My father died on January 13th, 2007, which would have been my parents’ 56th wedding anniversary.  Even in the midst of her grief, my mother remarked that it was the only gift he’d ever given her in all their years of marriage.  Sounds horrible but that was the nature of their relationship and, frankly, it was an accurate statement.  It was also more of a relationship than he shared with me.  We were never as close as I had hoped as a child, needed as a teen, pondered as man or wished for as a father myself but I didn’t hate him.  I would have had to know him to hate him and he kept us all at a safe enough distance that there was little chance of that.

His name was Nicholas, though his birth certificate said “Nicolai” – a point that was often mocked but never actually addressed.  He was the youngest of thirteen children,  thankfully the product of two different women who had chosen to marry his father.  My grandfather died long before I was thought of and I knew little about him aside from the rumor that he was a man with a temper who had little to do with his children.  And that I supposedly have his eyes.  His youngest offspring was coddled mercilessly by his mother, though, and later showed noticeable artistic talents both in sketching and as a clothier (a skill that served him well when, in the depths of poverty, he literally made my mother’s and siblings’ clothes from fabric obtained from the Salvation Army).  His brothers, in contrast, were all supposedly bitterly competitive and perpetually in-fighting, later exhibiting great psychotic tendencies.  Of the entire clan, I only met his half-sister, married to my Uncle Tony, and “Uncle Frank”, whose claim to family fame was that he lost his first wife.  Literally.  He one day told their pre-teen son, “Your mother ain’t here anymore,” before shipping him off to live with a series of other relatives.  Given that Frank seemed to have an endless supply of fifty-gallon drums in his yard and sailed a lot, we sort of did the math and never brought it up.

There were – and will remain – many things unaddressed about that side of the family.

In any case, Nick joined the navy right out of high school and served in the Pacific during the second world war.  Although his official occupation was “pharmacist’s mate”, his actual duties included the unenviable job of pulling what was left of pilots, sometimes burning, from their shot up planes in the brief window between the time they stopped skidding and the time their fuel tanks went up.  I did not know this as a boy and took his near debilitating fear of flying to be still another sign of his weakness.

After the war, he returned to the states where he married a nice Irish girl – alienating his family – and was accepted into a reputable school for commercial artists.  Unfortunately, both he and the nice Irish girl were Catholic and they soon found themselves in a family way.  School would have to wait.  Then they had another.  And another.  School would have to go.  Luckily, his garment making skills impressed a local tailor with connections into the fashion world and my father was offered an apprenticeship with intimations of bigger things.  It would be unbelievably tight – almost impossible – with three kids but, if they tightened the family belt for a few years, it might be an investment worth making.

Then they got pregnant with my sister.  And my father gave up hoping.  He took a job as a “floor walker” at a department store and that’s where he stayed until the company went out of business two years before he was due to retire.  Thirteen years after conceiving my sister, they had me.  By then, my father was a sullen, withdrawn, passive-aggressive, pedantic, chain-smoking borderline alcoholic with few friends to speak of and no social life.  He walked me to school until about second grade, when I apparently (I have no recollection of this – I was seven) told him he “needed to make friends his own age”.  He never walked me to school again.

That was our relationship for almost two decades.  He and my mother moved out of our rental apartment when I was seventeen, leaving me to fend for myself so they could finally buy their own place in Florida, a small condo in an “adult community”.  They were snowbirds at first, coming back up in the summertime, disrupting my life and moving back in for a few months before abandoning me again. It was during this time that the congestive heart failure which would take over fifteen years to kill him by degrees announced its arrival with a sudden heart attack.  I remember how grey his skin became and how the sweat beaded on his bald crown.  When he was finally released, he seemed bent on passive-aggressive self-destruction. Dying to make my family worry about him, well, dying.

My mother usually answered the phone when I would call but, on occasion, he would happen to get to it first.  On hearing my greeting, he would usually say, “Oh!  Hello, Andrew.  Let me get your mother.”  And that would be that.  Rarer still would be the times he was home alone, in which case he would tell me where my mother was – with implications that whatever task she was on was frivolous and wasteful – and that he’d let her know I called.  She hardly ever got the message.  Over the years, we spoke more, though only about current events or when he wanted to criticize my mother and only when I initiated the contact.  At least it was communication.  I don’t ever recall hearing him tell me he was proud of me or that he loved me.  In fairness, I also can’t say I ever recall telling him, either.

He was a rail-thin man in my youth but, between his endless medications and restricted activity, ballooned outrageously in short order.  The closer he got to the end, the worse the bloating became.  His legs swelled up horribly and he suffered from gout.  Walking anywhere was exceptionally difficult.  Travel soon became impossible.  My mother had to call 9-1-1 so often that he was on first-name basis with the ambulance crews and the ER staff.  The orderlies joked about “having his room ready” and once put up a fake sign, renaming the hospital wing after him.

I brought my first-born child to him since flying had been out of the question for years by the time she arrived.  I am not a “manly man” but I remember – with a little surprise – a particular outburst I had at my siblings.  He was fighting to stand on his own feet just to look at the babe and I asked if he wanted to hold her.  He shook his head almost sheepishly and my siblings – older siblings, I might add – let forth a chorus of “Oh, no! He’ll drop her! He’s not strong enough anymore.”  And, without warning even to myself, I turned on them fiercely and positively bellowed, “He is a goddamned man and he can hold his fucking granddaughter if he wants to!!”

And he did.  And he did not drop her.  And he held her for a full minute, cooing at her before he grew tired and asked me to take her back.  Then he sat down of his own accord.  He lasted another two years or so after that, slowly wasting away.  I remember flying down to take care of him towards the end (my siblings, living only two hours away, refused to do so), helping him use the bathroom, showering.  How frail he was.  How his skin seemed to hang on his bones like wet paper.  How that damnable pacemaker bulged out from beneath that parchment like a Christmas gift from Hell, daring you to see what was inside.

On my last birthday, of all days, I was going through a box of “deal with it later” papers and stumbled across a sympathy card into which I had stuck photos taken of him in his last hours.  He was already a skeleton.  Cadaverous.  One eye was shut, the other lid partially open, cheeks gaunt and sunken.  All I could think was, “My God – he looks like Tutankhamen.”  This is the lasting memory I have of my father.

I often find myself missing him but then chide myself for the sentiment.  I missed him when he was still alive so what’s the difference?  He’s simply gotten the distance he sought while he walked among us.  Hopefully, he’s also gotten the peace he always seemed to be missing.  I can’t say that I ever knew him but I understand him a lot more, now that I’m a father.  He taught me a lot about that job – mostly as an example of what not to do but that’s still valuable.  I have often started down a bad road and thought, “This is what he was feeling.  This is why he broke my heart.”  And then backtracked, corrected my course and made the right decision for my children.

I am much more like him than I am comfortable admitting to myself but, for all my bitching, my kids are my life.  I hug them often, tell them I’m proud of them regularly and that I love them to an embarrassing degree.  I can be a cold, clinical and sometimes vicious man but I try desperately to choke it down around them and to be mindful of how my words and actions could wound a tiny soul.  They will never wonder how I felt about them.  They will never question my pride in them.  They will never be lacking my support or encouragement.

I did not “know my father”, much as I wished to, but there was, somewhat in my life, a man named Nicholas who tried his best to do the right things, who had many faults, shortcomings and insecurities but who, in his odd, detached way, loved me.  And I loved this man back as much as he would allow.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.  We’ll do better next time.

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ANDREW NONADETTI is a writer of fiction and, until recently, a deceptively charming but manipulative and abusive sonofabitch. To his surprise, though, there seems to be a genuinely good man hiding in there as well. And he's a quick study.... Feel free to email him at [email protected] to discuss his novel, life in general, terminal ballistics.... Pretty much anything, really. He's kind of gregarious and a big geek about a range of topics.

39 responses to “Finding Peace”

  1. Dana says:

    Honest, yet still achingly sweet Anon. I have been so blessed in the parental department. And it sounds like your children have hit the jackpot too.
    Happy Father’s Day to you!

  2. Irene Zion says:

    Is that a new bio, or was I so lax as to neglect to read it?

    This is a sad & uplifting story, something very few writers can accomplish, but you manage on a pretty regular basis.

    ( Thanks for finally kicking me out from behind those wretched cubes!)

  3. Mrs. Nonadetti says:

    As Andrew’s wife, it is all true, every bit of it. But Andrew fails to see that he is a good person, always was. From the day we met and the first time I looked into his eyes I could see deep into his soul and see the person he wanted to be. The person he is trying to be now. I have always loved Andrew, faults and all, and I always will.
    Mrs. Nonadetti

    • Irene Zion says:

      Mrs Nonadetti,

      Worry not, we all know that your sweet husband is a prince among men. He works too hard on belittling himself. I have to wonder why, since I don’t believe a word of it.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Oh, and, Mrs. Nonadetti?
      You and the Mr. look remarkably alike.

      • Mrs. Nonadetti says:

        Irene, I used Andrew’s email address this morning as it was the first time I posted to the site, I am now using my personal email.
        Debbie Nonadetti

  4. Lorna says:

    You are one good man, Anon. Your family is lucky to have you. Have a Happy Father’s Day.

  5. Don Mitchell says:

    Now this, A Non,

    “And, without warning even to myself, I turned on them fiercely and positively bellowed, “He is a goddamned man and he can hold his fucking granddaughter if he wants to!!”

    is being a hell of a son, when it counts.

    Never mind all the rest.

    Happy Father’s Day to you.

  6. Malorie says:

    Wow, Anon. Almost made me cry.

    Loved this line:
    “How that damnable pacemaker bulged out from beneath that parchment like a Christmas gift from Hell, daring you to see what was inside.”

  7. Nathaniel Missildine says:

    This is a deeply powerful piece, the kind that I never know exactly how to comment on but are maybe all the more deserving of one. It could also just be the young dad in me responding, but well done.

  8. Jordan Ancel says:

    Your father sounds like he was a very complicated man, and I’m sorry you never got to know him. For all the distance he kept between you, it sounds like he gave you gifts.

    He taught me a lot about that job – mostly as an example of what not to do but that’s still valuable. I have often started down a bad road and thought, “This is what he was feeling. This is why he broke my heart.” And then backtracked, corrected my course and made the right decision for my children.

    That you are a good father, that you have used him as an example of what not to do, has, in part, led you the good life you now have.

    Only knowing you from the bits you write about, and from your wickedly humorous comments on other posts, I can only imagine that you are not only a good person, but an upstanding one. Aside from whatever bad things you may have done in your life, those do not make you who you are at your core.

  9. There is way more beauty in humanity than in stories about houses full of fluffy kittens. Though it may not be traditionally flattering this is very honest and human story. I’m so glad you posted it.

    Happy Fathers Day, Anon.

  10. Andrew Nonadetti says:

    All – thank you for your very kind words. This started off as a very simple piece for me to write but soon became an enormous catalyst for some major life changes. As a matter of fact, it’s led me to a lot of recent discoveries about myself, both disturbing and hopeful.

    @Irene: Love you, dear, but it is a revised and very true bio (barely scratches the surface, actually). You may chose to not believe it but it is entirely true. I have always said what an unethical creature I have been but felt that it might be time to be more explicit. My last post started a conversation which started a fight which started pulling at the threads of multiple revelations about the extent of my cruelties and failings as a person, a father and a husband. Many of them were, sadly, news to even me – willful ignorance on my part, quite often. I’m working through them now (hence my failure to reply to emails and to comment on some awesome posts, yours included) and, as I mentioned above, finally feel hopeful – possibly for the first time – for both my humanity and, selfishly, my own peace of mind. Finally.

    And she really is my wife ;).

    Oh, @Don – happy birthday (sorry – couldn’t resist) :).

    • Irene Zion says:

      You’ll be fine, Anon.
      We can see through it all to your basic goodness.
      No one doesn’t make mistakes, and lots of them.
      No one.
      It is worrisome that you are not commenting.
      Be well, my friend.
      Be well.

      • Andrew Nonadetti says:

        I’m not the one I need to be concerned about right now… or for the foreseeable future. My greatest grief is that I am not the one to pay for my mistakes. My silence – which will probably be the norm for a little while – should be comforting rather than worrisome. It means I’m doing much more important things with my time. Like learning how to be “a part” rather than “apart”. But I have often said that the best family to have is the family you chose and I will still return here often and write when there is both time in my day and room in my head.

  11. Laura Bogart says:

    This whole piece is heartbreakingly beautiful, but the last line in particular truly moved me. Thank you for your candor.

  12. Jude says:

    Anon – what a powerful and honest piece this is. Not only are you a good father, but a superb writer as well.

    Your story struck some chords in me. I too had a relationship which was ‘complicated’ with my father. Always wanting to ‘prove’ myself to him – I think I may have mentioned in another comment somewhere how it was important for him to love me for ‘who I was, not for what I did.’ And I think that’s the crux of it. If we as children, never receive the encouragement, support and even acknowledgment of our existence, and what we mean to our parents, we will always be left with a huge missing part of ourselves.

    The way you are as a father means that your children will never suffer the way you did – they will always be secure within themselves and that is the greatest gift you can give to them.

    Happy Father’s Day.

    • Lorna says:

      “If we as children, never receive the encouragement, support and even acknowledgment of our existence, and what we mean to our parents, we will always be left with a huge missing part of ourselves.”

      This struck such a chord. Would you mind if quoted this on my fb? I will of course give you the credit.

  13. dwoz says:

    Anon…

    Have to say, my dad suffered from the same kind of malaise that yours did. I’m beginning to think it was a mass cultural virus of some sort, the post-war guys that seemed full of pain and inner unrest and a thick spread of Shut Up And Suck It Up.

    There are similarities. The meaningless job that offered not the least shred of personal accomplishment for doing even the slightest thing that matters in the grand sense. The self-inflicted waterboarding with budget scotch. Emotional withdrawal.

    • Gloria says:

      Dwoz – Have you ever read Stiffed by Susan Faludi? I’ve not read it, but I bought it for a friend, who is 50, the youngest of four, and his dad was of the same generation as Andrew’s. It’s a massive tome of theory that goes into all of the social/cultural/political influences that made many dad’s of that generation, my friend’s included, suffer that particular malaise. My friend loved it very much. I heard great things about it on NPR, which is why I bought it as a gift.

      • dwoz says:

        No, I haven’t read it. After checking into it a bit, I think it is pretty spot on for what it covers.

        However, I think the specific thing that I’m referring to, has less to do with post-war opportunity, and more about a very rapid post-armistice shift from Noble Man who saved the world, to ignoble man who is himself a commodity in the supply chain of commodities.

        The post-war thing seemed to have this crushing lack of relevance. Not to mention that high opportunity was still something reserved for the precious few.

        I’ll see if I can’t find a copy of “Stiffed” though..thanks for the tip.

  14. courtney says:

    my father was a pipefitter.

    my father was a drug addict.

    i last saw him at an a.a. meeting. a complete and utter coincidence. i was there to support a friend.

    he stood to tell everyone his name and how much of a failure he was.

    i cried.

    i think i made it right.

    he died shortly after. a crack pipe at his feet. i could still see the contusion on his forehead.

    i think i made it right.

  15. Gloria says:

    Andrew, I’ve been meaning to read one of your posts since I first realized you were The Great Anon, and I’m glad that I started with this one. It’s a love letter, really. It’s beautiful and sad. It’s tender, but angry. But more like an homage to an anger once felt, though not necessarily as much anymore. And it’s a perfect piece for father’s day. Because there are all types of dads in the world, and they raise all types of children in various, complicated ways. Thank you for this post. I love it.

  16. Joe Daly says:

    Someone once pointed out to me, in a rather animated exchange, that we relate to feelings, not experiences. I was reminded of this when reading your piece, which, as others have said, is a breathtaking read.

    My dad and I have always been close. Although we’re on different coasts now, I talk to him everyday. He’s 93 and I try to really soak up as much as I can from our relationship. I related to your piece on a number of levels, which made me realize that at least with parents, no matter what our circumstances are, we can still experience the same feelings of hope, regret, and affection.

    This was my favorite part:

    And, without warning even to myself, I turned on them fiercely and positively bellowed, “He is a goddamned man and he can hold his fucking granddaughter if he wants to!!”

  17. Matt says:

    My own feelings toawrd my father figures are pretty well documented on TNB, so I doubt it’ll come as a surprise that I relate to so much of this, both in experience and–as Joe mentions–feeling.

    Glad to hear you’ve learned the lessons of your father’s experiences, even if putting them into action isn’t always easy.

  18. Richard Cox says:

    Poignant. Heartfelt. Honest. I’ve come to expect nothing less from your posts, man. Great piece.

    I’m sorry your father was so distant and hard to know. Boys inherently want to identify with their fathers, and when that isn’t possible, or fathers act in ways we wish they didn’t, it’s hard to know how to feel.

    I’m also happy to know that your posts here are proving cathartic. I read the comments above regarding your bio. I actually wondered how it might affect you to post that last piece, believe it or not. I know nothing about your personal life but it just gave me this certain feeling.

    I’m glad to get to know you, if only a little, here on TNB. Thanks for writing this.

  19. angela says:

    again with the crying, A Non!

    my dad grew up without his, and i think that had a very strong influence on how he raised my brother and me. he could get grouchy and impatient, but in general he was the “nice one,” the one who loved us unconditionally and without question.

    thank you for being so honest in your writing.

    • Andrew Nonadetti says:

      Sorry for the tears, Angela, and for not yet getting to yours! I’ll try to rectify that ASAP. In fact, never mind “try”. I’m off….

  20. Oh Andrew, this made me terribly, terribly sad. But it does make me happy to think of you with your kids now, doting on them, adoring them, holding them. Happy Father’s Day to you!

    • Andrew Nonadetti says:

      Thank you, Jessica. It made me sad too, for awhile. But it was a letting go – to the benefit of many, I hope.

  21. jmblaine says:

    This had the weight
    sir.
    A terribly difficult
    sort of thing to write.
    You sweat over this one
    I can tell.
    You did good A.
    really good.

    • Andrew Nonadetti says:

      Thank you, jmb. In actual fact, it had the lightness of a scalpel’s slice – and all the rending power of one. The wound weeps as I type but it’s a healing cut and worth the scar.

  22. Tawni says:

    I was holding it together until the last few paragraphs, which made me cry. I had a physically and emotionally distant biological father as well. Because I grew up wishing he cared more about his children, wondering why I was unworthy, I now go out of my way to make sure my own son knows that I love him and am proud of him. Some might call it overcompensation, but I don’t think there is such a thing when it comes to love. Never too much love.

    I am especially impressed by how forgiving you were, and the kindness you showed your father during the limited opportunities you were given. I can’t quite get there myself, but I would like to.

    This is some really fantastic writing, Andrew.

  23. Zara Potts says:

    I can attest to the fact that you are a wonderful father and human being.
    You have a beautiful family and that is worth so, so much.
    We are all so flawed in so many ways, but that is precisely what makes us worth knowing – and you my friend, are definitely worth knowing.

  24. Erika Rae says:

    This was a hard one to read, Anon. So honest. I’m impressed with how you managed to write this with such depth so close to his death. It’s not easy to find that balance – of not being overly judgmental or overly forgiving. Well done, sir.

  25. Andrew Nonadetti says:

    Again, thank you all for your kind words. I’ve been very lax in my commenting – there’s been much to do in my life, for my life, and many stunning (often horrifying) discoveries. And there is much more to do but I had time and room to take a breather so I’m taking advantage.

    @Rich: “Cathartic”. An excellent choice. The past two piece have kicked loose a lot of debris and I think that I was subconsciously letting myself know that it was time to forgive myself for much but, more importantly, ask forgiveness as well. It is hypocritical to ask for that which you are not willing to grant. @Tawni: Never too much love. How right you are. Everyone and every situation is different but sometimes it’s more a matter of letting go of the hurt the wrong caused than of forgiving the person who inflicted it. @Zara: You are wonderful. Thank you so very much for your kind words and for sharing our world with us, brief as it was. @Erika: Thank you as well and I apologize if it was a difficult read for you. Like I wrote about forgiveness above, balance is a funny thing. Sometimes you find it most easily when you just let go and stop looking for it quite so hard.

  26. Simon Smithson says:

    I’m coming to this late – SO much TNB to catch up on since arriving back from the long trip, but this line here, caught me, as I guess it caught many of the readers and commenters:

    “And, without warning even to myself, I turned on them fiercely and positively bellowed, “He is a goddamned man and he can hold his fucking granddaughter if he wants to!!”

    Hard to forget a moment like that – for you and your father both, I would guess.

    These two-way emotional conversations are so easily stymied, year after year. Men. We can be so shut down, so much of the time, and yet, really, we can be so much more emotional than ever suspected.

    But yes.

    Never too much love.

  27. Judy Prince says:

    “And I loved this man back as much as he would allow.”

    Layers and layers of emotion in that, Anon.

    And this, as well: “He taught me a lot about that job – mostly as an example of what not to do but that’s still valuable. I have often started down a bad road and thought, ‘This is what he was feeling. This is why he broke my heart.’ And then backtracked, corrected my course and made the right decision for my children.”

    Most men I’ve known have been aware, if only rarely or partly (according to their own self-appraisals), of what you describe. In the case of my own son, he has backtracked and corrected his course with his own children, having felt the failures of his mother as well as his father.

    I applaud you for your generosity and loving, and for your courage in giving us this beautiful piece with its innate helpfulness.

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