the fuse, and came running back towards the house. I ran with him and got to the threshold of the door as the firecracker exploded. I jumped/tripped though the doorway. I landed wierd on my arm, and almost broke my wrist.

My Dad’s sense of humor tended to be dark. I built plastic models as a kid, and at one point, I had a model of the Challenger space shuttle. As a joke, he snuck a firecracker (probably left over from the Fourth of July) into the box when I wasn’t looking.

When I was about 13, I made a tape of myself asking my dad if, when I was 16 and got my license, he would promise to give me his car. “Sure, when you get your license,” was his response. My parents separated, and he had sold his car by the time I was 16. But he did teach me to drive stick.

I was home sick one day, when I heard this stomping coming from down the hall, followed by an “Oww! Shit!” (or something like that.) My dad came hoping down the hall, and ended up going to the hospital because he had chipped a bone in his foot stomping on the floor trying to get the guy downstairs to quit working on his car. My dad worked the graveyard shift, so he slept during the day, and my parents’ bedroom was right above the garage for the complex.

I’m beginning to understand how he felt. I get very annoyed at phonecalls (usually telemarkers, or this fax machine in Illinois) and people ringing the doorbell (most recently a UPS delivery) when I’m trying to sleep.

I used my dad’s crutches a few years later after I, myself, had to go the hospital. I was paranoid about the stitches from a surgery splitting if I walked around normally. (What a way to spend a birthday – under the knife.)

My dad never had the chance to wear a tuxedo until my wedding. He was excited to finally have a reason to. He came up to me while we were making final preparations before guests started arriving with the studs for his shirt in his hand. “So, what am I supposed to do with these?” He asked. It was good to know there was a thing or two I could teach him. (We were wearing vests, so I didn’t bother mentioning that when wearing a cumber-bund, “the folds go up to catch the crumbs.” I didn’t tell him sunglasses and tuxes aren’t usually worn together, either.) There is a great picture captured by one of my friends of me teaching my dad the finer points of tuxedo wearing, as his dad looks on.

My dad taught me about basic firearm safety. He also had a couple of guns, (a .22 rifle and a couple of .22 revolvers) which he let me use at the local gun range on several occasions with him. One of those male bonding things we did once in a while after he had moved out. Once, when we went to Alaska, he brought part of his firearms collection along, including an M1 rifle. We went shooting with a friend of his (and of my Aunt) in Seward. After plinking away with the .22 rifle for a while, they asked me if I wanted to try the M1. I gave it a go, and listened to all his instructions and warnings about how much more powerful this rifle was. I did what I was told (kept the stock firmly against my shoulder being the main one, so the recoil wouldn’t snap my collar-bone or anything.) I still wasn’t prepared for the recoil. That gun knocked me on my ass, the recoil still bruised my shoulder, and I hadn’t come anywhere close to hitting the target. I stuck with the .22s after that.

That M1 rifle was used as part of a senior civics project dealing with the JFK assassination. (I was playing the part of Oswald – I don’t remember why I was also helping gather “evidence” against him.) We took a video camera with us to the rifle range, and I had him try to fire the same number of shots in the same amount of time at a target approximately the same range away as Oswald was supposed to have been from Kennedy. It wasn’t a very accurate test, nor was it a very controlled test – but he was willing to play along with my idea.

My dad taught me how to play chess when I was a kid. I’m not sure he was very good, and I think he started letting me win at one point. I stopped playing for several years, and when I played a few games my senior year of high school – I got my ass handed to me. Maybe I should try to teach myself how to play again.

Most of this stuff is coming out sounding kind of bittersweet. Is that really how I want to remember my father?

My dad had this running joke he used to play. Whenever we’d go to an A’s game, we’d park on this little side road close to the BART station. We’d then walk to the pedestrian overpass that led from BART to the Coliseum. About the time we got to the stairs of the walkway, he’d ask: “You’ve go the tickets, right?”

When he farted, my dad would blame the noise on the “Nebraska Barking Spider”

My dad slept through the 1989 Loma Preata earthquake. My parents slept on a waterbed, and he didn’t wake up until the shaking had stopped. I’m pretty sure he thought I had gone in there and made waves in the mattress as a joke or something, at first. Although he might have just had that grumpy look on his face because he was awake at his equivalent of 5:30 in the morning, and didn’t want to be.

I know as soon as I save this document and close it again, I think of 2 or 3 more things to add… It’s happened twice already.

See – here’s one more (I didn’t close the doc this time. I just threatened too)

Once, when I had been absent from school, my dad decided to write a series of “humorous” excuse notes:

Please excuse Robert’s absence, you smell like a wet goat, and we were trying to stuff cotton up his nose.

Robert was absent yesterday because our VCR broke down and he needed to stay home and watch his soaps.

Robert was out yesterday because he was bitten by a Nebraska Barking Spider.

When we were in Alaska on one of several drives from Seward to Portage (to catch the train to Whittier) we came up behind this Volkswagen bus stuck behind an RV. It was obvious that the VW wanted to go a bit faster, but didn’t have enough power to comfortably pass the RV on a two-lane stretch of highway.

We passed the VW, and then my dad had me make a sign in my notebook that said in big, bold letters: “YOU ARE LEAKING SOMETHING” (he wasn’t). As we passed the RV, I held the sign up in the window, my dad honked, and we both pointed towards the back of the RV. Then kept going. A few miles down the road, we stopped so I could take a couple of pictures of the view. The VW passed us while we were stopped and the driver honked and waved. We didn’t see that particular RV again.

More to come, I’m sure.

I’ve hidden the text behind spoilers, I’m not sure why – just seemed like the thing to do.

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Robert Belknap has been writing online sporadically since 2001. See the colophon for more details.

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