I realize this whole thing with Dad has me backtracking a bit, but it kind of makes sense in a way. This is called A Brief History of Time Travel, after all, and if I’ve learned anything from the sci-fi movies I love is that time isn’t linear anyway. At least, that’s what The Doctor would tell me.

The divorce itself wasn’t terribly acrimonious – mostly because Mom didn’t contest very much. In the initial stages, Dad insisted – wanted it in the divorce agreement, in fact – that I would stop acting and so forth. That’s about the only thing Mom flipped her lid on. Once that was settled, there was the matter of custody. I wanted absolutely nothing to do with Dad, of course, let alone being forced to see him on weekends or holidays. I was concerned about this, and did what I always did when I was concerned – talked to Uncle Richard about it.

Me: What if I’m forced to see him?

Uncle Richard stroked his chin thoughtfully.

Uncle Richard: I bet you’re old enough to just talk to the judge.

Me: Really?

Uncle Richard: Sure. You’re intelligent enough to convey your feelings. If he’s willing to listen, I’m sure he’ll respect them.

Me: Okay. Well, what do I say?

And Uncle Richard walked me through my first court date – interestingly, we did a lot of improv where he pretended to be the judge and asked me questions. He guided my answers – what he thought would hold weight with a judge and what wouldn’t – and helped me come off the best I could. To this day, I think improv is an excellent tool for things like this – evidently some in the business community have used it to loosen themselves up for presentations and public speaking.

Uncle Richard advised me not to talk directly about the abuse – at least, not to make it a central issue. Proof was scant (Dad was a bastard, but he wasn’t a dumb bastard) – he suggested I frame it in such a way as to be not so full of anger and vitriol.

Uncle Richard: Anger, hatred, yelling…these are how a fool communicates. A gentleman uses words. He’s persuasive. He doesn’t use his fists unless he has to. 

The judge ended up being a fan – watched me on Al Alberts Showcase and had seen some of my commericals. He asked for an autograph, even. Almost everything I said, he listened attentively and nodded. He even laughed and rocked back in his chair at some of my answers. Long story short, it was a slam dunk – I didn’t have to see Dad at all unless I wanted to. Thank God.

The upshot of the divorce was that Dad would pay a pittance in child support – something like $120 a month – ridiculously low, even by the standards of the early 90’s. He stipulated, though, that the child support was for Tim – not for me.

Dad: Dan makes his own money. He doesn’t need help from me.

Dickhead.

Anyway…Mom agreed readily to this – particularly since Dad dropped the stipulation that I quit acting (which frankly, I don’t know of any judge who would have realistically taken his side). She and I (and Grandma) just wanted him out of our lives – we would have agreed to nearly anything to get that to happen.

After that day, he was out of our lives – at least from a legal standpoint. He insisted on seeing Tim – I don’t think visitation was strictly set up, or if it was he didn’t follow through that often. Tim quickly got to a point where he lost interest, and so did Dad. What started out as once a month ended up as once every two months. Then once every two months became a couple times a year. The phone calls dripped and drabbed in – they had no real consistency. I remember looking at the caller ID and seeing his number come up. Pretty much whenever he called us, there was an awkward silence in the house. Nobody picked up the phone (except, occasionally for Tim). When the two of them talked, he sometimes asked for me – I always made sure I wasn’t around.

For the first year or two after the divorce, he made something of an effort – we got Christmas cards and birthday cards. Sometimes they had a 5 dollar bill in them. He never wrote anything – no personal message. Not even “Love you” or “miss you”. Didn’t even address the card as people usually do. Just scrawled “DAD” somewhere near the bottom. These cards too, eventually stopped.

He’d sometimes show up at the house unannounced. He’d bang on the door and just beat on the doorbell. We would all hit the deck when this happened – we’d kill the lights and sit in the dark. We’d try to be as quiet as possible.

Dad: I KNOW YOU’RE IN THERE. I WANT TO SEE MY GODDAM KIDS.

We never answered the door, and he usually left – only after yelling at Mom through the door.

Dad: WAY TO ACT LIKE A LITTLE FUCKING CHILD, DONNA.

Of course, he was around – skulking in the yard, or sitting at the end of the street in his rusted out Bronco. Once, somebody kicked in the door of our house while we were out at breakfast. Didn’t take a thing – didn’t move a thing, really – just rifled through some tax records and overturned some chairs. I’m pretty sure I know who it was (and if you can add, I’m pretty sure you can figure it out too).

He would fall off the face of the earth and we’d never hear anything for years. Then he’d suddenly remember he had kids and call furiously. Even if Tim did see him or talk to him on the phone, he’d lose interest in maybe a month and he was back to being a disappeared Dad. Curiously, he usually only called when one of us -Tim or myself – did something to land us in the papers, or he saw a commercial we were in or something.

As a kid, and even a teenager, I used to think about him a lot. I thought about what meeting him would be like – if I’d be able to keep my fists still, or if I’d try to punch him out. Sometimes, in my darker moments, I used to plot his death – usually something painful and humiliating. But that was a childish anger, even if it was righteous. I even stopped calling him Dad (I did this even before the divorce was final) and called him Bob. I just had to separate myself from him as much as possible.

When I think about it now, as an adult, I don’t feel much. It’s like having a rotten tooth pulled. Your tongue still finds the place where the tooth was, but it doesn’t hurt anymore. You know you’re supposed to have a tooth there – at least, you did at one time – but you don’t. The scabs have healed over and although there’s a little dip in your gums where the tooth used to be there isn’t any pain. It’s like that.

Last I heard, he got remarried and redivorced (no more kids, thank God). He drinks in bed, and spills wine and beer all over the sheets (so his now-ex-wife told Tim). He’s as strange as ever, and probably just as angry. I suspect he’ll die alone.

When he does die – assuming I hear about it – I’m sure it will be a strange experience for me. People are supposed to feel grief at the death of their parents, aren’t they? I don’t think I’ll feel anything.

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Comments
  1. Reed says:

    And The Doctor would definitely know. That’s really cool that the judge was a fan, and even asked for your autograph! Now I’m thinking I should ask for your autograph, and for Tim’s, too!

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