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What is it about nice people that attract total idiots?Nice people are martyrs. Idiots are evangelists.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Of Dads and dogs

A lot of you are writing Father's day posts.  A subject I've long avoided, because anything about my Dad, if I am to be honest, would have certain unpleasantries.  But you all have shown fathers warts and all, and still found a way to salute the man.  Let me try.

Louis Woodrow "Woody"  Martin.  A man who I almost have to consider backwards through time, because unlike a lot of people who knew him and loved him, I was one of a chosen few that got to experience the Jeckyll and Hyde story he could be.

First of all, let me clear away any misconceptions.  He was a good man at core.  A hard worker, he'd go all day at International Harvester, then eat dinner and go out doing handyman stuff with his brother in law.  (I should point out right here that, having seen some of his work, he was more Tim Taylor than Al Borland.)  He loved kids, though by the time I rolled around, he was a bit old to get too involved.  He was rarely ever violent, and the mere sight of his hand on his belt buckle was all he ever needed to restore order.

But there were two Woody Martins.  The one I lost sight of was all of those things above.  He was, I thought, a handsome man when he wanted to be.  Never knew a man to not be his friend.  Fair, funny, and dedicated to an extent that was hard to see.  But there was another Woody as well, and for a long time he got in the way of all my memories of the man.

Beer.  Beer changed him.  The handsome features shifted:  the eyes lost focus, the steel brow became a mass of sagging lines, the turkey neck became pronounced.  The attitude changed; suddenly every story had to end with, "...and he said, 'God Damnit, Woody, you're right!' "  But the stories were just the start.

Somewhere along the way, like many of us, this man had to reset his self-esteem from some perceived low, and only knew of two ways to do it.  One was the stories, repeated ad nauseum.  The other was to belittle those he was closest to.  He would come up with some apparent weakness, some character flaw, or something that happened years before, and nag on it.  And nag.  And nag, in a slow, low, slurred voice.  Pecking away at one's self restraint until you had to shout back at him!  And then, his inevitable reply:

"Why are you yelling?  I'm not yelling."

The other man was very skilled at hurting you, pressing your buttons.  Legend has it that an older brother came to blows with him one night before my birth.  I watched him kick in the bottom of an aluminum screen door one night when Mom locked him out.  Spent more than one night shut up in the bedroom with her, picked up shards from more than one bowl hurled at him.

Some in the family found that hard to imagine.  There were five of us kids, and I was the baby by ten years (thus two had moved out before I was born, and another left when I was three or four.)  Oldest brother was a Girardot like me, and we bore a lot of the brunt with Mom.  Two were more like Dad and escaped the worst.  (Think I'm kidding?  Out of nine grandkids, he had nicknames for 6 of them:  Jonesy, Stinky, Smokey, Smiley, Tag, and Bruiser.  Only one of them did not belong to the two "Martin" kids- the other to my middle sister, who was basically neutral.)  To the favored, which included one brother -in-law, he was the greatest guy in the world.  My other sister's sons, "Smokey and Smiley", idolized him.

I could never understand it.  By the time he died, the man who watched baseball and football with me, got along with all my friends, made me the top rank euchre player I am today, busted his butt so I'd have something- he was buried too, but not by soil.

I was just going into high school when Mom died and I became the prime target of the other man.  I couldn't see how much I meant to the real Woody.  Shortly after Mom died, Dad made a dinner that I don't remember, but I didn't want it.  I was a far more finicky eater back then, and it was nothing for me to refuse to eat something, Mom never forced it on me.  Dad was a different bird, though.  He took it as a personal failure, not with food but with me, and broke down in tears.  Maybe, if things had been different, that could have bridged the gap between the insecure man and the self-centered boy.  But within days, the other man was telling me that, despite the fact I had been doing our lawn mowing for three years and Aunt Cleo's for two, I was "afraid to get on the lawn mower, Mom has you scared to do anything", and the moment was lost.  Finally the drinking caught up to him.  After an all-day binge while I was in classes at IPFW, he plastered half of his pickup truck onto the back of a parked semi about two hundred feet from home.  Miraculously, he had been in the one place in the vehicle that anyone could have survived; any passenger would have been decapitated.

And the first thing the other man did when I got there?  Reached into the shattered truck's glovebox to pull out a pair of woman's panties, saying, "Where do you suppose these came from?"

That was the last words the other man ever said to me.  The increasing drinking since Mom had died ended that day.  I actually got to spend the last year and a half or so with Woody Martin.

It was years later at a Promise Keepers rally that I finally came to terms with the two sides of my Father.  That the real Woody Martin was the hard worker that I first described.  The man who busted ass to make things better for a punk kid that never appreciated it in time.  The other man was just a loud and obnoxious weakness in a man who had fought unknown demons and tried his best.  Which is all any of us can do.

So when Father's Day comes up, I still have a hard time seeing the difference between the man that made me love being called "you dooflink" and the one who made me sick of hearing, "I'm jus' happy-go-lucky."  (I still cringe at that phrase, and it's been over 30 years now).  Every memory is a fight to remember that there WAS a difference.   But there was.  And there is.


Some of you may know by recent comments that Scrappy had kind of a rough yesterday.  We took a long walk, and he gets so pumped for them, I never know that he's hurt himself until the adrenaline wears off and he finally starts to slow down.  Well, He started showing a little when we were almost home, and once we got there, he had a painful limp that was really killing him.  He would barely put any weight on it, and I actually took his dinner to him.  About 9 PM I had to coax him to make a pee trip, and he was warm and giving me that "Daddy, make it better" look.  I looked around to see if we had any of his old pain meds (we didn't), and just as I was about to give up in despair, I came up with a seemingly good idea:

If it's giving him a fever, cool him down.  Give him some ice cream.

Two scoops of Fudge Swirl later, he laid down until Laurie got home from work.  When he got up, the limp was almost gone.  This morning, he's 95% normal.  Either I'm a genius or he's a hypochondriac.

Anyway, here's a look at some of what did him in.

I thought to myself, Dog equivalent of sniffing girl's bicycle seats.

Down to the creek.

The recent rains cut the channel a bit deeper than it was.


Aw, c'mon, Dad! There's something I wanna roll in here..

Funny little sandbar.

Robin taking a bath in the swamp.

And as usual, Scrappy never saw him... and tracked his scent backwards.

Blue Jay actually posed.


  1. Glad Scrappy is feeling better I am thinking you are genius. Ice cream makes everything better.
    Your dad sounds like my ex. My boys and I suffered thru some of the same things. Very sad, to this day I am not sure why it took me so long to leave him.
    And my friend, I want to wish you a Happy Father's day. I hope you have a nice day.

    1. Thank you, ma'am. And having heard what you've said about your ex, the thing with my dad was he was only like that a small part of the time. A lot easier to bear with, and the good part of him was good.

    Man, that was some piece you wrote about your Dad. Very, very well written and full of deep insights. I was quite impressed, and I'm pleased that you and your Dad finally got it together before he passed away. It would have been so tough had the last years been with Mr. Hyde, and those would have been your FINAL memories.

    I was so blessed to have had the parents I did. They did not get along together much of the time, but did so later after my Pa retired. There were loud arguments, and both of my parents - being human beings - had their faults, like we all do. But in general, I couldn't have asked for better parents.

    When I was younger, I was more like my Ma, but as I got older I naturally adopted a personality much more like my Pa's. His sense of humor and mine are nearly identical at times. Sometimes I'll catch myself saying something, or laughing in a certain way, and I'll realize it was so Pa-like that I wonder if he had momentarily "possessed" me.

    Great, great blog bit, CW!

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

    1. I've got a lot of Dad in me as well... and as my sister has explained to me, mom wasn't without her warts.

      The thing with the memories is how badly the bad things buried them. It took a lot of work to move them out of the way.

  3. I really believe all of us are a lot more complicated than outward appearances would indicate. So it was with your dad. So it was with MY dad. I realized he was much more than father to six kids. He was a mean SOB who died alone. And that makes me sad. A well-written post, my friend.

    1. Your dad was like Laurie's dad on steroids. He did a lot of things to keep people alienated from him. And yet, he died with his family around him.

  4. Well written, CW!

    I guess I was lucky to have two "normal" parents-although my father had his gruff side, he was never abusive. The brothers all dramatize about him and his belt, but I honestly do not remember much of that-a little bit to establish that he would (actually the punishment I stil can taste to this day was a bar of Ivory soap lathering my tongue for cursing in front of them).

    While my parents mostly got along, I often wondered what brought them together (nothing in common, did little together), but they absolutley made a partnership of running a house and raising six kids.

    My dad died last year (after a good 85 year run)-my mom still hangs on in a nursing home at 87, and since her two sisters lived to their mid-90's, who the heck knows? She'll probably outlive me.

    I am glad you got to make peace with your dad-my best friend has not spoken to his in more than a decade, and I fear will regret that when the opportunity to make peace is lost.

    In fairness to all parents-we do not come with owner's manuals, and I for one, was a pain in the freaking rear end!

    I often find myself saying things my Dad always said. That used to trouble me, but now it helps me remember.


    1. I often told Laurie and her sister not to abandon their dad, despite his attempts to drive them away, for just that reason. I think that they are both glad things ended the way they did. I would hate to have that cross of rejection on my back the rest of my life.

  5. CWM:
    That was a VERY good commentary regarding your Father.

    I have to confess that MY Dad changed as well whenever he tied one on, but Dad was always (as I would say) "A happy drunk".
    And that's not to mean he was toasted all the time...JUST after work was over and on weekends when his plant WASN'T doing the O/T gig.

    Our neighbor, on the other hand, went dr Dr. Jekyll to Mr Hyde when the empties started stacking up...and his five kids and wife found out how things can go fram bad to worse.

    Each to his own I suppose.
    Some handle booze better than others, while some refrain from it all together.
    I have a beer once in a while (on Dad's birthday or my own,or even when Wifey and I go out.
    But I will NEVER "drink to get drunk.
    I prefer being in as much control of ME as possible.
    To do otherwise invites disaster (and the police)

    As for Scrappy?
    I'm glad to hear whatever ailed him wasn't that bad.
    And FUDGE SWIRL to cure a limp?
    That's a new one on me...I gotta go sprain an ankle and see if it works on people as well as

    Great post and pictures.

    Thanks for sharing.

    You stay safe up there.

    1. Uh, Bob... I think there are easier ways to get ice cream...