The Dad I Had

There are all kinds of dads, that is for sure. I know that millions of people have grown up successfully despite some fathers who were less than perfect. Even if ‘perfect’ is something we should even look for in a dad, which I doubt. Mine was less than perfect, but better than some. Maybe not many, but some.

Raleigh Evan Hamby died on 27 April 1963. He was 45 years old. It was his choice. I was 12. I was also relieved. Not something you want to feel when you’re not old enough to process why feeling that way about your father’s death could possibly be okay.

Being a child in my father’s house was a giant pain in the ass. I couldn’t bring friends home, because he might be drunk. Sometimes, even that didn’t keep him from embarrassing me, because he’d often come to my school, looking for me. I don’t know how she knew he was coming, but Ethel Torbett, the formidable principal of Guyton Elementary in Detroit, Michigan would be waiting for him in the doorway of the school. She was probably in her 60s, her gray hair in curls on top of her head, tall, broad-shouldered and big bosomed, a black dress that went almost to her ankles, shit-kickin’ old lady shoes, and pearls. Before he got there, if there was time, she’d send someone to my classroom to fetch me and whisk me down to the nurse’s office, where I’d hide. From my own father.

On the morning I returned to school after the funeral, Mrs. Homeir, the vice principal, fulsome, sanctimonious, saccharine – and the recipient of a bad red hair dye job – flew from her desk behind the counter to embrace me. “Oh, my dear,” she exclaimed, “you poor thing!” Pulling back from her pink flower covered dress, under which I’m sure she wore one of those cone-shaped 50’s bras the boys loved to look at in the Sears & Roebuck catalog, I tried to wrestle out of her grasp. “How on earth did your daddy die so young?” I panicked. How was it that she had not heard? What would I say? What could I say? I swallowed. I stared at her. I played for time. “Car wreck,” I stammered, and out the door I ran. It was not a complete lie. My daddy had died in his old beat up car, but sitting, parked, in the garage out in back of our rented two flat. When I had awoken on Saturday morning, and no one was home, I walked into the kitchen, looked down into the back yard, and saw my mom surrounded by several Detroit policemen.

Look, I know that everybody has a story, and mine’s no worse, and a whole lot better, than millions. There are kids who are starving right now. Kids in the middle of war. Kids whose parents are crack addicts. I loved my pain-in-the-ass dad. He was smart, and funny, and terribly sad. He was also an alcoholic, a bigot, a tragic southern boy, and a product of his time. He was a combat veteran of WWII, and when he lost his own dad when he was the same age as I was when I lost him, learned a trade so he could help support his mother and siblings.

So, I celebrate my dad. He gave me some life lessons that are hard to beat. I’m a better person for having been his daughter.

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