Goodbye, Homer Gene
He was always a teaser, that Gene. The first time I met my ex-husband’s father, he bravely went where most men dare not go—especially with a woman (me) who was a complete stranger—and made a joke about how fat I was. As awkward as the moment was, we laughed because at 5 feet 9 inches and 135 pounds, clearly, I was being toyed with.
Through the years, as I got to know the man behind the jokester, I learned that teasing was Gene’s way of interacting with people, getting close to you, but not too close. He came from an era where men showed brute strength instead of their emotions. He was a big guy in a husky, not heavy, way. A Navy man who was a Golden Glove boxer.
And he had a temper, one he passed on to his son, the man I married.
My favorite Gene story has him in a pet store with a very obnoxious monkey who was smashing grapes against his wire cage as shoppers walked by, squirting them with pulp. But the monkey, unknowingly, met his match with Gene. Just as it was about to christen him with grape mash, Gene balled up his Golden Glove fist and boxed the ornery monkey in the nose through the cage, sending the primate reeling in pain and turning evolution on its head.
Last Christmas, my children’s grandfather—Poppy, they called him—this monkey tamer and pugilist from Arkansas, fought his last match and died from a heart attack. I was surprised at how saddened I was by the news because I never felt close to him. After his son and I divorced, I hadn’t heard much from Gene. Even when I was married, communication was spotty between him and my ex; visits infrequent, especially after he retired and moved to Missouri. A typical pattern, I suppose, with fathers and sons. Women keep in touch. Men give each other lots of space to be men.
After our divorce, my ex-in-laws practically disappeared from my world. I’d hear about them occasionally from my daughters, but they certainly weren’t part of the new life I was making for myself.
Truth be told, I partially blamed Gene for the destruction of my marriage. “If only he had been a kinder, gentler father, maybe his son would have been a more patient and loving man.” Maybe my ex would not have had such an explosive temper. Maybe we would have stood a chance.
They say if you want to know how a man will treat you, watch how he treats his mother. Not true. The real measure of a man comes from the relationship he has with his father. And anger usually begets anger.
Gene’s life is over, and I am very sad about that. It’s hard to believe that this once strong and virile man, a loyal husband and commanding father, is gone forever. I later discovered that Gene’s father abandoned him when he was a little boy, and I now understand that he did the best that he could do.
In the spirit of this Easter season, with death comes forgiveness.
Lynn Armitage is a news producer and freelance writer in Northern California. She is an enrolled member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin.