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 shit, 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. He 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. He 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 or a fedora. You wouldn’t see him sporting a sideways baseball cap. And I don’t think he’d be caught dead with his hair spiked up like The Situation.

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. (I guess that’s why they take the time to keep up an appearance.) 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 Beaty, 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. But 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 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… Either way, I figured 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. But 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.

“Bobby, by God, 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 this 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” “Tim and I would love to visit!”

“Great, I’ll see you and Tim next Saturday.” Finally, I was going to meet my dad! Tim was surprisingly less enthused. 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 Saturday, 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 pussy crossed my mind more than once, but can you really blame me?

Saturday finally came. Mom drove me and Tim to Dad’s trailer. 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: Great genes are awesome! 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 guy, 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 awkward. 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. He said it was the Queen’s Test. He said this was a question to ask women if they’re worth the time. He said: “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! Of course, the answer was that I was one of the daughters. Dad made fun of us for getting it wrong. Then, he had an interesting story…

“Yeah, 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! “Anyway, I was taking her to my car when we were held up at knifepoint!” Okay, suddenly I see the point of this story. “Yeah, 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 wound 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 son of a bitch 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. “I bet you guys are hungry. Let’s get some food.”

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.

After that, we headed to a steak house for dinner. It was business as usual. I wanted to order a burger, but Dad insisted I get a steak. I tried to use the old excuse, “I’m trying to save you money,” but whether Dad was too smart or just didn’t care, that one didn’t work on him. Yeah, I know it’s vulgar to go to a steakhouse and get a burger, but the fact of the matter is I can’t eat restaurant steak after having my own home brew. I add my own herbs and spices that would rival any master chef’s while most restaurants kind of just stick to some uniform recipe that leaves them tasting bland in comparison.

Dad did most of the talking. Mom had mentioned how thick-skinned the man was. For example, I never realized he had remarried. 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: “So, how’s school?” Dad asked.

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

“Bobby, I thought you’d be getting good grades.”

“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.

“Bobby, I’m not going to give you some after school special speech about how grades are important. ‘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, ‘do you want me for my accounting abilities or that other stuff?’

“But the bottom line is I did learn 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 chuckled at that last part.

I really didn’t know what to say to that one. On one hand, Dad actually had a good point. Being stupid 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. And I sure didn’t like Dad ragging on me for not answering that Queen’s test. Seriously, I didn’t realize it was hypothetical!

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…

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 one thing I want you to know is enjoy yourselves and don’t let setbacks discourage you.” 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.”

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!

And this concludes my flashback of Robert Tolkien short stories. This is the last one I’ve COMPLETED, but based on the feedback, I’d like to write more. Copyright 2012 Alex deCourville

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