My daddy was a fairly diminutive man — he was only 5’6″ tall, but he had a strong upper body with rounded biceps conspicuous beneath the short sleeves of his dark green pocket t-shirts. The sight of his legs, however, made me very uncomfortable; they were stick-like and bluish-white with lots of glossy scars and no apparent muscles. The scars on his legs were from surgeries done to repair the crushed bones resulting from various accidents that had occurred during his years as a truck mechanic and a laborer.
When Daddy sat down, he didn’t cross his legs the way many guys do (one ankle over the opposite knee), but like many women do: one knee over the other. His pant leg would ride up, exposing his dangling, skinny shin; a narrow twig of bone sticking up out of the neck of his collapsed sock. A crescent of steel gleamed through the shaggy leather toe of his brown work shoe.
Daddy’s death certificate says that he died as a result of coronary failure: he suffered a heart attack due to alcohol withdrawal. His body had been deprived of alcohol for forty-eight hours. He was nearly seventy-nine years old when he died; hospitalized two days earlier with pneumonia. In his wallet there were three playing cards, a picture of Jesus Christ and a folded half sheet of paper on which he had written, “Dont Ever give Up Who you are for Enybody,” in blue ink with his first name signed at the bottom of the scrap.
When I was ten, I sat beside my daddy at his boss’s house on Sunday mornings. We would drive up the steep driveway lined with shrubs cut low and park behind the house. Daddy knocked on the glass window in the backdoor. The porch floor was brick and next to it was a blue and white tile swimming pool. I don’t know why we were there really, except that it was in hope of getting some money; wages due or possibly an advance. I never knew.
These visits took hours. His boss, a tall, stocky guy, would passively watch my daddy fidget in his chair. Daddy’s affect was eager as he attempted to ignite conversation in that cool, white kitchen. His boss, overly calm and seemingly slightly amused, would eventually bring out a bottle of whiskey and they would each drink several shots, the boss controlling the flow. Daddy’s acute blue eyes quickly shifted from the bottle on the table to his boss’s eyes when the glasses had been empty for more than a few minutes. I sat perched on the very rim of my seat, concentrating awkwardly to avoid noticing the sickly, skin covered bone of Daddy’s leg at the peripheral edge of my stare while Daddy made nervous small talk. I silently willed the other man to take out his wallet and give my daddy some money.
Finally, the anticipated transaction would occur with no explanatory dialogue and Daddy would stand up, his exposed shin no longer visible and we could go home.
Even as adults, we are unable see our parents clearly because of the lingering distortions created by our childhood views of them. I am unable to separate who Daddy actually was as a person from the role he played in my earliest memories. I avoid examining his addiction to alcohol in the same way I responded to seeing his legs when I was little — by relegating it to the periphery of my awareness. I have not fabricated a filter to tint my perspective; I just don’t allow myself a critical vantage point.
I don’t know why Daddy carried that piece of paper in his wallet or who the message was intended for, but for the last nineteen years the audacious little note has been sitting on my desk in a wide gold frame. I like to imagine that he was thinking of me when he wrote it. I want to believe that he felt concern for me and was vested in the course of my life.
But I know that the imperative was not written to me. I also know that he didn’t write it to himself. Daddy penned that advice to encourage someone else to do what he thought he had successfully done. He believed that he was in control of his hustling existence, cocky-confident that he had never given up who he was for anybody. My daddy was cynical and manic, but also quixotic and artistic and he hung on stridently to who he thought he was.
He never gave that up for Enybody.