By Barton Goldsmith
Tribune News Service
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Touching portrait by Barton Goldsmith about what life was like for him and his family after his father ran into financial trouble.
Tribune News Service
I remember it like it was yesterday, and it may have happened fifty years ago. I was sitting in our converted garage/family room (tastefully decorated with AstroTurf and lime green cabinets to match) playing my little guitar. My dad walked in and sat down on the couch. He was an olive skinned man, but that day he was pale as a ghost. I was strumming away and asked him what was going on. He replied, “We’re broke,” with tears in his eyes. Without missing a beat, I said, “Well, I guess I’d better get a job!” I was about fourteen at the time and had only helped dad at the office. I had never really worked before and wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into.
I slung my guitar over my back (soft cases hadn’t been invented yet) and rode my bike a few miles to the pizza place we used to hang out at when I was in high school. Somehow I talked them into letting me play for tips and pizza, and so my music career began. I had no amps or sound system. It was just me and the guitar, and I had to sing loud for people to hear.
Every Friday and Saturday, I’d ride the old bike to my gig and hang out with the owner and staff until it was time for me to go onstage, so to speak. I guess they liked me, because I played there until I got into college and had to leave town. They even named a pizza after me, “the Bart Special,” perhaps the first vegetarian pizza in town. Those were fun times despite the financial hardships.
Dad never fully recovered financially, and we started living differently. No more country club. My dad still played golf but at the public course. My mom threw her card parties at the house. Dad was a pretty good card player and actually brought home the bacon by playing gin rummy with his buddies.
Things were less extravagant, but I was too young to realize the toll this took on my parents. It all seemed okay to me, but they argued more, and both of them took to drinking on a nightly basis. I guess life may not look so bad after sharing a pitcher of martinis, but as we know, that only served to mask the problems they were facing.
I got into college a couple years later, thanks to a National Merit Scholarship. My parents decided to move to Las Vegas into a less expensive townhouse, and my dad tried to make ends meet. Since they both enjoyed gambling, it seemed like a good place for them, and they did manage to have a pretty good life.
My dad never blamed anyone for what happened. He just kept putting one foot in front of the other and got things done. He’d try to comfort my mother as much as he could, but she was always angry about the lifestyle change, and that didn’t help them.
Still, he continued to love and support her, as she was his wife and he took the provider role seriously.
Then he got cancer. I was in my twenties. I was in college and had a job, but I went to Las Vegas every weekend to be by his side. I still remember holding his hand and realizing how big his hands were compared to mine. He was lucid much of the time, and we enjoyed being together. I made sure to let him know how important he was to me and that I wanted to be a good man like him.
He went through a lot in his later years, but he was never overtly upset or nasty about it. His outlook on the world was positive until the day he died. Spending those last few months with him is one of the things in my life that I am happiest about. He brought me into the world, and I was there to help him go to the next. Although it’s still sad that he’s gone, the time we had together was a gift.
My dad enjoyed a good cigar, so every Father’s Day I light up a stogie in his honor. Most of it just burns in the ashtray, I still have the one he used to use, but the smell reminds me of the journalist-turned PR man who could always make me laugh.
Love you dad. Thanks for looking out for me.
(Dr. Barton Goldsmith, a psychotherapist in Westlake Village, Calif., is the author of “The Happy Couple: How to Make Happiness a Habit One Little Loving Thing at a Time.”)