Sunday, February 27, 2011


The Beginning - 1942 - the First Born with Pop and Mom

As regular readers of this blog may or may not know, I never had a good relationship with my father.  That may sound harsh but it is the truth.  

My Pop at 18 years old - a Hank Williams wannabe

My father died August 22, 2000.  He was 80 years old.  He died of lung cancer.  His doctor warned him many times to stop smoking but he was a stubborn man.  He died in a hospital bed, hooked up to an oxygen machine, gasping for breath.  

The body language says it all in this picture of me and my two brothers with Pop

My youngest brother John is on the far left and obviously the light of my father's eye.
My poor second brother is literally 'in the middle' and overlooked.  I'm on the far right with my hand on my father's shoulder but he is obvious to my reaching out to him.  Pictures say so much.

Even though we all knew he was dying, when I got the phone call from my sister-in-law Barbara telling me he died overnight,  it was still a shock to my system because he had been so much a part of my life.  But I can honestly say I felt no sadness.  I didn't feel happiness either.  Maybe a sense of relief because no matter what I did I could never please this man.  All my life I sought approval, he never showed it to me.

Father and son 1-976 - again check out the body language
by this time his dog 'Pepper' was the light of his life

I was his first born son.  I have two brothers.  My second brother didn't fare too well either, even though he was my father's namesake.  However, my third brother, and youngest, was my father's favorite.  Growing up I resented that my youngest brother was his favorite.  I hated my brother.  Ironically now my brother and I are best friends.  It's funny how things turn out in life.

Me, Mom and Pop 1982 - again check out the body language

I'm leaning in towards him but my Mom touches my leg lest I get too close to him 

Occasionally I think about my father.  I think about how much my life perhaps would have been different if he had shown me some love.   But then maybe nothing would be different.  I do a lot of thinking about my past at this time of my life, I often wonder how my life would have turned out if I had a 'normal' childhood.  But then who does have a 'normal' childhood?

My Pop at 18 years old - yes, I do look like him

My father used to enjoy humiliating me.  I grew up thinking I had the biggest nose in the world.  He would call me "beak" as in a bird's beak.  Of course this did nothing for my self-esteem which was very fragile because not only did I know I was 'different' from the time I was four years old (a 'sissy') but I had the usual teenager anxieties about not being accepted by my friends. I remember how terribly embarrassed because my father was a hillbilly.  For real, he really was a 'hillbilly.'  His parents brought him and eight of his brothers form the hills of western North Carolina (some God forsaken place called "Pigeon Roost") to the Unionville area of south eastern Pennsylvania in the late 1920's.  Two more brothers were born in Pennsylvania thus making eleven hillbilly sons of the brood of Fieldon and Hester Tipton, my paternal grandparents.  Of course now I am proud of my "hillbilly" heritage, recognizing it as true Americana but when I was growing up?  I was mortified.  

The "new car" - a GMC pickup truck

Of the many time he used to belittle and humiliate me one episode is especially etched into my mind.  I was 12 years old and my Mom told me the news that "Pop" was getting a new car!  I was so excited.  Finally, our family would be like my friend's families and have a cool family car.  So what did he get?  A GMC pickup truck!  I was again mortified.  A pickup truck!  I asked "Where would me and my brothers sit when we went on one of our Sunday Rides?"  "Pop", with an self-satisfied smile on his face said "In the back where you belong!"

Me not wanting my brother to take my picture of me in the back of the pickup truck.  Pop made sure to drive through Downingtown so my friends could see me in the back of the truck.  He got a big kick out of this.

The day of the Sunday Ride came up.  Pop was going to take a trip down to Maryland and the Conowingo Dam.  The whole family was going.  I refused to go because I was too embarrassed to be seen riding in the back of a pickup truck!  I didn't have choice.  He told me I would have to go and sit in the back of the pickup truck.  So here are the pictures of me, 12 years old, full of insecurities, still in my "sissy" stage, trying to make like of my humiliation.  

Me trying to make light of my humiliation.  Sorry about the sissyness.  I hadn't outgrown it at this point in my life.

This was just one of many incidences of my father's cruel humor. I wasn't the only recipient of his cruelty, but I got most of it.  I think he was trying to 'break me.'  He didn't succeed.  

I guess some would rebel under such treatment or become defeated.  My reaction was to 'get through it'.  I didn't see where I had any other choice.  I did know that as soon as I could I wanted to get away from home.  That is one of the reasons I joined the Army right of high school.

Me and my friend Jim Harris on the rifle range at Ft. Meade, Maryland 1962

After my father died, my Mother cleaned out all his personal items including pictures in his wallet.  Much to my surprise she found this picture in his wallet.  I had forgotten about this picture.  I didn't have a print of it.  He had the only print.  I don't know how he got it but there it was.  He carried it in his wallet all those years. 

 My Mother then told me that he didn't expect me to even make it through basic training.  He had that little confidence in me that he thought I would fail.  I was shocked when I heard this revelation.  Not make it through basic training?  I never had a doubt.  Did I have problems in basic?  Yes, I had some big problems but never for a moment did I even entertain the idea of dropping out, never.  I remember one especially rough patch.  I was so determined to not fail that I thought to myself "I'm going to do this even if I die in the attempt (which I almost did)" but never, NEVER did I consider failure.

So who knows, perhaps beneath all that cruelty he really did have some love for his oldest son.  I wish I knew that when he was alive.  Maybe things would have been different.  

I know one thing, he used to love my homemade German Chocolate Cake which I made from scratch.  When I bought that cake over to him I saw one of his rare smiles towards me.  I haven't made that cake since he died.  I was thinking about making it again.  

My Pop at his most handsome - a real "Ladies'  Man"

Tall (6'5") blonde, blue eyes, muscular, 'big', and could charm the pants off any woman

My Pop in his 70's - still not a gray hair in his head

Still smoking which would eventually kill him
Stubborn Man

The last time I saw my father was on a Saturday night, two days before he died.  He was in his hospital bed with oxygen tubes going up his nose.  He wanted to get up to use the bathroom (pee in the bottle).  He was to proud to use the catheter.   He wanted me to help him get up.  I did.  He turned around and did his business.  As he was finishing I put my hand on his neck and said softly into his ear "I love you Pop."  He said nothing but paused for a second of two.  I think he understood.  I never told him I loved him before.  Even though we didn't have a traditional father-son relationship he was still my father.  I wanted him to know I appreciated him bringing me into the world and raising me.  Whatever our differences I wanted him to know I forgave him and that I was his son and I loved him.

That was the last time I saw him.  

Pop and me when he liked me - 1942


  1. I had a poor relationship with my father, too. Your's is an interesting story. Thanks for sharing.

  2. anne marie in philly3:44 PM

    I saw the comment you left on jim's blog about me. thank you!

    I was told I was stupid, not worth anything, ugly, lazy, you name it. I finally realized in 1990 that my father was a bully and my mother an enabler. to get rid of a bully, you starve it - you do not react to its taunts.

    I have not seen or spoken to my parents since 1988. they live in paoli, not too far away from downingtown. and I am better off for this decision.

    we are survivors, you and I. smooches!

  3. Anne Marie,
    Thank you so much for your comment. You're right, we are both survivors. I believe in the adage "that which doesn't defeat me only makes me stronger." I thought long and hard about making this post about my father but the truth is what it is. My blog is my therapy. I have to cleanse my pschye every now and then. There will be future posts about my father. I try to intersperse my posts with postive posts but sometimes these down posts demand to be posted. That's what happened today.

  4. Don,

    You should write a post about your relationship with your father. It would be therapeutic for you and interesting for your followers to read.

  5. Ron, that was beautifully done. Good Job! My father never teased me like that so I guess I'm lucky. We don't hug or anything close to that but we still are very fond of each other. However, he hugs the heck out of my kids. That makes me happy.
    Your Friend, m.

  6. Thank you Mark. You're lucky you get hugs from your dad. I never got one in my life. Never. The first time anyone ever hugged me was when I was a teenager and it was a teacher. It was such a strange feeling. I must have looked like that little baby Rhesus monkey who was raised without his mother's hugs. Maybe this is why today I have little sympathy for kids' demands. I got through my childhood without all the attention that kids demand today. I suppose I should feel for them but I have none. It was the way I was raised. Cold.

  7. It is so sad think of a little boy, then a teenager being treated like that. Being raised under such terrible conditions probably made you a stronger person; maybe a small consolation? Did your close relationship with your mother in any way balance things out?

    Your father probably was raised in the same harsh, non-demonstrative way; in his view, maybe that's the way fathers were supposed to behave.

  8. that was sad
    I always feel sad when I hear about failed fathers, for I have a good rapport with mine; I am sorry others did not have such.

  9. Ron,

    Actually Mark said he didn't get hugs from his dad. he said his own children did.

    It was much the same here. My dad did lavish attention and hugs on his grandchildren. But then, my dad had a life changing experience when he was almost killed by a tire rim back in the eighties. Sometimes people have to learn they are not immortal to soften towards others.

    Lo had it worse. Her dad called her stupid, crazy, clumsy and fat. Her mother was more interested in appearances and her career to give her much love.

    Neither her family or mine was much into hugs. I guess that is why I'm not a hugger myself. But Lo and I certainly tried to raise our children differently than we were raised. I think the results of it show. My kids are very decent people and well regarded by others. I guess I at least did one thing right in my life.

    I wrote a post in reaction to this one by you. Your father used to scare me when he was around.


  10. Thank you for your comment Spo. I cannot imagine my life with a father who was close to me. I've wondered 'would I be gay' if I had a close relationship with my father? I had a very close relationship with my Mother. Yes, I fit the gay stereotype. I will write more about my relationship with my father. I find it very therapeutic to write about it. I still have unresolved issues even though he's been dead these past eleven years.

  11. Thanks for sharing your story.

  12. My father was of that strict disciplinarian school of parenting, but I could always tell that his heart simply was not in it -- not that it mattered, because that was the only 'school' he knew. He was always casting around for something we could do together, since -- Surprise! -- I was not into sports, as he had been growing up. One summer he bought season tickets for us for the summer stock series of Broadway shows in Atlanta. I met Ethel Merman. My father died at 48, when I was 22 and in the Air Force stationed on Crete in the Mediterranean. I never had to confront coming out to him, since that occurred eight years later. I really have no concept of how that might have unfolded. Fathers and sons! Unfathomable.

  13. D. Dave,

    Thank you for sharing memories of your relationship with your dad. The relationships of fathers to sons and vice versa have life long consequences. I've often wondered how I would have turned out if just once my father would have done something for me like buy ticked for BOTH of us to go to a show. Never happened. He used to love fishing. He never asked me to go with him. That hurt.

  14. German chocolate cake, yum!

    Ron, men often have a hard time showing love, affection, or any emotion for that matter. My father was much the same, without the cruel element yours had. I think the fact that he carried that picture around all that time tells you that he cared about you and was proud.

  15. You're right Kyle. I was very surprised that my father had carried a picture of me in his wallet all those years. My Mother told me he was proud of me. She said he never expected me to finish my three years in the Army which surprised and disappointed me very much.


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