I have what I believe is called a conundrum on my hands today. I had a very specific thing I was going to write about today and yet, as I sit down to write about it it seems callous to write about such a thing on a day set aside to honor the fallen. I will not say I found a way to squash the two together, for I have not, I will instead be honest and say that the honored dead will be honored in my mind and heart every day of the year, today’s event occurs but a singular time a year. It isn’t a fair thing, what I am doing, but I felt the need to express it in some way before I plunge into the myriad of shit that will be what I write about today.
So, today is my dad’s birthday.
I will go ahead and tell you he was born in ’45 in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, a few miles outside of Arnold, California. Family lore says he was born nearly nine months to the day after my grandfather returned from serving in Iran during the Second World War. After the war, and possibly before as I do not know exactly, my grandfather was the ranger for the park and was for at least a decade or so after my father was born. They moved down to Los Angeles sometime in the mid-’50s and, well, that is all the autobiographical shit I am going to include because fuck him is why.
I am not writing about James Nealon the person today, I am drilling a little deeper and talking about James Nealon, the father.
He wasn’t good at it.
That may sound childish in its form, but why not use Occam’s Razor? He was a shitty dad not because of the booze, sadistic wife, PTSD, and his parental issues, but because some people should simply not have children, and he was one of those people. It doesn’t say a lot of good about the potentiality for future generations I know, but if I could have put it another way, you know I would have.
See, dad was in the Army, a Beret in ‘Nam and the whole hero thing. Never once have I spoken ill of his service and I will not now. I cannot fathom the choices and obstacles he had to face on a daily basis and if there are people who are equipped to do it, it is not his pacifist, hippie, crystal loving, oldest son. The Army changed him, as it did so many thousands of people before and since, and it was not for the better. He became, at least according to the stories I would hear from my grandad and grandmother, a harder and different person. I will not speak on the horrors of a thing I have never experienced, I will speak on the horrors I did.
He was terrified a great deal of the time, loud sounds, helicopters, gunfire. Mind you, we lived in the barrio outside of Los Angeles, to say that these were common noises in the area is putting so lightly as to be invisible. When he got scared, he got mad, when he got mad, well, I’ll let you go ahead and draw the rest of that logic branch.
My mother was the downfall of him I think, they were married in ’76, my sister came along in ’78, me in ’80, Andy in ’83. My mother was an evil thing, anger and violence were here bailiwicks and she was so very, very good at them. She would be in the same room as him and you could see him change into her in this terrifying process that involved immense amounts of Jack Daniels and irrational anger at the smallest thing.
There is no point. I know a few of you are looking for it. There isn’t one. Every year I have to say something about him, today it just happens to fall on Memorial Day.
I can tell you that he beat us and abandoned us and knew the darkness that was my mother and did nothing. I can tell you he taught us all how to lie and had this chaotic desire to move every so often that got pretty annoying by the time we go to New York when I was 10.
He died in ’98, on the bed he shared with my mother, weighing less than my Elder Duck does now. He asked me, and I gave, the Last Rites to him the night before. I knew he wasn’t seeing me when he asked, he was talking to someone long dead in a river thousands of miles away from where the apartment in Hamlin, NY was. It was the last thing I did for him. Of all his sins and evils and faults, I sat with him in the middle of the night on a Friday morning and I forgave him the things I could, and I buried the rest so deep I had to get married and have children of my own before I realized how wrong some of his transgressions were.
Again, there is no point in it, all is senselessness and chaos.