Alex and His Pen: Robert Tolkien Meets His Father (Part III)

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 bullshit. 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 shit 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 myth 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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