The cheap carnations in my hand were all I had to give him.
Yet standing by my Father’s grave I felt like I was once again disappointing the Old Man.
A paltry offering. A pitiful remembrance to the man who had brought me into this world.
I was broke. A thrice-divorced failure who had thoughtlessly overindulged himself one too many times chasing dreams and too little on making his way in the world.
And here I was once again indulging myself with gloomy self-deprecating thoughts. The kind of thoughts one might have over a beer in a bar called Anywhere But Here.
Jackass. You’re being a sentimental jackass I muttered to myself brushing the wetness from my cheeks.
At least the Old Man had bought himself a final resting place so one might come and visit. Unlike my mother who had her remains cremated and dumped into the Pacific. While I thought her choice to be prudent at the time, it later proved to be a hindrance when it came to later visitation. After all, how does one address the ocean without feeling awkward?
My relationship with the Old Man had always been strained. After he walked out of my life at age nine, I felt a lingering hostility towards him. Granted he hadn’t wanted to get a divorce, but my Mother resented his long trips away as a pilot and his lack of interest in raising his sons at home. Golfing, flying, and drinking martinis were his passions and he had little time for the traditional family stuff. Worse when he drank, you never knew what version of Dad you might encounter. He might be in a jovial mood or turn into a brooding abusive sonovabitch at a moment’s notice. It was spin the wheel every day he was home from flying which was stressful, to say the least.
If his lack of interest in Matty and me was bad during the marriage, his utter disregard for us after the divorce was devastating. He rarely visited and when he did was incapable of relating to us. Instead, he would moan and groan about how badly his investments were doing as if going on an early defense would deter my Mom from asking him for more money.
Still, I loved the old bastard. He was my Dad and despite my anger towards him, I was always hoping he might come around and start valuing me as an issue of his loins. When I say value I mean, giving a shit about how I was doing generally speaking.
My childhood chaotically passed quickly enough and while he was away golfing at Pebble Beach or sunning himself at Aruba I was doing my best to fuck up as much as my neurotic personality allowed me.
I got fat, my grades in school were horrific at best and non-existent at the worse. While I chose to expand my girth, my younger brother, who always did things differently, was doing his version of Honey I Shrunk the Kids by getting so skinny my Mother was constantly fretting about his health.
“Your brother is thin as a rail and he has ginny green teeth!” she’d moan.
“Well get him to stop chewing on those plastic green army men he plays with, Mom,” I’d snap.
To add to the misery the Old Man had become entrapped in a bad third marriage by another tenant in his apartment building named Paulette. Paulette was a hair-brained, peroxide-dyed blonde floozy who hated Matty and me on sight.
Well, the feeling was mutual.
But, since she saw my Pop as a meal ticket to the good life, she wasn’t going anywhere. The Old Man was terrified of paying alimony for a third failed marriage, so he was stuck with a real bitch on his hands.
Any get-togethers with my father that included Paulette were recipes for disaster for my brother and me. The miserable woman would spend the whole meeting loudly criticizing us while my Dad squirmed in his chair and said nothing.
After each miserable visit, my brother and I would face our Mother who would beg us not to say anything that would anger our father as she was frightened of him cutting off our child support, which she used to pay our mortgage and essentials.
Salvation came eventually when my Mother married husband number four, named Rick, who wanted to help us out.
Rick certainly did help us out. He cleaned out my Mom’s bank account causing her to file for bankruptcy and lose our home in Sunnyvale. Various pets were lost in the process as they had enough common sense to flee the situation leaving us at the mercy of this human parasite. And they say animals are dumb.
During that time, I was sent to a military boarding school and Matty soon followed…uh, just to keep me company.
Which was hilarious as I never saw my brother the whole time I was in school.
The saving grace was I was away from home and under the strict supervision of retired military personnel who did me the favor of kicking my ass. No more overeating, or daydreaming in my room, or screwing off in class, plus a healthy daily dose of exercise every afternoon to transform Master Chubby into a thinner version of himself.
Time moved on and I attended a public high school, then college, and then a stint in the Marine Corps – which provided more ass-kicking by the way.
Once my enlistment was over, I high-tailed it to the Big Apple to see if I could get an acting career going. The acting was a long shot, but hey, Steve McQueen had been an ex Jarhead so maybe I’d get lucky too.
Steve McQueen had talent. I didn’t.
It took about eight years of slinging margaritas to drunken Wall Streeters before I finally called it a day. Quite frankly I was tired of playing my most famous role as “The Bartender” and not getting any real acting gigs. So I packed my shit and flew back to the Bay Area.
I had barely gotten unpacked when the Old Man called me out of the blue.
“Your Mom called to let me know you’re back in Town, Son,” he said excitedly.
“Son?” Just who in the hell was this speaking to me on the phone? It must be a crank call I thought.
The voice continued to chatter away on the phone while I stood dumbfounded listening.
Needless to say, I was speechless.
For one, my Mom had morphed into this major head case over the years who was forever checking in and out of mental health facilities. Her episodes of going off her meds were a source of constant agita for my brother and me. The fact she had a lucid moment and foresight to call my Father to let him know I was back in town was a miracle in itself. Secondly, my Dad sounded excited, excited to talk to me.
That’s right, me.
Had my Mom shared some of her meds with him? And was this the Old Man or some Pod Person on the phone masquerading as my Dad I wondered?
“Please come over. I can’t wait to see you, Charlie” said the voice before ringing off.
The phone was starting to make funny noises by the time I realized the call had ended. I stared at the receiver for a few minutes before hanging up.
“Look at you, you’re still kinda messy,” I said brushing away leaves from his bronze grave plate with my baseball cap. “I can’t leave you alone for a month before everything goes to shit. Just look at these weeds.”
I sat down on the ground and placed the carnations on his grave and then as an afterthought pulled out a pouch of pipe tobacco and laid it by the flowers.
“See, I remembered a smoke too, Old Man. Alright, the tobacco is mine, but it’s Amphora Red, your favorite pipe tobacco, and besides it’s the thought that counts, don’t you think?”
I sat quietly with a blade of sour grass clenched between my teeth, watching cars and people move about the green hills of the cemetery. The grass was sour on my tongue and it was peaceful here, making it easy to let my thoughts lead me back as I remembered our remaining time together.
Turns out it had been my Father who had called me.
Although he had changed considerably since the last time I had seen him.
My Dad had suddenly become “old,” and frighteningly so. The man who had towered over me when I was a child had to look up at me when speaking. His robust face and body had become thin and covered in age spots. He was even missing some of his teeth from pipe smoking.
Yes, sir, Pop had finally become the Old Man.
To add to the drastic physical metamorphosis, there was a distinct personality change in my Dad as well. For one, he laughed more and was always smiling.
I think my future visits helped bring him comfort as I think he was depressed. Most of his friends had passed on, Paulette was starting to show signs of dementia and my brother Matt refused to speak to him or answer any of his phone calls.
Our visits always had the same itinerary. I’d come over and he’d take me over to Woodlake Joe’s where we would have an early supper. My father was adamant that I order anything I wanted off the menu as it was his treat. I’m embarrassed to say that out of spiteful avarice, I often ordered the most expensive steak the restaurant offered. The Old Man would get Liver n’ Onions which was the cheapest meat dish besides hamburger.
How long he could eat that disgusting concoction was beyond me. A fatty melange of organ meat and onions swimming in pools of grease. The smell alone made my stomach roil. But, the Old Man ate it with relish.
He was particularly introspective and kind the last time I saw him. There was a strange calmness about him. As if he knew he had royally screwed up but was at peace with everything just the same.
He wanted to feed the ducks some dinner rolls at the apartment duck pond before I left for home.
My last sight of the Old Man was him tossing bread to the hungry avians like a king dispensing alms to the poor. He was tossing big hunks of rolls and laughing before he waved goodbye to me.
The next week I got the call that my father had died in his sleep.
I was starving by the time I stopped and ordered dinner at Woodlake Joe’s. I wanted to have my final meal at Dad’s favorite diner before blowing my brains out with the gun I carried in my coat pocket.
After sixty-five years of "hard livin" - Charles R. Bucklin decided it was time to write some stuff down. He is an Author, Humorist, Fantasy, and Heavy Metal enthusiast. He is also the creator of the ongoing short story blog - Read My Kool Tales - which is going on its second year of publication.