Good Ol’ Boys Like Me

Don Williams’ hit continuously played on the radio in early 1980, and hit #2 on the Billboard Charts. This song floods my mind with memories from that year, as it was the last trip my sister and I took with our father to visit our grandparents and Uncle Nelson in Middletown, Ohio. The song must’ve played at least a dozen times during the trip and other than the songs on the radio, hardly any conversation occurred between our father and us. He was never good at talking to children unless it was to belittle them by his harsh teasing, so having his silence was actually delightful.

After we returned to our home in Alabama, our father left Alabama altogether since he and our mother had divorced. Months passed, perhaps closer to a year, before we heard anything from him. He’d paid no child support, had stolen (borrowed) and sold the car he promised our mother, and feared DHR was looking for him since our mother had filed for child assistance for his nonpayment of child support. His first contact was by letter. The letter he sent was filled with lies, and the actual truth remained hidden until many years later.

Back in the early 80s, a deadbeat father who refused to pay child support was almost impossible for DHR to find because the computer systems and the Internet didn’t exist. The letter our father sent stated how he enjoyed watching the snow falling in Ohio, but later we learned, as he revealed to me, he had been living in Phoenix, Arizona, with an uncle where, obviously, no snow was falling. Yet, the letter was postmarked from Middletown, Ohio. So his scheme was to mail our intended letter to his mother in Middletown and have her mail the letter from her house to us, so he could get the desired postmark.

Since he had abandoned the three children from his first marriage before he had my sister and I, I suppose it shouldn’t have been any surprise at all. Looking through our family albums when I was a kid, I often wonder what changed for him. For me, I will never understand why he had left us and ceased communication, except for his narcissistic selfishness. Things weren’t necessarily better for him relationship-wise, as he divorced twice more after divorcing our mother.

About two years later, my mother’s brother in Middletown passed away. We drove to the funeral in Ohio, and while there, my sister and I walked a few blocks over to visit our grandfather and grandmother. My Papaw was one of the greatest men I’ve ever been blessed to know in my life. He said, “Let’s go to the store and get some ice cream.”

While riding with him in the car to the grocery store, he said, “I want you to know that I don’t approve of what your father has done to you and your sister.” He said a lot more, but he was angry that our father had left us the way he had. It meant a lot to me for him to express something he normally wouldn’t. Sadly, I wished then and still do, that I had lived closer to him so I would’ve gotten to know him better.

Time passed, and every time I heard the “Good Ol’ Boys Like Me”, I thought of my father and my grandfather. I longed for a family of my own, a wife and kids, and stability. Even though I was so young, I ached inside for what other kids in ‘normal’ households had. Some of my friends’ fathers went out of their way to spend time with them. Our father offered excuses, lots of excuses, and I swore never to be like my father.

And while I still miss my grandfather, whenever I hear this song, I cannot shake the bad memories of an absent father. As a writer, I cannot find the proper words to describe the ache of wondering about the what and why for his actions and endless absences. Perhaps understanding his reasoning isn’t possible at all. Since I was only a young teenager at the time of his departure, I was too innocent to understand or grasp the full picture. When he got a Facebook account years later and started posting pictures, it brought more questions for me and revealed his selfish lifestyle, while he offered his own children no support, financially or emotional, at all.

Some pictures he posted were from the time period with his second wife after our mother, or shall we say, Wife #4. These photos revealed his semi-lavish lifestyle while my sister and I did without. The vacations he took, the suits he wore, and other things we could never dream of owning or experiencing, he was doing. I wore the same shirts and jeans from 7th grade until my senior year. Occasionally, a cousin or friend would give my sister and I some used clothes. But seeing how our father had been living during that time naturally brought a lot of questions and resentment to mind. These questions rubbed the old scars surrounding the bitterness and anger during my youth, too.

He was not only selfish, he wanted to take credit for things he had no hand in doing. When my first novel was published, he emailed a letter to me from my publisher’s website and entitled himself as “The Boss”, as though he was in charge of me and had some role in my writing abilities. I let him know that he wasn’t and didn’t.

A few years before my father died, we messaged one another via Facebook. Nearly thirty-some odd years after he had abandoned us as children, I wanted answers. And rather than explain or offer the slightest apology for how he had cast us aside, not just in the physical sense, but also emotionally, he deflected the questions by saying, “I’m not taking all the blame for that.”

I told him that I didn’t expect him to, but at least 50% of what had led to their divorce was due to his actions and his decisions. His poor choices he needed to own as well. And although he had divorced our mother, he still should’ve kept in touch with us, even if by phone or through letters. He tried to argue that our mother had made it where he couldn’t visit family in Alabama. I refused to accept this answer, and I called him out on it. I explained the true reason for why he feared coming back to Alabama (a story for another day and in the book), which stopped him cold. His response? “The more you stir the pot, the worse it stinks.”

For several years, I had hinted on Facebook that I was writing my memoirs, and his agitation and resentment grew. He went ballistic on Facebook several times with such statements, “If you want the truth, ask me about it. Don’t listen to what others say (meaning me).”

He started attacking me via Facebook messages and posting on my author page wall, which became the last straw. He left me with no choice but to temporarily block him. Sad, really. But his actions were what finally revealed to me that he was a true narcissist. When you believe someone else’s life story is about yourself instead of the author’s … hmm.

While he ranted at others in my family about not believing my “lies”, he was more fearful of the truth, the real reason for why he had to move away from Alabama, and I suppose in retrospect, he understood how what he had done wasn’t as exciting as he had viewed it in the early 80s. What he had done was illegal and immoral, and he didn’t want others to know. His greatest fear was the truth and having the truth revealed. And the truth was also his greatest shame; something he didn’t want others in the family or the world to know, and something that today would’ve landed him in prison.

I’d made a statement on my author page about how the narcissistic father views his own glory in the mirror while not seeing the frightened child hidden in the shadows that the father has tortured. This furthered fueled his rage and made him frantic. It was a ‘poke the bear’ moment, one long overdue and intentional, but he needed to know, whether he accepted it or not, how cruel he’d been to all of his children.

Before I blocked him, he stated in a message, “I don’t want you spreading lies about me to make me look bad.”

I countered, “I don’t need to lie. All I have to do is tell the truth.”

This angered him even more.

So I said, “These memoirs are about my life. How can these be about you since you were never in our lives while we were growing up?”

But still he argued angrily, attempting to defend himself, rather than apologize or admit any fault. He wanted to convince me to not write about those issues. I wrote about them anyway and now they’ll soon be published, revealing what part I lacked in my early life was probably one of the best things to benefit me the most. Since he was a horrible person deep inside and a cynical tyrant who didn’t like the possibility of one of his children finding success, my best shelter to gain back my self-esteem that he and my mother had spent years quashing, was to not be held back by them anymore.

It took years of stress and hardship, a horrible first marriage and divorce, and other obstacles before I came out of the corner fighting and finally stood my ground. I found the courage to protect the cowering child I’d been for so long, and I vowed never to be bullied by anyone ever again.

Through these trials, I’ve been shaped into a better person. I know I could’ve become the opposite, but I chose not to be, because I didn’t want to be like either of my parents. I’ve tried to be the best parent possible to my son and daughter and to my grandchildren. In some ways, I wish I could’ve done so much more financially, but that was limited. However, they know how much I love them and that I’m always here for them whenever they need me. In truth, that’s what a good ol’ boy would and should be.

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