He would have believed anything I told him

Thinking Out Loud

Posted: Sunday, June 17, 2001

Father's Day serves to remind me that my son has been a better son to me than I have been to my father and my father has been a better father to me than I have been to my son. As the weak link in the threesome, I'm grateful for their patience and understanding.

When I was young, Dad left for work around 5 a.m. to sort the mail for delivery on foot, house to house, rain or shine. In Texas, shine meant five months of 90-degree-plus heat. Because he wanted to provide the things a Baby Boomer son wanted, he worked a second job painting houses until dark and or pumping gas at Red Bland's Sinclair station until 10 p.m.

I understood that he was gone a lot and I knew he was working - as distinct from carousing, which he never did. As a kid in the 1950s and early 1960s, I didn't understand that we were on a tight budget. I just knew what I wanted, which was anything anyone else had and all the stuff in the TV commercials.

I remember getting angry with my father when I was about 15 because we couldn't afford whatever I wanted at the time. It couldn't have been anything important or I would remember the details. Instead, I remember a self-indulgent tirade. I'm sure Dad walked away feeling frustrated and hurt. But he never offered any version of: "I work my tail off from before sunrise until late at night so you can have stuff." Eventually I figured that out, but the revelation came much, much later. If he had explained the way things were then, I wouldn't have listened.

When I left for college, my parents gave me the family car, making do with lesser vehicles. Within a couple of months I was 18 and back home for a rowdy weekend of wrapping the '63 Chevy around a telephone pole. A police officer sitting in a squad car at a stop light witnessed the whole thing - fishtailing on a wet street, jumping the curb and smashing into the pole. He cut me more slack than I deserved, writing a citation that ignored some circumstances and played down others.

Then I had to call my folks to come pick me up from the sidewalk where the car was embracing the pole. While waiting for them, the cop offered me a breath mint.

Upon seeing the damage, my parents could not believe I was uninjured. By the time we got home, they were more curious about the circumstances. My father asked the question: "Have you been drinking?"

He would have believed anything I told him.

I told him the truth.

The truth hurt him so badly that 35 years later the memory still stirs my guilt and shame. I wanted him to thrash me, but that wasn't his style. He turned and walked away without a word.

These are memories I don't entertain easily nor that I've shared often, if ever. They've surfaced on some Father's Days and, coincidentally, last fall.

During his campaign for the White House, George W. Bush admitted to certain youthful mistakes in judgment and behavior, but he pulled up short at volunteering information about a drunken driving arrest that occurred when he was 30. Dubya did not volunteer information about the arrest, and he denied there had been any such incidents when the Dallas Morning News advanced one of those broad, "Anything else?" questions in 1998 when interviewing him about his past.

When the truth emerged last fall, Bush said he had withheld the DWI information because he did not want his daughters to know he had strayed into dangerous activities lest they use his experiences to rationalize similar behavior.

He was telling the truth, but only part of it, I suspect. Truly, I didn't want my son, now 19, to know about his father's dangerous teen-age activities. (I wasn't charged with DWI, but it would be pure hypocrisy to emphasize the distinction.)

The fuller truth is that George W. Bush and I didn't want anyone to know.

I can't get inside the president's head, but I suspect there always was at least one more consideration. Last fall, I thought Bush worried that disclosing his DWI would cost him the presidency. If so, his fears were exaggerated.

I think it's possible that he was just a son suppressing the guilt and shame of having disappointed his father.

I hope he and I have learned that fathers are forgiving and the truth sets us free.

Steve Reed can be reached at streed@juneauempire.com.

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