Saturday, June 15, 2013

For the Record

A couple of weeks ago I posted a piece titled Now Is Not the Time. In it, I portrayed my father as a monster. While this was the case when he was drinking, it wasn't always the case. Although there was tremendous fear and sadness in my childhood, that wasn't always the case either. So, in honor of Father's Day, I'm setting the record straight.

The other side of my father was a man who was undeniably artistically talented. The other side of him was a man who was mind-blowingly intelligent. He knew stuff, and he knew how to do stuff, and it always appeared to me that it was about 80% instinctive. My father was an uproariously funny man. He had a wealth of idiomatic sayings and colloquialisms that never failed to amuse. My favorite of these, to this day, is "Don't tell your mother. She'll shit little blue bricks with red handles on 'em!" My father had a deep appreciation for nature, for being out in nature, and for the simple beauty of a sunlit day. Many were the times I heard him say, "Sure is a purty day." Always that leftover Ohioan "purty", never "pretty"... and I loved that. My father was a good man, a caring man, a man who was proud of his family.

My father also happened to have a disease called Alcoholism. And that's where the monster lived. In the thirty plus years since he passed away, I have managed to separate the monster from the man. I have grown to understand that he wasn't his disease and his disease wasn't him. I have been able to forgive any wrong. Most importantly, I have been freed to love him. And consequently been freed to love myself (there's a ball of wax for another discussion on another day). I'm not going to dwell on this aspect of him today. I will only say that if you or someone you know has a substance abuse problem, please seek help. Today. Now.

I get my sense of humor from my Dad. That seeing the greasy underside of things, sardonic way that I have? That's all Harold Black. That throwing a joke at the unbearable and making it livable? That's my Dad. I get any artistry that I have from my Dad. Now that I'm becoming more familiar with the artist inside myself, more comfortable with it, I'm really enjoying it. It's allowing me to feel more of a kinship with the man I called Daddoo, the guy who adored his bright-eyed little "Punkin," his Barboo. According to the letter that my Grandma Black wrote to my mother the day after I was born, "Harold was over the moon when he called us at 2 AM to tell us the news..." Over the moon. I can picture him, after pacing for what must have seemed like days, finally having the doctor come out and say, "You have a little girl, Mr. Black." I know he teared up. I know he did whatever gesture qualified as a fist-pump back in 1961.

He was a man who loved to tell people what a talented pian-y player his youngest daughter was. Having suffered his own mental anguish at the hands of the Catholic church and the strict, abusive nuns of his parochial school years, Dad never went to mass with us. The only time I can remember him going to church (other than a wedding or two) was for my First Communion. My Dad attended every play and musical I was in, whether I had a lead roll or not. Point is, for all his drunken ranting, my Dad loved me fiercely. And he was proud of me.

I love him too. I love him even more now. I'd give anything to be able to sit across the table from him tomorrow and say, "Happy Father's Day, Daddoo!" Because I know I'd get to see the thing I've really been missing for the past 31 years - that look of adoration that a man gives his grown-up daughter for somehow, despite of the odds, being the shining woman that she is.


The following is a series of cartoons that my Dad drew for me. Someone had given me a cat named Patches. My Dad tolerated, but had no real affinity for cats. So, he sketched these for me in hopes that I would teach the cat something useful, like warbling. These sketches are among my most treasured possessions, and they are a perfect amalgamation of my Dad's brilliant wit and artistic genius.


  1. So relatable, your father-daughter relationship. Although mine wasn't affected by alcohol, his past affected his ability to show love. As a child, I knew intuitively that he loved me but I just never felt it. As an adult I understand why. You've so beautifully laid out the complexity of the oft-tumultuous connection between fathers and daughters. I love reading this piece after reading your previous Now Is Not the Time. Fabulous! You're a gifted writer for sure.

    1. Thanks! It was a very long time coming to get from "there" to "here".


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