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Mike Elliott’s father disappeared when he was 13 years old. Not disappeared as in vanished mysteriously. Disappeared as in left and never came back. Some 27 years later, on a rainy afternoon, Mike drove through Pinellas County, Florida (1100 miles from his hometown of Bayonne, New Jersey), in search of an address that might or might not belong to his father. He vacillated between hope and fear that whoever answered the door would be the man he was looking for. He decided that, if it was his father, he would give him a good “Fk you” and maybe a quick, hard fist to the jaw.

“As I’m driving,” Mike tells me from the safe distance of 13 years, “I’m trying to find this place, and the thing that sticks in my mind is that my father would be living in a good area. I remember his selfishness. So as I drove through these trashy little towns and trailer parks, I said, ‘He’s not going to be here.’ And then, sure enough, I pass the last big road, and then it becomes a really beautiful area. As soon as I saw all the beautiful palm trees and the nice houses, I said, ‘Aw, shit.’”

Mike sits at the edge of a cream-colored leather loveseat in a clean, light room with wooden floors. The decoration is sparse. On an end table, ice melts at the bottom of a blue highball glass that he filled with Tanqueray a half hour ago. “To loosen me up,” he’d said as he poured.

To fully appreciate that particular moment in Mike’s story, the one where he’s driving down an unfamiliar road, looking for an address he doesn’t want to find, it’s important to get to know Mike.

Mike bought a Harley with the money he inherited from his father.

Mike bought a Harley with the money he inherited from his father.

The 53-year-old business systems analyst rides a grumbling Softail Deluxe Harley that awakens his neighbors at 6:00 a.m. Yes, he’s apologetic about the early morning noise, but still, he’s that guy.

Then there’s his chest-up, tough-guy walk, and his heavy brow. Everything most obvious about him suggests that he’d have a grittier interior design aesthetic than the Zen-like sanctuary of this City Heights condo. Potted plants stand in every corner. On the kitchen stove, a whole chicken floats in a stockpot full of mushrooms, celery, and carrots. Tonight, when his girlfriend Huong comes home, they’ll have homemade chicken soup for dinner. For now, however, it’s Tanqueray on ice, and maybe a few sips of the Fat Tire on the end table next to his glass.

Mike is perched at the edge of the loveseat, but a half-hour ago, when this story began, he was sitting back with his legs splayed, as if the particulars he was sharing were of little consequence. Outside, a rare San Diego storm was beginning to brew. He’d already pulled the plants off the balcony, bringing them inside to protect them from a wind that was whipping up the trees in the canyon behind the condo.

“In my town, fathers gravitated toward the bars,” he said. “That’s what we were famous for in Bayonne. A bar on every corner. We were all in the same boat. All the fathers were either missing in action or they lived at home and were drunks. I remember my friends’ fathers coming down the block and stumbling off the sidewalk, drunk out of their minds. To us, if you had one, it was, like, ‘Who cares?’ A father wasn’t something to respect.”

Bob Elliott with friend in September 1997.

Bob Elliott with friend in September 1997.

As Mike shared tales of his father’s comings and goings throughout his childhood years, his tone of resignation and slumped posture gave me a glimpse into the kid he once was, and the attitude he’d had to adopt. Even good memories are tinged with disappointment.

“They had just started a Little League team in our town,” he said, beginning the story of his “best memory” of his father. “This was back in the early- to mid-’60s. They had basic tryouts. Then somebody would contact you, give you your uniform, and you’d show up. My father took me to my first game. Brand new Little League field. Brand new Little League gear. The coach had never seen any of the kids, so he had no idea who could play what. He puts me at catcher, and my number was ten.”

He raised a hand to demonstrate the way a catcher would hold up his mitt.

“I’m sitting there, catching, and the ball kept hitting my glove and falling out because I wasn’t strong enough to close the glove. And I made a couple of mistakes on the field…. Anyhow, long story short, we’re on the way home on the bus, and I swear to you, my father says to me, ‘Who was that catcher?’ And I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘That catcher stunk.’ And I said, ‘What catcher?’ and he said, ‘Number ten.’ I said, ‘I’m number ten.’”

Mike shook his head and reached for his drink.

“He didn’t even know that was me. The best part [of the day] was that he had come with me. The second part is that he also bought me one of those little Italian ices. That’s the only time I ever remember him giving me something.”

Then there was the time his father came around to show off a new car.

“Guess what kind it was,” Mike prodded. When I couldn’t, he said, “An MG Midget.” He paused for effect, then looked with incredulity over the rim of his highball glass. “He’s got five kids. It’s a two-seater.”

Mike wasn’t the kind of kid who asked questions. He didn’t know where his father spent his time, only that he wasn’t around much, and that when he was, he and Mike’s mother often fought about money. His mother was always asking for some.

Mike Elliott, second from left, with three of his four siblings.

Mike Elliott, second from left, with three of his four siblings.

“It wasn’t for her. It was for milk and food. [We were] five kids living in the projects,” he said of himself, his three brothers — one older, two younger — and his baby sister.

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Comments

beachdogger June 16, 2011 @ 6:21 a.m.

Great story Mike. Glad you got the Harley, I paid off my student loans with my own version of your story. Ride on brother. Oh, I did get my Harley too...but that's another story. Steve

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bugmenot June 16, 2011 @ 8:11 a.m.

Wow, I though the "Let's Bash Dads on Father's Day" trend went out of fashion years ago. I guess not!

This character assassination bears all the classic man-hating hallmarks -- "Dad was a drunk," "Dad was an abandoner," "Dad took off with the hot girlfriend in the fancy car and left Mom with the kids" "Dad didn't pay child support," (oh wait, he did!), blah blah blah.

Read between the lines, and you might realize that Mike's Dad was very likely forced out of his life. When he tried to see the kids, the vindictive, gatekeeping Mom told him to F-off, so he left some gifts instead. Sounds like the guy was making an effort but Mom didn't like the idea of Dad seeing the kids or the kids possibly bonding with Dad. Can't have that!

Mike seems to have a lot of anger toward his Dad -- this is a classic symptom of Parental Alienation Syndrome, i.e., Mom filling the poor kid's head with all the terrible things Dad did to them.

Well, here's to you on Father's Day, Dad! I love you. And here's to all the other GREAT fathers out there who do so much for us and deserve better than to be bashed on Father's Day. They get enough of that the rest of the year.

Dad a bum? Not MY Dad!

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beachdogger June 16, 2011 @ 5:52 p.m.

It may not be your "Dad" who's the problem, me thinks.

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bab June 16, 2011 @ 9:25 a.m.

This was an intensely sad story. bugmenot clearly has some unresolved issues of his own. Mike's mother Irene was a saint of a woman. I knew her personally and none of the suppositions in bugmenot's comments are anywhere close to reality. She was a fantastic mother and loving grandmother. Mike is a testament to his mother's dedication to her children. She set her life aside for her children, didn't remarry, didn't date, just raised her kids on her own. Mike's father made conscious decisions over and over again to shirk his responsibilities and deny himself the joy of knowing his own children and grandchildren (who are terrific!), even when others encouraged him to do so. Some people run when they should stand firm and endure. It may not be easy but it's always the right thing to do, especially when children are involved. Mike's mom stood firm and strong and she endured. His father was nowhere to be seen. He wasn't there for anyone in the bad times and he wasn't there to share in the joy of the good times. Good job Mike. I'm proud of you for speaking out. Maybe some dad who is not measuring up will benefit from hearing the harsh facts. Good job!

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sueds June 16, 2011 @ 10:28 a.m.

Thank you for sharing your story with us Mike. My son's father left when he was a baby (he's 19 now) and I have no idea where he is. I do have his social so some day if he wants my son will have a head start finding him. He owes thousands in child support to him and the state but I doubt we'll ever see it. I could feel your pain as I often think about how MY son would feel knowing he was about to meet the man who abandoned him so long ago. Thank God for your Mom who lovingly raised you and your siblings...she did a great job it sounds like! It's so sad there are so many men out there who think it's okay to leave there children so selfishly and leave the mother to raise them by herself. Good luck with the rest of your life and enjoy the heck out of your bike!!

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MR2 June 16, 2011 @ 11:04 a.m.

Am I reading the right article? I have never met Mike and it sounds like he's had a rough go of it. But from the article I gather he's got some issues with alcohol, isn't very considerate to his neighbors, fantasizes about punching people, and cannot acknowledge any of the generous things his father did for him (even while riding the motorbike paid for by his father). Hello?

Maybe Mike's father wasn't the best, but it appears he paid child support he was not legally obligated to (wife never divorced him), gave the kids gifts on the holidays, tried to see them and was rebuffed, and left money to his wife and children when he died.

Too bad Bob Elliot is not around to tell us his side of things. Or maybe that's why he's in this story (i.e., you can't libel a dead man and he can't defend himself).

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beachdogger June 16, 2011 @ 5:56 p.m.

I'll go into your house...steal and sell all that you own. Then toss ya a coupon for a free chicken dinner and I guess with your logic that'll make me your best friend forever. Sign me up, send me your address and leave the key under the mat and I'll get busy being generous to you.

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jka816 June 16, 2011 @ 11:46 a.m.

Between MR2 and bugmenot comments, I sorta taken back by their opinions. Regardless of the innuendoes and assumptions about how we think Boobie's absence came to be, he was not there! I don't think that the article is Daddy bashing, its telling how Father's Day is different for some and not all cheery for others. I was a fortunate child as that I was blessed with two men I can call Daddy. My natural father and my Daddy now, (my mother's 2nd husband) both love and care for me. And they both stuck around to see me grow up! The harsh reality is that Mike and his siblings DID get the best they every could get from Boobie....an inheritance.

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rickeysays June 17, 2011 @ 3:28 a.m.

Mike your Dad was a selfish ass. He walked away from his responsibilities. But don't let that inhabit your whole life. Our relationships with our parents have profound effects on us. But as adults it's up to us to recognize those effects and master them, rather than letting them be our masters.

And it doesn't excuse you from being a selfish ass with regard to your neighbors. Or anyone else who has to put up with that obnoxious bike.

Thanks for sharing your story.

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rowan June 19, 2011 @ 4:01 p.m.

Ok, really? I'm sorry Mike's dad was a loser, but this is the cover story for Father's Day? Nice. So can i expect "Mommy pimped me out!" for next mother's day? "I was terrorized by psycho marines" for Memorial Day? "Grandpa was Hitler" for Grandparents Day? Or is this acceptable simply because it is en vogue to trash fathers? I just lost every bit of respect for this publication.

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Morrisfactor June 20, 2011 @ 8:41 a.m.

Great timing to run a father-bashing story on Father's Day.

Can I assume you will be running "MOM WAS A BUM" on the next Mother's Day?

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Curious33 June 20, 2011 @ 10:51 a.m.

Hey Elizabeth - What is the purpose of this article and why release it the week before Fathers Day? Are you planning to run a similar story about a mean, terrible mother the week before Mothers Day next year? What will the title be? Both you and the Editor ought to be ashamed of yourselves. Anyone who would write or approve an article like this is insensitive, incompetent and for lack of a better word - a jerk.

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Joaquin_de_la_Mesa June 21, 2011 @ 10:10 a.m.

What a perfect screen name - Curious 33 -- given the curious comment you posted. Don't kill the messenger here. Elizabeth Salaam told a legitimate story about fatherhood -- how important it is, and how much damage it does when it is not what it ought to be.

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rowan June 22, 2011 @ 4:12 p.m.

"Be a good father or your kid will end up like this guy."

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MikeElliott June 23, 2011 @ 5:23 p.m.

Obviously a few of you Twinkies missed the point of the story but hey, I appreciate your opinions even those that are completely clueless. Do I agree with the title of the story – no (I’ve never used the term ‘Bum’ to describe my father – he was simply invisible to me). I find it odd that folks would comment on alcohol consumption or fantasizing (really?) about popping my father, do I really come off like that or is your imagination just a bit off. As far as the story, I’ve received so many responses from friends, co-workers and acquaintances expressing similar family experiences and acknowledging that they appreciate me sharing this story in such a candid way. I’m thankful to the Reader and Elizabeth for allowing me to tell my story. It’s surprising and somewhat sad that so many others have had fathers that didn’t share their lives with them for various reasons. In the end, my father died alone in a trailer in Florida, my mother passed with all five children at her bedside expressing their love for taking care of us through the toughest of times. That my friends, is the true testament to their worth. Oh, and one last thing. I’ll be riding that Harley this weekend. – Ride to Live.

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SavonBox June 24, 2011 @ 12:57 p.m.

If I'm in the group that missed the point of this story ("fathers that didn’t share their lives with them for various reasons") then I'm called a vapid nutritional snack cake? Seriously? Mike it sounds like you have some issues with the way your story was editorialized. Is the quote "A father wasn't something to respect" inaccurate?

Plant me firmly in camp with bugmenot. The proximity to Father's Day and the general tone of this story is lazy formula that I don't believe ever went out of fashion years ago as suggested.

Please be clear I'm not suggesting Irene wasn't a saint of a woman. I don't know her, but I do know a particular dynamic that does exist. She was human and probably had some flaws. I'll acknowledge that the outward view point was she fell on her sword for the children. Things are rarely that clearcut. Life is messy.

Frankly, I'm interested in an in depth story about the damage this vacancy of a parent caused. If a 53 year old man and many of his friends and coworkers are so devastatingly affected by the absence of a parent, then that is the story for Father's Day. Mike's story isn't the first time I have heard surprise when one meets a stranger with only biological ties that there wasn't some magical connection.

If there are so many of our own friends and family members that feel cheated or passionately affected by the absence of either parent, why do we allow public policy to "award" custody to one parent and systematically marginalize the other parent to the fringes of a childs life?

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pinky June 27, 2011 @ 12:08 p.m.

I was shocked to read this article on the front cover of your magazine right before Father’s Day. How inappropriate it was to print to say the least. How demining your article was to all the wonderful Father’s out there. The article featured should have been about a Father’s fight to see his kids and the courts won’t let him because they are bias. Would your magazine ever run a Mother bashing article right before Mother’s Day? I think not.

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K. Aitken Aug. 16, 2011 @ 9:17 a.m.

There is truth in this story. One man's truth. Not the whole truth, because one person CANNOT hold the whole truth alone. Each has their own truths that make up the whole of reality.

There are so many kinds of fathers out there. I'm sorry you didn't get a more positive role model. I don't think your story was demeaning to good fathers at all, just another shade of what a father can be. If anything, it makes good fathers look all the much better.

It sounds like you've gotten a bit of closure, and a nice ride, and have made a good life for yourself. Whatever else has happened, what your parents did when you were a child helped shape you into the kind of person who nurtures plants, cooks from scratch for his partner and takes the time to show others what is inside of you.

Bravo.

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