I called him Charlie. Charlie was, and still is a stoic man who, despite the Surgeon General’s warning, smokes Swisher Sweet cigars religiously and has a fashion sense that can rival any given thrift shop. His walk, though delayed, is nothing short of regal. His low octave voice is smooth as a blues chord progression. That is the one thing I wish I inherited from him. And if you think the other side of the pillow is cool, just wait until you meet Charlie. He’s got the other side beat by at least a few degrees.
He is what many would consider a “man’s man”: charming, rugged and great with his hands. I watched him restore an old Cutlass Supreme from a honking pile of metal to a well-oiled machine one summer. He loves vintage vehicles alike. I suppose they remind him of a simpler time. You would like him, I’m sure. Other than that, I couldn’t tell you too much more about him. Those are observations that I’ve gathered in passing. I could tell you that he never used his low octave voice to correct me when I called him by his first name. I never found that strange. “Charlie” seemed fitting for a man that I barely knew.
I could tell you that his walk; that smooth and regal walk never quite made its way towards me. Or that Charlie and I don’t share a last name. The hospital must have been out of pens on February 7th, 1990, because there is a blank where my father’s name should be on my birth certificate. I could also tell you that in 27 years we have not expressed a single instance of love or admiration for each other. We did, however, manage to squeeze a brief hug in at my Mother’s funeral. I was 19. That was also the first time I called him “dad”. I think we were both too grief-stricken to even acknowledge the moment. I watched far too many sitcoms growing up that have more than likely distorted my levels of expectation. But I envisioned the first time to be a little less awkward. I could have really used a studio audience “Awwwww”. Or I could just cut to the chase and tell you that after years of compartmentalizing and suppression, I am finally realizing that I resent Charlie for his dilemma with fatherhood.
Though my parent’s relationship that haphazardly blossomed into a common law marriage, and ultimately to an official marriage was unconventional, Charlie was never absent in a physical sense. Which is just a really nice way of saying I actually saw him. Whether he saw me or not has always been a thought that has plagued me. I can best describe Charlie’s presence as a translucent fog. I’ve reached into enough fog clouds to know that even the mystic fogs will leave your hand empty and dewy. Word to the wise: don’t go chasing waterfalls or fog clouds either.
I was, for all practical purposes, a mama’s boy. I was also mama’s favorite. If my siblings tell you otherwise, I assure you it is heresy at best. Though my mother was the personification of all things great and motherly, I placed a burden of emotional labor on her. I needed her to be everything that Charlie wasn’t. In hindsight, my gravitation to mama’s boyhood was more nurture than nature. I believe she knew that. Perhaps that is why she overcompensated.
A few months ago, I received a call from Charlie. We had previously spoken a whopping two times this year. Our phone conversations are always full of awkward interruptions and long spells of silence. We’ve never had a conversation last longer than 5 minutes. But this call was different. I could tell by the tone of his voice that this wasn’t my semi-annual welfare check. Charlie told me that he wanted to build a better relationship with me. It was the call that I have been waiting for my entire life.
Johnny Charlie come lately. What sparked his epiphany is beyond me. My guess is that he is realizing that old age and loneliness can force introspection. But that is only my speculation. Now, where was I? Oh, that’s right. The call. That was our last conversation. He has called a few times since then. But I have purposely ignored them until I am able to sort out my feelings of anxiousness and anger.
Now that I finally have leverage, I’m not completely convinced that I won’t use this as an opportunity to kamikaze myself for a Pyrrhic victory. There’s a part of me that wants to isolate him so he can feel what I felt. I’m sure any therapist, psychologist, or any-damn-one with a sound mind would advise against that. But there’s another part of me, a practical me who knows that revenge is a temporary anesthetic. And as much as I attempt to convince myself that I am somehow okay, I know I am not. I am many things; I am jaded. I am broken. I am angry. But okay? Never heard of the guy. Because no matter how I old I am, I still feel like that little boy who looks at his father’s shadow and wonders if it will play with him. I’m not sure how this story ends. I have accepted that it may very well be a cautionary tale. But I hope to one day be in a space where I am ready to take Charlie up on his offer. That day is not today, unfortunately.
I didn’t need Charlie to be perfect. He didn’t have to be a hero. I would have loved him as he was. I just needed to know that Charlie cared enough to be my father.