It didn’t matter that he was my father. I didn’t like him much.
My father, his parents, and all his siblings were born in England. None of them had a sense of humor. It might have helped.
Dad was the youngest of nine, emigrating to America with his mother and several of the older kids when he was 11. His father was inexplicably left behind. Not knowing the culture, she dressed him for school in what he wore in Cornwall—fussy Lord Fauntleroy suits. He was pummeled each morning until he convinced his mother to dress him in American clothing.
Maybe that’s why he always seemed to teeter on the edge of anger. He wore his bigotry proudly, loudly disparaging anyone who wasn’t like him. His spate of racist jokes at dinner disgusted me to the point where I stopped having meals with my parents. I couldn’t find a way into him. His prescriptive relationship with me was tense and distant. Was that on purpose?
He didn’t intimidate my mother. She was verbally dominant, if diminutive. He got back at her in the time-honored way, passive-aggressively. He had numerous and frequent affairs with neighbors, even with her friends. He died in the canyons of Los Angeles in the middle of the day, while riding in his company car with my mother’s closest friend. Just boom. Dead.
My parents had been married for over 30 years. The night after he died, my mother and I were alone at the house. Sitting in the bathtub, she looked up, dry-eyed and asked, “Do you think I’ll marry again?” I wondered if she felt as I did. When I was younger and often at odds with my father, I would ask my mother why she stayed with him. Her answer was not, “Because I love him.” It was, “He’s a good provider.” It made me sad for her.
I never had an in-depth conversation with either of them. It would have made them uncomfortable and maybe, me, too. My father and I had a such a limited, two-dimensional relationship so that when he died, all I felt was the death of possibility. Now we would never come to know one another.
During World War II, he was hired by Douglas Aircraft as a technician. He learned on the job, promotable because men were in short supply, and worked his way up from carrying a black metal lunch pail to wearing a suit and tie. My mother pressured him to move up the corporate ladder, but when he was offered a coveted position as a Vice President, he declined. He wasn’t an idea guy; he was strictly hands-on, the man the company president would call when the plumbing was leaking or the pool motor broke down. I suspect he felt best about himself when he could “do” something, like install a garbage disposal or sneak off with a neighbor.
Pam Munter has authored several books including When Teens Were Keen: Freddie Stewart and The Teen Agers of Monogram and Almost Famous. She’s a retired clinical psychologist, former performer and film historian. Recently, her essays, book reviews and short stories have recently appeared in more than 130 publications. She is the nonfiction book reviewer for Fourth and Sycamore. Her play, “Life Without” was nominated for Outstanding Original Writing by the Desert Theatre League and she has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Pam has an MFA in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts, her sixth college degree. Her memoir, As Alone As I Want To Be, was published in 2018 by Adelaide Books. Her work can be found at www.pammunter.com.