To read part one, click here CHANGES, Part One
So I turned myself to face me
But I’ve never caught a glimpse
Of how the others must see the faker
I’m much too fast to take that test…
I am not my father’s first born. Somewhere out there I have a half-brother I’ve never met. His name is James. However, I think his mother remarried and her husband adopted James – so I doubt “Minor” is still his last name. Actually, I’m not even sure James is really his first name. I don’t know what he does for a living, where he is living, or if he is still living. I think he would be in his late forties or fifties by now and I believe his mother’s name is Mary. When I was ten or eleven, my father showed me a picture of a woman he said was Mary. She was very attractive and had long red hair. She was also naked and spread eagle for the camera. It was a very old color picture with an over exposed red tint and the thing I remember most was her bright red pubic hair.
This “other son” wasn’t discussed much when I was growing up. One of the few things my father has said about it all was that Mary cheated on him and he didn’t believe James was his real son so he left them when the baby was just a couple of months old. A somewhat different version comes from something my paternal grandmother told my mother. She says that James was his son and my father abandoned Mary when the boy was two years old and in the hospital. There are, in fact, pictures of my father with a mysterious two-year-old boy – he has never confirmed or denied whether or not these pictures are of James. I never met my paternal grandmother but I know she didn’t get along with my father. Shortly after I was born, my parents planned a trip to visit her so she could meet her new grandson. According to my father, she told him not to bother coming, saying she wasn’t interested in knowing him, his wife, or her grandson. Like most of my father’s stories, certain details were left out. My grandmother did call my mother at the last-minute to cancel the visit. She told mom the story of how my father abandoned Mary and James and she was sure he would also abandon us. She didn’t want to get attached to a second grandson only to lose him as well. Years later, when my paternal grandmother died, the people handling her estate couldn’t find my father but they did find me, somehow. I’m the one who delivered the news to him – I was maybe twelve or thirteen. My father said she was an evil bitch and he was glad she was dead. I told him the family was splitting up her belongings and some of it was set-aside for him. He said he didn’t want anything from her alive or dead. However, a couple of years later he showed me a picture of a young man in a Marine dress uniform. I think this was James but I am not sure. I know my paternal grandmother tried to keep in contact with Mary and James, maybe she did, and maybe my father received this picture after her death.
The stories of James and his mother, Mary, are so clouded and disconnected that I can’t be sure of anything other than this, James existed and my father couldn’t handle being his parent. Maybe it was because my father was young when James was born (I think he was in his early twenties), maybe he truly didn’t think the child was his, or maybe he simply didn’t want to burdened himself with caring for someone else. I wonder which of us, James or I, was better off? I got to know the father he didn’t while James had to imagine the father that left. Did he create a fantasy father to miss, love, or hate? Is it worse to have that fantasy but never know the reality or is it worse to know the cold truth – to know your father is a self-possessed sociopath? I don’t know. I did an Internet search for James but couldn’t find any leads. Of course, with so little information, I have no idea where to begin looking. So James, if you are out there and, by some strange twist, actually read this, let me tell you a little bit about your father and mine.
Robert William Minor was born in Morristown, New Jersey. His mother was an Irish Catholic woman whose name, I believe, was Genevieve. His father’s name was Ralph and I met him when I was a baby but I have no memory of it. Ralph divorced Genevieve after only 5 years of marriage and went on to marry six more times – none of them lasted for very long. The shortest was to a Vegas Showgirl and lasted a day. Our father grew up a poor, lower middle-class, urban kid. The few stories he told me of his childhood revolved around him hell-razing with his friends in New Jersey. However, the one story that sticks in my mind the most was how he and his crew would measure each other’s penis to see who had the largest. I remember this story more than others because he told it many times as I was growing up, starting when I was maybe ten years old. He told this story because he wanted to measure my penis and track its development. I guess he thought it would make it sound like no big deal but I was uncomfortable and I never let him.
If you were in the Marines, James, you might find it interesting that our father was in the Air Force. He wasn’t a pilot or involved in any fighting. He was a mechanic and was stationed in Iceland for about six months. He was then transferred to McChord Air Force base near Tacoma Washington where I believe he met your mother. His stint with the Air Force didn’t last very long and it is around this time that our father became interested in the counter-culture movement of the early 60’s. He liked to think of himself as a poet and what I remember of his poetry wasn’t bad. He considered himself an amateur botanist and enjoyed exploring the woods. He was a voracious reader of every genre and had an impressive library (I assume he still does). He also loved marijuana, I know he tried many other drugs but marijuana was his drug of choice. And he loved sex. Our father, like a few others of the time, embraced the sexual revolution with a fervor that perverted what good came out of it. He was (and most likely, still is) a nudist and encouraged my mother and me to do likewise. And I did, as a child but my mother never went along. For a short time our father claimed to be a card-carrying member of the Communist party but, beyond that, I don’t think he had any involvement in the political end of the 60’s movement. Even though he wasn’t directly involved in politics, he did love to argue about it with anyone who would listen, although he would probably call it debating. He would argue about anything really, but politics and religion seemed to be his favorites. These “debates” seldom had anything to do with his personal views; they were more of an excuse to see if he could out-think his opponent. In fact, he would often adopt the opposite viewpoint just to make it more interesting for him. It was a game and the actual issues meant nothing. He was a smart man and quite adept at this game, it is one of the reasons he became such a good lawyer. He could convince you that the most preposterous lie was the truth. He could do this because he seemed able to convince himself it was true. But, for our father, there was no real truth and nothing mattered other than his books, his pot, and sex. If you came between those, you were in trouble.
As I said, I believe he met your mother while he was stationed in Washington State, James, but I don’t know the circumstances of their marriage. After he left you guys, I know Mary filed for fanatical aid because people were trying to track down our father to collect the money he owed her. They often harassed his mother (one of the reasons she was pissed at him) but most of the time, Genevieve had no idea where he was. When she did, she would tell them, and dad would pick up and move. He was on the run. I have no idea where all he lived during this time or how that was all resolved. He eventually wound up in Houston, Texas where he met my mother who was a student at Rice University. Even though mom had been a straight “A” student all her life, she was having a lot of trouble at Rice and was afraid she would have to move back home with her parents in Ohio. On one level, I think she married our father to avoid that but she also admired him. He was eight years her elder which was old enough to make him suspect to a young girl who had managed to make a secret trip from her home in Ohio to attend the March on Washington in 69, avoid the tear gas by hiding in a church, and then get back to Ohio without her parents ever finding out. But our father was an intelligent man, and from the way he spoke and acted, mom really believed he was part of the counter-culture and genuinely meant the things he said. Mom dropped out of Rice and they were married in January of 1970. After the marriage, they moved into a small apartment on the south side of Chicago. One night in early 1971, on a romantic stroll through a remote part of the Northern Illinois University campus, he described how he could kill my mother by strangling her. He explained how he could dump her body in the bushes and be long gone before anyone found it. Perhaps he was making a bad joke but it was the first time my mother was truly afraid for her life. It wouldn’t be the last.
I was born in Dekalb, Illinois – just outside of Chicago on September 1st 1971. Our father had tried to convince my mother to have an abortion but she refused. The birth was difficult and mom was in the hospital for three days. Three weeks later, even though she wasn’t completely healed, our father packed us up and set out for Oregon where he planned to start a furniture building business with his father Ralph – who was also going to live with us. The trip took several days and, by the time we arrived, my mother had developed an infection that nearly killed her. Even though our father and Ralph were around, mom drove herself to the doctor’s office. It was discovered that the doctor who had delivered me had also left part of the afterbirth inside my mother and caused the infection. This new doctor wanted to admit mom to the hospital immediately but she didn’t have any health insurance and couldn’t afford it. She convinced him to let her go home with antibiotics as long as she stayed in bed and avoided anything strenuous. Our father agreed to take care of me at night so my mother could sleep but when the time came he didn’t rouse, and mom – sick as she was – soothed me and put be back to bed. Then there was Ralph and his steaks. He demanded mom cook a steak for dinner every night – he even took her to the store to “educate” her on which steaks were the best. My parents couldn’t afford this so mom would often make Ralph’s steak and then a dinner for the rest of us that they could afford. One night, during mom’s recovery, she didn’t make Ralph his usual steak. He went ballistic and refused to eat what she had prepared. Despite the lack of support from anyone else in the house, mom finally beat the infection. We were in Oregon for about two and a half years, moving twice while we were there.
The furniture building business wasn’t working out. It became clear that Ralph didn’t know anything about building furniture and our father knew only a little more. Since my parents weren’t content to have him live there without contributing to the household expenses, he moved out. After Oregon, we moved to Ohio for a while but we never stayed in one place long. Packing and moving was the mainstay of my life. One reason for this was that our father did not like to work very much and was always getting fired. It often seemed like he did this on purpose. One example I know of was when he was working in a quality control job, something he specialized in. They liked his work and he was promoted. Soon after, he stopped bathing, began wearing a wife-beater tee-shirt to work, and started chewing cloves of garlic all day – because it was “healthy.” He stunk, was unprofessional, and refused to stop. They fired him. My father was outraged, how dare they fire him over such trivial matters – how he dressed wasn’t important, his genius should have been enough. He was indignant and the victim of closed-minded people always trying to hold him down. This is a constant cliché with our father. The responsibility was never his. Something always kept him from finding satisfaction. When he was working, he was morose because he said it stifled his creativity and kept him from writing his poetry. However, when he was between jobs, he complained his life was so boring that he could not be creative. Unfortunately, this feeling of being unsatisfied no matter what’s going on in my life is also something I struggle with.
When I was three or four; our father took me on a secret trip in his beat up Volkswagen Van (which, as far as I know, he still has.) We were living in Oxford, Ohio in an old farmhouse we rented. I wasn’t allowed to ask where we were going. We pulled up to a small white house. Our father told me to wait in the van as he went behind the house. A little while later he emerged with something bundled in his arms. He came up and handed me a little pink and white puppy through the passenger side window of the van. I was so nervous and excited I dropped the little guy and he fell the full height of the van to the pavement below, right on his head. Miraculously, the puppy survived and would become my closet friend for the next sixteen years. We named him Robbie after a cat my parents had when I was born. Robbie grew into a beautiful red and white border collie mix and was the smartest, sweetest dog I’ve ever known. Our father often said that the fall is what knocked some sense into him.
As I said, our father fancied himself an amateur botanist. We took many camping trips and would go for long walks through the woods. Our father would ask me to name this plant or that tree or this moss or that mushroom. I never could remember any of the names and he would get very frustrated. He tried like hell to make me into a botanist but it wasn’t for me. What I did enjoy was archery and we always took our bows along. We never hunted anything living; instead, we looked for inanimate targets, a dangerous looking tree, a sneaky little hill, or some cleverly hidden leaves on the side of a cliff waiting to ambush us. I wasn’t a very good shot but it was fun to pretend I was Robin Hood or an Indian warrior. But I actually just shot arrows into the woods, losing more of them than found their targets.
I was the only child my parents had together. My mother wanted to have one boy and one girl. She had the son but still wanted a daughter. When she told our father, he surprised her by confessing that he too wanted a little girl. He surprised her more with the reason why. Our father wanted to be the one to educate and guide her into sexual maturity. The prospect of watching her body develop from childhood to adulthood excited him. Who better to show her the ways of lovemaking and to claim her virginity than her father who would be tender and loving? Surely that was better than some asshole teenage boy who didn’t know what he was doing and wouldn’t show her the respect she deserved. As my mother listened in horror to his tale of incest and pedophilia disguised as education, she swore she would never allow herself to have a second child. She couldn’t risk having her daughter – not with this man. This is one example of how our father perverted many of the philosophies of the sexual revolution to suit his own desires. In his mind, the notion that it was wrong for a father to have sex with his underage daughter was just bourgeois dogma that we poor illiterate masses have been brainwashed to believe. For my father, it wasn’t rape – it was lovemaking and education. What could be wrong with that? Only people’s outdated puritan views and hang-ups said that it was rape, and the world would be so much better if people just indulged in their desires freely. He had no limits, no boundaries, and no sense or care for how his actions affected others. And, the worst part of it, a lot of what he said held a grain of truth – a perverted and twisted truth but enough to make you question your own feelings. I do, in fact, agree that, as a society, we are too repressed when it comes to sexual norms but our father could not draw the line and realize that breaking from those norms does not include child molestation. Or maybe he did understand and was just trying to justify his own urges.
Now, let me be perfectly clear with you James, our father never molested me, or any child as far as I know. Whether or not his comments about having a daughter was just something he spouted to get a reaction (which he has been known to do) or if he was serious, I don’t know. But I do know that his attitude towards sex did cross the line on many occasions. For example, while my parents agreed that children shouldn’t be raised to think of sex as wrong or as a mystery, their techniques were very different. My mother’s approach was to honestly answer any question I had. She never lied to me about sex, she never treated the subject as taboo or something I couldn’t talk to her about, and she never intentionally made me feel guilty. By contrast, our father’s approach was to flood my young mind with as much sexual information as possible. From my earliest memories, I can remember flipping through Hustler magazine or hiding on the floorboard of our car so he could sneak me into a triple “X” drive-in theater. Our father even insisted I watch as he and my mother made love – which I did a few times before my mother put a stop to it. This greatly distorted my notions of what was and was not acceptable. For my first grade show-and-tell, dad and I cut out pictures from Hustler, Penthouse, and some hard-core magazines and pasted them into a collage on a piece of cardboard. I would have taken this hodgepodge of vaginas, breast, and penises into class; he would have let me, if my mother hadn’t come home to discover what we were doing. All of this exposure to sexuality at such a young age had several effects on me. Some of them were actually positive. For example, I’ve never been as mesmerized as most of my male peers by the sight of a nude woman. It was never all that special to me, it was just nudity, no big deal when you live with a nudist. So the positive is, as our father would say, I was never led by my dick – at least in some respects. The negative side is that I never had a sense of discovery or wonder when it came to sex. I knew more about sex at six than some people do at sixty. It wasn’t that sex bored me, I was very interested, even obsessed with sex, or more to the point, porn. It was around me all the time in some form or another. I remember having full-on sexual fantasies about grown women when I was four years old. The images and availability of porn was a large influence in my perceptions of women and relationships. Since, of course, porn does not reflect reality, this made it difficult for me to be intimate with women for most of my life. My mother’s influence was just the opposite. She stressed the need to respect women and see them as more than glossy photos in a magazine. I like to think that her influence helped me to balance the information overload from our father. But there was another aspect to it as well. I hated that our father was so obsessed with sex and part of my rebellion was to un-sexualize my relationships and myself. So, while one part of me was obsessed with extreme, hard-core sex that exploited women, the other part of me was disgusted by it and elevated women to some non-sexual ideal. A variation on the “Madonna and the Whore” complex I suppose. I can remember dealing with this conflict even before I entered puberty and it only got worse as I reached my mid-teens. So, while our father did not physically molest me, he did force upon me far more sexual content than I, or any child, should have to deal with or interpret. I still carry the scars from that and only recently have I started to understand where those scares came and begin to deal with them.
The porn was one facet. There were other things that, with the benefit of hindsight, I find questionable. For example, our father loved to wrestle with me. I enjoyed it too, however, it often ended with him going too far, exerting too much force, pinning me or doing something to prove I couldn’t win – that it was pointless. And if I started to cry, as I often would, he would ridicule me and make me feel weak and helpless. Remember he was a nudist, so he was naked when we wrestled. Was this something sexual for him? I don’t ever recall him becoming aroused during one of these wrestling matches so I hope the answer is no, but I can’t be sure. I do know that he got off on the control, the domination both mentally and physically. Which is why the “wrestling matches” often ended the way they did. Later, when I was older and had no interest in the wrestling, he would play mind games with me or try to best me in a debate or some logic trap. These mental duels, as much as the wrestling, were another way for him to exert control. It took me many years to realize this and stop playing into the game. Besides the wrestling and his desire to track the growth of my penis, he also wanted to teach me how to masturbate and was quite upset when I wouldn’t go along. He would say that I was just embarrassed and sexually pent-up like my mother. When I was twelve or thirteen, I walked into my room to find him masturbating in my bed. I turned and walked out. He called after me to come back in and watch. I ignored him and went into the other room to watch television. A year or two later, he had bought his first computer and I was trying to figure out how to draw an image with it. He had told me that digital art was the future but I couldn’t see it – the graphics were so clunky back then. In this case, it would seem my father was right about the influence of computers on the art world. Anyway, I was sitting in his bedroom, where the computer was, trying to make a glob of pixels that was supposed to be a ball bounce across the screen by typing in coordinates and code. Our father was lying on the bed behind me. I soon realized he was masturbating. I tried to ignore it but that wasn’t good enough, so he told me what he was doing. I didn’t respond. I was frozen and felt certain that if I turned around to acknowledged what he was doing, he would try to involve me. “I’m about to get a nut, Jason!” He let out with some groans and then he was done. I was still frozen. He was breathing hard. I got up and quickly left the room. I didn’t look at him. I went to my room. I felt sick and angry. A few hours passed and I went into the living room and turned on the television. After a while, our father came out of his bedroom. He said he was just showing me how to do it; he was trying to help me. I never responded. I had already figured out masturbation on my own, it’s hardly that difficult for a guy, but I never told him that either.
Our father was a master at mental abuse and control, a creative manipulator and intimidator. But when all of those talents failed him, he was not above physical abuse. My mother realized early on that she had made a mistake in marrying him, perhaps from the moment he told the story of how he could kill her without anyone knowing, but she was too afraid of him and too insecure in herself to leave. He did everything he could to encourage that insecurity, through mind games and verbal abuse and if that wasn’t enough, he would beat her. My mother was never much of a drug user but she went along with it and even encouraged our father to get high because, when he was high, he wasn’t as abusive. It was her way of trying to keep him under control.
The first time our father hit my mother was in a hotel room in Coos Bay, Oregon in 1971. I was three weeks old and they had just driven from Chicago, over the Rocky Mountains. The trip had taken several days and they were exhausted. Dad called his father. Ralph said that a man our father owed money to back in Illinois had called and Ralph had given him my parent’s future address in Oregon. Mom was stressed out. She was sick with the infection she had contracted after giving birth to me, the brakes in the car she had driven across the mountains had almost given out a couple of times, and now she was freaked out about creditors hunting them down and taking what little money they had left. She became very upset and our father hit her. He said he did it “for her own good because she was hysterical.” There was always a reason.
I don’t remember the first time he hit me or what reason he had. I know there was an incident when I was a baby where I wouldn’t stop crying and our father started to shake me until my mother came and took me away from him. Maybe that could be considered the first time. But most of the beatings are a blur in my memory, disconnected fragments of a nightmare – flashes of teeth, fists, and enraged eyes. However, three occasions stick in my memory. The first was when I was around five or six. We were living in an apartment in Lexington, Kentucky. Our father gave me a dollar to buy ice cream from the neighborhood ice cream truck. It was a big deal because it was the first time I was allowed to meet the ice cream truck on my own. Our father watched from the window as I walked across the street and bought ice cream cones for dad, my mother, and myself. When I walked around the truck to cross back, I didn’t look to see if any cars were coming. A large green Buick (I think) almost ran me over. I can still remember seeing the tires just inches from my toes. It scared the hell out of me. I collected myself, looked both ways and crossed to the entrance of our apartment building. Our father was there to greet me. I smiled, handed him his ice cream cone, and even started to tell him about my scary near miss with the Buick. Then I saw the look on his face. It was a blind mask of rage, bared teeth and round fiery eyes – it was the look of a rabid dog. It was a look I’d seen before and I knew what it meant. I knew there was no reasoning with it, and I knew there was no stopping it. An out of control train of pure hatred descended upon me and yanked me into our apartment. I was beat – not whipped, not spanked, it was a beating. You see, I had scared our father. I was so stupid as to not look where I was going while I managed three ice cream cones and the change. My proud moment of independence had turned into a disaster and our father was ashamed that his son was so inept. He knew of no other way to manage his fear and feelings of helplessness than to beat the very one who’s safety he was frightened for. He said he was “teaching” me to pay better attention. I can’t tell you how long the beating lasted or if he used his fist or open hand – all I remember is the look on his face when he came out of the apartment. After the beating, my mother tried to console me and said I should eat my ice cream before it melted. It was already melting and I cried uncontrollably while trying to finish it quickly enough to avoid making more of a mess and risk further anger from our father. I didn’t eat the ice cream because I wanted it – it was the last thing I wanted at that point. I ate it out of fear. To this day, sometimes when I eat an ice cream cone I’ll be overcome by sadness. I’m not always aware of why but it is a deep sadness. I hate ice cream cones. This wasn’t the most awful thing that ever happened to me but for some reason it sticks in my mind and won’t let go.
The second beating I can remember was the worst. It happened when I was seven. For years, my mother knew she had to divorce our father but she had no way to support herself or me. She had always wanted to be a doctor but this goal had been derailed by her troubles at Rice University. So, with that goal back in mind and in search of her independence, mom returned to school. It took a couple of years but she worked her way through all the prerequisites and was accepted into the University of Kentucky’s Medical School in Lexington, Kentucky. It was about a year after mom was accepted that my parents called me in and said they were getting a divorce. They both looked very somber and my father had tears in his eyes. Interestingly enough, I had never heard the word “divorce” before but I instantly understood its meaning and I broke out in tears. I didn’t want our father to leave. I loved him. But he did leave, to live with his father in California for about a year. Then one day grandpa Ralph came home to find his son engaged in coitus with his gay brother, Joe (our father’s uncle), and kicked them both out. (Dad told my mother this story as proof that he hadn’t cheated on her in the year he was away…with another woman, that is.) So, with nowhere else to go, dad came back to Kentucky looking to reunite with my mother. I remember his return very clearly. I was awakened in the middle of the night and he was sitting in the bed still wearing his coat. I was so happy and couldn’t quite believe it wasn’t a dream. My parents talked for a while and then our father took me aside for a one on one conversation. He said that he was wrong when he hit my mother and he was never going to do it again. To make sure I knew he was serious, dad told me if it ever happened again, I was to pick up the phone and call the police. This was a very serious pact and I told him I couldn’t do it but he made me promise anyway and I did. So my parents said they would see if they could work out their differences. I’m not sure why mom agreed to that. She says it was a momentary lapse in reason. Regardless, it didn’t last long and she told him she planned to proceed with the divorce as soon as she could afford it. Some time passed, weeks, months, I’m not sure how long. Mom had made it clear there would be no reconciliation but he wasn’t leaving. In an attempt to encourage our father to move on, mom introduced him to a woman she worked with named Sue and they began dating while dad was still living with my mother. Sue had three children of her own from three disastrous marriages. Her youngest, Chris, was three years old. Sue’s other two boys were in their mid to late teens and didn’t come around much. Since I was the closest to Chris in age, we became good friends and would come to consider ourselves brothers. Eventually, dad moved in with Sue. For Thanksgiving, my parents agreed I would spend the holiday weekend with our father and Sue. Dad would meet us at our house to pick me up. Earlier in the week, my mother and I had driven to her parent’s house in Ohio for an early celebration and we were delayed getting back. When we finally arrived, Dad was there with Chris waiting for us. My mother was going to a party later that night with some of her friends from med school but our father wanted her to spend the evening with him and me. Mom told him, in no uncertain terms, that they were not getting back together and that he should take me to Sue’s house for the rest of the weekend as originally planned. Mom left that night thinking he would do just that. He did not. Instead, dad, Chris, and I stayed at the house and he began drinking. He was convinced my mother was cheating on him. Of course, he was living with Sue and my parents had been separated for over a year, but our father never let the facts get in the way. The more dad drank, the more pissed off he became. I stayed up that night trying to calm him down but it didn’t do any good. When my mother got home, dad was so drunk he couldn’t stand. He tried to call my mother a whore but it came out jumbled and slurred. She was worried he had drunk enough to be life threatening. We tried to get him on his feet, mom under one arm and I under his other. He was a big man and we couldn’t hold him. Dad got to his feet, wobbling for a minute, then slipped through our hands and fell into the coffee table, smashing it to pieces. Amazingly, he wasn’t wounded. We managed to get him back up and walked him into the bedroom so he could sleep it off. He lay in bed for a while and mom went to the bathroom to get cleaned up. I stood in the hall watching our father to make sure he stayed in bed and was safe. He grumbled something unintelligible, pulled himself up, and headed for the kitchen to find another bottle of liquor. I was sure he would die if he drank anymore and yelled for my mother who was putting on her nightgown. She went into the kitchen and took the bottle from him and he started hitting her. He punched her so hard that she flew across the kitchen and landed in some garbage bags. I ran in to stop him; he shoved me away and continued hitting my mother. I climbed up on the counter and grabbed the phone, I yelled that I was going to call the police, I begged him to stop. He didn’t. I started to dial the police but my fingers froze after the first number. I physically could not make the call. All I could do was stare at the phone and my finger on the dial. My mother ran into the living room, to the front door, and yelled for help. Our next-door neighbor, Fay, knew mom’s situation and was an insomniac. She had told mom to yell if anything happened and she would call the police. Our father caught up with mom at the door and threw her across the room. I ran to her side, held her head in my arms and cried for him to stop. His face was once again the familiar mask of rage; bared fangs, and fiery eyes round with anger. He kicked, aiming for my mother’s face, instead he caught me on the side of the head and I few across my mother and into the couch. This seemed to break his madness for a moment and he stopped. My mother was truly angry for the first time, he had kicked me and it was not a trivial blow. She managed to get to her feet and went into the kitchen where she found a large carving knife. She intended to use it if our father didn’t stop. Maybe she would have used it anyway but she froze just like I did on the phone. Our father saw the knife, he was sobering up and didn’t get too close but he made her a promise. He said that he would kill her someday when she least expected it. He would wait until she was happily remarried and felt safe then he would be there and he would ruin her and then kill her. Mom said she was no longer afraid of him. He couldn’t scare her anymore. That provoked him into hitting her again but she still didn’t use the knife in her hand. About that time, we heard sirens out in the front yard. Fay had been true to her word and called the police. Our father quickly threw on a tee-shirt and some pants but forgot his underwear or to fasten his belt. He went out to confront the police. They kept him busy while a couple of officers checked on my mother and me. The police asked if she wanted to press charges. She said “no”, but to keep him away from us until we could get away. Mom told them she had a place where she could go for the night and gave the policeman the phone number. Then my mother quickly threw some stuff together, grabbed me, and got out of there. Our father took a swing at one of the six “good-ole boy” cops restraining him. At this point, they didn’t need much of an excuse to beat the living hell out of him and they did. Dad’s pants kept falling down and he kept pulling them back up as he tried to defend himself. According to our father, this is the only reason they got the better of him. Mom and I took off and drove to her friend’s house where we spent the night. Because our father had tried to hit the police, they arrested him even though my mother had not pressed charges. They took him off
to jail where, in his rage, he punched the cell wall and broke his little finger.
Everybody forgot about poor little Chris. He had crawled under his bed when all the fighting broke out and I guess he stayed there all night until his mother came to get him. The next morning, to my mother’s horror, Sue called the house where we had gone to hide. How had she gotten the number? It seemed impossible. Sue was extremely upset we had left Chris behind. Mom tried to explain with all that had happened we unintentionally forgot about Chris and that, when we left, dad had not been arrested so he should have been there. Sue didn’t buy it; she accused my mom of pressing charges and deliberately abandoning Chris. Her comments and accusations became quite heated and threatening. Sue was angry, and had every right to be, but it did seem like she was pointing the finger of blame in every direction except our father who caused the whole mess in the first place. But more than that, between the threats our father made the night before and now Sue calling a house she should have no idea how to find, and making more threats, mom was pretty shaken. We packed up and left immediately, mom didn’t even tell the person who had put us up for the night were we were going this time. It has always been a mystery as to how Sue found us. The best theory we can come up with is that Sue’s brother was a cop with questionable connections. The only people who had the phone number where we were going that night were the police who arrested our father. Sue’s brother, even though he was a policeman from a different county, could have called the arresting officers, pulled in some favors, and got the phone number. I don’t know if that is what happened but it is the most likely scenario and perhaps the most unsettling given that you are supposed to be able to trust the police. As for leaving Chris behind, we don’t have much excuse there. It was a mistake and one that both my mother and I regret. I have expressed those regrets to Chris. As far as I know, our father has never accepted any part of the blame for what happened to Chris or for anything else that night.
The third incident I remember didn’t involve any physical abuse. I was fourteen and was spending the school year with our father in Maryland where he was going to law school. I was in the kitchen making something to eat. Dad came into the dining room and asked me to hand him his glasses through the kitchen pass-through. Maybe I dropped them, or maybe I just wasn’t handling them with the care he thought I should have. It doesn’t matter; anything that threatened dad’s glasses was cause for his anger. He snapped and I saw the face, the blind rage, the bared teeth, the eyes, and I just collapsed. I curled up in the fetal position and shielded myself from the beating I knew was coming. I wish I could say I stood up to him (I was already a good bit taller than him) but it didn’t happen that way. He charged into the kitchen and yelled bloody murder. His fists were cocked and ready to fly but he didn’t hit me. I guess I looked too pathetic. I was pathetic. I remember thinking, while I was tucked up in a ball; what am I doing? I’m fourteen years old and am curled up like a trembling child. How could I let him do this to me? Our father finished yelling, took his glasses, and went back to his room to read. I stood up and wiped the tears from my eyes. I was ashamed and angry at how I had acted. I promised myself I would never allow him to do that to me again. He may hit me, he may hurt me, he may even kill me but I will never cower before him again. And, even if he kills me, I would do my best to take him with me. As it turned out, this was never put to the test but it was a serious promise and I have no doubts I would have followed through.
That was the last time our father came close to using physical violence with me. I was getting older and becoming a large man myself and, for all our father’s bravado, he never physically challenged anyone he wasn’t sure he could beat. So, children and some women were fair game, a grown man his size or bigger, not so much. Instead, our father started a campaign to rewrite the history he and I shared. It really shocked me the day he told me he had never hit my mother or me. Our father tried to convince me that all my memories were just stories my devil of a mother implanted in my head. This was so preposterous that I was speechless at first. Then I reminded him of the night the police took him away. His response was that yes, he’d hit her then but that was the only time and only because he was drunk and my mother wouldn’t get out of his way. He also denied kicking me in the head. Maybe he thought my brain had been so jumbled I wouldn’t remember. I guess he also forgot our conversation the night mom let him move back in and the promise he made me make to call the police if he ever hit her…AGAIN. The more I argued with him the more he would demand specific examples and any gap in my memory became “evidence” that the stories weren’t real and he was without blame. The ice cream episode wasn’t a beating; he had just whipped my bottom once or twice to reinforce that I needed to pay more attention in such a dangerous world. Could I remember everything he had done to me that day? No, so clearly, it wasn’t real and his version was the only possible truth. He was so convincing he almost made me believe his version of events – almost. In the end, all I could say was that even if it was true he had only hit my mother that one night, it was one time too many. I told him it didn’t matter if it was once or a hundred times. It wasn’t acceptable. I don’t remember his exact reply but he shrugged it off. Years later I would learn that, not only was our father lying about the number of times he hit my mother or me but there were far more incidents I never knew about.
In addition to bad-mouthing my mother and trying to convince me of his innocence, another game he liked to play was to use me as a spy. He would try to get any information he could out of me on my mother. What she was doing, was she dating anyone, was she talking to a lawyer, what was her schedule, anything he thought he could use against her. Our father has never been able to let go of a vendetta once he feels he’s been wronged. I don’t know if anything I said ever allowed him to directly harm my mother but I do know he was responsible for her being arrested…twice.
A couple of days after the horrible night he beat us and then was beaten himself by six cops – our father was released from jail. My mother and I met him in a diner. She was afraid to see him privately. He was black and blue, his hand was bandaged and in a splint. I was afraid of what he might do even in public but I was also mad at the police for hurting him. I think our father still wanted to “work things out” – or made a show if it anyway – but mom was done. However, she couldn’t afford the legal fees to finalize the divorce so they made a deal for the time being. He could stay in the house they had bought in Versailles, Kentucky and she would move to Lexington, Kentucky (a half hour a way) where she was attending medical school. Since I was already in school in Versailles, I would live with dad and he would have to pay for my food and upkeep but mom would cover the larger payments of the mortgage and utilities on the house in Versailles on top of her own rent. Our father agreed to this and mom moved into a very tiny apartment in Lexington. Behind my mother’s back, our father went to an organization called Aid to Dependant Children and claimed that mom had abandoned us. He convinced them he was solely responsible for me and was granted welfare. Of course, the state then set out to find my mother and recoup the money they were giving dad. The problem was our father had provided them with a fake address and phone number for mom. Without the correct information, it was difficult for them to locate her and dad collected this money for close to a year. One day, while she was in the clinic, there was an intercom announcement, paging my mother, saying a deputy Sheriff was there to talk with her. He said she owed one thousand in child support and he was there to arrest her. Mom contacted a lawyer and was taken before a judge. She explained that our father had lied. She showed that she was paying the mortgage and utilities but the judge wasn’t interested. He told her to stop paying everything else and to pay the state their money. They didn’t care our father had committed fraud, they didn’t hold him responsible; they made my mother pay for his abuse of the system. Her lawyer told mom she could pay the fine in installments and gave her the address to the main welfare department in Frankfort, Kentucky so she could mail them in. She came up with the money and made the payments but she was livid. She told our father she would no longer pay his mortgage, utilities, or anything else. He could sell the house or abandon it. She didn’t care. Mom also told him that she was taking me with her, even though it meant pulling me out of school and moving me into her tiny apartment that was too small for her let alone the both of us. Without me around for him to claim as a dependant, he wouldn’t be able to collect from the state and if he tried, she would report him. Over the next year our father managed to fix up the house, get it on the market, and sell it. At the time of the sale, there were no missed payments or back taxes. Mom had stopped helping him, he lost his dependency money from the state and yet he made every payment. So, apparently he could make money when he had no other choice.
But wait, there’s more. A year after mom was arrested and paid the thousand dollars; she was pulled out of the clinic again and arrested…again. Apparently, there was no record of her payments. As it turned out, she had mailed her payment to the state welfare department and they had cashed the checks but they didn’t count it toward her debt because she was never supposed to mail the payments anywhere. She had been required to pay the full amount at the time of the first hearing and it was to be paid directly to the court. Her lawyer had given her bad information. She was forced to repay the full amount. When she asked what happened to the money she had already paid, the state had no idea. She considered filing suit against them to reclaim the money but her lawyer told her she would wind up paying him more to file the lawsuit than she could win. Mom didn’t really have an option but to let it go. Isn’t the justice system grand?
My parents were officially divorced in 1981. My mother wanted full custody of me but her lawyer (a new one) told her that would be difficult. So instead, they went for partial custody and child support. They knew our father wouldn’t pay child support but after a year of him not paying, mom could take him back to court and win full custody. The day of the hearing, dad didn’t show but he did send a letter to the judge. I don’t know what the letter said but it made an impression. The judge called our father a low life but did not award mom child support or full custody. He reasoned that dad would never pay and trying to collect would eat up the court’s time but it would be wrong to deny him access to his son. And besides, my mother was going to medical school and would be a rich doctor so she wouldn’t need child support anyway (yes, he actually said that.) So, mom was flat broke and trying to put herself through medical school. She had lost her chance to get full custody of me and wasn’t going to get any support from our father. She managed somehow. She made it through medical school, and raised me even though I made it very difficult for her. Our father applied and was accepted at the Antioch School of Law in Washington DC. Sue and Chris eventually moved to DC to live with him. Sue found work as a nurse and supported our father while he was going to school. As far as I know, he never hit her or Chris.
In the years after the divorce, things calmed down. I spent these years split between school with my mother and summers with our father in DC and later in Maryland. When I was fourteen, dad wanted to change things up and have me sped the school year with him. This made me a little nervous. I didn’t want to leave my friends behind for so long but it was more than that. I was gradually beginning to see more of the truth about our father and the thought of spending a whole year with him had me on edge. But he pushed and I agreed and my mother went along. It was a pivotal point in my life. This was the year he masturbated while I sat at his computer, it was the year he charged into the kitchen to hit me but I collapsed in a heap, and it was the year I swore he would never do that to me again. This was also the year I realized my father had become a raving conservative and an extreme racist. I had always thought of him as the radical leftist and I had grown up in a fairly multi-racial environment so this was very surprising for me. But, as I said, any wind will blow him. I’m not entirely sure what “wind” brought about this change but I think there were several factors. When he started attending law school in Washington DC, the FBI called him in to have a little “talk.” After that, he suddenly supported Ronald Regan and thought George Bush was great. Is there a connection? I don’t know. We were also living in the projects and were essentially the minorities. I don’t think our father liked being in that position. If these things changed him or just brought out what was always there, I can’t say. Of course, no matter how conservative he became, he never gave up being a nudist or his marijuana. In addition, cockroaches infested the apartment complex we lived in. They were in the cereal boxes, in our shoes, in our beds, and, after a week of complaining he couldn’t hear, Sue pulled a dead cockroach out of Chris’s ear. The primary reason for this infestation was because the basement was the trash dump for the entire building. The garbage was piled to the ceiling and teemed with roaches. I don’t know how the management ever expected to clear it out or what they had planned when we ran out of room for our waste. Toward the end of my time there, the apartment complex was sold and the new management renovated all the buildings. They got rid of the trash in the basements and fixed up everyone’s apartment – everyone’s but ours. Our father refused to let them renovate our place because he didn’t want them finding his marijuana plants. So, we still had cockroaches. My relationship with our father was crashing and burning, we lived in shit and the school I was attending was a demilitarized zone. I was miserable and looking for anyway out. Well, James, the universe provides. One morning, on my walk to school I was stopped by four, rather large black kids, they were in high school, I was in junior high. They asked if I had change for a dollar. I said no and kept walking. A week later, they stopped me again. Again, they asked if I had change for a dollar. When I said I didn’t, one of them took out a bill and flashed it in my face. “You don’t have change for one of these,” he said. I told him no and tried to walk past them again. I had just gotten by and thought I was clear when I felt two blows on my face. I saw stars and stumbled off the sidewalk into the grass. I was in shock and my only thought was, this son of a bitch just hit me! I was consumed with rage, I gnashed my teeth, my eyes were wide and fiery, and I turned to face them with only one thought; I was going to kill them all. Of course, there were four of them and they were all bigger than me. Considering I was six foot, two hundred and fifty pounds, that’s saying something. They would have wiped the floor with me but I was pissed and not thinking. When I whorled around they were gone. It was amazing; I don’t know how they could have disappeared so fast. I felt my nose and there was blood gushing down my face. I turned and started back towards school, pinching my nose to stop the blood. A friend saw the whole thing and came running up to me. He said I should go to the principal’s office and file a complaint. I was strangely calm at this point and didn’t really care if the guys were caught or not but the idea of getting out of class did appeal to me. So, I took his advice, stumbled through the metal detectors, past the armed guards (none of whom seemed to care that I was bleeding), and went to the principal’s office. They called our father and I told him I was too shaken up to stay in school. He took me home but only long enough to get his gun, then he drove me to the parking lot opposite the high school where we waited for classes to be released. He wanted me to point out the “damned niggers” that attacked me. I told him I couldn’t remember their faces and didn’t want to do this but he wouldn’t leave. Finally, the doors opened and we watched the kids flood out. I never identified anyone. I didn’t see the kids who hit me but I wouldn’t have told him if I had. What I did instead was to use that incident as an excuse for why I wanted to move back with my mother. He agreed to let me leave but he never forgot it and always considered me too delicate to handle myself after that. The attack wasn’t pleasant but it was living with our father that I couldn’t handle.
My mother and my maternal grandfather (who’s name was also James) drove from Kentucky to Maryland, overnight to pick me up. I was glad to get out of there. On the drive back, my mother and I had our first real talk about Bob Minor. I told her my stories and she told me hers. I learned many things on that drive I’d never heard before and part of me felt betrayed. I wished my mother had told me what had been going on long before. But, amazingly, my mother had never spoke badly about our father while I was growing up. She had let me learn about him for myself. If I had been in her shoes, I don’t think I could have done the same. However, she made the right decision. Because I loved our father, James, I loved him despite all that had happened. I even idolized him and tried to mimic him. If my mother had spoken ill about our father, I would have turned against her. I had to see his true face for myself. It was a hard lesson in my life but a valuable one. I understood why my mom held her tongue and I felt very sad for all she had been through.
I didn’t see much of our father for years after that, the occasional phone call or lunch when he was in town, but that was it. I dropped out of high school, passed the GED, and started Art College. Eventually, I decided it was time to let the past lie and start over with our father. We began to talk more and the talks went okay, they were even enjoyable. There was a wall between us and there always would be. His racism and politics still bothered the hell out of me but I also got the feeling he was playing this up just to bait me. But, despite this, we started to have a relationship of sorts. I would drive down to visit him once or twice a year and we would talk all night long and into the morning. He had become an immigration lawyer and was very successful for a couple of years. However, the immigration laws changed and it became harder for him to find immigrants who actually had the money to pay him. To be more specific, his clients had been the rich and powerful business elite of Nicaragua. When Daniel Ortega was elected president, he nationalized the industries. This caused a backlash that encouraged these clients of our father’s to “flee” to the US and ask for “asylum” so they could keep their money protected from Ortega. This was a big deal and one of our father’s clients was even featured on an episode of the 700 Club, who, according to our father “were the only one’s with the balls to tell the truth about what was happening and how evil Ortega was.” In the next election, Violeta Chamorro took the presidency and allowed all the rich folks to come back to the country with their money safe. They no longer needed dad and the only immigration work left was for refugees from other countries who truly needed asylum and were poor. Our father had no interest in them. However, he had already made a ton of money off his rich Nicaraguan clients and even had a couple of Swiss bank accounts to show for it. He gave up his law practice in DC and moved to Jacobus, Pennsylvania where he put up his shingle but didn’t get a whole lot of business. There was very little work for an immigration lawyer out in the country. He lived off the money he made from his previous practice for several years and barely, if ever, worked. Sue kept working and contributing her nursing wages so dad could spend less of his own money. Eventually, the money did start to peter out and he wanted to drum up more business. Our father became Jewish for a short time because he felt it would be profitable. That didn’t last long. It ended about the time he started telling his new friends that Hitler was actually a pretty smart guy – oh sure he was bad but he really had some great ideas. As you can imagine, the Jewish community didn’t find this discussion as fascinating as he did.
On one of my visits, he told me he was thinking of leaving Sue. I hadn’t quite identified this as his typical M.O. yet so it shocked me. I tried to talk him out of it, saying that she had been good for him and she really loved him and he really loved her. He told me he didn’t much care if she left or not, he didn’t lover her anymore. She was just there. I told him he was an idiot. As far as I know, they are still together but I wonder if he’s just gotten too old and fat to bother with moving on this time. He basically said as much in our conversation that night.
So James, the story is almost done but there is one more thing I’d like to tell you and, in a way, it involves you. One night, after I’d moved to New Orleans, our father told me on the phone that he was running out of money and needed to file for bankruptcy. He asked for my mother’s mailing address so that he could add her information to his bankruptcy paperwork. I didn’t feel comfortable doing this. We were getting along and part of me was beginning to think our father was changing, or at least mellowing, but I still remembered the threat he made that night he was arrested. He promised to kill my mother, he said he would wait until she was happily remarried, even if it took years, and then he would find a way to ruin her. Well, she was happily remarried and now he was looking for information about her. It didn’t sit right. When I asked why he wanted her address, he said something about needing it for the paperwork because there was an old loan they had co-signed when my parents were still married. It occurred to me that if he filed bankruptcy and the creditors for that loan couldn’t get their money from dad, they would go after my mother – why else would he want her address? Mom had been forced to file for bankruptcy many years prior to this and I thought she was probably safe but it really pissed me off that our father would be plotting such a thing and was using me to get the information he needed. Just like he use to. When I asked him what would happen to that loan if he filed bankruptcy – would it fall on mom’s shoulders – he got very indignant. How could I accuse him of such a thing? I asked him why he had paid off all his other loans but had conveniently “forgotten” to take care of the one that still had my mother’s name on it. That’s when he became extremely angry. He insulted me and said I was insane and hateful for even thinking up such crazy shit. Maybe I was but his reaction told me that I had hit pretty close to the truth. When I told him that, he slammed the phone down on me. I knew I was done with our father in that moment because I was not upset when he hung up, in fact, I laughed. I called my mother to make sure she had covered her ass on the loan – she had. A few weeks later I received a letter, a long rant from our father, telling me what a bad son I was, how I was a pathetic failure who blamed all my problems on him. He told me how he had bore the brunt of my attacks for years while trying to guide me but he could do it NO MORE! He assured me he was still my father and if I really needed him, he would be there but short of that he wanted nothing more to do with me. I was not to write or call him again – unless it was an emergency. Upon reading this, I laughed again. The whole letter was a very deliberately written attack with words and subjects designed specifically to hurt me while making himself appear as the victim. The problem was, his attack was directed at the person he thought I was, he was attacking a fourteen-year-old version of me that DID feel like a miserable loser with no direction in life. Back then; I had not taken responsibility for my life. But he was sending this letter to a twenty-four year old me and he had no idea who that person was. I had found my way in life; I’d stopped blaming my past and had started a successful career as a freelance comic book artist. I was doing what I had always loved to do and was making a living. How many “pathetic failures” are lucky enough to say that? He had no idea who I had become and his attack was off by almost ten years. I decided to write back and tell him this. I told him that his wasted attempt to vilify me while elevating himself was sad. I explained how I had built something for myself and was, for the first time, happy with my life. Then I asked what he was doing at my age. The answer is, running from a wife and child, running from creditors, lost and aimless, and working crap jobs. I told him that his attempt to “still” be my father while cutting all ties with me was a coward’s way of running from responsibility. And I reminded him of you, James. I told him he had already abandoned one son when he was just a baby and now he wanted to cut the ties with me. So, I said I would do him the favor of removing all responsibility from him. No matter how bad things got in my life I would never seek out his help (he never helped me anyway so I wasn’t risking much.) I absolved him from that for which he was so dismally unfit – being a father. It felt good to write the letter, to officially cut that tie. It was a weight off my soul. I only wish I could have done it sooner. And, in some ways, writing that letter made me feel a little more connected to you, James. Our father had abandoned us both. He may have hung around for my childhood but he was never a father to me either. Part of what I said, I would like to think, was for you, for what he denied you the opportunity to say. That’s what I’d like to think, maybe you would feel differently.
I haven’t spoken to our father since. In some ways, he was right, I do blame him for some of my scars, just as I would blame a knife for cutting my skin. He was a destructive force in my life and every natural disaster leaves some damage but I have never used him as a way of removing the responsibility of my life from me. And that is something he will never believe because it is something he cannot do for himself.
James, this is just a little scratch on the surface of Robert Minor, my father and your biological sperm donor. I don’t know what your real father (the man who raised you) was like but I sure hope he was better than your biological one. And, if you have spent time in your life wondering who your biological father was, I hope you can stop, because he’s not worth your imagination.
It’s mid 2007. Rebecca, my wife to be, has told me that she really wants children, to try at least, and she wants to try with me. I think of you James, I think of my father and everything I’ve written about here. It all rushes through my head like an icy comet and freezes me in paralyzing fear – fear of being like my father, fear of subjecting another child to his legacy, fear of continuing the cycle of abuse my father continued with me. I know I’m not my father but I am my father. He is a part of me and I see some part of myself that’s like him every day. On a very rare day, I see a positive thing. But most of the time, I shudder at the sight. I cannot be my father. I won’t be. And as long as I have no children, I never have to face that most serious challenge – to finally overcome my father in me. But here is the woman I love, who’s hand I plan to ask for in marriage (although she doesn’t know that yet) telling me she wants to try to have children, not to discuss it academically but to really do it. She is looking at me…and she is waiting for an answer…
Click here to read CHANGES Part Three