I've encountered some lost years, before and after his passing, where the memories are faded and fleeting, like an old book where the edges have faded, leaving sentence fragments and bits of paragraphs.
I've encountered some low years, where I was ashamed of who I was, and who I was becoming, drifting without purpose, and internally injured without knowing how to tell anyone.
I was fucked up...pretty much beyond measure...and didn't really realize it. But, that is youth, albeit youth amidst adversarial circumstances.
I've encountered years of digging, out of the holes I created for myself, wondering if I would ever see daylight again...longing for the searing heat of the Oklahoma summer burning on my face as it did when my father was watching me mow the lawn for the first time.
I've come through years of dodging, trying every way I could to avoid the 'normal' path to success. Trying to find ways to magically be successful, or to find an alternate route that was shorter than reality.
I've also awakened each day, with something deep inside of me that drives me like a nuclear reactor, pushing me, sometimes in the wrong direction...understandably without a compass, who would blame a ship for going in circles.
I've also known triumph of persistence, hard work, and patience that seemed as if it would crack my very skull with the anticipation of seeing a normal life.
I've walked across a stage that I fought after for so long, and that without the help of others, I would never have seen. I looked for you that day, and you weren't there.
I found a woman, a most beautiful creature, that has torn me apart and seen me through being put back together. A woman smarter than I, more driven than I, and more powerful than I am, in many ways.
I had some kids with that woman, and she...and they, are the most wonderful creatures, the most beautiful beings I've ever set eyes upon.
So, 27 years later...here's something that I have to say, read it if you like...but, surely, this for me...
My father can be summed up in a few words, which in no way, does justice to who he was on this earth...but, it's a start. Mackey West was a man of values and principles. His work ethic was called into question by my fore-fathers and mothers...which, quite honestly, I've not really heard much from in the way of positively describing people.
Yet, I remember my father putting himself to task, and sticking with his jobs...sometimes over a period of months, mind you, until they were completed. Something I've always struggled to achieve.
He was a man of few words, but gave cogent thoughts, and relevant commentary within the many conversations I remember. He was friends with people of other religions, political parties, and ideologies...and had a way of managing that aspect in difficult conversations. At times, he would grow frustrated, but in conversation with his friends, that was infrequent.
Anger and frustration, toward his sons, were a different matter. My father never raised his hand to me without cause, and I've never thought back on him with any thoughts of physical anger issues. His words, though, were different. He was a part of a generation that did not herald success, but internalized it, and moved forward focusing on improvement, or gaps in performance and character.
He taught school, and was an administrator for over 30 years...around a quarter of a century at the same school, being a principal of the elementary school, middle school, and serving as the government programs administrator. I really have no idea what the administrations he served, thought of his work...except in the past 27 years, I've really heard no particular sign of appreciation for his commitment or service...save that from the students, and parents of those he taught. He wasn't a man that enjoyed recognition very much, so it seems appropriate that he quietly did his job, and internalized his successes.
To you Dad, here's what I have to say:
1. There was a ne'er do well dropout that came by school one day...wearing his army greens, and some of the kids jeered at him, making fun of his Army gear....calling him G.I. Joe. At the time, I had a brother in the service, and truth at the time was that guys without jobs, and futures, joined the Army...this was true of my brother. Before an incident could unfold in a difficult manner, I saw you standing on the steps of the school, hands on your hips, your "business" stance. You must have seen from your office...I still see it clearly in my mind, enough to put the trees in their spots, the flagpole, and cracks in the sidewalk.
Before he started yelling, you called to the G.I., by name. You approached him, and held his head in your hands and spoke to him forehead to forehead. There were probably a hundred of us, or so, on the grounds watching...and we heard every gnat, bee, and leaf rustle in the silence...you commanded that sort of respect.
I don't know what you said, but, then again I do...because somehow you put it into me as well...
He hugged you, and then walked away, disturbed and glaring, but with a restored sense of self control.
I learned that there are few situations in life, where the right words, the right love, even for the un-lovable, can't remedy a situation properly. I learned that you kept a high valuation of character within people, even when they hadn't earned it...and you had learned how to open that up and tap into it...making people believe themselves capable and willing to try once more.
2. You told me one time that I was being considered for an all-star basketball team....but that my play of late had been inconsistent.
What I realized later, was that I "had" been considered, and had been evaluated and came up short. You didn't pick me up from that...you didn't encourage me through that disappointment, or point me on toward a better hope into the future. Which is probably something I would do today... and perhaps, that was a fault of yours, but I know by the disappointment in your voice, and your anger with me...that you thought me more capable than most of the others, and that you expected that performance out of me.
I learned to own my own performance. I learned that people are always watching, whether you know it or not. I learned that to those that are given much, much is to be expected...from myself, first. That I was the only one in charge of my destiny.
3. An African American family moved into the small town, where you taught. You pulled me out of class, and asked me to introduce the teenager, in my class. You did this knowing that there would only be 2 African Americans in the entire school, and that it had been almost decades since that had occurred.
You didn't know how to do that. You didn't know what to do...it was the most vague instruction you ever gave me, and I could tell that you were nervous. One of the two or three times, which I can remember seeing you nervous.
You did that because you knew I would know what to do...you trusted me. You had taught me at home about Civil Rights, and how slow the country was to awaken to a proper understanding of how people ought to be treated. You had faith in me that I could figure out how to do the job, and I think...or hope that I did.
4. You remembered every student, and their parents, and where they came from...what they did, what their circumstances were, and you ingrained in me that I was to look at every person as a member of the family and economic situation from which they came. You understood that some kids were smarter than others, which is to say that some people are very smart, and others might not be very smart. You gave that to me...of all the things I see...I see that. As my wife says now..."people cannot do, what they cannot do"...and to expect things beyond a person, is simply not a good model. Each person should be gauged as an individual with extremely high value, regardless of their IQ. As one of your friends said one time, "It may not take much of an IQ to lift a bail of hay, or haul the cotton to the gin...but, there are many more of the smartest people I've met pushing plows and herding cows...Scotty, you remember that, farmers make the world go round, and they may not be college smart, but they are some of the smartest people you'll ever meet". I'll admit I had to take some time unwinding that one... but, you put me around the right people, dad. They weren't polished, and certainly weren't liked, but I'm not sure you were well liked either...I know you were respected...but, I'm pretty sure you didn't give a rat's ass who liked you and who didn't. I still need to learn that a little...maybe that's a bit of mom inside me that's always worried about what others think...I can own that.
Dad, there are a list of things I hope for...a list that I've wanted to talk to you about, a few things that remain un-closed for me...and that I spend a lot of energy chasing, even decades later...
1. After I saw Saving Private Ryan...a movie you would have loved... I always want to look at someone who knew you, and say "Please, Please tell me I'm a good man...that after I tried to fuck up my life, that I've lived a good life, and done right by people and worked a hard days work, and helped to make people better....that my Daddy would be proud of me." No matter who says it, how many times they say it...I want to hear it from you...that I did ok, that you are proud of me, and that you love your grandkids...
2. I realize that inconsistency was a demon for you as well. It must have been, because it pissed you off so much. Nothing burns a man more than his own wounds...and no wrath burns more into the children of a man than a demon he can't defeat himself. I've grown "ok", with this...well, not "ok", but I've learned that it will be a part of me for a long time to come...and that my persistence will play itself out in becoming a bit more consistent as I grow older.
3. Why did you wear those cut-off baggy ass jeans that made you look like a plumber? You only wore them at home, and in the summer, but for the life of me....that is one of the hardest reconciliations I've worked to match up...the crisp shirts and ties at work, and the "plumber cutoffs" that I remember.
4. Did you ever want to kill us as children? I mean, to start over...with a fresh batch? I look back at my childhood, and after mom passed away, I can't help but think that the four us helped your stress level to a point that it shortened your life. I'd like to say that we all turned out, but that wouldn't be true. Three out of four isn't a bad record...that with all the crap you had to put up with when we were younger. One was lost, and regardless of what you did to help him, he never did find his way... we buried him a few years back, and remembering the arguments and discussions from when it was just us three at home... I can tell you it was bittersweet...because at least I didn't have to worry anymore...I didn't have to try to manufacture any more hope, where hope had been squandered time and time again. There are tragic lives, and unfortunately, one of those tragic lives was one of ours...I'd love to have a cup of coffee and talk about that with you sometime.
5. You were there, you saw it, I traveled most likely, but I made the shot, and we won...we won it all that night...I glanced over and saw you smile...I never needed anyone since that day, to tell me I was good...I could have walked off the court forever that day...because I got even better, I got better than I ever thought I could. I earned the respect of people that played for a living...got invites to play with people that I had to turn down...but, I could have walked off the court that day forever, and I would have missed the joy of playing for myself, and for the sake of the game...because I still look for you when I play.
6...one last thing... Our family history... It's sort of organized on mom's side, thanks to some Aunts and Uncles that keep track of stuff... but, on your side, there's only a couple left... and the medical history that you all left us with makes a doctor's eyes alternatively flash and roll as we discuss the health history from your side of the family. From mental illness, to diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and nearly anything else I can think of... did the West's just work hard as they could to log health problems for future generations? You wouldn't know this, of course, but in the past 27 years, health history is a bitch of an indicator for all sorts of stuff...it would've been nice if you guys had a family walk every now then 40-50 years ago...
I miss you Dad. I think of you every 4th of July, because I know the 6th follows it every year. I'll do my best to get down and polish things up for you, mom, and Mike this year.