Thursday, February 26, 2009

Today My father would have been 72

My first roommate here at the home was named Eddie. Every time I try to write about him, it seems more like the eight months we roomed together would be worthy of a book in itself, but I only bring him up in this post because he has a brother, Derek, who is into genealogy. As much as I hate being in this nursing home, the one good thing that came out of it was that thanks to Eddie and Derek, I was reunited (at least by phone and through email) with my Aunt Jeannette (who is a couple years older than me) and I found out that my father, actually both of my fathers, had died.

First, the father I never knew, but whom I was named after, died in 2003. The story is, according to my mother, was that he basically date raped her while they were both in the Navy. I learned this as we were watching one of my favorite movies, American Graffiti, during a scene where Ron Howard's character wants to have sex with Cindy Williams' character, but she doesn't want to, but says if he wants to do it, fine, she will just lay there and not enjoy it. Ron Howard's character doesn't have sex with Cindy's character. My biological father did have sex with my Mom. Today we call that date rape, back then the word "No" was not taken seriously. Anyway my Mother got pregnant, and in 1963 you could not be a pregnant woman or a Mom and stay in the Navy, so she was given an hoonorable discharge. My biological father would not take responsibility for my conception, despite that his name appears on my original birth certificate.What I learned from his obituary, he left the Navy and became an electrician and lived outside Detroit (I guess I can be thankful that I didn't grow up in Detroit. It doesn't sound like a good place to live). He married a woman less than a year after I was born. He also had a son a little younger than me. His was a lifelong Detroit Red Wings fan, and loved motorcycles. He also suffered from chronic heart disease, so now I know where I get my poor health from.

The person I knew and whom I called Dad, died in 1999. No one ever told me. that he had died I don't even think anyone tried. It's not like I didn't want a relationship with him or didn't periodically try to connect with him. But we never had much of a relationship and I don't know if he even thought of me as his son, despite the fact he adopted me when I was two when he married my Mom. I don't know if when he saw me, he thought of my biological father, my Dad's former best friend knocking up his girlfriend while he was away on tour of duty. But considering my Dad was married at least seven times before his death, and cheated on every one of his wives, I don't think he had any reason to bothered by it.

His name was Forrest Raymond Davenport, but his friends called him "Dave." He was the third of five brothers. When I think about him, I think he would have been great fun to hang out with if you were his peer. There are friends from college that remind me of him. Actually, there is a girl I used to live with who reminds me of him too, in that when they are interested in you they can make you feel like the most important person in the world and your entertainment is the most important thing to them, but the second they get bored with you, they treat you like shit and make you feel worthless. That's how my Dad often made me feel.

Growing up, he was hardly ever home. He was in the Navy up until I was about ten. For most of that time he was either serving on submarines, on duty in Hawaii, Japan, or Thailand, and he spent one or two tours as a medic in Vietnam. Though he could have taken my Mom and me with him to Hawaii and Japan, he decided to stick us in his home town of Olympia, Washington. For a short time prior to that we lived together in Groten, Connecticut (my only memory is eating lobster) and San Diego, California, but in 1968 he deposited my Mom and I in his home town of Olympia, Washington. (This wound up working out for my Mom because she got an entry level job working for the State as a data entry operator, which eventually led her into becoming a computer systems analyst).

The only times I ever saw my father was when he would come home on leave for a couple weeks each year, or the occasional weekend if he was stationed in Bremerton, about a two hour drive from Olympia. When he was home we would often go camping or fishing and the first few days we would have fun. I have pictures of myself as a child with my father and you would think we were close. But his visits would almost always end with him beating my ass. When he was angry with me for whatever reason, he would tell me to go find a "switch." Either a branch off of the neighbors willow tree, or something similar. He would say, "You better find one big enough or I am going to find one bigger." One time, when we were coming back from a camping trip in the Olympic Mountains, which was a really great time for almost a whole week, he got pissed off at me for running downhill (admitedly a stupid thing to do on my part) and he whipped me with his fishing pole, breaking the tip off. For the rest of my childhood with him, that fishing pole was always in view to remind me what would happen if I misbehaved again.

His punishments weren't always limited to physical abuse (today it would be considered abuse, back then it was just "punishment.") I remember one time, and I don't even remember what it was that I did, he decided to punish me by sending me out into a field and dig a hole. Not just any hole. He wanted a hole that was exactly six foot square and exactly six inches deep. This was in October so it was cold and the ground was hard. He would periodically come out and measure the hole. After awhile it grew dark and he wouldn't let me use a flash light. I wound up being outside for hours in the dark, digging and crying (I was eight years old at the time). Finally, around ten o'clock he came out and sent me to my room without dinner. The next day was the first time I ran away from home.

Even after my fther retired from the Navy he found excuses not to be home. First he decided to go to a community college that was only ten miles away, but he didn't want to commute, so he took an apartment near the school. After that he took a job as a forest fire fighter and was stationed up in the Olympic Mountains. Why my parents didn't just get divorced a long time before, I don't know why, but after some punishment I don't remember for what, which initiated the second time I ran away, I told my Mom to divorce him (I was ten) and she did. If I'd known that was going to work, I would have told her to divorce him when I was six, shortly after we moved to Olympia, before we adopted my psycho of a brother.

Between the age of ten and eighteen my relationship with my father was practically nonexistent. Whenever he would call our house, the only thing he ever said to me was "Let me talk to your mother." It wasn't until I was eighteen, when I wrote a letter to him saying I was joining the Army (I was too fat for the Navy) that he called me to talk me out of it. His twenty years in the Navy soured him on the military, despite the fact he had great benefits and a pension for the rest of his life. It seemed like we were starting to have a positive relationship. When I was twenty, he showed up at my door, and within hours we were driving to his house in Livingston, Montana. Once again, the beginning of our time together was great fun. We went fishing in the Yellowstone River (I caught a couple niced sized trout). The drinking age in Montana at the tim was 18 or 19, so I went to a bar for the first time and was introduced to Harvey Ballbangers and Amaretto & Cream.

He had a job working as a driver for an industrial laundry service, so he was going to be gone for a few days, so he left me his Thunderbird, and while he was gone I drove down to Yellowstone Park and also to Bozeman, a college town with a decent record store. I spent the rest of the week reading Stephen King novels on his couch or going to various non-chain burger shacks for most of my meals. In 1983 there wasn't a lot to do in Livingston except hunt and fish, neither of which I did. It wouldn't be for another fifteen years or more before Bruce Willis and his friends discovered Livingston and made the place unaffordable for normal people. The most famous person who lived there back then was Evel Knievel's brother. (Evel's famous rocket car , the one he tried jumping the Snake River Canyon in, was rusting in the back yard).

When my Dad returned after five days on the road, it did not take long before he returned that he found some reason to be angry with me. He was mad that I did not dry out the bathtub after taking a shower and that I didn't take the garbage out to the curb, despite the fact there was hardly any trash in the can. I wound up making an excuse to cut my trip short, and the next day he put me on a Greyhound bus back to Olympia.

A year later he came by my house again, but my dog, who was a very gentle and happy dog, barked at him, so he turned around and left. I was 21 by then so we could have gone to a bar or Denny's or somewhere to talk, but appaerently it wasn't important enoughto stick around. I didn't see or hear from him again until I called him seven years later to tell him my Mother had died. He said he was too busy to come to the funeral. I called him again five months later to invite him to my college graduation, but again he said he was too busy. A couple years later I tried tracking him down through my Uncle, who had the nerve to tell me that I was "not much of a son to my father" but he would let my father know that I called. A few months later my father called me in Seattle. My roommate Paul answered the phone and handed it to me. The first words out of my father's mouth was "Is that your boyfriend?' That is all I remember from the conversation. I never saw or heard from him again. I grew tired of trying to have a relationship with someone who obviously did not want to have a relationship with me.

When I see my friends and hear about what great relationships they have with their parents, let alone their Dad's, I am envious. I wonder how much better I would be as a person had I had a positive male role model growing up. I really didn't have anyone to look up to. Both of my fathers, in their unique ways, were assholes. My Mom never dated, so there was never a man around. Maybe if I had a Dad, a "real Dad," I wouldn't feel like such a pussy so often. Maybe I would have grown up a stronger person and maybe even met someone and had a family of my own, instead of being a forty-five year old "semi-virgin." But I can't go back in time and make either of my fathers be better at their job.

But for all his faults, m adopted father was a better father than the guy whose seed that spawned me. At least for a very brief time, he took responsibility for me, and he did sign the adoption papers, so for at least the amount of time it took him to sign his signature on a piece of paper, he wanted to be my Dad.


ray said...

oh man, eddie. i can't wait for more posts about him. i don't think i ever told you this (probably because i was working at chemistry and didn't want to say it in front of nancy at the time) but i was SO HIGH on mushrooms the night that eddie gave me a ride in the taxi. that's probably why i remembered him so vividly. can you imagine? love the blog larry.

Larry Davenport said...

Thanks Ray. I'll send you an email right now.