Previously: Wayne, 41, is awakened from a visit by the ghost of his father at just after midnight, on Father's Day. Wayne's dad -- and I promise you'll finally learn his name in this chapter! -- invites Wayne to go for a walk outside.
Wayne's dad left Wayne's mother (since deceased) and their two sons when Wayne was nine, and his brother Matty was fourteen. During the marriage, he'd cheated on his wife constantly.
The two men's angry conversation reveals that Wayne was the preferred son, having shown an early penchant for those things his dad considered "manly," such as sports, carpentry, fishing, and even clandestine cigarette smoking.
Matty wasn't interested in sports; he preferred reading. His father teased him about being girlish, or even gay -- which Matty was not -- going so far as to call him "Mathilda" to shame Matty into acting the way his dad thought he should act.
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"You're angry about how I died?" my Dad repeated. "If anything, I thought you would have been proud!"
Proud, he says. Well, yeah, I guess other people would have been proud, under the circumstances.
When I was nine -- this was in 1978 -- my Dad finally found a floozy who made him keep some of his standard promises. So, for her, he left my mom, my brother, and me. We made out okay because my mom had spent the last ten years or so running the household -- finances and all -- anyway. She hardly fit the cliché of the helpless, abandoned woman, lucky for all of us.
Just over four years later, in February of 1983, he was walking home from work (because his car was at the mechanic's) through a seedier part of town, and he chanced upon a three-decker whose ancient, over-loaded furnace had literally ruptured less than five minutes earlier.
No one in the building -- and there were at least seven or eight apartments legally rented -- could afford a telephone. (Keep in mind, this was years before every Tom, Dick, and Harry had a cell phone glued to his ear.)
From the accounts in the local and national news, it was something out of a movie. Since the fire had started in the basement, escape routes for the upper-story dwellers were perilous at best. There were single moms hanging out of windows screaming "Save my baby!" and the like.
Long before the fire crews showed up, my Dad and another, younger guy whose name I can't remember were running in and out of the building trying to save people. They accomplished quite a bit in a short amount of time. Over a dozen people made it out of there alive.
My Dad wasn't one of them.
He wasn't quite forty-five years old.
In the days that followed, my Mom turned away about forty jillion reporters and more than half a dozen TV camera crews wanting more information about "Gerald St. Germain." My Dad's name wasn't Gerald, it was Jerry, but somebody somewhere got the name wrong and they all ran with it. Morons.
Mom shooed the reporters away because she didn't want to lie, but she also couldn't handle the job of telling people that the big "hero" had been a low-life, deadbeat dad who'd left his family for his latest piece of tail.
School was hell. Matty and I were faced with the same thing my Mom had been, only on a smaller scale.
"Hey, St. Germain, your Dad was a friggin' hero!" We got that crap all the time, several times a day, for the first few weeks. It died down gradually, of course, but still... it was a pain in the butt.
And "No, actually, he was kind of an asshole," doesn't sit well with people who only want to hear what they want to hear, if you know what I mean.
I tried explaining all of this to my Dad, and typically -- dead or not -- he didn't get it. I guess being part of the so-called afterlife doesn't change you from what you were in life, if "what you were in life" was a clueless dork.
Finally, I remembered something. When I was about eight or nine, my Dad sat me down for several nights to watch "The Godfather" on TV. It was some special version of the first two films that the director had edited together just for the network.
I loved "The Godfather" movies even more than my Dad had hoped. I borrowed my brother's copy of the original novel and read it over the weekend.
Yeah, I read a book. The Godfather, no less! And I was only nine. Can you believe it?
And now that I think of it, it kind of surprises me that Matty even owned that book.
Anyway, at the beginning of the story, The Godfather tells about how Michael Corleone doesn't really want anything to do with the family business. And while his father, Vito Corleone, is ready to pull all kinds of strings to keep Michael out of World War II, Michael goes and enlists! He becomes a big war hero, and when a friend of the family shows Vito an article about Michael's war exploits, the Don's reaction is "He performs these miracles for strangers," or something like that.
"He performs these miracles for strangers."
I told that little story to my Dad, complete with the quote at the end. After that, he got it. Amazing.
Things got a little calmer after that, and I started asking questions most people would have asked two hours earlier. Like, what's it like being dead?
My Dad got a little bit cagey, and said he couldn't tell me a lot. Just a few teasers, pretty much.
"One thing I will tell you, son," he said, "and that's that there's a distinct lack of emotion. Things you would have found incredibly funny, or infuriating, or sad... They don't bother you anywhere near as much." He smiled, somewhat wistfully. "And remember that crack you made about talking to your mother? Well, in the past year, since she died... I have talked with her. And as I said, there hasn't been any real anger in her for me. Not any more. The earthly side of things have faded somewhat."
"You've really talked to her? Funny, I wouldn't think you and Mom would be in the same social circles, you might say." I pointed up, then down, the traditional locations for Heaven and Hell. Just trying to be funny. And he smiled. "Or did dying in that burning building excuse a lot of the crap you pulled in your life?"
"It's... complicated. But I just wanted to tell you that, for all intents and purposes, your mother forgives me. No grudges whatsoever. I thought you'd feel better knowing that."
"Only for her sake, maybe. I'm glad she doesn't have any baggage about you mucking around with her little trip through eternity, or however you might want to phrase it."
I thought back to earlier, when I'd tried to grab him. "So... I can't touch you, and you can't touch me?"
"No. But I can touch those on my plane of existence, just like you can touch people who are still alive on your plane." I had to laugh, hearing him talk like that. Planes of existence. Geez. He wasn't a stupid man in life, but I'd never heard him talk this way. He sounded a bit too educated, for Jerry St. Germain, anyway.
Then something else occurred to me. "So... you ghosts don't do the day-to-day stuff we do, right? I mean, you don't eat or drink, or sleep... stuff like that?"
"No to all of that. We're dead. We don't act like you living do. As I said, it's..."
"Complicated. Yeah, I get that." I gestured with the cigarette I was smoking, my fourth in the last two hours (a record low for me). "No smoking either, I assume?"
"No smoking, no. Not even any breathing, Wayne."
"In other words, you may be able to touch each other, but there's no sex?" He almost laughed when I asked that. "Come on, Dad, I'm not nine any more. We can talk about that now."
"Well, it's like you said. There is no sex, so there's nothing to talk about." Suddenly, his eyes focused on something behind me. He look mildly surprised, disconcerted.
I turned around and saw my own mother, fourteen months on "his" side -- my Dad's side -- of life. She walked toward the two of us, looking like an oddly healthier version of the way she looked a year ago, at sixty-eight.
"Mom?" I heard myself say, in an uncharacteristically-soft voice. "Oh, my God... Mom?"
But she didn't even look at me. She walked right by me. She walked right up to her ex-husband, my father...
...and slapped him right across the face with a fury I'd never seen her show in the forty years I'd known her!
Well! So much for "no grudges whatsoever."
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Next time: What's Mom so pissed about?
The conclusion to Father's Day will post on Father's Day, June 19th.
Thanks for your time.