August 27, 2008
Like a Father
"Do you remember this guy?"
I'm not going to quote it directly. After I contacted the poster, identified myself and asked if we might talk, I received a delightful message from the board administrator, reminding me in that all-too-familiar "master of my online turf" way that posts on his forum were protected by copyright and could not be used in my next book without permission.
I am actually aware of how that works, oddly enough. And yet, I was tempted to quote it here in its entirety just the same. I feel a certain amount of personal ownership over the information. Go read it yourself and see if you can figure out why.
If you can't go see that, or if it disappears for some reason (although I guess that might solve the whole copyright issue), here's a short paraphrase of the material, posted on an epilepsy support forum in a thread about personal heroes.
The poster, whom I'll call David since, well, that's his name, tells the story about the hard days he experienced in junior high school. In addition to his health issues, David didn't know anyone at his new school and got picked on a great deal. He was eventually taken under the wing of the ninth grade track coach, who made him the manager for the track team. David described this coach as a real friend. The coach taught him everything he needed to know about being a track manager, was patient with his mistakes, gave him advice and even paid for his meals on road trips. This coach, he said, "became my second father". David's story ends sadly, when the coach died halfway through the year. At the funeral, the coach's wife told David that her husband always spoke of him like a son, and made sure that the pastor talked about him during the eulogy. At the end of the year, David won an award for the student who had the most success in the ninth grade, thanks to the nomination of his track coach and surrogate father.
And that, he concluded, is why his personal hero is Coach Bobby Ray Hudson.
Well. I didn't see that coming.
For the record, my answer to my brother's question was no, I didn't remember this guy, for a number of very good reasons. First of all, I was in college by this time. I hadn't seen my father in about four years; indeed, I wouldn't see him again until the funeral, which I don't suppose actually counts.
Furthermore, I didn't hear about my new little brother from my mother because she's not the wife that David is referring to. That would be the woman my dad married after he left my mom when I was in high school. None of us actually knew very much of what was going on in his life, because he had very intentionally and meticulously removed us all from his reality. After he died, we discovered just how true that was. His last will and testament stipulated that everything was to go to his new wife, which was hardly a surprise, but in the event that she did not survive him, everything would then go to her adult son, a police officer whom we didn't even meet until the the day before the funeral.
It's been eighteen years since my father died, and yet I find that he still has the power to confound me. After going to such great lengths to shed his family, why, at the very end of his life, did he suddenly feel compelled to be the kind of father that he never was before? Did he feel regret? A chance at some kind of redemption, but without the hard work it would have taken to make things right with us?
I never knew my father to be someone with a great deal of compassion, certainly not for the little six-year-old boy with whom he couldn't communicate except with the back of his hand. Had he found it at the end? I'd always wondered what my father would have thought of Schuyler. Judging from what I knew of him, I always suspected that he would have had a real problem dealing with a kid with a disability. Now? I'm not so sure. This chance encounter with a total stranger almost two decades after my father's death has changed everything.
I am acutely aware of the timing of this revelation, at a time when I am beginning work on a book about this very topic. Some writers search with great effort for their subjects. So far, mine seem to be finding me.