One of the advantages to relative insanity is that there is never a shortage of material from which to draw. Disadvantage? No one believes you when you try to describe family dynamics, because it sounds like utter and complete cockamamie. I would like to cite my own pater familias as an example. Those of you out there who know him can vouch that my following description of him is accurate to the point of being tragicomic. In upcoming essays, I’ll go into details that’ll make your back hair curl and your tea turn bitter. But for now, play along as I try to paint you a picture of the man I refer to as the Lyin’ Dutchman.
The man who is known as my alleged father was born in Indonesia in 1934, one of the few facts my brothers and I have found to hold up to the passage of time. There was some migration involved following WWII, time spent in Holland, some more roaming and a (seemingly) final stop on the west coast of California. He’s been married something like seven times (kind of like Elizabeth Taylor, minus the White Diamonds) and has all the traits of a good fisherman: tall, tall tales injected with a lot of variety and loose facts. As a child, I was informed on more than one occasion that all good things in life are Dutch; therefore, music groups that were in continuous rotation on our hi-fi were all Dutch. I trundled off to lower elementary declaring bands like Pink Floyd, ABBA and Supertramp were all from Holland, resulting in more than one schoolyard fight. Do you realize how hard those kids can hit?
Some aspects of his fabrications were harmless: he convinced us that he had control over all the red lights in town by means of his cigarette lighter. By craftily staring out of the corner of his eye, he’d time it so all he had to do was hit the thing when the opposing light went yellow, then BOOM! MAGIC! How did he harness such mysterious powers? At this question he’d likely scoff that it was a trick he picked up as a tank commander in the Royal Dutch Army (……did he serve there? Outside of a few pictures, all we have are stories.) This pre-internet environment was perfect for setting up these wild delusions. We were kids without the ability to vet the stories. For all we knew, he was spending those years inventing the internet with Al Gore.
Other sides to his tales were not as harmless. There is a trail of broken marriages, lies and offspring as screwed up in the head as I am. I suppose I should be grateful that there are facets to his humor that have spilled over into my own parenting: I’ve convinced both Heathens that Darth Vader was once my neighbor and I turned him in to Planning and Zoning for building a Death Star in his backyard without a permit. These things make me laugh and convince my boys that I need help. Frankly, they’re right. I could use help trying to mend a disconnect in my mind between what I THINK a father-son relationship should be (between him and me), and the reality with which I am left. It’s not healthy and it’s based on an appallingly distasteful sort of narcissism the likes of which leave no one laughing.
There is a running joke in the family that there’s a “Wheel of Fondue Shame” (don’t ask…..we’re a weird bunch). It would be invoked each time the Lyin’ Dutchman declared one of the six boys dead to him. Pictures came down off the wall, proper names were replaced with “whats-his-name” and there was to be no mention of the incident that had offended the old man until the transgressor came back and begged for forgiveness. I once spent over a year on The Wheel because I could not attend his (7th) wedding picnic reception at a certain time. I pleaded with him to understand that I would be there the MOMENT I could get out of class, but was informed that I would be there “or else”. A stubborn bastard, I chose “else”. More than a year later, when I realized just how ridiculous the whole thing was getting, I knocked on his door, hat in hand; he greeted me as though I’d just returned from forty years in the desert.
Right now I am currently serving a life sentence on The Wheel for crimes linked to speaking my mind with regard to his pending (7th) divorce. This one has all the hallmarks of a good soap: heroes, villains, harlots and scorned sisters, stepsons disowned, medication mixups, international intrigue and at least one pseudo-suicide attempt. Stay tuned.