I know it doesn’t look like it, but this picture represents a milestone.
As anyone who’s read My Last Stand probably picked up on, my relationship with with my father has been difficult and odd over the years. We’ve had good times, to be sure, but I had – and continue to have – lots of unresolved anger there. I’ve been working on it in therapy, in recovery meetings, etc. for the last 10 years.
Some backstory: after my parents divorced, my dad kept the house that they bought in 1983, and that’s where I stayed. My mom was far too deep in her alcoholism to be anything like a mother, and I hated her for it for close to two years. Upon reflection, the house was simply too big for three of us, let alone my dad and I. Whenever families or companies move to a bigger, “better” building or home, it becomes a test. If you didn’t really need to move, problems will always manifest. I worked for an ad agency from 2003-2006. They made a move to a brand new building in 2005, and was never the same. By 2008 they were bankrupt.
So it was with our family.
Outwardly my dad is even-tempered, quiet, and a little funny (if somewhat awkward). He remarried my stepmom in 1993 and they’ve now been married 26 years, 10 years longer than my mom and dad were originally. They go to church every Sunday. He’s calmed down a LOT.
The flip side of his demeanor – the part my stepmom may have not seen – was his temper. The temper that my mom and I both grew up with. Cups and glasses thrown across the room, trash cans thrown downstairs, his bright red face, spit flying from his mouth. Since neither my father nor I had the benefit of outside counseling or therapy during that crucial time, we spent most of those years taking our anger out on each other. At the end of the day though, he was the parent. He was in charge, and the decision-making in his hands – something he frequently reminded me of.
No matter how I frame it, it will always be his word against mine. Even if I go back to my old journal entries, even if I had video or photographic proof that I was in the right and he in the wrong, it always reduces to he-said, he-said. On paper my track record and credibility are spotty – I, like my mother, am an alcoholic. My legal infractions can easily be found by searching online. My “sins” are laid bare for all to see. His, much less so.
But there are a few things that I know for certain. There is no disputing them because there is evidence. And one of those things is this: neither my father (nor my mother, to be fair), in the nearly 29 years I’ve been performing music, have come to see more than two of my shows.
One of those was my first show with the second “real” band I’d been a part of in college, SGO/Iscream. That was in 1995. My mom and her “friend” Debbie (i.e. romantic partner – she never, ever said the world girlfriend even when it was obvious) were there. I’d always thought my dad and stepmom were there, but he recently admitted that he doesn’t recall being there – even seemed proud to admit it as though I was accusing him of something he didn’t do. It’s entirely possible he has never attended a single one of my shows post high school.
Mom, always with an eagle eye for finding fault in anything, commented on the crowd’s divided behavior (moshing vs. hippie dancing), said I looked nervous and asked if I had realized the cord had come out of my bass during the first song. I don’t recall anyone saying “good job” except Debbie. That would be the last time either of them would be at a show of mine for 20+ years.
My parents came to all my little league baseball games when I was a kid. In high school my Dad came to many of my concerts playing trumpet for the band. My father has always used the excuse that my DJ shows are always “past his bedtime.” This, despite the fact that he goes to the Duke University Solemn Service of Tenebrae every year, staying awake until 1 in the morning, and has certainly stayed for overtime at many NC State basketball games that went past 12.
In fact, in 2015 I sat down and compiled a list of all the shows I’ve played as DJ as well as in bands (a few, but most were as DJ FM). My dad has been on my email list since the beginning of my musical career, so he would’ve known about them. What I determined was the following:
- I’d played ~240 shows through 2015…
- An average of 14 gigs per year, including…
- 7 radio gigs (gigs where all my Dad had to do was tune in), and…
- 16 private events (gigs that my father wouldn’t have been able to attend)
My brain will try to rationalize it. “I can understand Dad not wanting to come to my DJ gigs because he knew I’d be drunk/high.” This one could be valid – he made it known from minute one he was not comfortable with my drinking. But he never came to any of my shows post-rehab either. I sometimes wonder if I had been a baseball player for NC State, or a basketball player – would he have come?
One of the many reasons I drank and used was that I never thought my dad was proud of me. In 2009, right before the beginning of my descent towards rock-bottom, I went to a club in Raleigh called Mosquito. It was a frequent hangout of mine and my friends. That night, a fellow DJ (we’ll call him Nate) was opening up the venue. In front of the DJ booth, dancing alone, was a skinny, goofy-looking old man with curly grey hair and a beer bottle in his hand. I walked up, said hello, and I asked him how long he’d been listening to electronic music.
“Oh I’m just here to see Nate play – he’s my son!” (cue goofy dance moves.)
I mentioned that Nate was lucky, that my dad hadn’t been to one of my shows.
“Well that’s too bad young man.” Nate’s dad stopped dancing and looked me right in the eyes. “He doesn’t know what he’s missed…”
But it’s too late now. He has missed nearly three decades of shows, and will never have the opportunity to have seen me growing and changing as an artist. So I was shocked that he and my stepmom came to one of my gigs – playing music in a restaurant for people eating dinner. It was good money while it lasted, though it was low energy and there was no dancing.
So, is it a small sign that maybe things are changing? As my first sponsor wisely told me, “More will be revealed.”