My Father the Martyr

My dad died when I was two. He was transferring duty stations in the USN from London, England to some place in California. He, my mother and I were staying with my grandparents in LA, and he went ahead to the base to secure base housing, check-in, etc. He and my mother flipped a coin to see whether he would take the little TV they had or her, in his little, red Triumph Spitfire. Fortunately for me, my mother loss the coin toss. While probably tooling down Highway One in California, he come up to a rise where, barreling up the other side, a lumber truck whose driver had nodded off after being on the road for twelve hours, crossed the center line. There was no avoiding the carnage and he pretty much died on impact. I know this because a few years ago an aunt sent me a box of his stuff, which included a detailed death certificate and police accident report.

I look just like my dad, minus the butt chin. Well, I looked like him, but since I’ve made it to 47, I’d dare say I am a pale shadow of what he would have looked like had he made it that far. He died when he was 25. “Forever Young,” as the song goes. And he will ever occupy a heroic figure in my mind. I’ve had two step-fathers in my life; both good people, and both stuck with the position of father to another man’s son by virtue of their love for my mother. Basically, they were screwed as father figures in my mind having the christ-like figure of my dead, warrior father lodged deep in my psyche.

Hell, if I try real hard I can still conger up deep-seated memories of the man. One of which is a fairly vivid one where he is sitting in our apartment in London drinking red wine and watching the news on that little TV. It shifts from black and white, and I also remember looking out the window from the second floor seeing my mother crossing the rainy street in her red, patent leather raincoat for which I had a matching ensemble (complete with red Wellies). Memory is a tricky thing, but I seem to also remember his face wreathed in parental concern as my mom screamed at me the time I snuck out from under his not-so-watchful eye one afternoon. I went out the door of the apartment and down the stairs to the neighbors who had a piano to sing some songs. My mother came home to find me missing and my father, once more seated in front of the TV drinking wine. 

The only other memory I have is getting the triangular flag at his funeral. I remember I was wearing the same little gray suit with short pants that can be seen in an old picture of me with a little monkey on my shoulder. 

Flash forward and I’m a father myself. I have two sons and a daughter in the middle. A full-time single dad to boot, and my kids are 14, 11 and 10. I like being a dad and turns out I’m pretty good at it too. I like to think that my dad would have been good at it as well, and it’s something I inherited it from him, but that would be robbing some good step-fathers and my mother of their due. On parting thing I will say, though, is that I was privy to some of his letters to his parents in that box I received. In it he described some marital issues, I’m all-to familiar with, having been through a divorce. He spoke very passionately about wanting keep me and be a single dad himself, if it came to that. Fortunately, my mom and he worked things out, but only to end tragically on a California highway.

I wonder like anyone would what life would be like if he had lived. Would he have been that good dad, and what would I have become? What kind of father would I have turned out to be, having had the benefit of his fatherhood? And in the end, what will it mean for my sons and daughter? I would like to think his martyrdom was not for nothing. I would dare to hope that his death will be part of a legacy and his family line will remember him as I do.


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