Sunday, June 21, 2015


I could never bring myself to call him "Dad" or "father". Ever. That generic term of endearment was completely foreign to me. I considered it to be a title that had to be earned - not given. I usually called him "the old man". Or worse.

I'm not proud of my reluctance. Or resentment. Or hate..... but it was there deep within me where it festered for years. I never really connected with him. We never bonded. I was perpetually uncomfortable in his presence, to the point that I often stammered with a loss for words. 

When he attempted to be kind I would recoil and resist. All the wicked, detrimental things that he did over my entire lifetime would well up inside me and become a defensive wall of immunity around me - rendering me resistant to the intended truce.

In retrospect, I was often at fault. My hate was a self-inflicted venom that had been slowly poisoning me since childhood. It had little effect on him.....but it had completely destroyed me. My self-hatred was profound.

I was with him when he died. A sudden, completely unexpected heart attack. As he clutched his chest in pain, I held him and said "It's okay, Dad, you're going to be all right."

They were the last words he ever heard. And I had called him "Dad". I never thought about that. He has now been dead for nearly ten years and I never thought about that until last night. I'll admit that it made me cry.

My parents in Atlantic City
before they were married

Dad holding me.
I was born nearly three years
after my parents were married 

My father was the most terrifying person I ever knew. His temper, violence, and rage was inhuman and superhuman. It always came unexpectedly, and with such unbridled fury and insane viciousness that any rational attempt to describe it would be futile. 

It came unexpectedly, and yet it was always expected. It was an inevitable and unavoidable part of my existence. Anything could ignite his insanity, and most often it would be small, insignificant things. His rage wouldn't just last for hours. It would last for days. Often weeks. The same eternal pattern. When the rage finally ended, he would be like someone who had awakened from a deep sleep and remembered nothing. He would be completely normal.

He would also never be apologetic. Anything that had previously happened was entirely my fault, or that of my mother.

My father, long before he was married.
I think the car belonged to his brother Jim.

 Dad in his Willys Jeep. The year was either 1948 or '49. This is the vehicle that my parents used when they eloped.

I had no siblings. My mother and I endured the impossible, unresolvable situation completely alone. All we had was each other. I was accused of being a mamma's boy. She was accused of being over-protective. 

In retrospect, I was seldom a child. My role was that of mediator, referee, counselor, protector, psychiatrist. I would endure nights of incredible violence, beatings, shocking scenes of insanity that can never be expunged from my memory. Mom and I would often have to hide in the yard until dawn. And then I would go to school in the morning and pretend that nothing happened. It was my way of life.

This was taken at the Grand Canyon but I have
no clue what year. My guess is that I was about
fourteen. The body language is evident. I always distanced myself (the photo is a Polaroid and has moisture damage)

It seems foolish and futile to dwell on things that happened in the long-ago past, but some scenes aren't easily expunged from memory. I have learned to forgive - but it's not easy to forget.

When angry, my father would lose all sense of reason. His strength was incredible and his sole instinct was to kill.
He ripped a solid oak bedroom door off the hinges and beat my mother over the head with it.
He fractured two of my ribs when I was fourteen.
He savagely attacked me with a shovel because I used some tools from his tool chest. I was usually attacked with whatever weapon was available: a crow bar, a wooden ladder, a chair.
When I was eighteen, he choked me into unconsciousness.

Once, when I parked my car in the "wrong" place in the driveway, he opened the hood, ripped out all the wires and loosened the engine. 

I still shudder when I remember the day, after a particularly violent blowup, that he handed me a loaded gun and told me to kill myself.

These are only a few random incidents out of a multitude of others. The most unbearable thing for me to witness was the violence he inflicted upon my mother. I have no intention of relating  details or offering analysis. My parent's relationship was extremely complicated and warrants more than a few lines.

Me and dad, barbecuing in Glendora, 
California. I'm probably six years old.
I'm holding a can of his beer. 

 Dad and Mom during a rare pleasant moment.
I took the photo (I think I was seven at the time). That's the Chevy truck that we drove  when we moved from New Jersey to California

There were definitely good times, but they surfaced infrequently. I think I resented them the most, because I knew they wouldn't last. 

By all accounts, my father's life hadn't been easy and he was troubled at an early age. When he started school he only spoke Hungarian and didn't know a word of English. He learned English entirely on his own (children of different ethnic backgrounds weren't catered to back then). He left school at an early age to work full-time. Got in trouble with the law numerous times. Was in the Navy during WWII. He narrowly escaped a blitz in London. His ship was bombed near the coast of Africa. He was later a participant in the invasion at Normandy.

Dad is on the right

In describing his virtues, I have to carefully differentiate between the madman and the person of rationality.
He was meticulous in every aspect of his life. Obsessed with cleanliness and absolute order. Scrupulously efficient - never owed a penny to anyone. He was an indefatigable workaholic, had astoundingly endless energy, and was the most hyperactive person I ever knew.

He was mechanically-minded and could build or fix anything. He had a great passion for music of all kinds and loved to hear me play the piano. Ironically, he tried to break one of my fingers once when I was practicing. As bitterly ironic as it sounds, he sometimes had a good sense of humor. And he was a good cook.

He would brag whenever I had an article published or gave a concert. He once confided to my mother that he wished he had been handsome like me when he was young.

My father was deeply troubled and extremely complicated. In that respect, we were very much alike. Fortunately, I didn't inherit the violence.

I forgave my father for all the wounds he inflicted long before he died. After he died, the hate completely vanished like a lifted weight.

I never told my father that I loved him.
It is one of my deepest regrets.

 My parents on their 37th wedding anniversary
Mom was 59, Dad was 64.

In later years
when Dad was in his 70's


  1. A very painful and revealing read, Jon. I've no doubt it took an awful lot out of you just to get it down here, but thank you for doing so. It sheds a lot of light on the 'you' with whom we are communicating. I can't imagine coping with his prolonged fits of rage - and it only increases my gratitude for not having to endure the likes of your own terrifying experiences.
    My own father never hit me once - my mother only very occasional single slaps when we were misbehaving little kids, but the pain on her face once she had was evident.

    It's something of an achievement that you've turned out to be as well-balanced as you seem to be. You were, in the real sense of the words, 'an abused child'. As you say, you couldn't enjoy fully your few 'good' times, always waiting for the inevitable moment when the volcano would blow again. It must have been like living your whole early life on the edge of a cliff.

    I also regret never having told my father that I loved him, though I had had plenty of opportunity. I guess that for you if you'd said it at any time other than at the end it would have been insincere, and he almost certainly would have known it. But it is indeed a cause for sorrow that he did have to leave without you being able to put it in words.

    I'll read this again a little later. It's rather too powerful to do it full justice in only one reading.
    Thanks so much for letting it out, Jon.

    1. Ironically, I initially wasn't going to write anything about Father's Day, but once I got going I couldn't stop. Strangely enough I hardly scratched the surface. There's so much that I didn't tell. It's not always good to dwell on the past, but there is very much in my turbulent childhood that I simply can't forget.

      It's fortunate that all the abuse I went through didn't make me evil or violent or bitter. It did, however, destroy me emotionally. There are many issues unresolved. Despite the bravura with which I write in my blog, I have a profound inferiority complex. I've always been extremely self-conscious and have no confidence whatsoever. My Mother was also exactly like that - even though she was brilliant and beautiful. The years of constant abuse emotionally crippled both of us.

  2. Unfortunately, Jon, you describe what was all too common in families during that time, and wives and children suffered greatly. I often wonder why men where so furious back then, when they had all the power. It seems that being in charge of everything, including the people in their family, was just not enough. We as a culture look back on the time of the war with gauzy affection--men in uniform, dancing at the USO, Bobby and Susie playing in the yard, when the reality was frequently brutal and cruel for all involved. Today, parents complain how hard it is to discipline their children, because kids know they can call the police if their parent hits them, but now the kids have all the control, and things are bad in a different way.

    I do know that I am grateful that my father did not unleash all his demons on us (see my post today), he mostly tortured himself, which was tragic nonetheless. But there is a reason, besides being gay, that I have never decided to start a family. I truly think that I associate family with pain, and that is something I had too much of in the development years of my life, so I prefer to be family to myself these days, with good friends who are with me by choice, not obligation. I have found a way to be a peace, and that is what I wish for you as well. Our dads are gone--but we are still here. What do we want to do with the time?

    1. I can strongly identify with your feelings of associating family with pain. I never wanted anything to do with family life - - even if I wasn't gay I seriously don't think I would have ever married.

      Things were indeed entirely different back in the era when I was a child. Men had all the power and women were second-class citizens. My father was a master at manipulating my Mom. Women in abusive situations had absolutely no resources. The police were always on the man's side. My mother was very often viewed as the hysterical woman.

      Many people wondered if my father's mental problems stemmed from what he went through during WWII. I'm such they had some effect on him, but from all I learned he was basically the same before the War. His father was also a violent person. I think it's largely inherited. Hungarians were well known for having abnormal tempers and many of the lower-class European men (back then) mistreated their wives and families.

    2. In third paragraph I mean to say "sure", not "such"

  3. Although I have been a dad nearly 45 years, my experience of having a dad is quite limited. Mine died unexpectedly when I was 10. I do remember that he was good to us, kind and supportive, that he got mad sometimes --but it was anger I could understand and wasn't injured or traumatized by it. So reading your reflections on Father's Day makes me wonder if experiences in the war pulled out some important stops in your father's self-control, that he was damaged emotionally while my dad's hurts were physical, but I speculate. What I'm certain of is, your own strength of character has allowed you to progress, become kind and conscientious --not an easy task-- and survive.

    1. I'm so sorry to hear that your father died when you were so young. Judging by the way you turned out as an adult, your Mother must have done a fantastic job of raising you.

      The issue of what my father went through during the War has been brought up many times - and my Mom and I often discussed it. Like most men back then, my father very seldom talked about .it. I'm sure he went through much more than he revealed, and there's no doubt that it effected him mentally. He was only nineteen when he was drafted (I think).

      He did, however, have many problems before the War - which suggests to me that it was inherited. I heard that his father was also violent. My dad was a "middle" child - his younger brother and older sister got all the attention and I know this caused a lot of resentment.
      There's also the true fact (which sounds like an ethnic joke) that many Hungarians had violent tempers and mental issues. Bad Magyar blood abounds......

      I'm rambling....hope some of this makes sense.

  4. I'm not ashamed to admit, your description of your father's final attack made me cry.
    Too, for the childhood which eluded you again and again.

    Crazy, perhaps, but this account transports me to one of my favorite tunes, "Someone to Watch Over Me." No matter how old we become, I suppose we all long for that sort of affection.

    PS - Ya, in his final moments, I'm certain your dad realized you loved him.

    1. I'll have to admit that I cried several times while writing this. There are far too many memories - bad and good - and it's emotionally overwhelming. I only revealed a small fraction. I always try to pretend that everything I went through is now safely in the past - - but it's never truly expunged.

      Someone to watch over me......I need that.......

  5. You and your father had such a tumultuous relationship.I do not know how you survived the abuse. Your emotions must have always been raw.Letting go of that hurt has allowed you to move forward, but I know you can never forget. Although the words were never spoken, I'm sure in those final moments before he died, your father knew you loved him. It is sad that before he went to his grave, he did not look into your eyes and say he was sorry for what he had done to you.

    1. My father mellowed slightly in his old age, and I do believe that we had come to an unspoken truce.

  6. Jon, you allude to the hardship your father had in his own early life (having to learn English by himself, etc). I wonder if in his own childhood family life he also was the victim of the same kind of physical abuse that he later meted out on you. We now know, for example (and there is a great number who are reluctant to accept this) that many (most?) sexual abusers were abused themselves as children. I'm wondering if the same applies to those who feel it 'necessary' to carry out acts of violence towards their own children. Were they also victims and are 'just' extending the chain? It's no excuse, I know. We all hope that if they have such feelings they'd be able to restrain themselves. But it may help a little to understand why they such things happened, while realising that it doesn't in any way alleviate the suffering of the victims. I only ask the question because I don't know the answer myself.

    1. My mother and I discussed this subject on numerous occasions. I do believe that, to at least some extent, my father's violence was inherited. His two brothers had tempers (but nothing like my father) and their father (my paternal grandfather) had a temper. I never heard that my grandfather was physically abusive - but you never know, perhaps he was. It's a complicated subject to ponder.

  7. It's a very powerful read Jon and I'm sure that it was difficult for you to write. I can't pretend to understand such physical abuse as I've never experienced it in my own life. But through your writing I can try to understand the the impact such behaviour had on your and your Mum. It does at least seem that there was some level of relationship at the very end and I suppose, for that, you can be thankful.

    1. Sometimes I regret the things I write (especially on a public blog) and yet I feel these things need to be told. I hardly scratched the surface. If I told everything it would be difficult to believe.

  8. What a heartbreaking post, and I wish I couldn't relate to it so well. My father was abused by his father when he was a boy, and he became a drunken abuser as an adult. I was with him when he died, but I didn't tell him that I loved him. Smarticus said the words to him, but I just couldn't. I hope it was enough that I was with him and taking care of him, because it was the best I could do.


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