They called him Frank- a big handsome man with lots of charisma. Mother always said she married him for his good looks and artistic talent, but when I got older, she admitted their compatible sexlife was the glue that kept them together. He was not only a fine calligrapher but he could sing on key as well as harmonize. In his youth, he was in a traveling Minstrel Show where they all performed in black face. After he returned home at the end of the First World War, he married Mother; or rather she roped him in.
My father was an easy going quiet man while Mother was the talker in the family. Her ambition was to have a large family, own a nice big home in a neighborhood that had good schools. She gave birth to five children and four survived. Owning a home didn't happen until my oldest Brother came back from WW2 and she bought a small track house with his GI loan. I had to count six houses from the corner to pull into the right driveway during those early years. Eventually the houses began to look different as time passed.
My parents were very social and loved to party. Our house was always full of people and everyone was welcome. Many of my girlfriends had religious parents who rarely laughed or had any fun, so they all liked coming over to my house. Our tiny kitchen was usually filled with people standing and sitting around the white metal table with a bottle of bourbon on the counter as they belted out the old Barbershop songs in close harmony. Half of Wichita were boozers who loved to party while the other half were Evangelicals praying for Jesus to save us sinners.
Just as I entered high school, Daddy's periodic weekend binges had a dreadful affect on our home life. His alcoholism kicked in when he was in his late fifties and at the age of sixty-five he retired from drinking after Mother packed a bag, put it on the porch and changed the locks. I'd already left home by then, but after he was sober, I re-connected with him on my many trips home. Daddy lived out the rest of his life with some silent internal dialogue he never shared. In a sense, none of us ever really knew what was on his mind because we never talked about any thing that had to do with him personally. Although I always felt his love for me, I ended up in a love/hate relationship with him. This set me up for more of the same later in life. I often felt sorry for men. One hand pulled them in to save me, and I'd push them away with the other hand because I knew no man could be trusted.
In 1950 when I moved to New York, my dad's youngest brother Howard Dodson had been living in the city for years. He played an important role in my life as a surrogate Father who was articulate, sophisticated and never drank too much. As young men, both he and my dad were apprenticed to a sign painter in Pittsburg Kansas. Uncle Howard painted the large signs that stood outside Broadway theaters in Times Square advertising the latest shows. Hand lettering was an important art form before they developed more sophisticated ways to reproduce lettering. Although Howard had been married, by the time I arrived in New York, he was a bachelor living alone so I had him all to myself.
When Howard looked at my art portfolio he inwardly groaned and later told me that he saw a very talented young woman with no education who had a lot of guts. Howard paid for my first semester in art school which was followed by four more years of schooling with the aid of the scholarships I won. My uncle belonged to a fancy restricted Jewish golf club in Englewood NJ where he was excellent golfer. As the only non-Jewish member, he was fondly tagged Howard Dodsky. I was a wide-eyed twenty-year-old Midwestern hick who loved going with him to the club on weekends. It was a foreign land where I could devour all their exotic foods that I'd never seen before like matzo ball soup, pastrami and whole lobsters eaten from their shell just like in the movies. I instantly loved Jewish people. They were boisterous, flamboyant, a lot of fun and easily entertained as I pronounced Yiddish words with a nasal Kansas twang.
Daddy only visited New York one time not long after I got married in 1960. He hated elevators and traveling on planes. He had only flown once before when his Barbershop quartet won a prize and they were invited to perform at the 1940's World Fair. My youngest brother Dick also came to NYC only once, but Brother Bill was in men's clothing and twice a year he made buying trips to New York City. My oldest brother died in a swimming accident just before I left home in 1950. During those first five years away from home, I returned every summer for several weeks until I completely lost interest in everything Kansas.
Not long ago I came across a box full of photos sent to me by my sister-in-law Carolyn. One day I was going through it and found some old yellow newspaper clippings about my father. He'd won many prizes with his window displays in Men's Clothing stores. We moved twice for good job offers from high-end men's clothing stores in Santa Monica and Minneapolis. A few articles showed his hand lettering in the thirties when Art Deco was all the rage. Although he was in demand, he was a small town boy who missed his friends in Wichita, so our family moved back there. He later designed neon signs around town until his drinking got him fired from that job. In the end, he had his own little sign shop doing hand lettering for local small businesses.
Daddy never talked about the past or speculated on the future. The only time I remember him showing any emotion other than laughing, singing or yelling at us kids was the time he actually broke down and cried trying to talk me out of leaving home. I figured my financial contribution to the family would be missed more than me. Meanwhile Mother was behind my move to the big city. She'd always wanted to run away from home as a young girl.
All of the Dodson men in my family served in the Army. Daddy was WW1, Rowan WW2 while Bill and Dick were in the Korean War. They never discussed any experiences they had in any of these wars except Daddy. He would repeat the only French he'd learned besides the standard will you sleep with me. Our favorite was "Tallywhacker tres bon, vous comme ca"? We kids would roar laughing knowing what it meant. My little brothers loved their own little "tally whackers" especially playing "House" when we acted out intercourse by putting the "wiener in the bun."
Our family lived on the low edge of middle class with periods of poverty looming close by. For the most part, we were all wage slaves. Rowan went to work at the Cessna Airplane Plant when he returned from World War II. I broke the pattern first by working freelance as a fashion illustrator. Bill eventually owned his own Men's Clothing Store until he went bankrupt and ended up working for someone else again. Dick was a foreman at Cessna his whole life. Mother always worked, part time when we were small and full time once we were in school. She sold hats and women's ready to wear in downtown Wichita. The Dodson's were all "good dressers" except Dick who preferred to hunt and fish. The rest of us were all clothes crazy and liked nothing better than to get dressed up and party on Saturday night.
Toward the end, Daddy was afraid of dying so there were many things he'd left unsaid and undone. I had nothing to do with his final days. His arteries were clogged and insufficient blood flow to his brain resulted in memory loss and hallucinations. My two brothers and Mother handled Daddy's death. I clearly remember my last trip home when he was still alive. I asked to go to an AA meeting with him. He was very hard of hearing, had a tremor in his hands with slow reflexes that made him a terrible driver. Getting into the car with him that night was a challenge, but I did it thinking it might be our last ride together and it was.
He was a big gentle man who smelled of tobacco with a charming crooked smile and a dry sense of humor. I never sent him a Father's Day card and I don't even remember his exact birth date except it was early September and he was a Virgo like me. Although we rarely talked, we made funny faces at each other with goofy sounds- our non-verbal communication. I thank him for passing on his artistic talent. I also thank him for never fondling me in any inappropriate way although several times I tried to seduce him. Around the age of four and five, I loved to sit in his lap while he read the newspaper tapping his foot to a silent tune while I felt the warmth emanating from his genitals. One time, I must have hunkered down too blatantly because he abruptly picked me up and set me on the floor saying, "Betty Anne Honey, you're too old to sit in my lap anymore." Momentarily crushed, I turned my erotic attention to my little brothers and later to the neighborhood kids when we played "house" and "doctor."
Every little girl wants a Daddy to love. It doesn't matter if he's the strong silent type, goes off to war, remains a mystery his lifetime, gets drunk on weekends, comes home with lipstick on his collar, struggles with monogamy and never makes enough money. Come to think about it, Daddies don't have it all that easy. So I wish all the hard working sex deprived Daddies everywhere- Happy Fathers Day!