“You’ll end up just like your father!”
Mike, my older brother, and I had heard it many times from Mother’s side of the family. I was a child then and I loved my father. I did not understand the inflection in their voices. What is wrong with that, I wondered. But, I was young. On my birth certificate my father’s occupation is listed as “Entertainer, unemployed.” That meant nothing to me then. Now, I find it humorously entertaining.
“Your father will spend his life chasing windmills. He will never amount to anything.”
We found our father several years ago, after nearly forty years of not knowing where he was, or if he was even yet alive. I will refer to my father as Pappy, as we eventually discovered he enjoyed that moniker. I don’t know what Mike and I called him when we were little boys, but we call him Pappy now. My mother and Pappy divorced when I was about five or six years old, and estranged themselves in search of detached enlightenments. She with three little boys, Mike, me, and Mitch; and Pappy with a stammer and a vision of the lights, the cameras, and the action!
I don’t know what had happened between Mother and Pappy, although I can see more clearly now where major impasses must have existed. I do know that our mother was quick to reject any contact between us boys and our father, and that was to be so from there to eternity as far as she was concerned. Long ago she emancipated us to our personal choices and mistakes, and she chose adamantly not to become involved in any part of a reunion with Pappy.
Therefore, for over forty years Mike and I existed on vague recollections alone of whom our father was. Mitch was a baby when mother and Pappy disengaged, and consequently has taken virtually no interest in the subject, either imaginary or realistically. He has never expressed an interest in our father’s identity to Mike and I, either before or after we found Pappy. Mike and I discussed the subject of our father many times; although I will admit that I am the one who usually initiated such conversations, and that generally occurred after I had turned a night of festive consumption into a maudlin last call of theology, philosophy, and occasional tears.
Who was my father? Am I a child of God… we are all children of God. Is God my father? – “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!.. …Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them… … your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost… …Our Father who art in Heaven…” I find it impossible to meet His standards. Surely my daddy would not be so demanding? I wonder if he is yet alive. I wish I could find him and just look into his eyes. These sessions were tiring, and I would stagger to bed with no answers.
Pappy would tell us bedtime stories. He told wonderful stories about Sir Uck-Uck the great, bumbling, though picaresque, hero; his horse Charlie Horse who had a passion for creampuffs; the wise bird and sage named the Walkin’ Pokin’ who walked steadily and counseled freely; and Snappy Dragon, who snored and snorted flames out of mountain tops as he slept. And Pappy would illustrate them with marvelous drawings and hand-made puppets.
Periodically over the years, inebriated and forlorn, I would drift dizzily to sleep with visions of those chivalrous characters in my mind. Yet, I could not remember Pappy’s face.
Mother remarried shortly after Pappy and her dismissal of each other. We moved west and Mike and my life began a significant change of scenery, events, and associations. We left family and friends behind, but suddenly there were the mountains! I know that Pappy tried to maintain a relationship with us for a while, yet, I reiterate that our mother was steadfastly against that. Perhaps that’s why we moved west. Perhaps it was because our stepfather accepted a job in Denver. Perhaps it was because the Father Almighty willed it so. Anyway, Pappy stayed east and we moved west. We were young, and suddenly there were the mountains. It would be over forty years before we would ever see or talk to our father again.
Years ago, I was visiting my hometown in Ohio, where Mike and I had known Pappy as our father, as daddy I suppose (I had only wonderful memories of those days). As I rummaged through Aunt Mabel’s attic one afternoon I came across a book titled Man’s Search for Himself, written by Rollo May. I am fond of old books and will naturally examine one upon its discovery. This book, however, held a great surprise. Inside, along the blank cover pages, the title pages, the index pages, and at the end in similar pages, I found that someone had written something. It was hand written in ink, and the cursive was rather difficult to read. This fascinated me, and by the sunlight streaming through the attic dust, I began to examine my find. I soon discovered that the author of the accompanying message in this book was none other than my father!
There was yet another treasure to descend ostensibly from the Holy Father’s omnificent moment of benevolence. From somewhere within the pages an envelope fell at my feet. Inside were an old photo of Pappy, and a very early, perhaps original copy of his social security card! My heart pounded vociferously in my chest as I looked at an image of his face; a face that I had spent many moments in vague imagination trying to recall.
I could remember his hand. It was always so large when it took mine. I could remember looking up at him. His face was so far up, and try as I might, I could not stretch my memories to that height. Surely he is a towering man, as I do remember that just beyond his head was the sky. Now, here I was looking at a likeness of that face, from a small sepia photo taken in a photo booth. I knew that it was he. It was not the cartoon illustration of Sir Uck Uck. It was Pappy.
The sunlight waned through the attic window, and cobwebs and shadows ushered me down the stairs. I took Man’s Search for Himself to bed with me that night for an astonishing bedtime story that would delight me, and frighten me as well.
“Dr. Andrews…” it began.
Pappy’s handwriting was very difficult to read. I have tried to duplicate his wording and grammar as closely as possible, and I have select a different font and color to simulate, and accentuate his writings. Furthermore, I extend my apologies to any persons or facts that I might have altered in the process of deciphering this.
“… In looking into myself, I find that there are two Donns – Donn Fought, and Donn Kidwell, and an heroic third chimera – the adult person I produced within myself as a child, and named Buck Star…”
I have no idea who Dr. Andrews was. If I met Buck Star I was too young to understand that it was he.
“…Buck Star was a motion picture actor conceived out of my conscience imagination to play all the illusionary roles of the heroic figures of life. He was Errol Flynn, and Clark Gable, and Victor McLaglen, and Cary Grant, and Bustor Grarre. He played always as a film – mind you – opening to end, complete with musical score. Robin Hood, King Arthur, Ivanhoe, Parnell, the western marshals, Ulysses, etc. He was all good, all powerful – all talented – all man, and all great. He was all the things I could never be as Donn Kidwell or Fought, and he’s still with me – just behind my conscience level – and I found it extremely impossible to live up to him. Buck Star always won at everything as a man. He was a making – not a role, but supposedly actual – a fast, but efficient speed racer. He could do anything. The father figure personified, but produced in the unreality of myself.
It is interesting. He was an actor. In my third year of life my father, who seldom was anything but a weak, tantrum raising terror to me, in a kind, fatherly mood took me to the Knickerbocker theatre. In the balcony, the men’s toilet was next to the projection machines. I immediately identified these machines with love, and thus security in the father relationship. Motion pictures substituted for one of my major needs, never having a strong, fault loving father figure to identify to, I created one within myself – Buck Star – interestingly, a movie star – the perfect figure to relieve my longings.
But, he was idealized and unrealistic. He did not relate to myself as a faltering human being. He was too much to live up to – for I was convinced I could never really be Buck Star. It did, however, produce a schizoid situation, and a paranoid reaction.
What I didn’t realize was, I still retained Buck Star within me. When I had my name changed in adoption I equally took another name. I exchanged my father’s (middle) name – Arthur – for Morris – my grandfather’s last name. Thus, I produced the confusion of four father figures: My own father, a tyrant, an emotional infant. My grandfather, an amiable and at one time very capable handy-Andy showman, who entertainingly stretched the truth. Bill Fought, a seemingly strong, but embittered, self willed, hate filled, confused individual, who rated masculinity to me by the seductions of women. And, there was that always omniscient Buck Star. So, I was divided into too many persons, all un-integrated, and in hostile camps. I turned more completely to Star, and his building of a motion picture dynasty. And, I produced that confusion between fact and fiction, which later dominated my life.
Like Doctor Frankenstein, in the end I created a monster. And, like the movies, he never was really destroyed, but always has come back to haunt me. Now, Star is a very real person within me – and I am involved in the painful process of murdering him – so that Donn Fought can then relieve himself of Kidwell and Morris, and be one whole, creative, and talented person.
You know, I even conceived a wife for Star, Jean Brown, also an actress, who had given up acting upon her marriage. The marriage – significantly – was not happy. It eventually ended in separation, and no one – save myself (Star) – could get …”
Now, here there was a page torn from the book. There was also another secret lurking within these increasingly mystifying pages. I discovered that my mother had written comments throughout the manuscript. Her remarks were penciled along the sides of the pages within, with underlining of specific passages, and intended ostensibly for Rollo May. And, there was yet another, a third mysterious player who had read this copy of A Man’s Search for Himself, and had added several comments, also more directed at Mr. May and what he had written. I was in awe! It is only in my imagination that I can venture to say who the third hand was, although I have a couple of ideas. I did not recognize the handwriting, but I did recognize that of my mother. I had little doubt, however, that a woman scorned had torn out the missing page. I was disappointed by its loss, but there was much more remaining, and my heart was nevertheless palpitating boisterously. I shall not quote the comments written by mother or the other participant, as they really have no direct bearing on this story. I therefore return, slightly out of context because of the missing page, to Pappy’s recount…
“ ‘Self contempt is a substitute for self worth’ Every organism has one, and only one central need in life – to fulfill its own potentialities. ‘The fight against God, in the name of God.’
The essence of my neurosis was Star—as neurosis is explained here—the unused potentialities, blocked by hostile conditions in the environment (past or present), and by his own internalized conflicts, turning inward, and causing morbidity. I had two neuroses – Fought’s, Kidwell’s, Morris’s all three combined into one – and Star’s. Because, as I grew into young manhood I had to deny his presence verbally, and eventually, consciously. So – truly – I was a split personality – a complete split – unrecognized – Donn Fought – and Buck Star. And, Donn Fought could never really emulate the ever … talented Star.
Well – it was evident Star would not die easily – He went underground, and took the anxieties of Fought’s neurosis – and with the help of unstable love relationships, convinced Fought of his lack as a man – but he never swayed Fought as a father, because Star never had, or wanted children! It was, essentially, this fact that eventually built the strength in Fought…”
I had to stop for a moment and catch my breath. I remembered Pappy as happy, funny, and very loving. But I was a child then. These words represented the life of an adult, struggling with meaning, self-identification, what appeared to be multiple personalities, and most likely with God, the heavenly Father! If it is true that “child is the father of man,” then I felt a cold sense of my own maturity creep into bed with me. The specter of my failures and insecurities greeted me with a wide grin, as if to say,
“Hello, Sonny Boy!”
I was tired, but too restless to close my eyes, and there was more to read. Surely, however, these words would lead to a happy ending, as Hollywood in the fifty’s so often concluded in films. I read on…
“…Thus, the murderous, suicidal, terror overtook Star – he fell from public dominance – he was still in demand – but refused to act, or work…”
Ah! There was the crux of many of the difficulties between Pappy and mother, and her side of the family—work. While I was unable to extract much information at all about my father from anyone, I was able to determine that he was considered lazy. I was once informed as I tried to put together a garage band, in the very stern voice of my uncle Dick, that, “There is no room in this family for entertainers.”
Did he mean entertainers, or, “entertainer, unemployed?” The specter of my little used talents tapped me on the shoulder.
“Go away!” I grumbled, and shivered.
“Not to worry, I’ll not sleep with the likes of you tonight.” He smirked, and then said rather amiably, “Read on.”
“…Star gave up public appearances. He became a hermit – and he began to hate the race of mankind – particularly Fought – because Fought was insisting on cutting the umbilical cord that gave birth to him – in the antipodal image of both father and son.
Too, other men came along to semi-supplement him. John Fedgley, Emerson Burkhart, (an excellent, and very successful artist, who, early on, had a great deal of influence on Pappy, our mother, and Mike and I) and Mike Bankemper. Star appeared in many guises – though – in men produced from imagination in Fought’s mind, but in story – and in written fiction.
However, as you can see – from his first appearance – many years ago on the Allen farm in Mt. Vernon – he was now reduced from that heroic birth – full grown – to the sniveling parasite, clinging to only a rudimentary hope of survival. And, self-survival is animal heredity – and Star is a very real person – regardless of his invisible cloak. So, he fought – not heroically anymore, as he did dashing across the silver salts of Donn’s mind’s camera and projector, but internally, in Don’s personal doubts and frustrations. The great wise man of his birth was now the elemental evil spirit, the designer of procrastination and decay of Fought. He hated Fought – and Fought could not endure his presence.
So now – I stand – face to face with Star. I still admire him – I still must admit, I do not entirely wish him dead, but my own integrity – my soul – (for Stars great secret is – he has no soul) must do away with him. Star cannot win – because Fought is a greater man – conceived in a woman’s womb out of lust and passion – not out of emotional, neurotic need…”
Again, I had to come up for air. The room felt warmer. I glanced at the specter of my personal uncertainties. It was up from in bed with me, moving about the room, and exploring the many collectibles from Aunt Mable’s lifetime. Fool, I thought, she was a successful and well adjusted, grand lady. A sudden, cold draft startled me, and I returned to the reality at hand. I continued to read.
“… I think Robert Louis Stevenson understood Star very well – not so much in Jekell and Hyde, as in Markheim – because Stevenson too, like Fought, could not be all the adventurous things he wanted to be – but I doubt if he gave birth so completely to his own alter ego – as I did.
So here I am – and by facing Star – at last I have him at my mercy – I am myself – not Fought anymore – but me – an entity without this picture of perfection held up before me. Star is now laid into the coffin, along with the falsity – the – the illusions – and buried without regret in my conscious mind – but I am aware he has left memories – and roots – and perhaps even, on occasion, will be resurrected – although not for long.
As pre-supposed – he will be – in a tale of this – a movie – or a novel – which gives Star perhaps his final moment in the sun. The real world’s recognition of his existence — After all, with all his extreme manipulation of my sensibilities, I am fond of the old boy! He just can’t influence the true “Me” anymore. I’ll give him his birthright though – a penetrating portrait of his existence.
Friends – and enemies we were – and peculiarly – we loved each other – it was both incestuous and narcissistic – and we gave each other vicarious thrills – but now I have to live as an entity unto myself. I’ll write your epitaph though, Star – and it will be a masterpiece.
I closed the book. There was intense silence in the room, except the drumming of my heart. I had made contact. For the first time in my life, I had experienced an intellectual communion with my father. I looked at his photo again. Where is this man? Is he still alive? Is he constrained somewhere? Is he homeless? Is he in Barrow, Alaska?
It was late. The room was warm. The specter was gone—never was. I turned out the light and whispered into eternal obscurity,
“Father, please watch over me as I sleep.”