My dad was Mac, short for McIver, his mother’s maiden name. My Pop, as I called him, and I weren’t very close. My mother, Opal, always said we didn’t get along because we were too much alike. Thing is, I don’t remember not getting along with my dad. We just never talked very much.
When he died in 1982, he’d been sick for a while. Opal was worn out from taking care of him.
He wasn’t a religious guy, and he’d stopped going to church with Opal and me when I was in junior high. I have this memory that it was because the choir director gave me a role in the Christmas pageant one week and at the next rehearsal, gave my part to another girl. I don’t remember why — probably because he discovered that I couldn’t do a solo singing part. But my dad was furious and boycotting the church was how he dealt with it.
Pop was a frustrated artist. The only books I wasn’t allowed to touch on the shelves in the living room were a set of three or four books of art. I realized later these books had reproductions of work by his favorite artists. I wish I still had them. He bought endless artist’s kits for me – remember Jon Gnagy? — hoping, I think, that I would develop an interest and sure somehow that I had talent. I tried but could never quite understand how to draw. But I did a lot of paint by number projects. I guess he hoped I would absorb something from those.
He sketched a lot on odd pieces of paper, and sometime after he died, Opal gathered a bunch of these into a scrapbook of sorts. The faces he drew were not attractive, and I’ve wondered if he was drawing the demons that haunted him.
I think now that he was simply shy. At some point, he channeled his love of art and drawing into a love of photography that he did pass on to me. He took tons of snapshots, a lot of posed photos of me in Easter dresses or beside the Christmas tree.
By the time I was in high school, I knew that I couldn’t pick out the right shirt as a gift, but I could give him film for his cameras. He loved Polaroid cameras, and there are boxes and boxes of photos. I still have one of the Polaroid cameras – I rescued it as Opal was about to sell it in a yard sale – and, I think, the last camera he bought, an early Canon point and shoot. He loved the point and shoot — it was easy to carry, and he could take the casual snapshots he loved wherever and whenever the mood struck.
My mother drove him crazy – she drove me crazy in some of the same ways: she had to be right about everything for one thing — but I do think they loved each other. She liked being the center of attention and he was content, I think, to let her. They were always affectionate, and he never hesitated to tell either of us that he loved us.
He supported my college choice – an expensive private college — although he often said that if I had chosen NC State University, his alma mater and a much cheaper state school, that “we could all be driving Cadillacs.”
He grimaced when I would retort that I didn’t want a Cadillac.
I also inherited his fine but thick head of hair and his long tapered fingers. My mother thought I could be a concert pianist – she understood music better than art — but I turned into a really great typist. He kept the clipping of the announcement of my first newspaper job, framed on the wall in his office. I think he understood that in a way my mother never did.
I still hear them both in my head: my moody, artistic, sometimes befuddled father and my no-nonsense, self-centered mother.
Heaven help me!