(This is a piece I wrote for my ENG 101 class. I thought I might share it here.)
Minutes To Memories
When I was a small child, my father and I were as close as close could be. While we didn’t spend much time together, as he only had custody of me every other weekend, the time that we did spend together was great. In a lot of ways, during those years, he was a better parent to me than I am to my own children. While not the most eloquent, he would often tell me, “Suck it up, tough it out, and be the best you can.”
It was my father who took me to my first real concert. Sure, we had been to concerts in the park, usually with whatever woman he was dating at the time. But this was different. This was a major concert in what I considered to be a huge venue. Freedom Hall. At five years old, just the name alone inspired awe in my mind.
We saw John Cougar Mellencamp, as he was known at the time. Mr. Mellencamp had completed three fourths of his journey from his humble beginnings as Johnny Cougar to John Mellencamp. His 1986 tour found him and his bandmates playing in support of his latest LP, Scarecrow. It was an oft played album in our house, with verses telling tales of love, rock-n-roll, and the downtrodden times of farmers struggling to make ends meet in middle America. It was from one of the songs that my dad co-opted that line to he’d frequently share with me, and even going so far as to write it in letters and postcards. Dad would tell me, “You are young, and you are the future, so suck it up and tough it out, and be the best you can.”
Some thirty plus years have passed since that concert on a cold night in February of 1986. I still remember that concert but not as much for the music, not so much for the venue, but more for the memory of my father. Our seats were on the upper level, but my dad convinced the security guard to allow us down on to the lower level. Sometimes the memories when no one speaks, and everyone listens paint the best memories, decades later.
Most of the memories of my father in years since were not of the warm and fuzzy variety. We often found ourselves at each other’s throats, metaphorically speaking. We both knew which of our respective buttons to push and rarely was there a holiday or family event that didn’t end with one of us mad. I recall wondering if I was just that much of a disappointment to him or that he just couldn’t derive joy from anything other than someone else’s misery.
Yet for all the vitriol that we spat, I still think about the good times. He’s been gone for over five years now and I often find myself lamenting our relationship and how things could have been different. More than that, I consider how he might feel about the woman I’ve become. In many ways, I’m a person he never knew. But that’s another story altogether.
My father was a complicated person. For the life of me, I have never been able to figure out what brought him joy in life. Born in 1954, he was the middle child of Leroy and Deloris Newton. He started dating my mother when they were both teenagers. Of five pregnancies, I was the only child that they would have together and although he would go one to have another daughter with his second wife, my mother never had any other children.
It seems that the vast span of years that my parents were together were punctuated by his alcoholism. While he was at the bottom of a bottle, my mother was often left to deal with the aftermath. This included his inability to maintain gainful employment, the numerous wrecked cars, and other things she’ll never tell. All of this while caring for an infant child. Having finally had her fill of that life, she filed for divorce when I was just two years old.
Three more years would pass before he would embrace sobriety and I can still remember the fights they had prior to him putting down the drink. One such incident would be permanently singed into my memory, with him caving in the door of my mother’s Volkswagen as I sat in the back seat. The metal of the poor car groaned and creaked as he dispatched the kind of savage punishment most people only see in a gang movie. This was in the driveway of my grandmother’s house on a cold, wintery Sunday night. This was a place I considered to be my safe haven. And while he spent the next 27 years of his life sober, those memories never real fade away.
My father owned his sobriety. Through A.A., he sponsored numerous other people who like him were struggling to get clean. Professionally, he worked hard trying to make up for the lost time in his career. In 1992, he started a home repair business and made an honest living for himself and my sister. He dealt with a fair share of setbacks, including another bitter divorce, but he seemed to live by those words that he’d said to me so often. “Suck it up, tough it out, and be the best you can.” He saw us as the young and the future.
I don’t feel as young as I once did, yet I know I am still young in comparison to my parents. Personally, I’ve have weathered some very rough seas in my life and they’ve become more tumultuous in recent years. Most days, I fear that I have still not seen the worst of what life has in store for me. Nevertheless, even when I’ve wanted to quite literally give up on life, I’ve somehow managed to suck it up and tough it out. Every day, I try to be the best I can. However, by my own estimation, I come up short most days.
Throughout it all, we persevere. I know that no matter the complicated circumstances that surrounded our relationship, he wanted nothing but the best for his children. I do my best to bestow that mindset upon my own children, as they are the young and they are the future and I want them to be the best that they can. Passing that idea on from generation to generation is the narrative of the song from which that line is borrowed. I hope that when I’m gone, their memories are less littered with pain and hurt feelings that the one my father left me. In the end, memories are all we leave behind.
“Days turn to minutes and minutes to memories.”