A Tale of Two Fathers
This is the story of two men who grew up in conflict with their abusive fathers.
My father died 32 years ago, but he still haunts me. In a dream I had the other night I was in prison and my father came to visit me. When I was growing up, he always said I would become a criminal if my attitude didn't change. He made it his calling in life to try to change me into his version of who I should be by whatever means he deemed necessary.
I didn't change my attitude, especially not about him. In fact, it was the main thing that got me through childhood in one piece. And I have never spent a minute behind bars. When the old man died, I didn't attend his funeral. I would have felt like a hypocrite since I had avoided him for years. I just wanted to forget him and get on with my life.
I met Kimo when I first moved to a Big Island rainforest. He was a friend of my only neighbor and at first I liked him. He was 10 years younger than me and he seemed like a fairly interesting fellow -- sarcastic, mischievous and rather handsome.
I was going to say intelligent as well, but that's not really true. Kimo merely possessed a high IQ, which is not the same thing. He had a master's degree in mathematics that he never used to make a living. He worked at menial jobs far below his potential and educational level.
Occasionally, Kimo talked about his family. When he was a kid, he couldn't understand why his father treated him like a huge disappointment. Nothing he ever did was good enough for his father. The old man was driven by ambition and prone to violence against family members behind closed doors. He once threw Kimo down a flight of stairs for making a simple mistake.
As I listened to Kimo, I realized with a shudder that he was describing my own father to an uncanny degree. When I was 9, my father kicked me down a flight of stairs after I joined some kids in a harmless neighborhood prank. I was so frightened I pissed my pants and he called me a sissy.
My father terrorized me verbally when I was a kid and there was always the very real prospect of violence behind his words. But I never accepted his low opinion of me. I knew I wasn't a bad person and I defied him as often as I thought I could get away with it.
As I got to know Kimo over the years, I concluded that he had accepted his father's negative view of him and that made all the difference in how our lives turned out.
Kimo was married for a few years and had two children, but he abandoned his family and never supported his kids financially. I loved my two children and I succeeded in being a much better father than I ever had, thereby ending a chain of unhappiness in my family.
Eventually, Kimo became an alcoholic and drug addict. The last time I saw him in person he was smoking meth and swilling straight vodka. He had invited me to the jungle shack he inhabited like a solitary tree rat because he wanted me to read a sci-fi story he wrote. It wasn't literature, but rather the ravings of an unhinged mind.
The last I heard Kimo was dying of cirrhosis of the liver in his early 50s. Maybe he's already dead. I don't know because I've lost track of him. To be frank, I gave up on Kimo a long time ago. He wasn't much of a friend in all the years we knew each other. He was too busy destroying himself to be anyone's friend and I got sick of watching him do it.
Kimo wasn't the only black sheep in his family. He hung out with his first-cousin Sonny, also an alcoholic and drug addict who died fairly young. Kimo's sister was busted for dealing drugs.
Surprisingly, the older generation in Kimo's family was highly respected and influential in Hawaii. His uncle was a federal judge. His mother was a soft-spoken and stunningly-beautiful woman who won two elections as lieutenant governor. The first time I met her when I was a newspaper reporter, I practically fell in love with her.
Later I wondered if she had been a good mother to Kimo -- or just another victim in a dysfunctional family led by a tyranical husband. I would rather blame the father for the tragedy of Kimo's life because the same thing could have happened to me.
At some point while growing up, a child chooses a sense of identity which can be either positive or negative. I made the right choice in defying my father. Kimo made the wrong choice.
"The earth was made round so we can't see too far down the road and know what is coming." -- Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa