Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Happy Birthday, JP

This isn't going to be easy. Writing about my father.

Today, was his birthday. Or at least this is the day he said was his birthday. The thing with dad was this: You never knew if he was telling the truth. You never knew if he was intentionally lying or just flat out didn't know and just said whatever he thought was true. So today may or may not have been his birthday.

That's why I always refer to him as my alleged father. Although people say I look like him. And some might say I act like him, too. Who knows. He's been dead for 25 years now. Died of a final heart attack after a long series of heart attacks. He had the big one while watching the Cincinnati Reds. He'd get so upset watching them my mom would tell him to calm down. Yeah, well, you should have listened to her, you old goat. You should have listened to her for once in your life.

He was orphaned at around three (so he said) and was raised by different family members and out on the streets in Cincinnati. It was never clear even where he was born. He said Cincinnati. For some reason Rushville, Indiana also sticks in my mind. He supposedly went to Purcell High School in Cincinnati. Somewhere in there he joined the army.

Oh, yeah, we got to talk about the army when we're talking about dad. All while I was growing up I believed he had been a sergeant in the 101st Airborne Division during WW II. Italy. Normandy Beach. The Battle of the Bulge. When I was little I read accounts of the campaigns because he had been there. Or so he said. That's how I figured out he never served. There was a picture of him that he said was taken on V-E Day. He's standing on a street corner in Cincinnati. From all the reading I did I knew something was wrong. Weren't you supposed to be outside Berlin on V-E Day? And so his story unraveled. Yeah, I think he even called me a smart little shit. Yeah, I guess I was.

He was in the army maybe, maybe a couple of months, then was discharged. How the hell can you carry that lie around with you and expect to make it stick?

And God only knows why he was discharged. I tracked his military records to a burned-down warehouse in St. Louis where his tracks go cold. I do know he was pardoned by President Eisenhower. Jesus, Dad, couldn't you have least have told me about that? I mean, in some ways, it's kind of like having a pirate for a father, and that's kind of cool.

This right here is the crux of my father. He lied. He lied like a rug. All the time. It turns out his family name wasn't Ferris, but Fruttoso. Yeah, I'm like 50% Guinea but have no way to prove it. When you asked him why he changed his name you got one of several answers. One was he did it to honor his buddy in the war, who had died. Well, we know that wasn't it. He said he changed it after the war because of hatred shown towards Italians. Uh, nah, there really isn't any documentation that supports that. He said that the name is too close to the Italian word for "filthy." Hmmm...

I can go on and on and on, stories and fabrications and lies. Big, little, and flat out whoppers.

Your dog didn't die, Johnny, I just gave him to a guy I work with who owns a farm. Yes! I am not kidding. The classic dead doggie lie is part of my life. And I can't tell you the hit you take when you eventually learn the truth. And it never fails to hit you either. No matter how many times you dig out the truth, there's that initial slap to the face that you can't duck or dodge. You just have to take it. There is no way to defend yourself when trust is broken.

And yeah, there was a lot of anger in me growing up. You never knew what was what. And it wasn't long after he died, which I hate to say in so many ways was an enormous relief, that I wished we could have had one long talk. If he lied, well, he lied because he didn't like himself and wanted to reinvent himself. He never felt good about himself, because of his upbringing, his lack of education, his blue-collar, rough ways, and so he made up stories to build himself up.

And I would have like to have told him a couple of things.

First, Dad, none of that really meant anything to me. You could have been any way you wanted and I would have loved you. Like I tried to tell someone else who was in my life a few years ago, someone else who dealt a lot in deceit. It's all window dressing. Anything. Jobs, college degrees, accomplishment like being the first to climb a mountain. All that heroes and villains stuff, is only so much window dressing. None of that stuff means a damn to me. It's true: It's simply who you are inside that's what's important.

And the other thing I'd want to tell him: When you lie like you did, you hurt a lot of people around you. You were trying to save yourself at the expense of a lot of other people, and that's not right or fair. I'm just saying. When you try to build yourself up that way, you tend to tear someone else down. It just seems to work that way.

Because of him I have absolutely no tolerance for lies or deceit in any form. Posers, people who present themselves as something they are not just for the adulation they crave, will get nothing from me except repulsion. People who lie, well, it's not that hard to just tell the truth, as hard as it may seem. Because I know that eventually the lie will come to the surface. It always does. And then it's always worse.

And still, I wish he was around. He made a crummy father. But because he was such a character he would have made a first-class grandfather. And what I missed out on, my daughters would have made up in spades.

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