Meeting My Father

“Whether you have a fractured relationship with your dad or family, or you have untold stories of your own, now is the time to bring them out of the darkness and let them shine and be a beacon to inspire and move others.

You never know who you can possibly help until you share pieces of your own heart through writing or by showing up, fully present, with a heart full of love.” — Shawn Langwell

“Father’s Day has ALWAYS been hard for me BUT I decided to write a short poem forgiving my father, finally, fully. Thank you to The Good Men Project for publishing the poem. It is called, simply, MY FATHER.” — Kevin Powell

Note from Marlene: Thank you, Shawn and Kevin, for giving me the courage to post My Father story.

“Meeting My Father,” by Marlene Cullen.

When I was seven years old, I was embarrassed that I knew the meaning of the word sober.

I heard “Is Bill sober?” more times than I care to count. That’s all my mother, grandparents, aunts, and uncles asked about my father.

The only holiday I remember celebrating with him was a rainy Christmas Eve. My mother couldn’t talk him out of driving to her mother’s house for our annual party. I was petrified in the back seat as he wove in and out of traffic.

The only time I missed having a father was an occasional Father’s Day, and that was more of an awkward feeling rather than a sense of missing out on something. 

I never called him “Dad.”

My father was a merchant seaman and would be gone months at a time. He brought home exotic toys from far away countries, intricately carved hope chests from Japan, clothes for me and my sisters, always too small.

When he was home, it meant he wasn’t working. When he wasn’t working, he was at a neighborhood bar. My mother would drive from bar to bar looking for him. My younger sisters and I waited in the backseat of our 1950 Chevy while Mom coaxed him to come home. I tried to find ways to entertain my sisters while we baked in the stifling heat.   

We moved in with my father’s parents when I was nine. My father lived with us off and on, mostly off. He drifted away as alcoholism took over his life.

My parents divorced when I was twelve. And so, we began the torturous Sunday afternoon visitations. My mother would conveniently be gone when he arrived at our flat. He would be conveniently drunk. We took a taxi to a restaurant on Market St. My father slurred his words when he ordered. I cringed in embarrassment.

When I was sixteen, I rode the bus down Mission Street to my new job. I looked out the window and saw my father slumped in a store entryway. That’s when I began to think of him as a Third Street Bum and good for nothing. As the bus lurched forward, I felt shame. My stomach tightened. My throat constricted. Tears blurred my vision. I stared straight ahead. There was nothing else for me to do.

One year later, I was getting ready for school when the phone rang at 7 am. I answered quickly, not wanting the ringing to wake up my grandmother, who had returned late the night before from visiting my father in the hospital. I was angry at whoever was calling so early. The voice on the other end of the line identified himself as “Bill’s doctor,” and then, “Bill died this morning.” Just like that. I was shocked that he gave no consideration who he was giving this news to. I must have gone into my grandmother’s bedroom and told her there was a phone call for her. I don’t remember what I said to my mother. I finished getting ready for school, like it was any other day.

My father died on March 22, 1966, at the age of thirty-seven, emaciated from cirrhosis of the liver.

As a young mother, watching my husband with our daughter, I realized I was bitter and angry with being deprived of a father. I began to think of him as just the sperm donor.

[Then, a miracle happened. I met a woman who knew my father as a teen-ager.]

Georgia and I talked for two hours. She told me about their escapades, the pranks they played, and the normal teenage stuff they did. Georgia said my father would take the bus to meet her after work and escort her home, to keep her company and make sure she made it home safely. She said he was a gentle and quiet kid.

After our conversation, I realized my father was once a happy-go-lucky kid. He went to dinner dances at the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley in the 1940s and he had many friends. He was more than a slumped figure in a doorway.

Seeing my father through the lens of his teenage friend is one of the best gifts I have received. I felt I met my father as a real person the day I talked with Georgia.

I will be forever thankful to Georgia for introducing my father to me as a caring young man and a valued friend.

My father wasn’t just a Third Street bum and he was more than merely a sperm donor. William (Bill) Scott was a loving son, a loyal friend, and a Marine Corps veteran. He was a husband and a father, struggling to navigate the challenges of life.

He is a part of me, imperfections as well as the good parts. He is a part of my granddaughter who shares his hazel-colored eyes.

Bill Scott was Somebody. He was my father. And if he had the chance, he might have been a wonderful grandfather. I like to think so.

Excerpt from “Meeting My Father,” in the anthology “The Write Spot: Memories,” available from your local bookseller and as both a print and ebook through Amazon.

Note: That’s my father, William (Bill) Scott, on the cover of “The Write Spot: Memories.”

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