The Barber, 1935-2019

There’s really nothing quite like learning your biological father has died, especially when the last time you had any contact at all you were 6 years old and swinging haymakers trying your best to keep him from hurting your mom.

Ironically, they both passed in 2019, she was 80 and he was 84.

As I recall, when I last saw him, he had come home drunk, as had become routine, and I recognized all the signs of him growing violent. So I stepped between them and started throwing punches. He picked me up but I did not stop fighting. In his drunken and surprised state, he dropped me on a coffee table and it splintered to pieces. This was the breaking point for my mom. She grabbed me and my sister Shelby, and we ran out the door.

I never saw or heard from him again.

I have several other disturbing memories that occurred prior to this incident. I later would recount some of these in my book, Full Tilt Boogie. Some still resurface from time to time. Early childhood trauma — it’s “a thing.”

My mom remarried a few years later, and my stepdad Dave stepped in, adopted and raised us. He provided a safe home, stability, sense of family and educational opportunities we wouldn’t likely have had otherwise. This new life was a striking contrast to what we’d known, and our moves with his career crossed the country from Nevada to Northern Virginia to Colorado, where I went off to study wishcraft at the CU–Boulder School of Journalism.

My mom would not speak much of her first husband, though I knew she was in contact with some of his relatives. Over the years I heard vague stories, that he might have another son, and that maybe he even had done time in prison. I never knew if any of these tales were true, and actually I didn’t really care that much.

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Eventually, my half-brother Harvey surfaced. But even this did little to spark any interest in looking up my biological father. I suppose there was always this niggling thought that perhaps before the end he might reach out, see how things turned out for me. It seemed puzzling that this person who had been my father for six years could just vanish from his kids’ lives. It also occurred to me if he had any interest it would not be difficult to find me, the Internet being what it is.

I don’t have any pictures of him. Only those in my mind, many of them fleeting. Not all of them are terrible. Fishing from piers on the Chesapeake Bay. Discovering a cannonball in the muddy bank of the James River. Teaching me how to paint by brushing with the grain of the wood. For a while we had a pet monkey.

My natal father died on Aug. 29, 2019. In his obituary I am mentioned as his only surviving child, living in California. In his will he swears out that he had no biological children, even though it’s quite clear he had three. Whatever assets he had apparently were left to his sister’s daughters.

He was buried in a veterans cemetery, though as far as I know the closest he ever got to a war was shaving heads as a barber for the military. I also remember that I often had a crew cut as a child.

It is all like a strange dream that makes very little sense, but then so is life itself. I reckon we all yearn for some sort of peace with our experiences. Nobody gets out alive . . . or escapes unscathed. What’s most startling is to realize how influential a person so totally absent can be when you’ve spent the better part of a lifetime striving to be someone entirely different, someone apart.

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