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Eventually, Mike’s mother took his father to court to force him to pay child support. Mike was eight or nine at the time. His father gave the judge a sob story about how he didn’t have the money and couldn’t make the payments. But when the judge threatened him with a night in jail, Mike’s father took out his checkbook and wrote a check.

“He paid up what he owed, and then we didn’t see him again for years.”

Mike Elliott’s mother, on right.

Mike’s mother never received another payment. The family went on welfare and lived in subsistence housing. Every Saturday, Mike’s paternal grandmother and his father’s brother, Uncle Cookie, brought Spam and Velveeta to the kids. They sat together with Mike’s mother and talked in the kitchen all day.

“They would rave about my father. His name was Robert, but they called him Boobie.”

Mike sucks down the last of the gin in the blue glass.

“They’d say, ‘Oh, Boobie was so good.’ My mom sat there, and I think she was just tortured by that shit. Year after year of them telling her how great [my father] was, and he was nowhere to be found. But, on the reverse side, there they were every Saturday, taking time out of their day to come visit the grandkids and bring at least a little food. I don’t remember a Saturday without them being there.”

When Mike was 13 or 14, his father reached out to the family and invited the kids to south Jersey for Thanksgiving. His mom said, “Whoever wants to go can go.” By then, Mike’s oldest brother had established himself as Mom’s loyal protector and refused to go. He hated their father “like he was the devil,” and Mike’s sister “couldn’t be bothered.” But Mike and his two middle brothers decided to go and spend the weekend.

“We went to his house, which we thought was the greatest, because it was on farmland. He actually lived in a small apartment, but he had this girlfriend — beautiful girl, really sweet — who had a big house out in the country.”

Mike’s voice lightened with the memory. His face softened.

“We shot BB guns with him and stuff. It was fun to be around him. There was green grass and open land. We did outdoor things that we hadn’t done in the city. It was kind of cool. I actually had a good time.”

A couple of weeks later, his father called again and asked if the kids could come back for Christmas. This time, his mother said no.

“She blew up about it. She figured, ‘You took three of my kids for Thanksgiving, and now you want to take them for Christmas, too? You haven’t been around forever.’ I just remember she had a huge fight with him over the phone. The next thing I knew, he dropped off some gifts for us, and that was the day he disappeared.”

This time, Boobie disappeared for decades.

“While he was gone, he was gone. There was no change from what it was before. So, big deal. We were all mad as hell at him. To be honest, I think if he had come around when we were in those late-teenage, early-20s, early-30s years, he would have gotten his ass kicked. I think we were all pretty much united on that.”

At one point, Mike’s grandmother let it slip that his father might be in Florida, but by then, Mike and his brothers and sister had written Boobie off. As far as they were concerned, he no longer existed. The only time any of them had attempted to contact their father was when Mike’s sister got married. She sent Boobie a wedding invitation through their grandmother.

“When he didn’t come, she never talked about him again. In other words, that was the last opportunity he had, if he was ever going to participate in our family.”

Fast forward to 1998. Mike was living in San Diego. The company he worked for sent him all over the country to open regional offices and train new employees. This took him to Tampa, Florida, for a couple of weeks.

“I’m doing my job, and it hits me that I’m in Florida. That one thing that my grandmother said about Florida kind of stuck in my head.”

He asked around about the best way to look for someone. This led him to the real-estate assessors’ office in Pinellas County.

“I just happened to be in the right county. Sure enough, I make one phone call, and I say, ‘Hey, do you have anybody under the name of Robert Thomas Elliott that has property in this county?’ And the guy says, ‘Yeah, we have one person living at this address.’”

Mike wrote the information down and pocketed it. When the weekend came, he spent Saturday at the beach. He thought about the address, still unsure what he would do about it.

“At the beach, I had this kind of heavy feeling that I was in the vicinity of him. The fact that they found one person with his name spooked me a little bit.”

The next day, on his way back to the beach, it began to rain. He returned to his hotel, got the address, and made the 25-mile drive from Tampa to Seminole.

He drove through the cruddy trailer parks, thinking, No, my dad wouldn’t be here. Then the scenery changed. The houses were big and the palm trees tall, and Mike knew, This is where he would be.

Mike leans forward on the loveseat. He wrings his hands. Tension concentrates in his tightened neck.

“So, I drive down the block, and all the mailboxes are white. I get to the Elliott house, and it’s a black mailbox. With my name on it. All the way there, I was rehearsing what was going to happen. It was 27 years after I last saw him. I hadn’t really thought about him a whole lot, but when I was going to the beach that day, I said, ‘Oh, shit. Something’s going to happen.’”

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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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