Friday, June 26, 2015


The only person who ever called my dad "Charles" was his mother.

She's been dead for more than 40 years, but if there's an afterlife, I imagine he's being called "Charles" again today.

Dad's probably also playing golf, drinking beer, singing country songs and telling bad jokes.

And laughing. The man liked to laugh.


So when someone's heading for death, you accept it, but when it happens it's still hard.

I went to Lubbock last month to say goodbye. I told him I'd be back to watch Texas Tech play Arkansas in September, but I had my doubts about whether I'd actually be making that trip.

When my brother called yesterday, I felt it.

I know this is hokey, but it happened. I woke up at 5 a.m. yesterday morning after dreaming a weird dream about my dad. Dad did some ... idiosyncratic things. So this dream, while a bit bizarre, was also somewhat plausible.

It was set somewhere out west, maybe in Texas, but someplace flat and open. He did like his plains.

I will always think of him driving an ugly-ass van, like an Aerostar, although I think it was actually a Chevy. In the dream he was in an ugly-ass SUV, like OJ's Bronco.

The back end was open and he was handing me brown paper bags of random things. Like... useless things. I remember one seeming to have moldy celery stalks. I kind of shook my head in the dream, like "Really, dad?" But he handed 'em to me and I put them in my car.

The sky looked wide open to the west. We were in a parking lot by a highway.

Have at it, interpreters. It seems pretty obvious.

When I woke up, I thought "Oh man, this isn't one of those 'omen' dreams, is it?"


Driving to work on the Pike after I got the news, there was a semi truck headed west with big green letters on white siding: MIDLAND.



When Curtis told me, I had a shiver run through my body. It wasn't a literal shivering sensation, and it wasn't cold. But it was ... something. I felt it.


I took the news pretty well, and the only time I really got shook was when I told Bailey.

Me and my dad had some issues, and I've feared similar connectedness issues developing with her. Without getting into too much detail about the troubled, estranged relationships divorced dads can have with their children, I'll just say I wanted to be more present in Bailey's life.

Which was made difficult by moving away, twice. The first time, I was chasing something unidentified. I think I was kind of running away. Fortunately I figured out that was not the best idea, but the second time I had to move away.

It was the right play in the big picture, but hard on us. I could have handled it better, and I wish I'd had more support, but I didn't. Since I was the adult, I have to bear that.

But today, our relationship has been improving for some time, and I'm thrilled about that.

In a way, it got stronger today. I didn't know how to talk to her about this. Her and my dad weren't super close, but still...

Anyway, I got choked up, she got choked up... the elephant in the room is that people move out of the earthly plane, and some day she'll be the one making the calls.

I don't want that to happen, obviously, for a very long time.


My mom and dad split when I was five. I barely remember their life together.

Now, his history as I know it...

He was born in BFOklahoma on Dec. 20, 1933. The first child of Beulah and some guy named Castleberry. (Yeah, it's complicated. Bear with... ) Beulah was a simple woman, from what I'm told she was something of an "old maid" when she got married. I remember she went to Church of Christ and was apparently a zealot, believing that worshipers at other churches were doomed to Hell.

She liked to watch pro wrestling on TV. She baked delicious homemade bread and apple butter. She was a sweet old woman who seemed to have no life outside of church and family.

My dad would go on to have two brothers and two sisters. The youngest was Ronnie. And he was the first to go. When Ronnie died, the family went to Cordell, Okla., to bury him. It was the first time I had been there in almost 30 years, since we buried Beulah around Thanksgiving in 1973.

Dad and his sibs wanted to reminisce. Cordell is frozen in time; nothing changes. We drove to an area that was sparsely occupied and walked down a road in an almost empty field. We passed a dilapidated old barn. My dad revealed that to the best of his knowledge ... he was born there.

Born. In. A. Barn.

In the Depression. In Oklahoma.

I don't know much about his childhood other than to know it can't have been all rosy. Shortly before he turned 8 came the Day of Infamy.

As the story was told to me, sometime in 1946 or 1947, his father told Beulah he was going to Oklahoma City to look for work. She never saw him again.


So my dad was 13 with four younger siblings and a mother who likely had only been a housewife. Women in those days were sometimes teachers, but in a town like Cordell there wasn't much economic activity. It must have been incredibly hard. Not to mention embarrassing. Hey, that's the poor family whose dad ran out on them! There are no secrets in a town that small.

I cannot imagine how difficult that must have been. I believe it shaped my father's emotional character in a way he could never fully overcome.

I wish I had better details and knowledge of his life then. Dad just never would open up very much about it. It's one of the things I never got to understand and enjoy. I would have loved to know more about him. But he was pretty emotionally closed off. When I went to see him last month, I'd hoped he would give me something real, but he didn't. The last night I spent with him, I waited for him to go there. I knew if I tried, he'd hem and haw. So I had to let him take the lead.

He watched stupid TV shows instead. So it remains in darkness.


An enduring legend of Chuck came from his senior year in high school, which would have been 1951 or '52. He and two friends had been in a horrible car accident prior to the start of the school year. Riding three abreast and returning home from Oklahoma City, the car rear-ended a big truck that was cloaked in night. Dad was on the right. The boy in the middle was killed instantly. Dad had severe injuries; he bore a foot-long scar in his thigh the rest of his life and was in a body cast for many months.

So basically, screwed again. A time that theoretically could have given him some respite from the difficult path handed to him by his shitty father was instead full of hardship.

Dad played baseball, but his season was effectively over. Although he delighted in telling a story about how he finally regained some mobility in time to dress for the last game of the season. In his only at-bat, he got a hold of one and it flew over the outfielder's head. There were no fences in those days so it just kept rolling, and so did he. By the time the ball got back in he gimpily beat the throw and had a home run.

Joy. He was mobbed, and a friend named Max Deutschendorf bear-hugged him as he scored. Max told me this story to confirm it when we were in Cordell for Ronnie's funeral. Max' nephew John changed his last name to Denver and became a pretty big pop star in the '70s.


Dad served in the Army but dodged trouble as Korea had wound down.

He was stationed at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. That was the place that eventually was most known for being where Elvis had his hair cut.

There he met a dark-haired civilian girl working in the secretarial pool.

Mom says their first date was to see a Doris Day movie, "Calamity Jane." Insert punchline here. The movie was released Nov. 4, 1953.

They were married Jan. 30, 1954. Whirlwind romance!

Knowing my grandfather, I somehow doubt he was thrilled by all of this.


My parents lived in Fort Smith, Ark. They were due to have a baby in 1955.

Dad loved the flat, arid plains. After getting out of the Army he took a job as a postal carrier in some wide expanse of road called Midland, Texas.

I came along in 1959, and Curtis joined the party in early 1962.

I remember Curtis coming home for the first time. It's my earliest memory. Then I remember ridiculous car trips from Midland to Fort Smith in the back of an ugly lime green Oldsmobile station wagon. That's almost 600 miles. My parents would leave after work on Friday and drive it, then turn around Sunday afternoon for the return.

The other main memory I have of my dad was a family vacation to Colorado. I remember him scaring me at Mesa Verde. And I remember getting a flat tire on Pike's Peak, and as he changed the tire, our little dog Toto got out and ran off. My dad chased to catch him but he never came back.

I just remembered them taking me to see "Bambi." That's the first movie I remember seeing, and the re-release was in 1966. So I guess they were split or almost split.


Dad began a long stretch of living in mobile homes. I guess that's an apt metaphor -- the ability to move on always there. He got married again, and again, and again, and again. The last one took, though -- he and Jo were married almost 40 years.

I don't even remember No. 2.

No. 3 was Ruth, and she was a sweetheart, great sense of humor, fun. Dad moved to Dallas in 66 or 67, and mom's job moved her there as well. So we at least had some interaction in his life, but for a long time, our visits to see dad were not memorable.

I wish I knew what he was going through in those days. Pop psychology time: I feel pretty sure that all of this was a result of his abandonment as a child. Some people feel abandoned; he WAS abandoned. Those issues manifest in some people with a chronic inability to develop deep connections. Sad to say I think this is what hurt our relationship and some of those issues hit me in life.

I don't know why dad and Ruth didn't last. I suppose I could ask her.

No. 4 was crazy. Her daughter was murdered with someone else and their bodies were dumped into a lake. That was weird but I never really knew much about that or her. They weren't together long. Dad met Jo and that was that.


I only remember seeing dad sad a couple of times. Once was at Beulah's funeral. The other time I was 12 or 13. We were in the car on Woodall Rogers, and I remember him telling me he didn't have any money to get me a birthday present. He cried.

I also only remember seeing him mad only a couple of times, and both of them wound up unintentionally hilarious.

The first time was when he lived in Howe, Texas. The community had an activity center with a pool and a gameroom with a pool table. Dad could shoot a little pool.

My brother and I were outside. Being jerks to each other. Somehow he splashed me with cold water and I started to chase him. He ran into the clubhouse and I pursued. When we got in he yelled "You boys stop that fighting!" He came after us with a pool cue then hit a wet spot on the floor and did the splits.

Everyone roared with laughter. The Russian judge gave him a 7.

The second time he got mad was on a golf course. He hated woods, so used a 1-iron. Off the tee he butchered the shot, and was not pleased. He chunked the 1, yelled "Fuck!" and it whirly-birded down the fairway. Not quite as far as his drive.

My brother and I wanted to laugh but we also decided to stifle. But I still laugh now when I think about it.


I remember scattered things we did when I was young. A Dallas Chaparrals game at Moody. A Black Hawks game or two. A Rangers game.

Dad became an insurance claims adjuster, and whenever there was a disaster somewhere, he'd be off to work in some remote location. It suited him. I guess he was something of a loner.

He loved to golf, and he was pretty good at it. He liked his Coors, and he was pretty good at that, too.

But as I got older, we didn't get closer. I guess in some ways I wrote him off, but I had to. He just didn't want to invest much in me.

It used to bother me a lot. Sometime in the 90s Curtis and I were driving out to Lubbock for a visit. Halfway there I told him I was going to confront dad about his distance. Curtis talked me out of it.

I would have loved for him to have been more interested in me. But I think he didn't know how to really commit to something so scary as deep emotion, even with his oldest son.


I was the same way for a long time. I got into relationships then kept them a little at arm's length. I never was all-in. Sometimes I was more committed than other times, but ever letting someone completely in? That didn't really happen. Even when it seemed at the time I was giving 100 percent, I actually didn't.

Because that IS scary. It is difficult to feel safe. That was the greatest sadness in dad's life. He was with Jo a long time, so maybe he was all-in there. I don't think he was. I think she might agree.

He never was all-in with me. But Jo got him to try harder, and in the last 10-15 years, he did. He'd call and chat usually once a week or two, which was more than he'd ever done before. But most of the time that convo didn't last very long, and never got too deep.

It was the best he could do. He tried, and I had to learn that that was enough. I lost my anger, though not my sadness, but appreciated that he at least knew that the effort was worth something. At least, it was to me.


I saved a handful of voice messages from dad. It will give me a chance to hear his voice again sometimes.

It's a shame he didn't have a happier life. Knowing a little bit about how people sabotage themselves, I think that some of the bad behavior he engaged in contributed to the heart attacks/bypasses/strokes he weathered.

Toward the end as his health deteriorated Jo said he had some hard looks on his face at times. I fear that may have been some regret, but when he had a few chances to cut some of that down, he passed on it. I am just speculating.

But I forgive you dad. I know you had a bad hand.

I hope I've learned some lessons. I don't want to regret anything. It's partly why I went back to school, to kill those 26 hours unfinished since 1983. Dad saw me walk, even though he hadn't really contributed anything other than motivation.


It's taken me days to get this down and I've tried not to leave anything out. I surely have forgotten things, maybe I'll add later. Few people will be terribly interested, but I had to do this now while the wound is still fresh.

I hated going out there last month knowing it was goodbye. I really hoped he'd open up a little, but he was true to himself to the end.

And now we go on without him.


  1. You've inspired me to do this, about my parents and myself, so my kids don't have to wonder quite as much. I've always "meant" to do it but just never got a good start. I think I can do it now Thank you..

  2. Karen that's great! Our history matters. Your children will be grateful.