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Robert Tolkien Meets His Father

For Nick deCourville II 1929-2016

For Nick deCourville II 1929-2016

I have not said much about my father, and I realize I have not done him justice. I’ve been older now than he ever was for almost twenty years. So in a sense, I’m looking back at a younger man… wait a minute, that’s not me. That’s the final speech from No Country for Old Men. I really liked that movie. I hate to admit that after the studio rejected my draft of the screenplay. Then again, considering my teacher gave me a C- on my book report, claiming that while growing old was a major theme of the book, there was a lot more to it than that… Ah crap, I’m getting off subject, aren’t I?

My point is I can totally understand the tragedy of not really knowing one’s father. (Hopefully, Mr. McBride isn’t reading this, I have a feeling he’ll give me another C, reminding me that’s not what it’s about, but I must continue.) Either way, my father’s been more myth than actual man for me. He and my mom divorced when I was really young. He lived far enough away that he never visited. He didn’t call, and I didn’t know his e-mail address. The man sure as hell never responded to the Dad Signal I created.

About the only correspondence I ever got from him was the occasional Christmas card. So I had pictures of him. I don’t mind admitting that he was a very handsome man… Hey, he’s family! Besides, it only makes sense that I got my devastating good looks from someone. Dad was not only handsome, but he was the kind of handsome you just don’t see anymore. He had man good looks, not sissy good looks. This was the kind of face you’d see wearing a smoking jacket. You wouldn’t see him sporting a sideways baseball cap.

He had a mustache – not one of those phony-bologna stubble beards that people have because they really think it’ll dupe people into thinking they don’t care what others think about them. It was a face that brought me back to a time when women would have shunned a zero like Russell Brand for the buffoon he is, and swooned over men like Warren Beatty, Harrison Ford, Paul Newman – men like me!

Sadly, these pictures were pretty much all I had. Since the only time I saw him in the flesh was when I was so young – like single digits and stuff - I only have sketchy memories of the man: Some good, some bad. I vaguely remember playing Aliens in our back yard at night. I also remember him busting me for trying to stay up late. Of course, the only memory I have of my mom and dad together is the two of them fighting. Being so young, I can’t remember what they fought about, but I really hope it wasn’t me. While rummaging through my family photo albums, I have seen a few pictures of my mom and dad together – they seemed happy. I guess they had to be. They did marry after all.

My mom didn’t really like talking about my dad. She’d take the occasional pot shot at him, such as the time she called him “a means to an end of getting me and Tim.” But that was about it. Sometimes I wish other women were so good at keeping mum. I remember when Taylor Swift and I were going out; she tasked me with getting her a turkey & Swiss with a grande black tea from Starbucks. Unfortunately, because of Starbucks’s size descriptions, I accidentally ordered her a small tea. Not only did she break up with me, but she wrote TWO songs about it: “Tea Black Like Your Heart” and “It was Supposed to be Grande.”

But one day, I decided to unravel the mystery. No longer was Robert Ulysses Tolkien going to be in the dark about the man who brought him into this world. Specifically, my mom was sitting at her computer. She asked me to come over and read something:

“Bobby, what does this say?”

I read the image: “Lack of sex causes poor eyesight.”

She gave me a crooked stare: “Something you’re not telling me?”

Considering that moment was already awkward enough I decided to ask her point blank: “Mom, could you tell me about Dad?”

This question earned me another weird look from old mama. Considering how little she’s said about the man, I thought it would be a look of contempt. When in reality, it was more like a look of confusion like I just asked her if my hair was blue. Maybe she was taken aback that I was asking about someone I have in fact met. Maybe she was surprised that I finally decided to ask. At any rate, she drew a breath and answered. Her answer had a very strange tone: It had this rehearsed, weary but self-realizing tone about it, like a mother explaining to her son that there’s no Santa Claus:

“Your father… is something else. He had a way with women. He sure as hell had his way with me. I yelled at him a lot for it. He’d get angry every once in a while, but he’d always get over it and come back with that devilish grin.

“He was also a man without fear. It was nice to have a man who would stand up for his lady. For a man in his 40’s who worked a good job, he sure managed to get into a lot of trouble. I couldn’t help but get a little nervous whenever he’d pick a fight with someone twice his size. He took his licks, but it never seemed to get him down. In fact, he usually came out on top. I remember one time some guy broke his nose and he just said ‘don’t worry, I’ll be pretty again in a few days’.”

I think Mom noticed the excitement in my eyes as she talked about my old man.

“Bobby, you don’t want to be like your father.” This comment puzzled me. I… didn’t want to be good-looking Adonis who could have any woman he wanted? It’s like I understood the words my mom was using, but she wasn’t using them in the right order… Maybe Mom wasn’t the best person to ask. Unfortunately, she was the only person to ask, which meant I was still going to be in the dark.

The subject didn’t come up again for a while. Yeah, I thought it about it from time to time, but for the most part it was an afterthought. Then one day, the unlikely happened. The day actually started out like a pretty normal day. The Porsche was in the shop so I had to take the bus to and from school. Kanye had texted me to tell me he couldn’t come over to play Call of Duty. I also tried to ask out Sarah Connelly, but somehow the Tolkien charms didn’t work on her. But I say if being able to play the drum solo from “If 6 was 9” isn’t high on her priorities, forget her. So in short, it was the same old, same old for me.

Upon arriving home, Mom was on the horn with someone. I couldn’t help but wonder who she’d be talking to. I could tell this was someone she didn’t want to talk to. She may have kept a pleasant tone, but I could see the frustration in her face. She flashed me a very passive aggressive smile at me before saying: “Oh, he’s right here, you want to talk to him?” Whoa, who is this that he/she/it wants to talk to moi? And if mom’s so pissed do I even want to talk to this person? Mom, pointed the phone to me.

“Bobby, it’s your father.” Yup, that’s someone I wanted to talk to. I grabbed the phone. I hoped to sound dignified and honored talking to a man I held such high regard for (despite not remembering) but I probably sounded like a total doofus when I said “Hello?” Hey, even the best of us have our moments.

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“Bobby, I didn’t recognize you. Last time I heard that voice it didn’t have so much bass in it.” He chuckled and I kind of awkwardly laughed along. “Listen, I’m moving back to Dayton for a little while. I was wondering if you and Tim would like to visit for the weekend.”

I always hoped my first encounter with the man would be in the flesh, but this was bringing me one step closer to that – even if Dayton was one on hell of a long ways away. Still, I couldn’t resist” “We’d love to!”

“Great, I’ll see you and Tim Friday night.” Finally, I was going to meet my dad!

Tim was at one of his friend’s when I got the call. When he came home, I told him, “Tim, we’re going to meet Dad this weekend!”


I was dumbfounded. “’So?’ Is that all you can say, ‘so?’ I mean I can understand being in my constant presence of greatness, you may not be interested in anyone else. But this is the bad hombre who brought us into this world!”

Tim just shrugged, apparently still nonplused by anything I told him. I think the fact that he’s a few years younger than me may explain that one. Whereas I’ve tasted the fruit of knowing dad and wanted more, Tim probably doesn’t even remember him at all. Leading up to Friday, meeting Dad was the only thing on my mind. Okay, I had to think about that speech the governor was begging me to write, and sex crossed my mind more than once, but can you really blame me?

Friday finally came. Mom drove me and Tim to Dad’s trailer. Without even meeting him, I was beginning to see how much power this man really had: Years of hating this man and my mom could still be goaded into doing something for him. Granted, I think she viewed it more as doing something for me and Tim, but I digress.

Figuring there might be some spark for the man she once married, I tried to cajole her into coming in with us: “So, you want to stop in and say ‘hi’?” She didn’t say anything; and she didn’t have to. The look of contempt that she gave me said it all. And by “it all” I mean, “Robert, if you ask again, I will murder you.” So Tim and I got out. We approached the door, and there he was.

I was surprised: He wasn’t that much taller than me. In fact, I think I was a touch taller. He had a changed a little bit since the last picture he sent me – a wrinkle here and there, a little snow on the roof. Personally, I was just glad he still had hair: Those are the genes I inherited, Buster! I sort of expected him to be dressed like Hugh Hefner or wearing a tuxedo, but he was just wearing a polo and shorts.

After nearly a decade of never knowing the man’s voice (over the phone doesn’t count. Nobody sounds like themselves over the phone. People have mistaken my deep, masculine voice for my mother over the phone), I finally heard him say: “Boys, I’m so glad to finally see you. I’m not a very emotionally man, but seeing you two almost makes me want to cry.”

Dad settled Tim and me down on his couch, and what does any good father does after seeing his progeny for the first time in a decade does: He showed us pictures of the women he was banging! Hey, the man had a legit point: “I may be 63 years, but I still gotta get laid.” I laughed at this. He pointed at me and said, “This one knows what I’m talking about.”

So, yeah, we got to stare at pictures of all dad’s girlfriends. To be honest, I always hate when guys pull this sort of thing with me. It’s like they’re saying: “I got this and you don’t! Nah-nah-nah-nah-nah!” But the fact that it was the man who brought me into this world only made it all the more uncomfortable. Seriously, how do I react to women old enough to be my mother? Women who very well could have been my stepmother? “Yeah, dad, those laugh lines really bring out her smile.” “What a babe – do you think she got to see Sabbath before Ozzie left?”

Dad then asked a very strange question of me and Tim. “Boys, I’d like to introduce you to the Queen’s test. (I was tempted to say “Unless it’s about the band I’m not interested.” However, I wouldn’t dare show this man such disrespect.) You know how I can tell whether or not a woman’s for me? I have the Queen’s test. A woman may have the best body in the world, but I need a mind, and if she can’t pass this simple test, she’s not worth it.” He paused dramatically. Tim and I were in baited breath when Dad asked: “Your mom had two daughters and two sons, what does that make you?”

I knew the answer meant I’d be one of his daughters. But it also kind of confused me. All I could think was “My mom didn’t have two daughters: She just had me and Tim.” Also, this man bombards women with pop quizzes and they still want to sleep with him. Damn, my old man’s got the touch!

“Come on! It means you’re one of the daughters! I thought you two were smarter than that!” Dad sighed. I think there’s one element of the Queen’s test Dad didn’t consider: That I’d be too vein to view that question was hypothetical. I’m so vein I probably thought that riddle was about me. Granted, when you’re as awesome as I am, I don’t think it counts as vanity. Dad followed this up with an interesting story…

“Let me tell you about a time I was out with a girl. It was a little bit after me and your mother split. And this girl… the body she had! You wouldn’t believe the fake titties on this one.” Dad, just an FYI, I DON’T CARE! That’s what I was thinking. But in reality, I just smiled and nodded. “Anyway, I was taking her to my car when we were held up at knifepoint!”

Okay, suddenly I see the point of this story. “I never like to admit this, but the son of a bitch got me with his knife.” In case there was any doubt in our mind, Dad showed us the scar. It wasn’t the only one. “But if you think I was going to let him get away with that, you had another thing coming. I took that knife and I returned the favor. I’m kind of glad I didn’t kill him because I wanted to watch that bastard bleed.”

Tim and I sat in stunned silence for a few minutes… Okay, it was actually closer to a few seconds, but after Dad dropped a bombshell like that, it sure as hell felt like minutes. Eventually Dad broke the silence by saying: “On the bright side, I looked good on my date.” Dad winked and laughed. Tim and I awkwardly laughed with him. My Dad had managed to make me simultaneously respect him and fear him. “Listen boys, I have to be up bright and early for work.”

Tim chimed in, “Aw come on, Dad. I want to hear some more stories.” I didn’t exactly disagree with him.

“Nah, your old man needs his beauty sleep. You can watch TV, just keep the volume down and don’t stay up too late.”

“If that’s how you feel, good night Dad!” I told him.

Dad then stood up and said something I’ll probably never forget: “Hit me!” …What? “I do 200 crunches and 90 pushups every morning: I want to show off my abs. Hit me!”

Tim and I stood around dumbfounded for a moment. It was like Dad asked us… Do I even need to give an analogy? My dad just asked me to punch him in the stomach! Eventually, Tim reluctantly slugged Dad in the gut: Didn’t even phase the man.

“Your turn now – and don’t pull your punches!” He said to me. I cocked my fist and gave my dad a hard strike in the breadbasket. Amazingly, he responded to my sledgehammer-like fist as if he were swatting off a fly. Though to be fair, I think I may have subconsciously pulled my punch.

Dad smiled, “Goodnight boys.” Dad went to bed. Tim and I just watched TV until we fell asleep.

The next morning, I caught Dad on the way to the shower. Well, I was on the way to the shower. Dad was working out – suffice to say, those exercise numbers weren’t a boast. Tim was still sleeping, but I wanted to get a little chit chat with the old man (I used that term loosely. No matter his age, Dad seemed like the kind of guy who would never be old).

“Hey dad, you got a minute to talk?”

Dad took a glance at the clock. “Of course, I got some time for you!” Dad and I sat down next to each other on the couch. “What’s on your mind?”

“How did you and Mom meet?”

“I have a feeling she’s never told you about this, but your mom used to be an actress.” She hadn’t told me about this. My jaw almost hit the floor, but I was trying not to lose my cool in front of dad… again. “She was on stage almost every night. To this day, I bet if you asked her, she could probably recite lines from Our Town.

“I wasn’t an actor myself. I had a lucrative job as an investment banker, I just happened to be friends with someone who owned the club where your mom’s acting troupe hung out. I was there with someone else, but I saw your mom and I had to have her. We…” Dad noticed a look on my face. “Okay, I’ll skip those parts. You don’t want to hear that stuff about your mom!” I don’t want to hear you tell me there’s stuff I don’t want to hear about my mom.

“I will tell you the line I used to get her attention. I’ve used this on my fair share of women, and I’ll impart my wisdom onto you: ‘Do a lot of guys ask you out in that outfit?’ That line works because it’s a good icebreaker and you can use it as a compliment. If they say no, you can follow it up with ‘They should.’ And you can make your move from there.”

I had my fair share of good lines. “I’m Robert Tolkien” is usually a good one. Granted, there’s this nebulous section of Rutherford B. Hayes High School where that line does not work for whatever reason. Still, dad’s line was a good one. Clearly he was having luck with it.

“So why did Mom gave up acting?” I asked.

Dad gave me a look. “You happened. Jennifer… Your mom got pregnant with you. She just couldn’t commit to acting. She tried. God bless her for trying. But she kept missing rehearsals. She had a hard time committing to roles, Tim was eventually born…”

Boy, was that a blow. I basically just found out that for all intents and purposes I was the reason my mom’s dreams never came true. My mom could have been some big star. I suddenly had images of my mom standing on a stage in front of stadium-sized audiences, her face gracing billboards, and magazines. And none of that happened. Instead she just became a dental hygienist and a single mother - all because of yours truly.

More and more, I realized Dad’s ability to read people. “Bobby, don’t feel bad for your mother. She wasn’t going to be a star or anything like that. I’m not going to claim I did her any favors by marrying her away from her passion, but it’s not like she was going to make her living that way. She had some fun, and that’s more than some people can say.”

The old man had a pretty good point so I just let what he said sit in. “So what happened between you and mom?”

My father took a breath. He knew the answer. In a way, I knew the answer. But I asked anyway. “Bobby, don’t worry about that. Your mom knew what she was getting into when she married me. I loved that woman. I loved a lot of women, but she’s better off without me. It’s in the past, Bobby. Try to keep your mind on now.”

I think Dad doesn’t like talking about what happened. In the two days I’ve known him, Dad seemed to have two volumes: Non-stop talking and completely closed book. “Son, I can’t talk much longer, but I want to share some advice with you. Always listen to your gut. Always. You see, you’ve got little angels looking out for you, and when your gut tells you something, that is those angels speaking to you and giving you advice.”

My Dad is In… Sane. They say there’s a fine line between genius and insanity. My pop must have searched far and wide to find the prime piece of real estate where that line is located and parked his trailer right there. I was kind of drawing a blank at what to say to say to Pop. I just said, “Thanks Dad, I’ll try to remember that.” I really hope he didn’t think was coming off as condescending. I get the feeling Dad would bend me into a pretzel otherwise.

“Good boy, I’m off to work! After that, I got a hot date!” Dad ran his hand across his hair and left for work. When Dad left, I had my own workout. Sadly, Dad didn’t have the heavy barbells I was used to lifting, but luckily I can improvise a workout without weights. Inspired by the machine my father was earlier, I popped off a series of pushups and sit-ups of my own. Let me tell you something: That man made it look easy.

Speaking of things Dad seemed to forget, for knowing Tim and I were coming, he didn’t really have any food for us. I wasn’t expecting any kind of fine dining, but some TV dinners or some cereal would have been appreciated. Worst of all, I didn’t even know what I was ALLOWED to eat. Some of it was obvious, I assumed the Brandy was off limits, but most of the other stuff didn’t exactly have “Dad-only” stamps on them.

After checking what was on my phone, I could see there was a McDonald’s nearby. I just walked down and picked up a bacon McGriddle and hash brown. Of course, by the time I got back, Tim was finally awake. Somewhat groggy, Tim asked me where I got that. I explained the food situation to Tim. This irked me because guess who was charged with waltzing down to McDonald’s and getting Tim some bringing Tim some breakfast? (Hint: It wasn’t the Ninja Turtles.)

Even though that part of the morning kind of stunk (Okay, getting McDonald’s breakfast is never ALL bad, but still), Tim and I tried to enjoy ourselves. We respected our old man enough that we didn’t want to go rooting around his home. The way we saw it, if Dad wanted us to see something, he would have shown us himself. We just sat around and watched some football on TV. Tim and I didn’t agree on a lot of things, but we both loved football. Any time there was a game in our neck of the woods, Tim combined our powers to beg Mom to take us.

Sometimes it feels like we fight a lot, but when the two of us get into a football game, we high five each other when an Ohio State guy scores a touchdown. We give cries of “He was robbed!” every time the other team scores. During a commercial break, Tim had to visit the commode. I was browsing Dad’s trailer. Hey, I was just looking around! Not snooping or moving any of Dad’s stuff, capisce? One thing caught my attention. I saw a picture of Dad with… Fran Drescher? Like I said, I didn’t want to touch any of dad’s stuff so I couldn’t get a closer look.

Tim emerged from the bathroom and noticed what I was doing. “Robert, what are you looking at?”

“Tim, I think Dad dated Fran Drescher.”


I showed Tim the picture of Dad with The Nanny. “Oh my God,” Tim gasped. “Do you realize we could have had Fran Drescher as our stepmom?”

“Yeah, could you just imagine hearing that raptor laugh at family gatherings?” I joked.

“Do you think Dad asked her the Queen’s test?”

“Oh, I’d be one of her sisters!” I said doing my Fran Drescher impression and impersonating the laugh that launched a thousand headaches. Dear reader, I apologize for putting that image in your heads. Wise man once said a polite man is someone who can do a Fran Drescher impression but chooses not to.

Tim and I sat around watching the boob tube until Dad returned from work. With an audience of only his two sons, Dad pimp walked in, and asked “You boys just sitting around watching TV?”

I asked Dad what we were supposed to do since he had the car.

“Well boys, how does a trip to Dave and Buster’s sound?” Our eyes lit up. “I got a date with my girl later tonight. I was planning on sending you two.” Tim and I exchanged a quick glance. It was quick enough Dad probably paid no notice, but it still said a lot. We were ecstatic at the idea of going to Dave and Busters, but… without Dad? I thought the point of coming out was to meet the man.

Still, we’re not ones to look a gift horse in the mouth and gleefully accepted Dad’s offer. Dave and Buster’s wasn’t going to happen until later. In the meantime, it was story time again from Dad. He was going to tell us how he met Lydia, the woman he had a date with tonight. He showed us her picture last night. She was in her 40’s – I know I said earlier I resented Dad flaunting his women to me, but I know a looker when I see one. I was a little surprised she was in her 40’s. I pegged Dad as the kind of guy who would be banging women in their 20’s. I guess that’s the kind of man Dad was – vein enough to chase women younger than him, but still wanted a little substance.

“I was at a club a while back. There were lots of fine women at this club, but I think you both know I love a challenge. I saw Lydia with another man. And not just any man – This guy was the size of a refrigerator. You know that football game you boys were watching earlier? This guy was about the size of those guys.

“I approached Lydia while she was with this beast and simply said ‘I bet I can do that dance better.’ In a few minutes, I was showing Lydia just how well I could dance. Did I live up to my word? Let’s put it this way – She went home with me, not the big guy.”

I kind of wanted to ask if she passed the Queen’s Test. Instead I just told Dad how awesome what he did was. Dad told us that his friend Henry was going to pick us up to take us Dave and Busters so Dad could have his alone time.

The doorbell rang. I was wondering if it was going to be Lydia or Henry. I was kind of hoping it would be Henry. I was a little worried if Lydia were the one knocking, that trailer would start a rocking – with me and Tim sitting on the outside. Luckily, it was Henry – Dad described him as someone who served with him in Vietnam. Henry looked like the kind of man who would have been protesting the war. He was thin, wiry with longish hair and seemed to have all the energy in the world for a man his age.

“Henry, I’d like you to meet my boys Robert and Tim. I’d like you to drive these two to Dave and Busters.” After Dad said this, he handed me a wad of cash. How much money did he give me? A crap-load may sound vague, but it was accurate. I swear, I hadn’t seen this much moolah unless it was in a briefcase. “Here boys, I’m going to have a little fun tonight and you should too. I remember an age where I would have wanted you two to come home early, but don’t come back too soon, you hear?”

Ah, my dad – the only man I knew who could boot out his kids to get laid and still sound like a smooth operator. Henry drove us about an hour to get to the Dave and Busters. Henry was quite the chatterbox on the drive up. He sounded a little like Tom Petty (and ergo he sounded a lot like Bob Dylan) and talked a mile a minute. I told him I felt a little bad that he had to drive us around like a personal chauffeur while Dad was getting a little action.

“Don’t feel bad for me, Robbie. Your old man saved me and a whole bunch of guys over in Vietnam. I feel like there’s no favor too big for him! You know, I feel like I owe him my life, and he still does things for me – He’s gotten me Cuban cigars, good whiskey. Sometimes I wish he’d send of those ladies over, but I don’t think my wife Ruthie would like that one!”

Henry smiled at his comment. Tim leaned over to ask “How come Dad never told us that story about ‘Nam?”

“Listen, don’t take it personally if your pop don’t tell you something. If you wanted to hear everything that man has been through, you better stay with him a whole month and hope he has a lot of days off!” Henry said. “If he wants you to know something, he’ll tell you.”

Henry dropped me and Tim off at Dave and Busters. We shook Henry’s hands. Henry was a good guy, I liked him. At Dave and Buster’s, Tim and I feasted like we were kings. I worried about telling mom about this little venture. I loved the woman, but she could be a little sensitive, and something tells us she wouldn’t be thrilled at the idea of Dad giving us this much money and going to an expensive gaming place like telling us to go for ice cream.

If she could, Mom would probably be happy giving me and Tim monthly trips to Hawaii or Disney World, but the occasional trip to Olive Garden and nosebleed tickets to football games were what she could afford. I always enjoyed these ventures, but I got the feeling Mom wished she could do more.

After dinner, Tim and I hit the arcade. We must have played every game in that arcade at least twice. Our favorite was some Jurassic Park rail shooter. I was quite enjoying myself at the arcade, but Tim was growing a little restless. “Man, I wanted to see Dad more,” Tim lamented.

“Hey man, I did too. But let’s enjoy ourselves! How often do we get to do this sort of thing?”

“I mean Dad invited us to his place just to send us somewhere else?”

I leaned in a little closer to Tim. I had to be quiet and personal. This was the kind of conversation I felt Tim and I needed to finally have. How I wish it were somewhere else, but c’est la vie. “Tim, Dad is a man… with needs. I know he loves us, but he sometimes needs to get a little frisky… He… He’s… you know… doing that thing I do every night.”

“He’s jerking off?” Well played, younger brother, well played.

Tim and I kept playing for hours on end. I loved these arcade games because I got to show off my skills. Who else do you know who always makes a perfect shot at the basketball hoop every time? Who else always hits the dead center in ski ball (Of course, I was a natural since I played it religiously whenever the chance came around). We were scoring so much at ski ball and basketball, but I decided to make a score of my own.

I saw a foxy girl at a table. “Tim, stand by. I got to make a move!” I decided to take some advice from the old man. As I reached the girl I asked, “Excuse me, do a lot of guys ask you out in that outfit?”

She just gave me a mile-wide stare before bluntly telling me: “Go away.”

My dad really did have the touch. I marched back to Tim who coyly muttered “Nice try.”

In case you need to know how high they set the prices on those things, even after my stellar performance on the games, Tim and I STILL didn’t have enough tickets to get the good loot! I let Tim have the tickets and get himself a Nerf-gun. I shouldn’t even say Nerf gun since it was one of those Dollar Store knock-offs. We were saddling up because Dad told us the coast was clear to go home. For a man like Dad, he probably appreciated having us around. While I’m sure he had a million lines for how to tell women to exit stage left. “My boys are staying with me” probably made it a million and one.

Dad was fast asleep by the time Henry dropped us off back at the trailer. It was Sunday morning, which meant it was our last day with Dad. Two full days and an evening may not sound like a whole lot, but Dad made it feel like an odyssey. The man wasn’t there when I woke up in the morning. After a night of fun, Tim and I overslept a little. I missed Dad, and wanted to talk to him, but I noticed another problem: In all that excitement, we still didn’t know what we could have for breakfast! I can’t fault Dad. In all that excitement, Tim and I just forgot to ask for grub. That meant another trip to McDonald’s.

Tim and I just shot the breeze and watched more football. Dad eventually arrived home with presents. “Boys, since this is our last night together, I’m taking you out to the nicest stakehouse in town. I realize you probably didn’t pack much so I took the liberty of buying you some nice clothes.”

Ooh, new sharp clothes. I looked inside, with excitement. What did Dad buy me? Maybe a nice blazer or some gorgeous sweater I couldn’t afford myself. I looked inside and discovered Dad bought me… a canary yellow shirt that was a size too small and white pants. How… just HOW could someone as cool as dad buy clothes this dorky? Seriously, was he afraid I was competition and wanted to poison his son’s well in case there were women at this place? Was Dad under the impression I was retiring? I thanked Dad, hoping he didn’t pick up on my tone. I put the clothes on and felt like a total dweeb. There are some clothes even someone as handsome as me can’t make look good. (And for the record, what Dad bought Tim was decent.)

Dad made good on his word. He took us to one hell of a restaurant. I hadn’t even heard of the place. I didn’t see commercials on TV – probably because it was the kind of place that people watching TV all the time couldn’t afford. This was the kind of swanky establishment that probably required reservations – or just Dad throwing around some stroke. I liked the idea of going to a place like this – largely because nobody from school would see me dressed like a doofus.

“Order whatever you want, boys! It’s all on me!” Dad told us as we marched like champions into that restaurant. With that statement on the line, I was able to get me some lobster. Yes, I realize lobster is quite possibly the cruelest thing I can possibly eat, but my God, is it delicious!

Dad did most of the talking. Mom had mentioned how thick-skinned the man was. For example, I never realized he had remarried. He just offhandedly commented, “A few years after me and your mom divorced, I was remarried. She was a therapist. Sweet as a button and pretty as a picture. But we just didn’t click. I do kind of wish you two had a chance to meet your stepmom.” On one hand, he seemed to have genuine heartbreak in his voice as he talked about how his marriage didn’t work. But if it seems like I’m talking about this like an afterthought, that’s because that’s the way Dad described it. He was married to the woman and he talked about it like it was a bad date.

Of course, there was one subject Dad wanted to talk about. When Tim went to the bathroom, Dad asked: “So, how’s school?” Dad asked.

“I go there. I just can’t wait to get out,” I replied.

“It’ll get better, trust me. But I really wanted to know how you’re doing? Are you acing those classes? Are you on Honor Roll yet?”

“I’m actually not. Good grades are… not my forte…”

“Bobby, you’re a bright young man. You should be at the top of your class.”

“Why would I want to waste my time with that? It’s not like any of this crap matters in the real world. Besides, only nerds care about grades.”

“Bobby, come here.” I leaned in closer to Dad and he slapped across the back of the back of the head. It’s an extremely short list of people I’ve let get away with that one. I let DeNiro get away with it, but that was a long time ago. (Besides, we have the same first name!)

“Bobby, I’m not going to give you some after school special speech about grades. ‘Cause you are right that some of the things they teach you in school is just BS. Not once since I graduated high school has knowing the capital of Louisiana meant anything to anyone. And when I was looking for jobs, people would tell me, ‘I see you aced your accounting classes, but you didn’t do so well on your other classes.’ I’d tell them, ‘don’t you want me for my accounting?’

“But the bottom line is I learned something. I was adept at something. And let me tell you that if you aren’t good at something, you don’t mean anything to this world. You got your whole life ahead of you. I’m sure once you figure out what you like, things will start making a little more sense. Besides, you don’t want to miss out on a college.” Dad chimed in one more pot shot: “Come on, Bobby, you need to smarten up. You couldn’t even pass the Queen’s test!” Seriously, I didn’t realize it was hypothetical!

I really didn’t know what to say to that one. On one hand, Dad actually had a good point. Floundering at school was no fun. I sure as hell didn’t like attending copious parent teacher conferences. It was pretty embarrassing when teachers called on me and I didn’t know the answer.

On the other hand, being a good student actually did seem kind of hard. I could never really focus hard enough to study – even when I wasn’t trying to perfect my full court shot at basketball. Not to mention all the times I actually busted my ass on a project only to be told it was inappropriate. Art seemed to be the only thing I ever excelled at in school. It seemed my art teacher was the only one who understood just how gifted I was. He even called me that. Maybe that was my calling…

After dinner, Dad ended up driving us home in his Corvette. Having owned a few of those myself, I have to commend Dad for his exquisite choice of automobile. He got us back at our house and decided to impart some more words of wisdom on me and Tim: “Boys, I’ve been stabbed, shot and even spent time in prison. You name it, I’ve done it. The two of you are probably going to make a lot of mistakes, but I want you to enjoy yourselves and don’t let setbacks discourage you. I’ll always be proud of you two. No matter how many women I sleep with, no matter how much money I make, you two are my greatest accomplishment.” Tim and I hugged our dad and waited as he drove off into the distance. It may have been about midnight, but for Dad, it still seemed like he was riding off into the sunset.

It was late when Tim and I arrived, but Mom was still up. “So how was it?” I could tell she was just making conversation. I don’t think Mom cared to hear about wife number two (or however the hell many Dad was up to by that point). I think even the story about Dad getting stabbed might annoy her since it made Dad seem like such a badass so I just responded to her question with a simple “It was fun.”

“That’s good.” I think she didn’t think it was good, but she just wanted to be nice.

I was about to head to my room for some shut-eye. “Hey mom, Dad told me about how you two met, about how you used to be an actress.” Mom gave me a look. I felt an apology was due: “I’m sorry, mom…”

“Bobby, don’t be sorry. You and Tim are the best things to ever happen to me.”

“But you could have been a professional!”

My mom laughed this idea off. “I was never going to be a star. Did my life turn out exactly the way I wanted? No, but I don’t regret you or Tim. I just don’t want you to make the mistakes I made.”

“I just can’t shake the feeling that things could have turned out better for you.”

“Fine, if you need to blame someone, blame your father. If you want to make me happy, just live a little and make YOUR dreams come true.” That made me feel a little better. “But live it tomorrow. It’s late. Go to bed.”

I tried to sleep, but I just couldn’t. Okay, that was a fib – we came back late enough that I slept like the dead. But before I did, thoughts of Dad stayed in my mind. Even after finally meeting him, he still felt like something of a myth to me. Everything he talked about was so fantastic and Mom was kidding when she said he wasn’t the most personal man in the world. There still seemed to be a lot of distance between me and him so in a way, the man was still largely a mystery to me.

The next morning I decided to ask Tim what he thought. “I didn’t know Dad was that cool.”

Yeah, that was a good point – seriously, how many guys can claim they have someone that cool in their family. And it only makes sense that a superman like me would be the fruit of his loins. Though I couldn’t help but wonder if there was more to him. And since he didn’t answer the question either, I decided to ask Tim: “So why didn’t you get the Queen’s test?”

“I really thought he was asking about you and me!” Ah ha! I wasn’t the only one!

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© 2020 Alex deCourville

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