Charles Elwood Unglebower
Scintilla Day 7: Talk about a time when you saw your mother or father as a person independent of his or her identity as your parent.
Most people in childhood see their parents as super human. But for me it was different and in a sense much worse. Because when I was a child, my father, Charles Unglebower, attained not an unfair superhuman status within my mind. He became a stunning myth. Dad did this by dying when I was 7 years old, and with him this moment is about seeing him outside of that myth, and not merely outside of being my father.
The hole left by his death is one that will never be filled, of course. That wound, that gaping vortex never far from the center of my consciousness has weakened over the years, but denying its impact upon my life even today would be a lie.
Naturally long ago I came to the intellectual understanding that my father was not just my father, but a man in his own right. A person with likes, dislikes, goals and annoyances. Yet years of picnics and awkward family gatherings with older siblings, uncles, family “friends” into who’s lives I had never been properly merged brought volumes of stories about my own father that I could not relate to in the slightest. Not because they portrayed my father as a man outside of being a parent. But because they portrayed an entity that outshone him as a man.
You see my father was for most of his adult life, 6’1 and about 190 pounds. A temper that rivaled my own in a time when grabbing someone by the scruff of the neck at the bar when enough was enough more often than not resulted in restored peace instead of someone pulling a piece. Many a neighborhood blowhard, bully and instigator would at once get quiet and behave himself once old “Snook” Unglebower walked in. (Rhymes with “look”.)
It was these type of stories that dominated my childhood and young adulthood. As well as stories of when my father had gone too far. (Some of which my mother vehemently denies, especially a few from some of my older siblings.)
For a while it was all I knew of my father. Fleeting memories, mixed with a child’s perspective quite contrary to the stories I had heard. As a result, despite my intellectual understanding of the contrary, my father felt less like a man and more like a frightening thunder-god to whom I owed something. A being with whom I had nothing in common, being a 5’7 intellectual to whom few people pay initial attention. A guy that eschews violence whenever he can.
Years of talking with my mother and struggling with these inner views at long last began to moderate the picture of Charles Unglebower. Who yes, was a hot-head, but was also extremely fair. Helpful to those in need. Loving to his family and respectful of all who gave him no reason to be otherwise. The other parts of of my father, after a bit of a long slog, began to emerge at last some time ago.
Yet that still isn’t the moment I saw my father as independent from his identity as my parent. I needed permission from something more than my intellect to seal this deal. That permission came about five years ago, in a dream.
My father’s appearance in my dreams has always been sporadic. And until about five years ago when he did show up, he was unresponsive. Seen from a distance. Surrounded by clouds, or fog, and protected by unknown powers that prevented me from approaching. Forbidding me from touching the man that stood before me. And deeply embedded within my thoughts during such dreams was the notion that under no circumstance was I allowed to acknowledge that who I was seeing was my father.
But five years ago I dreamed I was casually walking down a street in a nearby town. On the other side of the street was a kid on a tricycle, and a man standing in front of him. The kid peddled down the street, the man calling after him to be careful, or something like that. This man turned in my direction as the kid rolled into his driveway. It was Dad.
He and I continued to walk down our respective sides of the street, occasionally engaged in small talk as we went. All the while I knew who this was, and felt I should “not bring it up”, but just accept it. Yet as we reached our respective corners of the street, I decided to cross. I approached the man, and I think I said something like “I know.” My father smiled, and extended his hand, and I shook it. I had never touched my father in a dream before, and I began to wake up, possibly from the sheer power of the moment.
He called out a question to me, and I knew I was waking, but that the question would be important. So I repeated it to make sure I had it. He confirmed it, and vanished as I opened my eyes.
The question was cryptic and to this day I honestly don’t know what it meant. (Nor will I share it here.) But whether or not the question was the point, I have ever since that day seen my father as a person. A man that was my father of course, but a man. Flawed, but noble at times. Doing his best. With something to offer me other than the Olympian image of him painted by others and their stories of fights and towering home runs in the local church league. A real person with whom I could shake hands, and look in the eye. Snook.
The irony of my father feeling more like a real, regular man to me as a result of a dream is not lost on me. But knowing me, I can’t think of a better way to get the message across.