Friday, May 11, 2007

My Father...Myself?

Had a dream about my father last night. This is not necessarily an uncommon occurrence; I seem to have one every few months. They generally revolve around the notion that he has somehow magically come back from the dead...or, that he never died in the first place. I'll go to visit my mother and there he'll be, like he never left, and I'm always shocked & horrified to discover him there. "But...but I SAW you, dead on the table! You CAN'T be here!" That's usually when I wake up, and like any nightmare I have to console myself with reality for a little while before I can nod back off to sleep: "Only a dream, only a dream..."

My dream last night didn't follow this script. Actually, I can't really remember much about it, and what could be WORSE than having to not only read about a dream on a blog, but to have that dream be only hazily remembered? Right: nothing. So let's just suffice it to say that my dad has been on my mind recently, both knocking around in my subconscious AND in my waking thoughts.

All the books I've been reading about fatherhood stress that men will inevitably reevaluate their OWN father/son relationships, looking for things that they want to emulate, or perhaps avoid at all costs. I can only nod sagely: "Yup." Almost from the moment Miss Tessmacher came out of the bathroom with a glistening pee-stick showing two blue lines and announced "This means I'm pregnant!", I've been thinking about the kind of dad I hope to be. And, of course, that means I want to be almost exactly the OPPOSITE of my father.

My relationship with my father is almost infinitely complicated...so much so that I hesitate to even begin trying to explain it, fearing that too much detail will dull the senses of even the most dedicated reader, and not ENOUGH detail will fill my story with unavoidable plot holes. Here, then, is the history of my dad in as condensed a form as I can make it:

Wendell Scott Honsinger was born at home (in the house my mother has occupied since 1986) in the mid-spring of 1929. (Yeah. I know. For those of you who are already counting, that makes him only two years YOUNGER than my maternal grandmother.) He was the second of 5 children, all of whom were born in that house...the third child died, leaving two older kids (my uncle Jim and my dad) and two younger (my uncle Lloyd and aunt Ruth). The farm in Vassar was a working dairy farm, and my dad grew up there in the shadow of W.W. II. He was a good-looking kid, flirtatious and a little bit of a scoundrel, and (apparently) was sometimes referred to as "Wendy-balls, man with the biggest tool in school!" A lifelong musician, he eschewed the more rough-&-tumble sports that his farm upbringing might suggest, instead singing in the school choir and playing the trombone. He graduated from Vassar High School in 1948 and went to Central Michigan to earn a bachelors degree in music.

By this time the Korean War was upon us, and dad enlisted in the Marines. He always evinced a strong pride at being a Marine, but I never really heard him talk about it...my understanding is that he was basically able to play in one of the bands during his service time. He had a wife named Marian, and two kids: Michael and Patricia. After his service was up he got a masters degree in music...largely through the aid of his paper-writing wife, if I understand things correctly. His first job was at a no-name school somewhere in the lower Thumb, and then he moved on to Millington...which is where my mother enters the picture.

My father the jar-head: early 1950's

See, dad had this thing for younger women (girls?). He focused on my mom, and there was something of a scandal...this was back in the day when the administration told him "You should quit...before we find a reason to fire you." So, under the same kind of twisted rule that kept moving Catholic priests around from parish to parish, my dad was allowed to silently slink away to another school, never having to really face the consequences of whatever dalliances he had with my teenaged mother. I think this is important, because if I really had to sum up my dad I'd say that he was a man who forever thought he wouldn't have to suffer consequences.

I also view my mother as innocent in all this, but understand that I have a hugely undeniable bias here, so I'm hardly an objective observer. Nevertheless, as the adult in the situation it fell to my FATHER to be the one to keep his pecker in his pants; failing that most basic task, my mother never really got over what should have been a simple student/teacher "crush." She continued to pursue my father, and - Surprise! - ended up pregnant in the fall of 1967. Letters from the time indicate that, when I was born the following summer, the only thing my dad found more disappointing than the fact of my birth at all was the name my mother had given me. He sent money sporadically, but essentially said point-blank that he wanted nothing to do with me. Consequence avoidance #1: disavow your parental duties, and try to cover up the evidence so that your REAL family doesn't discover what has transpired.

I grew up as an only child with my unwedded mother, and we had a great time. I never lacked for strong father-figures: my grandpa, Robert...my uncle, Warren...and, later, my best friend's dad, Dale. I never really felt like I was "missing" anything, and when I learned that our family lacked something most others had, my mother was up-front about the fact that, yes, I did have a dad, and no, he didn't live with us. End of story. Except...it really wasn't. My dad's marriage with Marian was falling apart, not because I had been discovered but just because my dad was impossible to live with...and so, free now to trade in for a younger model, my dad began to come around, reigniting my mother's interest. Consequence avoidance #2: turn the lemons of your dissolving marriage into lemonade with a new, sleeker woman.

By the time I reached junior high my parents were a strong couple, and I'd learned to accept the fact of this male in my life. He treated me well, if a little distantly: remember, he was not just a generation older than me, but really two, and so he had that kind of fatherhood mentality. My parents decided to buy a house together, and we moved to Cass City, from which my dad would commute to his teaching job in Ubly and my mom to Bay City. Those six years in CC were pretty good; my dad was, by now, a normal fixture in my life, although my early history generally made it so that when I wanted something I asked my mom first. He certainly didn't "get me" the way my mom did; she at least tolerated my music, even coming to like such classics as Twisted Sister's "Burn In Hell." When I got my ear pierced at 16, he was furious and wanted to "force" me to take it out. (This from the same guy who would walk up to students in the hallway in the early-70's, give them $5, and order them to go get a haircut.) My mom calmed him down, basically saying that, hey, if an earring was gonna be the extent of my rebellion, that was a pretty easy thing, no?

Dad conducting at Ubly: early 1980's

Of course, my mom found out - MUCH more quickly than did her predecessor - that my dad IS impossible to live with. For one, he was an alcoholic, consuming a fifth of whiskey every couple of days. For another, he had definitely old-skool ideas about masculine/feminine roles, and despite the fact that EACH of them did exactly the same job, he expected to come home (from his shorter commute) and sit down with a highball while my mother cooked his dinner. And then cleaned up afterwards. Lastly, he didn't seem to think that paying bills was what HIS money was for; those pesky things should fall to my mother, so that he could continue to buy his Seagram's and his mail-order clothes from Blair and whatever other shiny thing caught his eye. At the end, when they split up in the winter of 1985, he told my mom: "I feel like I'm being shafted!" Yeah...'cause that's how it works: you get to do whatever you want, and then you get to claim to be a victim.

Whew! Okay, I said I'd make this brief, and here I am wasting a beautiful day writing thousands of words. If you're still here, congrats: you've reached the end of our story for the day. Like any good soap opera, I'll leave you danglin' through the weekend, and pick up with part two of our tale next week.

12 Comments:

Blogger Roy said...

You don't know me, but I have stumbled here from suze's blog, and I apologize because this is totally off topic, but I have been meaning to ask you. What comics are you currently reading?

9:57 AM  
Blogger Animal said...

Hey Roy, glad you stumbled by! I'm an old-skool Marvel Silver-Age fan, so I'm fully embedded in FF, Spidey, Iron Man, Hulk, etc. etc. etc. Most of that stuff I get issue by issue, and other things (cool DC stories, "Y-TLM" and so forth) in trades. Yourself?

1:20 PM  
Blogger Roy said...

I was a very heavy collector in middle and high school but then quit during college. Recently I grabbed all my old comics from my Mom's house and to my wife's horror have started a folder at the comic store. I have every issue of FF from 232 to 440. Most issues of Detective Comics from 540 to 700, and many many others.

Today I am reading Flash (started off horrible but has gotten decent), New Exclaibur (disappointing since it is written by Chris Claremont), Ultimate Spiderman, the Dark Tower limited series, Fell (which is damn good for $1.99), the Brave and the Bold, and whatever else catches my eye.

I have always loved Marvel stories but have felt that DC had better characters, so growing up was pretty evenly split between the two universes.

The motivation behind me asking what you are reading is that I am a life long nerd that has somehow found myself friends with almost no other nerds, and therefore have noone to ask where the really good writing is in today's comic books.

Any suggestions?

2:09 PM  
Blogger Steph said...

I love the new Season 8 Buffy comics, but you kind of have to be a Buffy junkie to get them.

It's funny this is coming up, because I'm trying to write a profile of of a comic artist/illustrator friend for a website and even though I've already done the interview the actual writing is killing me. I think it's because I know jack about comics (I wish I'd known more when I did the interview, I probably would have asked better questions). I just checked out Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud because he said that book was really formative for him.

Scott, thanks for writing up the story of your dad. I never even realized you had half-siblings until you mentioned them in your last blog entry. I guess it all goes to show, yet again--family is the people who love you. Blood is powerful, but it's not the same thing as family.

4:05 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

hhhmmmm

weird i just finished my new post and then started to read yours.

odd.

4:24 PM  
Blogger L*I*S*A said...

I'm so glad he came to Ubly. :) It's sort of a trickle-down effect that I got to meet you.

7:59 AM  
Blogger Suze said...

am i the last person on earth who just doesn't find comics interesting? (except for buffy season 8...i want to read those sometime).

scott, my dad was 53 when he was born. other than that, you and my dad really have nothing in common as far as father-son relationships go, but it's kind of interesting none-the-less. i do kind of enjoy telling people that my grandfather was born in 1891!

8:21 PM  
Blogger Tess said...

I too have no interest in comics! Although I must admit that comic book movies are most entertaining- when they're good, that is. They're kind of like "cliff notes" for the comic book world! (I realize that all of the comic book fans, including my own band-0-hus has begun to stew with fury at that last comment- sorry! How's your interest in pregnancy/labor books?! No common ground there either?! Well, I tried.)

6:20 AM  
Blogger Roy said...

Hey now, don't jump to conculsions. I am a comic book fan and was very interested in pregnancy/labor books. I think I read about seven before my little Sophie was born. Right now on my bedside table is two child rearing books (What to Expect the First Year and The Read Aloud Handbook), issue three of the Dark Tower comic, Harry Potter, an old issue of Dragon magazine, The Wealth of Nations, Scientific American, Common Grounds (a history of coffee), the Catcher in the Rye and a old copy of the New Yorker. This doesn't count the books piled under the table which I believe still contain some pregnancy books.

My wife gave up on me keeping my side of the bed straight about three years ago.

7:52 AM  
Blogger Suze said...

re: pregnancy/labor books...that's funny because I didn't read any, even when I was pregnant! A friend gave me "What to Expect...", which I looked at a few times. I guess I just figured if everything was going all right, I didn't really need to know much more about it. (Plus, I was frantically finishing up my coursework for the DMA and didn't have lots of extra reading time...)

10:52 AM  
Blogger Fun Guv said...

Having a band-o-hus that's into comics as well, I'm in the same boat as you Tess. I like the "cliff's notes" theory...that's how I view the movies too.

I didn't read any pregnancy books either. I was given What to Expect, but like Suze it was all going well so I didn't need to know anything more.

3:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mark Fuckin Said...

Don't care about Comics, not much of a collector of anything.
My dad died when he was 51, I was 16. Kind of fucks you up. I'm sure not knowing if you have a dad or not can screw with you. Some things in life make you stronger and help you realize what you don't want to be.

1:10 PM  

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