Monday, November 17, 2014

Larry Parker: A Plaid, Mad, Doting Dad

Plaid pants and Star Trek boots.
During my early teen years, I was always a little surprised when my friends expressed that they liked my dad which they often did. Of course, I realized my gruff dad was really a nice guy but I figured that, during their brief visits, my friends were only experiencing one aspect of his personality and I didn't see how they could possibly get past that one part.

It was the voice.

The scary, barking, Army voice my dad used for disciplining ("Andrea LYNN!") made my heart feel like a draining pool of quicksand. Sometimes he used that booming voice or a slight variation thereof for minor infractions ("Don't hang on that!") and, once in a while, for completely innocuous situations ("Andrea LYNN! You want a root beer barrel?")

So I assumed all of my friends would be terrified of him.

I especially remember my friend, Katy, surprised me by saying something about my dad being so nice.

"My dad?"

"Yeah," she said, "he's like a big, cuddly teddy bear."

Even though my dad was known for being opinionated, outspoken, hot-tempered and, to the embarrassment of his three kids, for disciplining other people's children, Katy had picked up on something very true. Daddy always did have a tender side that revealed itself in many ways.

For one thing, Dad had a soft spot for animals, even though I think he tried to fight it. My mom has often told us how devastated Dad felt when he had to have their first dog, Puggy, put to sleep. He vowed to never have another pet. That vow didn't pan out with my animal-loving mom around. Turned out Dad was a pet magnet. Out of the five humans living in our home, each cat or dog in our series of pets always chose Dad as their favorite, despite his blustery protestations.

My older brother, Puggy

As tough as he was, Dad frequently melted in response to us kids. I said frequently, not always. One particular time was when I was in 6th or 7th grade. My sister and I called him at the high school where he taught, sobbing and screaming into the phone because we had discovered our new dog gnawing on our little turtle, Clyde, like he was an ice cube from a freshly polished-off glass of soda. (Oh, wouldn't you love to have been the school secretary for THAT phone call?) Dad came home from work early that day to comfort us and to bury Clyde in the backyard.

I was always deeply appreciative of the times he decided that we didn't need a spanking (his go-to behavior modification tactic) because our own stupid actions were punishment the time in fifth grade when I was swinging Tarzan-style on a flimsy willow branch out over the creek that was covered in a thin sheet of ice. Of course, the branch broke, depositing me on the ice which also broke, leaving me seated up to my hips in icy, cold water. I can just imagine all the people in our trailer court, watching out their windows as I waddled home in the freezing air like I had peed my pants. On second thought, this isn't that great of an example. I think I felt so stupid, I just assumed I was going to be in trouble. However, I do remember Dad saying, "Well, I think you've been punished enough," on this occasion and several other occasions that were actually deserving of some disciplinary action.

I've often repeated the story of when I was fourteen and Tommy Bradford caused a bit of a scandal on the TV show we were watching, Eight is Enough, by befriending a teenage girl who had become pregnant out of wedlock. Just when I was thinking, "This is painfully corny," Dad decided to make the most of a teachable moment. He said that if I ever found myself in that predicament, he might be a little disappointed but that he would do everything he could to help me. I didn't at all understand the magnitude of this promise. So I said that was disgusting and it was never going to happen to me because I wasn't so sure I was going to do that even if I ever got married. He got all mad and used a milder version of the voice to insist that it wasn't gross when you are in love.

I never tested the sincerity of his promise on that particular situation but I did provide him with many other opportunities to prove that he wasn't joking when he said that he would do everything he could for me. I did all sorts of dumb things, like spent too much money or locked my keys in the car or found myself without a place to live. Every single time, Dad came to my rescue. I know I wouldn't have completed my college education after my divorce without his support. He picked up my kids from school while I worked late in my classroom, had dinner ready when I got home, and watched the kids when I went to class at night.

As I said before, though, there was a darker side to Larry Parker. In the fiery furnace that was my father's temper, you could forge a suit of armor.

And maybe I sort of did.

During my teen years, when I decided, much to my dad's fury, that homework was a waste of precious, precious time that could otherwise be spent having fun, I developed a highly effective form of self-hypnotization: you simply hang your head in apparent remorse, so your long, stringy hair obscures both your face and your vision, and you repeat to yourself, "None of this will matter in ten years." Like I said, it was highly effective. It got me through rants and tirades that mapped out my guaranteed future of living in an abandoned, rat-infested bus with no heating. Disclaimer: This method doesn't work as well when your dad is lunging for your throat.

Apparently, some displays of temper I have blocked out entirely. An example of this begins on a beautiful early April evening in Indiana, just as the snows from the blizzard of 1977 had begun to thaw. In our gravel driveway, hitched to the back of our car, was a U-Haul trailer loaded with everything we were bringing with us for our new lives in Arizona. The very next day would be Dad's last at his job, then we would be hitting the road the following morning - if all went as planned. However, more "foul weather" was brewing. My younger brother and I, enjoying a rare moment of camaraderie, were throwing a combination of snowballs and mud clods at each other and using the car and trailer as shields. We were having a great time together until we heard a strange crackling, popping sound. We investigated and discovered that the car's rear window had been hit. We watched in horror as the tiny cracks in the center of the window multiplied and crawled in all directions until the entire glass was shattered in a misshapen honeycomb design. One of our snowball/mud clod combos must've contained a rock. We were too terrified to go in the house. So we knocked on the front door of our own home and waited for someone to answer. That's all I remember. I have absolutely no memory of crossing that threshold. My mother claims that all hell broke loose, that Dad chased Tim and me around the living room, and that she had to intervene to save the lives of her two older children. However, my mom tends to exaggerate for comic effect so I can't know for sure. The one other thing I do remember is that for the next thirty-six years, my brother swore up and down that I was the guilty party who launched the loaded snowball.

The happy although creepy-looking family a mere few days before Dad 
had to be restrained from causing bodily harm to his two oldest children.

Daddy could be hard to understand sometimes but he made one thing undeniably clear with his actions - he loved his family more than anything in the world and he would do just about anything for us.  Mom said when we were very little, if one of us was sick, he was the one who stayed up worrying. He enjoyed snuggling up on the couch and watching The Wonderful World of Disney with us. I remember him sitting with me while we colored adjacent pictures in my coloring book.  He enjoyed telling us stories of the time he spent on his Grandpa and Grandpa Lucas' farm with his aunts and uncles as much as we loved hearing them. In more recent years, if one of my siblings or I mentioned that we wanted to try something we had seen advertised on TV, he would show up at our front door with it a few days later. (It was very hard not to take advantage of that.) He spent time in my classroom pretty much every week for 16 years, copying papers, stapling packets and sharpening pencils to help me get home earlier. He kept dog and cat treats in his car to bestow upon our pets every time he visited. He loved seeing his grandkids and made the rounds every Sunday, to my sister's house, then to my house, and then to my brother's house, to deliver donuts. He loved bringing us sugar.

I suppose I have some deep, dark issues as a result of my dad's harsh, domineering side, issues that could afford to be explored with the help of a therapist but, because of his always-present tender side, I also grew up always knowing that I was deeply loved by him. I wouldn't have traded Larry Parker for any other dad, not even for Atticus Finch.

Yesterday, November 16, 2014, was the one year anniversary of Dad's passing. So we all gathered at a donut shop - his kids, grandkids, daughter-in-law and a photobombing donut shop employee - to remember him.  We miss you, Dad! 

Today, November 17, 2014, is the one year anniversary of the day my brother, Tim, finally admitted to me that he MIGHT have been the one to throw the fateful snowball that nearly ended our young lives.  

1 comment:

  1. I have a comment. I do not exaggerate for comic effect. I just see things bigger, brighter and funnier than a lot of people. There was no exaggeration in the telling of the result associated with the shattered car window on that cold, snowy April day. It was like a small tornado had formed in our living room in that little house in Gaston, Indiana. As you and your little brother ran in a tight circle to avoid the belt your father had twisted in his right hand, as you each ran faster and faster , the three of you became a blurr, your cries getting louder with each strike of your father's belt. I feared your dad had lost his senses. I feared for the lives of my two oldest children, although in my fDing memory, I believe Jo-el was also in that whirling circle. What I thought I was going to accomplish, I do not know, but I had to at least TRY to save you. I leaped on your father's back and hung on for dear life. I believe my weight on his back finally tired him and he gave up in exhaustion. That, my dear, is no exaggeration. That is the truth. These is my words.


Do be nice to everyone.