I remember when I was about eight years old. I was in the Cub Scouts and my mother was the neighborhood den mother. She worked hard to make the meetings fun and interesting. All the boys loved her. The worst thing that ever happened was when our den tried to whittle scarf rings out of balsa wood. One of the other boys accidentally stabbed me in the left knee when he forgot the rule about closing the blade, after carving his scarf ring. That experience taught me to respect rules and weapons and pain.
You must login to vote
My father was a deputy sheriff and an expert marksman. He was on the Department pistol team and traveled all around the State in competitive shooting matches. He was the range master at the Sheriff's training academy for a few years. One day, Dad came home early from work with a new part in his hair. It was from a freak accident at target practice. He remembered aiming his pistol at a target down range, only to find himself waking up on his back behind the firing line after being unconscious for several minutes. A ricocheted bullet came back, caught his safety glasses, and deflected up to his hairline twisting like a meandering river across the top of his scalp, leaving a bare white part in its wake. That experience taught me there was no such thing as luck.
Life was certainly different growing up in the 1960's. Boys my age wandered all over the streets and fields until after dark, respected authority, and only feared the dogs who occasionally escaped fenced yards to give them chase. Growing up with two parents, one working full-time, one working part-time was the norm in my lower middle class neighborhood. Divorce was rare and an unwed teen mother was a scandal. My parents taught me the value of decency, hard work, and family.
Things are much different these days. About a week or so before the end of the summer of 2004, my youngest and 20-year-old daughter, Sarah, asked for an enormous favor. She had a former roommate, Connie, a friend of hers who needed help with a small problem. Sarah knows me too well and, on a good day, can literally charm money out of my wallet with little else but a smile and the one-word question, 'Daddy?'
Connie's biggest problem was a moral one. Connie was in her early 30's, unwed, pregnant by an 18-year-old, physically abusive boyfriend (emphasis on 'boy'), and had three other children by three different daddies. She worked full-time to keep her children clothed and fed and let her 14-year-old daughter, Julie, raise the boys: Donnie (8) and Andy (4). The smaller problem was her oldest boy, Donnie.
Donnie's father was in prison near Bakersfield, California. His grandmother lived in the farming town of Delano, about 30 miles north of Bakersfield. Connie had arranged to get Donnie up to visit his grandma during the summer, but as August was winding down, had no means of getting Donnie home for the start of the school year in Southern California. Her suggestion was placing little Donnie on a Greyhound bus. This plan was unacceptable to Sarah. Her mother and I taught Sarah well.
Sarah's plan was for both of us to drive to Delano on a hot, humid August afternoon, after church on Sunday. It meant I would be driving round trip for about nine hours, minus a few stops along the way. My new car would be perfect for the road trip. Both Donnie and Andy had been in the car before, when Sarah invited them for an outing of water gun fights at the park, near our home. Donnie overheard my wife, Linda, tell our son, Brian, the car seated six people comfortably. Ever since that visit, Donnie called my new Ford 'the Six Comfortable.'
I may not care for Connie's lifestyle, but I love her kids. Donnie is as keen as the edge of a knife and has an adorable semi-toothless smile. Andy is a sweet little crybaby with a penchant for saying hysterically funny things. Sarah asked if we could pick up Andy and his sister Julie for the roadtrip. Why not?! Sarah had the charm meter running at full throttle.
Connie lives about 20 minutes away from me in another county. Her apartment is in a run-down, gang-infested neighborhood. When we arrived, Sarah carried Andy down to the car, while Julie lugged Andy's car seat. Sarah said Andy had a little accident just prior to our arrival. While the live-in boyfriend was in the shower, little Andy played with some weights and dropped one directly on the big toe of his left foot. I could see the toenail turning black. The toe was swollen, but it did not look irregular.
Connie had no money for a doctor's visit and was at work. We tried to ice the toe, but Andy would have nothing to do with it. Sarah called Connie, and Connie said she wanted Andy to make the trip to Delano. I offered to buy some children's aspirin for Andy to help relieve some of his pain.
The desert route through San Bernardino County to Kern County was uneventful. We calmed Andy down and once he got his aspirin, he was in a better mood. On our first rest stop, I bought everyone a treat and spirits were greatly improved. Andy rather enjoyed being carried into the store from the car.
Delano was hot, unattractive, and rural. Grandma's house was the eyesore of the neighborhood. Sarah handed me forty dollars from Grandma for gas and to feed the kids. I was grateful for the gesture. I found a local Wendy's restaurant and bought burgers and fries for the five of us. Donnie talked about visiting his Dad in prison. Then the conversation shifted and all three kids talked about their mom.
I have learned many things in my life. A few things I truly regret having learned. As the children talked about the live-in boyfriend and Connie, it was apparent to me he was the object of hatred for them and lust for their mother. Julie was the most angry of the three. After all, she was only four years younger than the man who was the father of her soon to be brother or sister! All were in agreement that Mom would never get rid of this abusive stranger. They were not fearful. Their discussion seemed almost clinical.
At that moment, nearly 300 miles from my home, sitting with three children who were not mine, my heart broke inside. It dawned on me that these kids had no idea what a real father was like. None of them had dads who tucked them in at night, or played ball, or watched them dance, or helped with homework, or told them they were beautiful. For all intents and purposes, they were fatherless.
All they had at the moment was Sarah and her Daddy: a substitute who cared for them for one road trip to Delano in the Six-Comfortable; who was more like a grandpa; who loved God and listened to 'Jesus music' on the trip up; who bought them treats, spoke kindly, and never hit their mother; a man they hardly knew well, who raised a caring, loving daughter like Sarah. They all loved Sarah, a young woman who loved them back for no particular reason at all. Perhaps all fathers were not jerks and losers and deadbeats and flakes, if Sarah loved these kids because her Daddy loved her.
All the way back from Delano I could not help but think about these three kids. How many other kids were out there in the great wide world, angry because of lousy dads? No wonder so many might turn to crime or alcohol or drugs or worse. And who needs God (The Father) when fathers are so worthless?
I doubt if I will ever forget Delano. It was there I re-visited fatherhood. I might be the only decent father three adorable urchins will ever know; a shadowy glimpse of a real promise that God would never forsake them or abandon them. After all, we were all packed in to the Six-Comfortable on the way home from Delano, weren't we?
All six of us made it home safely: Sarah, Julie, Donnie, Andy, me and....