25
Apr
11

Father of mine

Ironically, Megadeath’s Peace Sells playing today on XM made me think of my grandfather.  God, he hated my music.  Of course, when I moved in with him in 1991, I was ascending the peak of my pain-in-the-ass stage.  In fact, that is why I went to live with him, my mother having tried for a few years but ultimately unable to handle my angry rebellion.  That, and trouble stood by in the shadows, with a covetous grin.

I think the pain of growing up without a father is greatly underestimated.  You’ve seen it before: the sad story, an after school special. But for me it was bleakly real. Sitting lonely out on my front steps as a summer wind ushered in the sounds of night, watching the lightning bugs as they sprinkled the dusk, wondering with a gnawing emptiness what I did wrong for him to leave me.  For him to forget us.

I knew I was in trouble a few months after we moved into Valleybrook.  My brother and I had only one friend, our neighbor Brad, and the three of us would explore together.  One day we were caught by some boys at the playground, which was located about a hundred yards from my house.  I don’t how it started or why–I was probably seven or so and the oldest of our group when the boys confronted us. I had never been in a fight before, but my first instinct was to protect my younger brother.  I stood my ground for about a minute, then I was on the ground.  I had been punched in my stomach and the air was gone and the world silent.  A few wood chips stuck to the side of my face where the drool ran and searched for air.  I had never felt this type of pain and didn’t know what to do next.  My aggressor did though.  In an attempt to impress his friends, he had run across the street and retrieved a branch of a pricker bush that was in a nearby shrub.  He came back and, to the tears of my brother, whipped me repeatedly with it.  The walk home is lost in my memory, but the feeling I had sitting there in my upstairs bathroom as my mom removed the thorns from my arms and neck, that anger, burns in me even now as I write these lines.  I was not angry at the boy but more at my father.  Where was he?  Why didn’t he tell me there would be times like this, warn me, teach me to stand up for myself?  I hadn’t been in this world, this neighborhood, that long, yet I knew I had already missed a valuable lesson.  I am not trying to feel sorry for myself but there are just things you need a father for.  This was one of them.

I think it was especially hard for me as I was the oldest and had the most memories of us as a “real” family.  I remember the early baseball catches or the time in Media, PA when he let me sit on his lap and steer the car.  Ha, that all seems like a made up world to me now.  Many songs have been my anthems throughout my life but there are a special few that recall the raw sting of my childhood.  I found comfort in them, still do, knowing that someone else out there hurt like me. I will always be weird inside/ I will always be lame.

Songs like these by bands like these began to help me navigate my way through my fatherless youth.  My brother and I used to sit on our couch listening to these words, both teary-eyed and brimming with a rage we couldn’t explain. I started acting out, looking for the attention my father took away.  School became a stage for me to be noticed.  I didn’t care whether the attention was bad or good as long as I got it.  This is when my grandfather stepped in.  A man who always felt as though his son had failed as a father and who in turn protected me as his own, until his body literally could not anymore.  He was there always, baseball, football, practices, games, school plays, dentist appointments, holidays… From the day my father stepped out, my grandfather stepped up.

I always knew I had my Pop pop at my back

My grandfather was my protector throughout my youth.  As a lonely kid who felt like he had nothing, having him in my corner made a difference.  Of course,  I was not smart enough to realize how lucky I was to have him then, especially the years I lived with him and my grandmother.  I’d give up a lot to get back one of those teenage summer twilights.  The cicada’s in the trees, the hot smell of a freshly mowed lawn creeping down Beechwood Avenue.  I was so quick to rush out after dinner.  Come sit with me Michael, he would say from his reading chair on the front porch. Why don’t you stay in and watch the game with me tonight?   I didn’t have time for him, I had to rush off to an arcade and smoke cigarettes with a bunch of kids I don’t even talk to anymore.  Now, all I want is one game, one inning, one phone call.

My grandfather was in the Marines, and as a boy I would love to hear his stories of Parris Island and WWII.  He was respected around his town and had held public office for years before I was born.  He was also the city’s baseball manager for years and everyone would love to talk to him and his little grandson.  When I was with him, even in the height of my asshole stage, I was proud of him.  He was always put together, sharp, neat, on time, and taught me the importance of loyalty.  I still use Aqua Velva as my aftershave because that’s what he used.  When I put it on, I think of him and his morning routine that I watched many times in youthful awe.  With my grandfather I always felt safe.  Even in the worst of times, I knew that he was always working in the background to help me.  The lowest point of my youth was being led into a court room in handcuffs and seeing my grandfather there, sitting behind my lawyer in the front row.  I could see the pain in his face, as if he would give up his freedom, to get me out of those cuffs.  Out of all that was going on, all the trouble I was in, his face is what really got through to me.

My grandfather’s patience for me was almost monk-like.  From the times of girls’ parents bringing me home in the middle of the night after they had found me sleeping next to their daughters’ beds, to my tattoo at a young, young age, my grandfather stood by attempting to guide, never losing the thought that I was worth it.  As the storm began to clear and college was on the horizon, he kept us focused.  When Alison died, days before I left for school, he knew I was lost and broken and he held the ship.  He pressed on as I tried to understand.  What this one man has done not only for me, but for my future children and grandchildren is boundless.  He taught me to hope and dream and work hard for what you want.  I had been given another chance, another chance at life to make something of myself.  I brought him home Dean’s List my first six semesters in college and though very pleased, he was not surprised.

I still remember where I was when my aunt called to tell me he had died.  In an obscure parking lot in Santa Ana, CA, I was in my car doing some paperwork as Bruce Springsteen’s Atlantic City played.  I’ve gone back there since. Pulling up and parking underneath the tree with my windows rolled down.  He had been dying for years and, selfishly, I had lived so far way that I didn’t have to watch it.  In fact, my memories of him are not tainted with the last eight years of his life; they remain those of his days when he was strong, confident and my only friend.

The last time I saw my grandfather was for the holidays before he died in March 2009.  Over the last ten years of his life three strokes had taken their toll.  He was confined to his house and most of that time to his chair or bedroom.  Katherine had met him before and we had come home to show him her engagement ring.  When she put forth her hand, his eyes lit up and he attempted to make an O with his mouth.  He smiled at me through his eyes and again looked at me with his fatherly assurance.  We had done alright.  His boy, although a rocky beginning, had moved West and returned with the riches of a brilliant bride.  When I said goodbye to him that day, I knew it would be the last time.  His body was so small and fragile, his hands bony and cold.  I softly cried the whole way to the airport, bitter tears of lost time, wasted time.  Time for him and I that would never come back.

Now you would think that this story ends here, sad and somber, but you would be wrong.  First, my brother has had two boys already, beginning the continuance of the my grandfather’s name, and I haven’t even gotten started yet.  Though, at night, when we’re relaxing, I’ll rub K’s little belly, and I know that there are four boys in there, simply, an infield.

The new breed of heart breakers

Also, there is a movie we used to watch over and over again at my aunt’s house growing up. My siblings and cousins would all gather around in that big, cold house for this film.  I never knew why we loved it so much, maybe because our blood just flows with Romanticism, but we did.  I rented it about three hours after learning of my Pop pop’s death and watched it twice while drinking heavily.  It is called Rocket Gibraltar and it is about family, young and old.  The patriarch is the grandfather and he captures the grandkids with his beautiful stories of the viking funerals.  The kids take the body of their deceased grandfather and send him off into the ocean, giving him the ocean burial he always described.  When my grandfather was cremated, my aunt offered to bring me some of the ashes.  I knew immediately what to do.  My father-in-law built me this viking ship and now I will wait until my sister and brother can be out here with me to send him off.  It doesn’t matter if it is in one year or five; in fact, the thought of having some of my own children on the beach to watch their great grandfather’s departure makes the circle seem more complete.  In all honesty, and not to sound morbid, I like having his ashes in the house.  They are in a drawer in my writing desk, and he is always in my heart.

My grandfather's Rocket Gibraltar, we will send his ashes out in this at sunset and light it on fire.

I guess in the end the man who became my father was the best anyway.  During the few times I have seen my biological dad over the past 20 years, he seems foreign, strange, an acquaintance.  I don’t see me in him.  For a long time, I couldn’t get over that, but I am working on some type of forgiveness for his sorry ass . Now though, all roads have led me here, and the lessons and love I received due to one’s absence and the other’s dedication seem to have worked out alright.  As I continue to grow and build and make myself a better person, I do it in the honor of my Pop pop, and I know he is proud.

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5 Responses to “Father of mine”


  1. 1 girlfiend
    April 26, 2011 at 4:17 am

    Never thought the 7th grader with a mullet would write something that made me cry.

  2. 2 Toni Tainor
    April 26, 2011 at 9:05 am

    Mike,

    This was wonderful.. you have turned into a wonderful man and your wife is luckly to have you. I have known you since kindergarden and you were wonderful then and still are. your granfather loved you so much and is very proud of your today.

  3. 3 kathy arroyo
    April 26, 2011 at 9:38 am

    .ichael, I could not be prouder. You have become a great man. Your grandfather is smiling down on you.

    God Bless

  4. 4 Kristin from Oxford
    April 26, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    Out sick today, so I read your blog from start to finish. Very well done my friend and this one gutted me. There is no doubt that your Pop pop is over the moon proud of the man you have become. Best, – K

  5. 5 Amanda
    April 27, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    Mike,

    You never cease to amaze me with the things you write. This post, as well as several others, brought tears to my eyes. I remember the mouthy, punk-ass Crowley very well! No one but Michael Crowley would pick a fight with a 6’5, grown man on my back deck without a care in the world! That memory still brings a smile to my face. I remember the countless nights you stayed in the basement with Nick without big Al knowing you were down there. I remember your troubles with the law and I remember when your life began to turn around. Your Grandfather may have taught you much of what you needed to know in life, but you, alone, decided which path you were going to follow in life. Of course, I remember the first years you were out in California and you were living like a rock star! Bartending, hot chicks and your 60 something mustang. I would always feel jealous of your lifestyle when we talked on the phone. You did it right, kid. You lived, you experienced, you learned and you made the right choices. You met a wonderful woman an settled down. You travel and plan and live a life many wish for. Above all, you have a heart of gold, are thoughtful beyond belief and have grown into a man your grandfather will always be proud of, your father should be ashamed he missed out on and your future children will be blessed to have!

    I am glad you are a part of my life and I am glad you were a part of my brothers life. You’re a great guy and don’t you ever forget that.

    xoxo~
    Love,
    Mandy


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