Mr. Wow Ponders a Belated Father’s Day.
Every Baby Needs a Da-Da-Daddy. Maybe.
As usual, I must apologize for the long hiatus. Still struggling. Losing weight, losing strength. Upped the meds but feel I’m falling. Still “working” for the old boss. (And quite well, too.) Paralyzed. Unable to motivate myself further.
But I hate to do a weekly, “I am so depressed” post. I know so many of you by now. And many have far graver problems than Mr. W. Better to be mercifully silent. I think so, anyway.
So, I’ll talk today about an event that has passed—Father’s Day. (Mr. W. is like a sloth. You stick a pin in, and ten days later it says “ouch!”)
For many years, I had no feelings about never having known my father. My mother told me he’d dropped dead of walking pneumonia and while that was sad for her, it affected me very little. I wasn’t looking for father figures, really. And I didn’t miss what I never had. But a few years back, I began to wonder how my life might have been different had I known my father, or, more to the point, had he chosen to know me?
Here’s the story. My mother had worked since the age of 16, dropping out of school. She had to. For a while she supported some of her younger siblings. (All had been abandoned by their crazy parents.) In time, she worked as an usherette at the old Paramount Theater and in various capacities in the Biltmore and Waldorf Hotels. Ah, what delicious tales she had of movie stars and other eccentrics. She was a great storyteller and I begged her to write her adventures. But, she preferred to write rather morbid poetry. By the time she was 26, she was working as a nurse’s aide at a New York hospital, Misericordia. Roughly translated, it means Record of Misery. Or giving the death wound to the fallen. Not the cheeriest! I was born there, which explains a lot.
My mom was not totally inexperienced, but pretty close to it. She didn’t care much for sex, though she was prone to crushes on good-looking men. (I think she hoped they’d all be impotent.) One of them was a pretty, gay guy. I still remember his name. Bob Sundell. My mom was just crazy for him. Her friends tried to warn her, but she was undeterred. Finally, her feelings were so obvious, Bob took her out to a bar—“that” kind of bar. And he made himself quite flamboyant and clearly interested in men. My mom was crushed, but they remained friends. She liked gay people. It was only when her only son turned out to be “that way” that she re-thought her liberalism.
So this is where it stood when my mother met my dad. He was a handsome strapping fellow. Older than my mom, in his forties to her 26. He tended bar and sang Irish songs. Apparently he was inordinately charming. (From him I inherited my thinning hair, the prick. But, I, too, can be inordinately charming. So, thanks. You prick.)
My mother and her friends would frequent the place. He was attentive. She was flattered. One night she stayed late. He was unusually attentive and plied her with Brandy Alexanders. (She didn’t care for “liquory” liquor.) One thing led to another, and your Mr. Wow was conceived in the plush banquette of a bar. What a surprise that I developed such a fondness for drink!
She said she would later refer to me as “My little Brandy Alexander.”
My mom continued to visit the warbling Irishman, but there were no further intimacies. She really wasn’t interested in screwing in a bar. A few weeks later, however, she noted some disturbances and changes. She went to her doctor. She was pregnant. When she told my father, she really had no idea what to expect, but the conversation was as old as time. “I’m expecting a baby.” “Yeah, so whose is it?” He then dropped a bit of surprising news. He was long married with several nearly adult children. He wasn’t getting a divorce and didn’t need any more children. He suggested she get an abortion, though he did not offer to pay for it. My mother’s (Italian Catholic) family was also pushing for abortion. She was not keen on the idea. She told my dad it certainly was his child, and though she didn’t want to make trouble, she intended to keep it and he had some responsibility—especially as she had had no idea of his marital status. “Just try to take me to court,” he said.
Ah, but my mother, whose life had been hard, wasn’t easily deterred. She did take him to court. As she put it to me: “By the time we were got there, I was very obviously pregnant. This was 1953. I was beyond humiliated. His wife was there! She looked at me like I was dirt. But what could I do? I couldn’t support a child on my salary. I needed something.” Well, my mother must have been persuasive. He was obliged to pay her a monthly contribution. It was a pittance, but it was something. She never saw him again.
In the meantime, my mother’s family was determined to find her a husband. She could not give birth as single woman. The baby could not have her maiden name. And so, they found her a guy. He seemed nice enough. The family knew him as did my mother, slightly. They married. My mom didn’t love him, but she was married, grateful for the name and determined to be a proper wife. (He would not, however risk any chance of paternity. I had his name, but my birth certificate said “Father Unknown.”)
Soon enough, things changed. He drank. He stayed out all night. He wanted sex, though my mother was just about to pop. One day, the bell rang. My mother found a blowzy, badly bleached woman on her front steps, somewhat tipsy. “Ya see this tooth,” she brayed, opening her mouth and proudly displaying a big gap. “He knocked this tooth out. He’s mine and I ain’t givin’ him up for the likes of you, you tramp.” My mother, who’d had enough, said she was welcome to him, and could probably have him by late afternoon, if he came home. He did. Drunk. My mother told him of her charming visitor and demanded he get out. This guy wasn’t in the mood to be back-talked by any woman he’d done the favor of marrying because she was knocked up. He raised his hand. My mother said, “I just want to tell you this. If you hit me, you better make sure I never get up off the floor. Because if I do, I’ll kill you.” (My mother had almost drowned a nun who was abusing one of her sisters. She didn’t kid around.)
He didn’t touch her. He packed his bags and left. My mother was alone, as she really preferred to be, anyway. I was born. She loved me very much, but was violently high-strung. She found it difficult to deal with a child, as much as she wanted me. Her nightmarish growing up had left her scarred in many ways. One of my very first memories is sitting in a highchair, refusing to eat spaghetti. She was shrieking. I recall how her face was as red as the sauce. The more she screamed the more frightened and resistant I was to eat. For years I was skinny and a notoriously picky eater.
We were separated often, as she escaped into hospitals and finally admitted herself to Manhattan State Hospital after another suicide attempt. (This is when I spent time at St. Joseph’s orphanage up in Peekskill NY)
Interestingly, while in Manhattan State, my mom met a very nice (wildly neurotic) guy with whom I think she was deeply in love. But she was afraid their mutual issues would eventually destroy them. (And he was highly sexed, too. Never a plus in my mom’s eye.) I met him a few times. He was nice. Handsome. I thought he might make an acceptable dad. It didn’t happen. In the end, he committed suicide. As I learned a long time later.
So for years I was daddy-less. There were occasional father-substitutes (a good friend I called uncle. A real uncle, who took me into his home only after his wife—my mother’s sister, Margot—broke down after visiting me up at Peekskill. Apparently, she threatened to throw herself out of the car if he didn’t agree to “take me away from that awful place.” That was a good period. I had a father, mother (my wonderful, glamorous aunt Margot who adored me. And my brilliant cousin Stephen, who was like a brother.) I was pretty happy. Very happy. My mother would appear periodically, always in a tumult. I associated her with stress. She was always high-strung, prickly, insecure. (The family didn’t make her feel welcome, a good deal of the time.) I kind of hoped she’d just go away. I hardly knew her.
We lived in Valley Stream. It was two-family house. One of my aunts, Jeannie, her husband and two other cousins—Eric and Neil– lived upstairs. It was often fraught, because all the sisters were nuts, one way or another. But it was the first real “family” life I’d ever experienced. (Though I had lived with my aunt Margot for a slightly briefer time, a few years previously, during one of my mother’s disappearances into madness.)
One day, I came home from school—where I was doing fairly well. I could tell something was wrong, instantly. My aunt Margot said, “Young Wow, wonderful news, your mother has found an apartment in Hollis, Queens and you are going to go live with her very soon.” I burst into tears and became completely hysterical on the spot. My aunt—my mother’s sister!—said, “You don’t have to go. I’ll fight for you. You don’t have to go!” I saw my uncle, who’d never much cared for this arrangement roll his eyes. But I knew I had to go. What kind of a boy was I, who didn’t want to live with his mother? Unnatural! And I knew what it would do to the family. I said, “Oh, no. I’m crying because I am so happy.”
Did I die then? I’ve often wondered.
Anyway, most of you know how life in Hollis turned out. I left at 15. But here’s the wild P.S. After several years of failing grades in school, and my obvious interest in rather fey subjects—lady movie stars in particular—my mother really felt the need to find a “male influence” for me. (She knew I was gay. She was just fighting it.)
She’d met a man—I forget how, now. But he seemed nice enough. Drove a truck around, was unemployed, had two children, one my age, another younger. Boys. He had bad teeth. My mother, on her limited income, had them fixed. He talked a good line. He was charming. He was looking for work. He was impotent. Yup, that’s what he told her. Music to my mother’s years. He proposed. She said yes. While I wasn’t especially keen on having a daddy and two brothers, why not? My mother, who hated dressing up, looked divine as she and this guy headed off for marriage and then a honeymoon in Canada. She even wore high heels! (I stayed with my Aunt Margot, who was thrilled my mother “had finally found a man.”)
We all moved into our tiny two-room Hollis apartment. Five of us. He did not get a job. He did visit grimy friends in Manhattan, taking me and his sons along while he drank and played cards. Honestly, it was kind of scary. (It was also kind of sexy, in a dangerous way. I was not the typical 13-year-old.) I did like the older boy, my step-brother. We bathed together. (I was already tres gay. He didn’t mind either. Though I think he was just curious.) But how long could we all cram into this place? It was suffocating. My mom did her best, and really cared for the boys. But there were bitter recriminations during the day and strange arguments at night. Finally, it all came to a head, a huge fight ensued and “daddy” packed up his stuff and his kids and headed out to that beat-up truck.
Oddly, despite all the unpleasantness, I was rather upset. I cried, which surprised me. The kicker was, my mother wanted to keep the boys. She said, “You are not a fit father. Just leave them with me.” (I wasn’t really loving that idea. It was still a two-room apartment.) He refused. Then she said, “Okay leave the younger one” (I can’t recall his name.) “He’ll have a chance without you.” Daddy didn’t like that either. It was over. My mother missed the boys. I wasn’t sure what I missed. All her intense attention would once again be focused on me. Shit. (I have mused on what happened to those kids. Nothing good, I imagine. Though I am hardly one to talk!)
My mother, who had always been extraordinarily candid, then gave me the inside story. Aside from his obvious indolence and general piggishness, he was not at all impotent. Anything but. The honeymoon, was for my mother, a nightmare. “He wanted it constantly.” And, even with all of us crowded into the apartment, he kept dragging her into the bathroom in the middle of the night for sex. (Those odd nocturnal disagreements I’d heard.) I felt terribly sorry for my mother, though I couldn’t help think she’d been a fool. Then she said, “I really wanted you to have a father.” I shocked her by saying, “Whatever gave you the idea I wanted one?” Needless to say, this was my mother’s final attempt at male companionship.
Shortly after all this drama—about five months later– my mother felt compelled to tell me the real story of my father. She worked herself up into a lather of “I have to tell you something…something terrible…” Of course, I thought, “what now? I’m adopted?” Or was she dying? (Her health was rapidly declining.) Nope, it was the tale of the singing bartender. With the receding hairline.
After she was done telling, I burst into tears. (Mr. W. was big for bursting into tears!) My mother was all, “Oh, my God, do you hate me?” And I said, “Is that it? That’s the big reveal? Mom, this is not 1949 and you are not Ingrid Bergman. I couldn’t care less.” I paused and added, “You seem more human to me, and I understand more.” I don’t think she quite got it, but was relieved I didn’t denounce her on the floor of the U.S. Congress. I hugged her and took her hand and it was a sweet moment. One of the few we ever had.
A week later, I was back to being truant from school and she was slapping and screaming and bemoaning my existence. Still, telling the truth freed both of us.
How odd then, well into my middle years I began to think about my father. What that might have been like? Were my siblings alive? Had he ever thought of me? (Aside from the teeny child custody check.) These thoughts took hold for quite a while. Then, I recovered. You don’t miss what you’ve never had, as I always used to say in regard to Daddy.
In fact, I was terribly annoyed on this recent Father’s Day, while watching various news programs. Everybody seemed compelled to say “Happy Father’s Day” to everybody else. How tiresome, surely not every man is a father? Or wants to be reminded of that duty?
Boring. Silly. Pointless.
Okay. Yeah–I guess I would have liked a father.
While tearing off a game of golf, I may make a play for the caddy/but when I do I don’t follow through ‘cause my heart belongs to…who?