A Father’s Day Tale

[WARNING; CAVEAT LECTOR: Long — and … wordy.]

Welcome to the best Father’s Day of my life. (I share this because it’s a great story, even though some monkey will toss feces on it at some point, guaranteed, or use it for armchair psychoanalysis, which is pretty much the same thing. One writes, finally, with a commitment to truth, irregardless* of the consequences.)

[* A word used by choice:

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition (2000):



ADVERB: Nonstandard Regardless.

ETYMOLOGY: Probably blend of irrespective and regardless.

USAGE NOTE: Irregardless is a word that many mistakenly believe to be correct usage in formal style, when in fact it is used chiefly in nonstandard speech or casual writing. Coined in the United States in the early 20th century, it has met with a blizzard of condemnation for being an improper yoking of irrespective and regardless and for the logical absurdity of combining the negative ir- prefix and -less suffix in a single term. Although one might reasonably argue that it is no different from words with redundant affixes like debone and unravel, it has been considered a blunder for decades and will probably continue to be so.]

I was born “Joseph Hart Williams, Jr.” That’s the documentary evidence, which is important here.

My father had slightly different name, but “Junior” is in the eye of the beholder: He was a “Josephus Hart Williams, Jr.” But everybody knew him as “Bud.” I was known as “Joey,” or, with my babysitters, Norma and Clarence, as “Joe Bud.”

Nothing much was known about his father. He had died in the first two years of the Great Depression, when my father was three years old. But that’s getting ahead of the story.

At the age of five, my brother (3) and I were sent to my grandparents’ home to live, ostensibly because my mother was attending the University of Wyoming in Laramie, which was a sixty-mile commute from Cheyenne.

One later attempts to reconstruct these things.

Being only five at the time, I was not, obviously, privy to the calculations, although I would imagine that, in that idiotic manner of parents everywhere, they tried to explain it all to me logically, and it soared past my ears. I was five, after all, and knew nothing of prudence, planning, commuting nor temporary — I’d probably never even registered the hearing of those words. They were part of seemingly infinite swirl of grownup words* that I noted the syntax of without any meaning.

[* You know, those words that adults s-p-e-l-l out in the presence of pre-reading children, as a form of literary class warfare.]

the author’s first (and last) hula hoop

At first, they thought they could do it. But, evidently, mother did a donut driving on the old Lincoln Highway over Pole Mountain one snowy winter day.

It was decided that commuting was a bad idea. She would live in Laramie, whilst attending nursing school.

Thus: we were sent to our grandparents’ to live. It was a relatively large extended family. My father had been working for my mother’s sister’s husband, building new houses in Grand Island, Nebraska. My mother’s brother got a job with the Union Pacific Railroad in Cheyenne, Wyoming, changing the brushes on the electric engines of the diesel locomotives, and got my dad on in the same job at the railyard.

So, when I was six months old, my parents rented a U-Haul and drove old Highway 30, the Lincoln Highway, which is now essentially Interstate 80, which followed the Union Pacific tracks pretty much all the way to Cheyenne, Wyoming. We were a railroad family making the transition to automobiles, like the rest of 1950s America. Ike was in the White House and all was right with the World.

We went to Cheyenne by car, but we were returned to Kearney, Nebraska by train. The life story of my family is bound up in trains, and the train tracks of the UPRR main line. The “transcontinental railroad” that had been one of the last bills signed by Abraham Lincoln prior to his assassination. (The last bill, ironically, was the one creating the Secret Service, which has guarded U.S. Presidents ever after.)

My grandfather worked for the Union Pacific as a car inspector, having dropped out of school at thirteen, to support the family. He put two of his sisters through college, which was unusual for that time. But, being featherbedded into the railroad, he never missed a day’s work during the Depression — a fact that rarely gets mentioned in the obligatory Depression poverty stories that various Aunts and Uncles tell.

In a sense this was the beginning of writing and history: family stories. And as I’ve followed the oral history through the years, I’ve noted how stories have diverged, been altered, forgotten, emended and mythologized.

One uncle tells the story of how HE, a kid from the Wrong Side of the Tracks, finally got to go to Hawaii. (The same uncle, having entered Service in World War II, was put through college at military expense. As he graduated, the war came to an end. He was discharged. He was called back up for the Korean War, but never left the US, nor, I think, was even posted. He was just sort of “on call.” He now lists himself biographically as a “World War II and Korean War Veteran.”)

Because they had money in the depths of the Depression, my grandfather purchased an estate when it had been forfeit sometime after the owner’s death. I am told by my aunt — who is usually pretty accurate on these things — that it was called the “Swann Estate.” It was a 19th Century Gingerbread house, the sedan version of Harry S. Truman’s house in Independence, Missouri.

If you had ever been to my grandparents’ house, you would swear the Truman house was at least a first cousin.

Yes, it was half a block from the railroad tracks,and everyone in the extended family is immune to the sound of trains rattling by, at least after the first 24 hours or so, as many a new spouse learned on their first visit to the parents/grandparents’ house.

Mostly what I remember from being five was that at EXACTLY my eye height, there were five square panes of colored glass in the door — which had an old manual doorbell an ornate brass fixture on both sides of the door the size of a grapefruit. You pushed the lever back and the stiff spring rang the doorbell. It was great fun to watch people coming up the walk through the different panes of old glass, some still with bubbles in it, red, cobalt blue, gold and two others I can’t recall. Such are the priorities of the five-year-old mind.

The Swann estate had quite a few outbuildings. My grandfather sold off chunks, liquidating most of the surrounding blocks over the years.

The stables next door were converted into a house, which grandfather later sold, and which still stands, generally painted blue. Dad had done the conversion. And that was where my mother and father moved, having lived in the Swann Estate main house, prior.*

[* You know, that place that the impoverished veteran uncle had lived on the “wrong side of the tracks” in. Such is the nature of our history: we always take the most complimentary interpretation. We have all done it — and the challenge of the writer is to report in the opposite direction: warts and all.]

My father converted the stable, the newlyweds having lived with the parents for three or four years (a not unusual arrangement in those days). I was conceived in the new house, and then the fledgling family moved to Grand Island that spring to work on the houses that my uncle constructed that year. They moved later that year to the Omaha area, where they remain to this day.

(I have often been asked “What, were you, born in a barn?” To which my reply is, accurately: “No, but I was conceived in a stable, so it’s probably in my nature.”)

My brother and I were sent to live at that same Swann house, and I awakened every morning to the sight of the converted stables in which I’d been conceived. I didn’t know it at the time, though.

That’s an oddity of human experience: knowledge (or disinformation, its opposite) changes what we see. In the ‘sixties, it was decided by dirty-minded psychologists that Lewis Carroll had a sexual “thing” of some sort for the real “Alice.” But then documents were found that pretty much killed that slimy notion. (We project our fantasies of history on history all the time: official histories are no less shaded, ofttimes, than family histories.)

Alice’s adventures in both books acquired a patina of evil, or even child molestation, and that view COLORED the experience of Alice (Wonderland and Looking Glass) for many years thereafter — even though it was purest fiction.

In the same way, Southern Historians “swiftboated” Ulysses S. Grant in the latter half of the nineteenth century. So successfully, in fact, that he is still regularly referred to as “one of the worst American presidents,” and often referred to as a terrible general. (Less successfully, since Robert E. Lee estimated Grant as the best general he’d ever faced.) As we change the histories of our nations, so we learned how to do it from changing the history of our families.

For a long time politicians did it (until the standard of fact checking became exponentially greater, post-internet). The story of the amazing expanding resume is as old as human history. As is the convenient story.

And we were told a convenient story about mommy going to school, and shipped off to the grandparents. It was the first convenient story in a cascading profusion to come.

We had done the same thing the winter before. This wasn’t the first year of the winter exodus back to Nebraska. We would stay up with grandpa and Uncle Paul and watch the “Tonight Show” long after grandma went to bed at 9 or 10 pm.

My grandma was a fascinating woman, and she particularly delighted in reading to me, because I loved books, and so did she. For some reason, she kept reading Longfellow’s “Song of Hiawatha” to me, long after I’d grown sick of it.

And here was the last time I ever saw my father, AS my father. I don’t remember it, because it’s not the sort of thing that registers at the time. When you leave, intending to come back, you seldom realize that there might not be anything to come back to. This is as true at 34 as at 4 as at 104.

We went to the train station. My grandmother may have come to Cheyenne to take us back on the train: because my grandfather worked for the UPRR, she could take the train anywhere for free. So, she did.

Or, my parents may have driven that 305 miles from Cheyenne to Kearney on the old Lincoln Highway. (I would be back and forth on that stretch of highway paralleling the UPRR main line more times than I could count by the time I was seventeen).

My grandmother, as I noted, used her unlimited travel on the UPRR whenever she wanted. My brother and I (born two years later in Cheyenne) had been at the Swann house through the winter.

Maybe it was cabin fever. Who know? My grandmother and grandfather famously didn’t get along. Their bedrooms were on separate floors. His was on the first floor, with his stash of Rosicrucian books hidden in his closet. Hers was upstairs, with her secret library of Alice Bailey books hidden in HER sewing room, a large closet off her bedroom.

So much of our lives are led in secret. But those secrets had consequences for my brother and I in this case. One day, before grandfather got home from work, my brother and I were packed up and taken to the train station. We were still young enough to ride on the train for free.

So grandma could take us anywhere the railroad went whenever she wanted. And she just about managed to do just that:

Three days later, we arrived in Walla Walla, Washington, my grandmother’s sister’s home. Her husband worked at the Welch’s factory across the Columbia River in Kennewick, which was closed just last summer.

I still remember a strange thing from that odyssey that I thought for years was a hallucination: with the sun setting we crossed the Great Salt Lake, going West: and the fantastic pink clouds and turquoise sky were perfectly reflected in the lake, that the train was FLYING over!

We left our seats and ate in the dining car, while the train flew suspended in a pink and turquoise sky.

Why flying? You couldn’t see the tracks, and there was lake ten or fifteen feet below. It seemed impossible. Years later, I drove the interstate, and saw that section of the UPRR tracks on a long, straight trestle, ten or fifteen feet ABOVE the lake, cutting across a shallow section.

I had actually experienced that magical moment. For decades, I thought it must have been a dream.

Long story short: when we returned months later (after a lifetime’s worth of PTSD childhood experiences), it was to the old Swann estate: my grandparents’ Victorian gingerbread house.

One morning I was informed that my parents had arrived during the night. When they woke up, we’d see them.

We hadn’t seen them in months. After an eternity, we were sent upstairs to the middle bedroom, and in a scene straight out of Dickens, informed that this was “your new daddy.”

And I only saw my real father a handful of times thereafter, and then only in the awkward “visitation” mode, and after a year, I never saw nor heard from him again. He had given us up for adoption (after a futile battle with the “hell hath no fury” ex-wife, my mother). I never blamed him. I grew up. I moved on. Lots of kids lose a parent. We all deal with it because we have to. My dad had loved us, and been a wonderful father. I DID remember that. And that’s about all.

I have one very precise memory of the last time I saw him. He bought me a little plastic black-and-white fake cowhide vest as a toy at the (since razed) Ben Franklin dime store in downtown Kearney.

And I never saw or heard my father again.

One strange interlude in 1969, around the time of my grandfather’s death, my mother and I drove to a house in Kearney, where I was introduced to my father’s mother, and his brother. That’s it. I think they said that he was alive. That’s every last bit of it.

Forty four years passed.

Now, the story gets all tear-jerky. (I didn’t mean to become a character in a bad Dickens’ novel; it just happened that way. Onward.)

The moment that remains etched in memory was the moment that my mother pointed to the guy across the bed from her and said, “This is your new daddy.” My new name was, I was informed, “Claw Sun.” I know that moment, because I remember making up a mnemonic device, picturing a bear’s paw clawing at the sun. I didn’t want to forget my new name, and embarrass this guy in his undershorts.

(Helluva way to meet your new ‘father.)

I know: how was it that a five year old does that? I don’t know. But, like the image of the train flying over the Great Salt Lake, it is probably entirely accurate. In fact, I didn’t have to worry about remembering that new word: for the next twenty-three years, it would be my legal name.

And I wanted very much to ask a question that I never did: As in, “But I already HAVE a daddy? What happened to HIM?”

And so began life under the new regime: do not mention the old regime. Taboo. No!

It was easier on my little brother, John, because he was only three, and you don’t remember doodley squat from being three. One dad was pretty much the same as another to him. But I’d gotten old enough to know who my dad was.

Then, as now, I was cursed with a too-detailed memory. Not so my little brother, who must have been too young to remember any of it.

And, remember, we had just spent months in Walla Walla, Washington, a place I didn’t like then, and haven’t been back to since.

We were both fed a steady diet of “a boy about your age drowned in the Columbia” until my little brother was deathly afraid of any form of swimmable water until well into high school. Walla Walla might have been OK, but the house we were shanghaied to was more Addams Family than Dickens. So maybe he does remember something. But I don’t ever recall him having done so.

I have a solitary memory that is burned into me with the heat of a star and the precision of a diamond drill. When we arrived at the train station, it was night, and we were exhausted. We were driven to the new house, and, half asleep, taken into the guest bedroom and put to bed. The following morning, I woke up, opened my eyes and saw the molding around the ceiling. And, in a shrieking existential panic that resonates in my mind to this very day, I thought: I DON’T KNOW WHERE I AM.

I mean: completely.

Everything that I knew had been stripped out of my life, and I didn’t even know where I was. Then I remembered the flying train and then the night car trip, and I’ve been pretty much oriented in time and space, ever since. But I have never forgotten that one morning.

It’s a lot like what happened to MY dad. His father died when he was three years old, and he doesn’t remember HIM. But he remembers that moment when he was told that he was getting in a car to drive “East.”

From that moment on, our personal history was carefully erased. “Daddy Joe” was a topic that was carefully tied off and amputated over the years. In our family photographs, my mother took a pair of scissors (probably the ubiquitous nursing scissors, with the blunt spade nose for rooting under bandages to cut them off) and cut the FACE OUT OF each and every picture of my father.

Weirder still, many years later, my mother gave me the little “My Baby Book” that she’d kept. She had scratched out the “Williams” and scratched in “Claussen” everywhere that it had appeared. Then, a few years later, she’d scratched out the “Claussen” and returned it to “Williams.”

The inherent absurdity of “Joseph Hart Claussen, Jr.” was always evident to me, and part of a great hole I carried with my family history. The documentary record was successfully expunged, and from age six until I was in my twenties, “Daddy Joe” became a taboo and forgotten subject.

I know. Shades of Oliver Twist and all that, but it’s true, every word. Honest Injun. Cross my heart and hope to die.

No photographs survived for many years, until our old babysitters, Norma and Clarence, who never had any children, GAVE me a photograph of my father they’d preserved during all the years that I lived at home. I was in college at the time.

When, years later still, I received my baby book, for some reason, I matched the photograph of my father that my babysitters had given me to the four black and empty corners opposite my mother’s photograph where my father’s photograph HAD been. They were the old kind of glue-down mounting pieces, little paper L-brackets that held photos so that they could be taken out of albums and the bad handwriting on the back deciphered.

I don’t even know if they make them anymore.

The picture fit in those four brackets PERFECTLY, as if a piece of an epic jigsaw puzzle.

Fast forward to Hollywood, 1976. In town just a couple of months, my wallet has been stolen. Inside it are my draft card, my drivers license and my Wyoming Birth Certificate.

In order to replace the drivers license, I have to replace the birth certificate. I write Wyoming.

A letter comes back: You will have to take it up with Nebraska. Wyoming no longer issues amended birth certificates.


Turned out that after the legal adoption and name change, Wyoming had gone ahead and issued me a new birth certificate. So I sent off to Nebraska. The birth certificate came back: Joseph Hart Williams. Nobody had ever changed my name during the divorce.

I’d have saved a lot of grief, had I just gone ahead and become JHW. But I went through the whole rigamarole set out by the Nebraska Department of Vital Statistics Bitch From Hell, Frieda Theis.

She is finally dead and can no longer hassle my family, so I may tell the tale. Years later, I found, in some old family documents, a letter from Ms. Theis to my MOTHER, giving her the same grief about changing my name. Registered this, notarized that, fees, fees, fees. It was about changing the name on my birth certificate, and was dated 1961. So, for at least 15 years and two generations, Frieda Theis made my paperwork identity into a living hell.

I changed my name back to Joseph Hart Claussen (a deadly name for a writer, since no one ever managed to spell it the same way twice in a row). I thought hard about keeping the JHW certificate, while I corresponded with Frieda Theis, and had no ID, couldn’t get a job, etc. etc.

Because “Hart Williams” looked very much like a writer’s name. But I thought it would be “phony,” and passed on the notion. (In 1980, I began using it as a pseudonym, along with the fifty others I was using to write entire issues of various LA men’s magazines. In 1984, I formally changed it, and my passport now legally reads ‘Hart J. Williams.’)

What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would have trouble with Frieda (M?) Theis.

Now, I have always remembered the OTHER thought I had when I made up that mnemonic to remember the alien new name I had been unceremoniously given: I hated it. I still hated it in 1976. I hate it to this very day.*

[* Not that I hate the man from whom it came. My stepfather was a U.S. Forest Service engineer, and was the best of all possible stepfathers. As such, my mother divorced and remarried him regularly until he died in 1991. I just hated the NAME, as an aesthetic issue. I remember really loving ‘Williams’ as a kid, and the beautiful calligraphy in which it was rendered very often. Being left-handed, I did not know that the flowing cursive-script would never be mine, most especially that “ILLI” flourish that cursive writers take such delight in when writing.]

Wives and girlfriends have asked me over the years: “Don’t you want to know who your real father is?” And I would answer with a standard palette of denials, trivializations, etc. The issue was so charged that my brother and I both came up with an endless array of denial tactics to hide the issue that always remained: WHERE did I come from? What is my paternal line?

By the time I “took back” my name in 1984, I had become interested again in finding out who my father was. Over the following decade, I carefully, stealthily, mined nugget after nugget, and kernel after kernel of information out of my mother. It was an exhausting process to get her at a moment of weakness or forgetfulness to let something slip. And then, it was back to TABOO status.

In 1993, having moved to her home in Ottawa, Kansas, to help her finish packing and moving (she’d spent two years depressed after the death of my stepfather), I made the discovery of all discoveries.

I ran across the NEGATIVES of those old photographs. And there, in negative, were all the pictures of my father and I and my mother that I only knew from the photos with the hole where my dad’s face ought to be.

I “liberated” the negatives. Later, with a scanner, I converted them and sent them to my brother, who probably promptly finked, but I figured he ought to at least have a set for HIS kids. THEY might want to know.

She mutilated the pictures, but had FORGOTTEN the negatives. (NB: NYAHAhahahahah!)

So, after thirty plus years, I had something new to go on. Then, about the same time, my grandmother, my father’s mother died. (My mother’s mother died in the same year, more or less, and both in their 90s).

I spoke with her, and she told me that my father was alive, in a town in Tennessee that she couldn’t pronounce, and DIDN’T WANT TO SEE ME. My mother — who, weirdly, ended up being the hospice nurse who saw my paternal grandmother into the grave — found out no additional information, either.

The truth was now, literally, dead and buried: Dead Grandmothers Tell No Tales.

And then the internet arrived in my household in 1995.

For the next twelve years, I looked for my father, grandparents, relatives, ANYTHING that might shed some light on that side of the family. Irrespective of how one might feel about blood ties, there were issues of hereditary disease, family life spans, etc.

Well, try looking for a “Williams.”

One thing I learned: “Williams” is not so much a family, as a people. They were those who came with William, Duke of Normandy when he attacked the British Isles, and defeated Harold at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

William (the Bastard, which he literally was) was a forward-thinking* monarch, and initiated the first census of his subjects, creating “false” family units throughout England.

[* Another forward-thinking concept was the establishment of the first national parks … anywhere. It was expressly forbidden for anyone but the king to hunt stags — which he never did — in the national parks, with the stag of the Red Deer called, at maturity, the hart. William’s harts (you might call them) were protected under penalty of death. No editorial commentary implied: just noting a fact.]

It was the census recorded in the Domesday Book that created the necessity of a surname, generally what one did, or where one was from, or whose son one was: Smiths (the most common name in the USA), Coopers, Fletchers, Bakers, all of which were trades; and their sons, like Johnson (the second most common), Williamson, Thompson, Wilson, etcetera; and an interesting surname, Williams, which were the men and their families who came over with William.

The THIRD most common surname in the USA.

OK: try looking for “Joe Williams.”

Or shoot yourself; the latter course of action at least stands a chance of accomplishing something. The former is merely and utterly hopeless.

OK: the sateen-covered “Our Baby Boy” baby book said that Josephus Hart Williams was the father, the father’s father, and the father’s father’s father. This might or might not have been accurate. I could not proceed from that premise. But I had a “unique” name, so I looked.

I found a very few “Josephuses” over the years. Once, a private eye who owed me a favor for ghostwriting a proposal had gotten me a skip trace list, and turned up thirty such names and variants (Josephus H. Williams, Josephus Williams, J. Hart Williams, etc.)

But none of the leads ever went anywhere.

Until last August.

Now, don’t think that I had no “pedigree” — proletarian though it was. My Aunt Jenny had researched and even published a book on the genealogy of her mother’s side of the family (my mother’s mother’s side).

That was very well known.

[Here’s a weird piece of trivia, however: I learned last summer that my mother’s mother’s mother was born within two miles and two years of my father’s father’s father — even though it would take until their grandchildren to relocate as closely as a single state. Those two married, and I’m their offspring.]

But I literally knew nothing of MY father. Or his family. I knew his mother’s side of the family. But my father and his father and their family was a complete blank.

What my mother had done wasn’t so awfully odd. Divorces — at that time — were still VERY scandalous. I remember having a girl in my grade school class pointed out to me at church, because SHE was the product of a DIVORCE, and had a different last name than her mother and ‘father’.

So, the history of a prior marriage had to be erased, and who better to do that than the potentially scandalous divorcee who had borne said children? Ergo, “mom.”

OK: The first thing you did was to change the children’s name. Check. Then you discouraged any reference to the prior marriage and father. (Check.) Because children say the darndest things.

And then you spend a childhood (not yours) erasing the memory of the missing father, and even, perhaps hint that he left you because he DIDN’T LOVE YOU. (You little brats!)

He couldn’t be bothered, you know. Best not to discuss it.

I took it as well as might be expected. But this is a commonplace story in the America I came of age in. I really get the feeling that a version of that is what’s going on with Alec Baldwin’s daughter. It’s as common as dirt, and if the mother has any GUILT about the divorce (like, say, some of it was her fault), the coercion ramps up significantly.

It’s no different than the Communists rewriting Russian history when they came to power, or the rewriting of Chinese history. Or of our own.

That’s a bit of the point of this column, wordy as it is. My path has made me what I am, so I don’t damn any of it. But I DO think that learning from mistakes is important, and the 44 years of separation from my father are tragic inasmuch as the only reason for the suffering that we endured was because of one woman’s inner demons.

There is no justification in that.

Poisoning children against their absent fathers is a venerable national pastime, but it’s high time we substituted it with something like, say, soccer, which has the additional advantage of being physically healthy, in addition to its obvious benefit of NOT making adulthood the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder of childhood.

I’ve seen a lot of families, and believe me, if you think what happens on the world stage is bad — wars, revenge, theft, oppression — what happens in Family Court, proportionally, is FAR worse. Thank goodness we don’t treat citizens and other nations the way we often treat our families. If we did, the human race would probably be extinct already.

OK, denouement.

The key was finding the 1930 Census online, for which I must thank Ancestry dot Com, who gave me a fourteen day free trial, which I put to very good use. The 1930 census was only “declassified” in 2002, and without it, none of the dominoes could have fallen over.

I had always been told a cryptic: Your grandfather Williams died when your father was three years old. Your grandmother ran off, and three of the four children were put in foster homes. (Remember, this was 1930 or 1931, and EVERYBODY was struggling to feed whomever they already had. Not four more abandoned children.)

But my father was adopted by a farm family in Indiana, “To keep the name in the family.”

Which name? Josephus? Or Hart? What family? Do you realize HOW MANY FREAKING WILLIAMSES THERE ARE!!?!?!?

A man I knew used to say that there were almost as many Williamses as there were white people. Another man I knew used to say the opposite: there are almost as many white people as there are Williamses. I imagine there’s probably a racist tinge to the remark, but I merely report; I’m not judging.

Besides, like I said earlier: the Williamses are more a people than a family. So, I can reasonably assert that any black Williams is as much related to me as any white Williams. After all, we both got our names the same way: we adopted them for a census. And, ironically, it was the U.S. Census that finally cracked the case for me (after the “Eureka!” moment of decrypting some really bad Census penmanship).

But my truth is that, for 44 years, I had no idea. I was stuck on square one and couldn’t roll an “8” to get out. The intensely personal puzzle sat for decades mocking me, like a supercilious, smirking sphinx.

Aaaaaargh, I would think to myself. But, without some key additional piece of information, I could never crack the code. (To everything there is a season…).

For nearly my entire life, the puzzle could not be cracked, but I had no way of knowing that ONLY a Google-monkey could solve the conundrum of father AND the whole paternal line. Well, Google-monkeys (I’m referring to myself) did not exist, could not exist until the past couple of years. So, while the key existed, it didn’t exist in any way that I could access.

And then, in August 2006, I found that key.

But that part will have to wait for another day. The reason that this was written was to tell you a good Father’s Day story.

And, it was to note that my story of a lost father is all too common in my generation, and moreso for those generations that followed. I’m not the only kid who literally had my father’s memory cut out of my life.

But I’m one who found his long lost father.

And today, at noon, I wished him Happy Father’s Day for the first time in his life and mine.

After that incredibly awkward initial first meeting last year, I’ve gotten to know my father: he’s a good man, and a father to be proud of. More than that I could not have wished for.

So, Happy Father’s Day to you who know your fathers and to you who do not. I hope that you find the answers that you seek, and that your path is ultimately successful.

And that it doesn’t take you as long to reconnect to your roots as it did me. But even then, I hope you make it. Not all child abuse is physical, nor is it all parceled out by men. Sometimes mothers do bad things too.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. It’s good to finally know you.



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About Hart Williams

Mr. Williams grew up in Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico. He lived in Hollywood, California for many years. He has been published in The Washington Post, The Kansas City Star, The Santa Fe Sun, The Los Angeles Free Press, Oui Magazine, New West, and many, many more. A published novelist and a filmed screenwriter, Mr. Williams eschews the decadence of Hollywood for the simple, wholesome goodness of the plain, honest people of the land. He enjoys Luis Bu├▒uel documentaries immensely.
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2 Responses to A Father’s Day Tale

  1. Ginny Cotts says:

    Great story Hart. The similarities to the two sides of my family and the two sides of my kids families are all through it.

    I think the most important theme in yours and mine is: Dads are very important to children. It is important for them to realize how much kids need a Daddy, not just a Father. It is important for them to realize how much children pay attention to what they do, don’t do and say, or don’t say.

    My mother-in-law was a victim of the depression era parenting problem. When her mother died, her father was roaming the railroads for work. After a few years he had found a new wife and wanted to settle down. His in-laws had told the courts he had abandoned his daughter and had gotten custody. Much of the same interference between her and her father went on – until she was in her teens and met her half brothers for the first time. They all maintained a very good relationship, including the second wife, in spite of ongoing interference from one sister of her mother.

    Was it programming or lousy luck that she married into a similar family? Her mother in law intercepted the letters my father in law wrote from Europe during WWII, including the ones the German’s let him send from the POW camp.

    I think you are right about what goes on in families being as bad or worse than what goes on in the world. Then again, if we could stop it at the family level, maybe the world would get better.

    If you tell more of the story and can include it, I think it would be important to know how your father was affected by being cut off. His mother might have said he didn’t want to hear from you. He might even have told her that to cope with the situation.

    We all react to these things a lot like children. We forget, we don’t try to understand, we try to make someone out to be the bad guy.

    Maybe we all need to grow up?

  2. Thanks, Ginny. I gave up on “solutions” a long time ago. These days I believe in “improvements.”

    There is always something that can be done while more important and powerful people come up with a ‘solution’ to the problem.

    Here is a small window into what Dad felt (written by his wife):

    “When Joe and I were in the early weeks of dating in 1967, he mentioned that he had two sons from his first marriage and that he had not seen them since the day he returned home after working at least two jobs daily so his then wife could attend nurses school and found his clothes and belongings thrown out like yesterday’s garbage in the front yard and he was told to leave and he was not able to see his boys again. Joe had a tremendous hole in his heart where his love for his boys had been; he carried pictures of them when they were about six and four. He also carried Joey’s birth card from Grand Island Hospital in his wallet from the 1950’s until December 11, 2006, when we decided to mail it to Hart for his birthday. In monetary value, it held little. In love and closure to a long unhappy separation for father and son, it was a gift of great meaning.”

    And so it was.