A SIMPLE ACT OF
THE DEVIL'S BARGAIN
Written by Rick
There was a old farmer in the remote Taihang
mountains of China
who used a horse to
till his fields.
Considering how rocky the soil was, this was an
One day, the horse escaped into the hills.
Now the farmer had no way to till the field. When
the farmer's neighbors sympathized with the old man
over his bad luck, the farmer
He replied, "Bad luck?
A week later, the horse
returned with a herd of wild horses from the hills.
The farmer put them all in a corral, sold some,
kept some. This time the
neighbors congratulated the farmer on his good luck.
"Good luck? Bad luck?
Soon after, the farmer's
attempted to tame one of the wild
horses. The mustang reared up and threw the boy
off its back. The boy
hit the ground hard and broke his leg.
As the boy screamed in pain,
everyone agreed this
was very bad luck. Now
the old man had no one to help him till the fields.
wasn't so sure. With his whimsical smile,
as usual his only reaction was, "Bad luck?
luck? Who can say?
Some weeks later,
there was a dangerous Mongol invasion. The
local militia marched into the village and conscripted
every able-bodied youth they could find. When they saw the farmer's son
was unable to walk on his
badly broken leg, they didn't
give him a second glance. Who needs a
the Chinese army, everyone had to march, so the
boy was left behind.
Good luck or bad
luck? Who can say?
September 1958-may 1959
problems in the 4th grade
In addition to
crying myself to sleep every night, I
4th grade class.
My school grades were lackluster and my discipline marks
were abysmal. I had turned into a daily pain in the butt for my teacher. Each morning I would
take a seat in the back of the class room. I would draw
extensive tableaus of two armies complete with tanks, hand grenades and
bazookas. From there I would spend the rest of the morning blowing
up every soldier complete with boom boom boom sound effects and
excruciating death moans. For variety, I
would draw spaceships and destroy them with
ray gun zap zap sound effects. Then I switched to dinosaur
battles. I wasn't quite sure what sounds dinosaurs made, but
growls got the job done."
And how did my teacher
react? She was not happy. Looking back, I am
ashamed of myself. I must have
been a load. My poor teacher
tried to overlook my disruptions, but how could she?
I sat in the back
and tried to keep my noises muffled, but
teacher could hear all the way up at the front, apparently my
muffling left a lot to be desired. She would ask me
to be quiet and I would comply, but the battle would soon resume.
My noisy pitched battles
just the tip of the iceberg. I already had my smart mouth.
I talked back all the time, not just to my father, but to anyone who
told me what to do. I had become a cold, surly, angry kid.
Not surprisingly, I received failing marks for
As for my smart mouth, my mother let me get
away with it. I was more careful around my father because he
was so angry all the time. To be honest, I don't recall being corrected for sassing
They were so preoccupied with their own problems in that final year,
they barely paid attention to me.
To be honest, neither parent was much of a
disciplinarian. Nor did they have any reason to be until the problems began.
Since I was basically a happy boy, I gave
them little trouble and did whatever they
asked to do. Growing up with a minimum of parental guidance,
I was never taught the do's
and don'ts of when to speak, what to say, what not to say, when to shut up.
However, as the tension at home built, I
became increasingly defiant and rude with my
teacher Miss Davis. Understandably
this nice lady got fed up with me. One day I brought a note home from school to
be signed. The note said that I was an enormous disruption in
my class and it was time for my parents to visit the principal.
The principal made it clear to my parents that I would be suspended if
couldn't get me under control.
In addition to my discipline
issues, my parents were
shocked at how poor my grades were. They had always
thought I was smart, but after seeing my recent report card,
they were beginning to have their doubts. What they did not
know is I rarely paid attention in class
and only periodically did my homework.
And why didn't they know? Because their
minds were on their own problems.
My father went off the deep end. Since his own childhood
was accompanied by an unending series of superior school marks, I
imagine his pride was shaken to see his only child struggle to
muster a D average against public school competition.
September 1958-may 1959
Throughout my 4th Grade
school year my parents were busy trying to save their marriage.
They had been in therapy with Dr. Mendel, a noted psychiatrist here in
Houston. After the principal's warning, they asked Dr. Mendel to take a look at me.
Maybe the eminent doctor could explain why my grades were so poor and why I was
angry all the time. Such a mystery, right?
I'm just being
my parents knew full well why I was angry.
What they didn't know was what to
do about me.
After some testing, Dr. Mendel told my parents they didn't need
to worry about my intelligence. In his opinion, I was a
smart kid. As for the anger, he said I was acting out due
to tension at home. He also suspected I was bored in school. He told my parents
what I needed was a challenge. He said my parents should put
a school with a faster pace, something that would
focus my unharnessed energy.
Dr. Mendel knew exactly where I could find that challenge.
He suggested my parents put me into St. John's, a private school
where his own two boys were thriving. He had been very
pleased with the progress of his sons. Dr. Mendel was
convinced this school
for gifted children was just what I needed. Only one
My father was deeply opposed to the expensive
He argued if his son could barely pass public
school, why pay all this money just to watch him be annihilated by
all those elite students? Public school was good enough for him and it would
be good enough for me.
However, my mother refused to drop the
subject. When Mom said the testing phase was free, Dad relented and allowed me
to take the admissions
test. To be honest, I think Dad expected I would do poorly
and that would let him off the hook. Now he wouldn't have to be
the bad guy. However, to his surprise, I did well on the test
and was given an acceptance letter.
Now my father began to
seriously object. Too expensive! Giant waste of money!
Not only that, why should he take this man's advice?
Dad hated the therapist
because in his opinion the doctor usually sided with my mother's
There was no way Dad was ever going to agree to
this folly. Forget it.
September 1958-may 1959
The major reason my parents' therapy was
going nowhere was my father's secret mistress.
Dad claimed he was trying to save his marriage,
but that was a smoke screen to give him time
to evaluate the new woman in his life.
Did I know about the mistress? No.
Did my mother know about the mistress?
No. But she had been suspicious ever
since Dad began staying late at the office
with increasing frequency. The moment
Mom noticed my father's secretary was quite
attractive, her suspicion increased.
Realizing how inflammatory it would be to
accuse Dad of having a mistress, I thing Mom
bit her tongue. But I can't be sure.
It was not like my parents would confide
their marital problems to me. But they
didn't need to. All I had to do was
listen to their knock down, drag out battles
to get the latest scoop.
That is how I knew that my father was
completely opposed to sending me to St.
John's as the therapist recommended.
Then one night I heard Jezebel mentioned for
the first time. Of course that is a
pseudonym, but due to my animosity towards
the woman, just typing her real name makes
my blood boil. Suffice it to say my ears
perked up when Jezebel entered the
conversation, but to my profound irritation
they subsequently lowered their voices for a
change. Stuck in my room, I had no
idea what they were talking about.
I got my answer the next day when Mom
announced I would be going to St. John's
next year. What she failed to mention
was they had also agreed to a divorce.
My parents were such cowards they never said
word. Instead they packed me off to
live with Uncle Dick and Aunt Lynn for the
summer. Uncle Dick, Mom's brother,
drew the unlucky assignment of breaking the
September 1958-may 1959
the devil's bargain
During the heat of the battle I had only the
vaguest idea what was going
on. However, through the gift of
Hindsight plus the occasional hint my mother
let slip, further down the road I was able to figure out the
score. Trying hard to keep
Jezebel a secret, my father had been asking
for a divorce for some time. My mother
said no each time. Since Dad had
control of the economic purse strings, a
divorce was not at all to Mom's advantage.
Sad to say, my stay-at-home mother had zero
job skills and no college degree.
However, Mom probably knew the divorce was
inevitable because one day she went out and
got a part-time job just in case.
Meanwhile my father was getting increasingly
frustrated. He knew a contested
divorce would be costly. And if news
about Jezebel ever got out, uh oh, say
goodbye to his savings. As a result
the divorce talks remained at an impasse
with my mother stubbornly saying no.
dynamics changed when I was accepted into St. John's.
Say what you will about my mother. Mom was a hopeless
mess, but she did have a good heart. Unlike my father,
she recognized Dr. Mendel's advice concerning St. John's was
correct. In addition, she knew how hard it was to gain
admission into St. John's. I think she knew my
acceptance was some sort of crazy fluke, a
once-in-a-lifetime lucky break for me that should not be
So the next time
my father asked for a divorce, Mom countered with a deal.
Send Richard to St. John's and he could have his divorce.
Did Dad take the offer? No. Too expensive!
In my father's defense, the tuition at SJS was so steep that
his modest middle-class salary would never be enough.
More than likely, Dad would be forced to borrow money to
make ends meet.
my mother insisted. When Dad balked again, Mom played her ace.
She told Dad she had a strong suspicion he was having an affair with his
secretary. When Dad denied it, Mom told him she knew full
well he was seeing another woman and had proof. Mom said she would make this divorce
very ugly unless Dad did the
right thing. Mind you, Mom didn't
have any proof. It was a total bluff. Nevertheless, the
moment Mom said she had proof, my father folded like a wet blanket.
Although he continued to deny the affair, his rapid
capitulation spoke volumes. So now you know how my mother successfully
blackmailed me into St. John's. The divorce settlement included my
father's agreement to pay full tuition at St. John's for three years...
4th, 5th, and 6th grades. After that his obligation was over.
It was a Devil's
Bargain. I gained a
school, but lost a father. I
would barely see him for the rest of my life.
Good luck or Bad
Luck? Considering what a deadbeat my father turned out
to be, I suppose I got the better end of the deal. But
I paid a terrible price. Although my
superior St. John's
education would become the shining light of my
childhood, the divorce and my father's subsequent
abandonment would damage me almost beyond
john's a supernatural event?
As we shall
St. John's School was the main
reason I survived my childhood at least
partially intact. So
asked myself if this gave me the right to
add SJS to my List of
Suspected Supernatural Events.
Please take note of the word 'Suspected'.
I would not dream of claiming I am right
about every event I add to my List.
The best I can do is say that some Events
are further beyond the limits of
Believability than others. If the
Event is truly unbelievable, I list it as 'Serious'.
If there are other possible explanations, I
am more inclined to list an Event as 'Suspicious'.
On the surface, the Reader might question my
decision to call St. John's a Supernatural
Event. For that reason, I would like
to explain my reasons. For starters, I
had no business being there. Given my
mediocre grades in public school, to this
day I cannot imagine how or why I was
accepted. This school was so difficult
to get into that the son of a future United
States President was denied admission.
St. John's belongs on my List for three
reasons. First of all, the Impact.
My nine years at St. John's gave me the
education necessary to succeed in life.
For example, where do you suppose I acquired
my writing skills? But it goes deeper
than that. When I speak of a Simple
Act of Kindness, time after time someone at
SJS stepped forward just in the nick of time
to keep me from falling off the path.
Second, Probability. St. John's is
extremely secretive about its admissions
process. No one knows for sure what
the 'Applicant Acceptance Ratio' is.
One in ten? One in twenty? The
key word is 'Exclusive'. In my
day, St. John's made a real effort to limit
each classroom to 15 or less students.
St. John's was so difficult to get into, the
attrition rate was very low. For
example, my original 4th Grade class had
roughly 40 students. 37 students were
promoted from the SJS 3rd Grade class while two or three
new students such as myself were added. Typically one or two students
moved to another city per year. And
rumor has it that parents of struggling
students were advised to transfer them to an
easier school for self-esteem reasons.
What I am saying is that out of perhaps 50
applicants, I was one of two or three to be
accepted. Those are pretty long odds.
Why me? To this day my admission feels
like a small miracle.
Third, Weirdness. How does one define
Weirdness? You can't measure it.
Weirdness is a totally subjective criterion.
So try this one on for size. Rick
Archer gets accepted into a school his
father cannot afford thanks to a mistress so
tempting he cannot bear to live without her.
To me, that is a weird story. "Rick
Archer owes his elite education to his
father's mistress." Should I say
enough, it has been known to happen.
Prince Edward, the man next in line to
become King of England, abdicated his throne
in 1936 to marry Wallis Simpson, a commoner
and two-time divorcee. At the time, it
was such a scandal that no one could believe
something this weird was even possible.
I contend my own story was almost as weird.
RICK ARCHER'S LIST OF
SUSPECTED SUPERNATURAL EVENTS
A SIMPLE ACT OF KINDNESS
Father's affair leads to Rick's
education at St. John's, the most important lucky break of his life.
However, as time goes by, Rick's social isolation at a rich kid's school
turns him into a moody loner.
Fortunately, due to a series of small kindnesses, Rick will manage to
graduate at least somewhat intact.
A sudden impulse to play arcade game saves Rick and his
father from instant death at the Stock Car accident
Rick, 5 years
old, cuts his
eye out by foolishly pulling a knife in the wrong direction when his mother
calls out at the worst possible time. By coincidence, Rick's father lost one of his eyes at
the same age.
A SIMPLE ACT OF
ST. JOHN'S SCHOOL
Written by Rick
Rick Archer's Note:
Hail to the Faith and the
Virtue. St. John's School was
the center of my life for nine years.
have to say that St. John's is the major reason why
I didn't turn into a sociopath. I owe my
teachers and SJS administrators quite
a debt. These were the people who saved me from my miserable childhood.
Considering I probably caused the Administration
more grief than any other single student in its history, it is ironic that these
men worked so hard to guide me with nothing but aggravation to show for
To this day, I am still amazed
at the lengths these men went to keep me on the path.
Following World War II,
several wealthy benefactors in the River Oaks area decided Houston
would benefit from an elite college preparatory school.
Following in the grand tradition of Eastern prep schools such as Exeter,
Andover, Brooks and Groton, St. John's was
established in 1946. However, it was not Houston's first
private school; Kinkaid School in the Memorial area
was founded in 1906. The two schools quickly developed a
St. John's deserved its lofty reputation. The Puritan ethic -
work, study, get ahead - was pervasive throughout the school. St. John's
stressed the importance of 'education' and 'achievement'.
Getting into college became a nine-year obsession. This is how
I planned to escape my miserable home. I
completely bought into the school's purpose. I was certain SJS would help gain
admittance to the college of my choice and prepare me to excel once
I got there.
The stated purpose of
St John's was to prepare its students for college. The founders were successful in their mission. I was
once told that only four students in 22 years had
failed to go directly to college after graduation. Given the
caliber of students at this school and the wealth involved, I always
wondered how even four students had missed.
Then came the day when I
suddenly realized I was in serious danger of becoming the fifth SJS
student not to go to college. But let's not get ahead of our
To me, St.
John's was a marvelous academic institution. However,
there were other facets to St. John's
in addition to academics. St. John's served as an important
social hub to the members of Houston's High Society.
The rich and mighty mingled on our campus on a daily
School is located in the very heart of River Oaks, a
tony neighborhood hidden under a thick canopy of stately
oak trees. This area is where Houston's 'Old Wealth'
lives in stunning palatial estates.
St. John's was not a
large school when I went there. For example, there were only fifty students
in my 1968 graduating class, two hundred and twenty in the four grades of
St. John's was a small,
close-knit place that built its reputation on its academics.
Early on, the founders were determined to improve their product by
capping the size of the classes. Indeed, the size of my individual classes never exceeded fifteen students.
This guaranteed close interaction between the top-notch
instructors and the gifted students.
The school was also
determined to select the
smartest students possible, often taking bright kids from middle
class homes over average students from wealthy homes. I
suppose I was one of the beneficiaries of
that objective. The school had a waiting
list a mile long of students who wanted to enroll. However St.
John's never seemed in any hurry to expand. If my school grew
during my time there, that was news to me. The size of my own particular
class of 50 students never changed.
Therefore, based on the
law of supply and demand, the limited openings
guaranteed that admission was a highly valued commodity. Since
there were quite a few parents who wanted the
best education for their children that money can buy, every spot was coveted. However,
had a reputation as a place where money could not buy admission to the
school. St. John's was so ridiculously well-endowed that it didn't need
anyone's money. The kid had to be
smart enough to get in or tough luck. That hard line attitude
won the school a lot of respect in High Society circles.
If someone's child was
smart enough to get into St. John's, that meant
Let me put
this another way. To some people, having a child who attended
St. John's was a major status symbol. Admission to
SJS carried a
great deal of prestige in the status-conscious world of
River Oaks. It meant someone's son or daughter was
smart and it also meant the parents had considerable
wealth to be able
to afford this place. By extension, it meant the
parents were likely smart as well. In other words, having a
child at St. John's meant the parent was both rich and smart, a real
asset to anyone's reputation.
John's Mother's Guild
Having a child at St.
John's bestowed a special honor to their mothers. It served as
entry into an exclusive club
known as the St. John's Mother's
Borrowing a tradition
from English and New England prep schools, St. John's served high tea at 1:30 pm every day in the
Commons Room. Not
surprisingly, the mothers of the children who attended
this elite institution enjoyed coming to St. John's on
a frequent basis to network, visit with their friends
and pursue various business projects and charitable
One of the benefits of
having a child attend St. John's was the chance to rub elbows with River Oaks
society matrons on a regular basis. In a manner similar
to the court of Versailles, it was a definite privilege to associate
with women who dominated Houston's society columns. Well aware
of the benefits of catering to the socially elite, St. John's made a
point to serve as a daily meeting place. While Houston's men of wealth
pursued their business careers in skyscrapers downtown,
Houston's women of wealth pursued their social
here at my school. The Who's Who of Houston's
leading social circles gathered at SJS to see and be
seen on a regular basis.
I never had the
learn the ins and outs of the Mother's Guild, but I had the feeling
it was a volunteer organization open to mothers of children in the
Mother's Guild was a group of confident
women who discussed the fortunes of St. John's in ways similar to
the Goddesses of Mount Olympus.
In particular the Mother's Guild was concerned with the
"Social" side of SJS. These ladies
planned various social
activities for the students. The activity I remember
best were dance parties
held at the River Oaks home
of various St. John's students after every home football game. These parties were sponsored
by the Mother's Guild and open to all SJS high school students.
When I arrived at St. John's in September,
1959, I already had a half-year of 4th Grade
under my belt. Texas had a rule that
said you had to be a certain age to start in
September. Otherwise a student would
start in January. When we moved from
Maryland, my October birthday switched me to
the January-based school year. Since
the St. John's school year only started in
September, I could either jump a half-year
to the 5th Grade or repeat a half-year in
the 4th. My mother made the wise
decision to have me start over in the 4th
My Welcome to St. John's
came on the first day of school. Talk about Culture Shock!
St. John's offered a glimpse into a world I never knew existed.
Walking through the hallway, I noticed a large group of very
attractive women wearing
furs and expensive dresses. who right next to my 4th
Grade home room. These
ladies congregated in the Commons Room, a
spacious reception area designed as
a greeting spot for special events. The Commons
Room was where afternoon High Tea was held.
ended at 3:30, it made perfect sense for the mothers to attend an hour of
coffee and tea at 2:30 pm to hobnob with friends and acquaintances
while they waited for their children. It seemed to
me some of these ladies practically lived in the Commons Room.
I saw the same faces all the time. I had the impression
these ladies would meet at St. John's in the late afternoon at
least twice a week, maybe even three times. Truth be told, High
Tea was held every day, but back in those days I wasn't paying enough attention to figure
mingle in a lush, carpeted area decorated with wood paneling,
valuable paintings and a fire
Commons Room was furnished with plush leather chairs, comfortable couches,
expensive tea sets, and soft lighting. This was
a luxurious setting indeed.
was star-struck, I studied the women on a
regular basis. I suppose I was drawn to these women for the
same reason people watched Dallas and Dynasty. People who are rich and powerful have an
irresistible attraction about them.
was divided into three sections. The Lower School
was on the south side of Westheimer while the Middle
School (Grades 4-8) and Upper School (Grades 9-12) were
on the north side. The two
sides were connected by a tunnel that crossed under busy Westheimer
Quadrangle in the center of the main
campus served as the central focus.
This is where pep rallies and graduation
exercises were held. During the school year, only the
seniors had permission to walk in the Quadrangle.
The Commons Room
was located at the entrance to St. John's. Right outside was the area where
children were dropped off in the morning and picked up
in the afternoon.
At age 10, I was easily
impressed. I made sure to stop and watch the ladies whenever I
had an extra moment. With my 4th grade
locker situated right next to this area, I had the perfect vantage
point to study these women on a daily basis. Standing in a
distant doorway to avoid getting in their way, I loved to observe
these animated women as they
chatted and milled about. I was very taken by
their fine clothes, furs, jewelry, exquisitely-styled hair and
perfect figures. I might add that most of these patrician
women were unusually attractive. Many of these women could
just as easily been models.
Coming from a middle class home with parents who did not socialize
I had never seen wealth displayed like this before. I had no idea
women who looked like this even existed. Compared to my own
mother who dressed modestly and had a humble manner, these women acted like celebrities.
Based on the way they
carried themselves and spoke with such confidence, I concluded these dynamic women must be very
From the moment I attended St. John's, I was unusually curious
about the Mother's Guild. Although I was too young to know why
over time the reason became obvious. Looking back, no doubt my issues with my hapless mother
made me overly
curious about the subject of motherhood in general. I
could not help but compare these high dominance women with their
perfect posture and regal bearing to my struggling mother and wonder
what kind of mothers they were. What would be like to be
raised by one of these women?
I was ten when I first
developed my fascination with this group of wealthy, polished women.
As a small and quite harmless little boy who was the anonymous child
of God knows who, my invisibility was practically guaranteed.
Therefore I was able to do a lot of watching without anyone
One day I saw these
ladies as they emptied out of a side door into the Commons Room.
That was the first time I realized there was a private dining area
connected to the reception area. A couple days later when no
one was looking, I peeked in. The dining room was secluded and very lovely. It had large windows that looked out
onto our beautiful inner courtyard known as the Quadrangle.
This discovery made me
realize that Lunch was another important feature to these
I developed a
these Mother Guild women would meet first for lunch. Then they would conduct
their business. Afterwards they would meet informally in the
Reception area for coffee, tea and conversation. I
assumed many of them stuck around to avoid having to make another
trip at the end of school to pick up their children. I imagine
there were days when these women were here at the school for two to four hours at a time.
Since my 4th Grade locker was right next to the Commons Room,
it wasn't much trouble for me to keep track of their comings and
Students were given ten
minutes to get to their next class, about
eight more minutes than I needed. With time to kill,
whenever I noticed the group of ladies, invariably I would
invest my extra time in observation.
the ladies were laughing; sometimes they were deep in serious
conversation. One thing for sure - they definitely liked to talk.
One day a lady noticed me watching them. Frowning, she
pointed at me and barked in a harsh voice, "Young man, who
are you? You have
no business being in here. You need to leave right now."
With that she
pointed her finger to the hallway and stomped her foot. As
I left, she glowered darts at me. Stunned by her harsh
rebuke, I was very mad. I was being quiet and wasn't hurting anyone. What gave her
the right to dismiss me like that? She wasn't a teacher. If this woman had
asked politely, that would have been one thing, but her rude,
imperious manner upset me. Why was she so mean to me?
I suppose in her
opinion I was invading her privacy. However,
this was a public area and this was my school. I may have
been just some lowly kid, but I had just as much right to be
here as she did. Was there some rule against watching?
If so, no one had told me.
That incident was a
turning point. It is important to note I was a
troubled child with anger issues. I was still bitter over
the divorce and about as lonely as any boy can be. Yes, St.
John's was the perfect place to challenge me academically, but I was still the same
angry kid who nearly got suspended
from public school due to my constant classroom disruptions.
Given my grouchy state of mind, this woman's bossy attitude rubbed
me the wrong way. On the spot I lost my admiration for
I didn't like these women any more.
In this new light, they seemed
phony and preoccupied with social status. Their haughty air of superiority made me feel unwelcome.
Mind you, I made
this sweeping decision based on the rudeness of just one woman.
No doubt many of the ladies were nice, but there was no doubt
that others were snobs.
The demand to leave
marked the beginning of the chip on my shoulder that I felt
towards the rich and famous at St. John's. This
was my first realization that I wasn't very important. By
way of this event and various dramatic incidents over
time, I would conclude I occupied the absolute
lowest rung on the St. John's social ladder.
Without anyone to
reassure me, I began to feel inferior. There was a part of
me that felt like I didn't really belong here.
The men who
ran St. John's may have been gifted educators, but they
had no way of shielding me from the heartache my inferior social
status would cause me. I was in for some rough times
at this school. Social status has its winners and
losers. When it comes to social climbing, we don't
often think about the people clinging to the lowest rung,
but they do exist.
From my humble perch on the bottom rung, I
spent nine years at St. John's observing the
elegant trappings of wealth. The finery included mansions, cars,
clothes, country clubs, beach houses and second
homes in Colorado ski areas.
Add to that the stories I overheard about my classmates'
summer camps and amazing European vacations.
little doubt I was the poorest kid in the school.
Although I was born into a middle class home, that
changed dramatically after the divorce. While my
electrical engineer father continued to rise in his
career, from that point on, his contribution to my
life was reduced to $100 a month in child support and
providing medical insurance.
That left it up to my struggling mother and her revolving door of
low-paying jobs to do the rest. During
the nine years I spent at
St. John's, I would peg our socioeconomic status at the
lowest possible level of middle class about half the
time. However, whenever
Mom was out of a job (a frequent development),
the unpaid bills would mean eating by
candlelight or skipping a shower for a night.
Another problem was
being forced to move all the time, 11 homes in 9 years. My
mother realized we had to have phone, gas, electricity, and water.
So when those utilities were turned off, she would get turned back
on within a day or two. However, this often meant not paying
the monthly rent. Whenever she got too far behind, 4 or 5
months, the pressure from the landlord got so great that we would
sneak out and move to another location to avoid paying back rent.
Cason (4th Grade),
Colquitt (4th and 5th), Braes Bayou (5th and 6th), Travis (6th and
7th), Hawthorne (8th and 9th), Emerson (10th), Stella Link (10th),
Marshall (10th), Bonnie Brae (11th), Bagby (11th), Keene (12th)
For the most part, we lived
in modest apartments in the Montrose area of town. We
weren't abjectly poor, but money was always a huge issue. Economically I would have
been in the bottom quarter at any public school
near where I lived, but at least I would have had some
company. Not so at SJS. Here at St. John's, the gap between me and
the children of Houston's wealthiest families roughly about the size of the Pacific Ocean. There were times when my envy was
hard to handle. I am not a
person who is especially interested in material things.
Like anyone else, I wish to be comfortable, but luxury
is not a necessity. What I really wanted more than
anything else was a solid home.
There are not enough words to explain just how truly
strange my life space was compared to everyone else at
school. I believe I was the only kid in the school who rode his bike
to school. I was
probably the only kid who opened the front door wondering
if the lights would be turned off. I imagine there weren't many other students who wondered if his
mother would be staying home
that night or leaving to hit the bars in search of love. For that
matter I don't imagine too many SJS students awoke to
find strange men in their mother's bedroom every now and
My envy of the privileges enjoyed by my
fellow students was the least of my
problems. My biggest problem had to be the
loneliness. Because I
was an only child, I lacked brothers and sisters to help
me learn how to get along with other people my age. A major handicap was the fact that we
moved so often. Although seven of our eleven homes
were in the Montrose area, I never lived in one of these
homes much longer than a year. Since I
never a chance to make neighborhood friends, that forced
me to rely on St. John's for my social interaction. That worked
well enough for the first three and a half years.
John's used a mandatory dress code to avoid
distinguishing the rich from the not so rich. My
disguise of white dress shirt and khaki pants worked
liked a charm for my first three years. During the
4th, 5th, and 6th grade, my social status was unknown
and I was one of the pack. Since no one had any
idea just how poor I was, I was occasionally invited to
visit my wealthy classmates at their homes for birthday
parties, Saturday afternoon basketball games and
maybe even the occasional sleepover.
situation changed dramatically in the 7th grade.
What went wrong? Several things, but
mainly I think as my classmates aged, so did
their social awareness. They started
to notice things about me that stuck out
like a sore thumb. For example, I had
a chipped tooth thanks to a boy who jumped
on my back in the 5th Grade. It took
my mother three years to get it fixed in the
How many students had straight teeth? Whoever
needed braces got them. There was one exception.
My bottom row of teeth were more crooked
than a slum landlord. What quality
were my glasses? What quality were my
clothes? How good was my haircut?
And why didn't my eyes match?
My eyes did not match
because one was plastic. When the
light was strong, my eyes matched.
When the light was poor such as in a
classroom, the pupil of my good eye grew
larger to compensate for the weak light.
What I am saying is that socially-conscious
people can just look at someone's shoes and
peg their socioeconomic status.
Starting in the 7th Grade, my matching
school uniform no longer did the trick.
By this time everyone in the school could
tell I was from the other side of the
tracks. Yes, there were a few other
middle-class kids who attended on
scholarships. And yes, I made friends
with them. But the In Crowd kids
increasingly shunned me.
In the 7th Grade, invitations from my
classmates to social events dropped off a
cliff. my invitations to birthday
parties seemed to disappear. Nor was I
invited to spend Saturday afternoons with
classmates at their homes any more. I
couldn't be sure what was going on.
Was this really happening or was it my
imagination? That moment
in the 7th grade marked the
beginning of my alienation at St. John's. It wasn't what my
classmates did to me that bothered me. What hurt was being
left out in various subtle ways. I no longer felt included in
my classmates' lives.
bullied? No. I am sure some kids made
fun of my sartorial shortcomings and social awkwardness behind my back, but never to my face.
During class, my classmates treated me with respect.
In the 4th Grade, I made the Honor Roll all four
quarters. This was not a fluke. I would make
the Honor Roll 9 years in a row and finish in the top 5
of my class. Considering this was a school where
grades were a badge of merit, I was accepted as a worthy
rival by my fellow academic gladiators.
when it came to friendship, that is when I became an
outsider. These kids preferred to hang out with
their country club buddies and their neighborhood pals.
And who could blame them? What is so terrible
about preferring to hang out with kids who
have been friends with you all your life?
It was just my tough luck to enter a world
where lifetime friendship choices had been
made long ago. I am sure an army brat
forced to try to fit in at new schools would
say the same thing.
St. John's was a small
school. With fifty kids in my class, there were no secrets,
I ate lunch every day next to
my classmates. Since they had no reason to
be guarded around me, they talked about what was going on in their
lives. That made it easy to overhear stories about
recent exciting events I had been left out of.
They never knew I
was listening. I had become the Invisible
was not deliberate meanness. No
student in my class ever displayed any
particular animosity towards
me. Yes, I was excluded, but this exclusion wasn't the product of
any deliberate conspiracy
meant to ostracize me. I understood my
status as a St. John's student did not include an automatic
invitation to events outside the classroom. My
classmates ignored me simply because I was not part of
the social circles they ran in after school. It
didn't help that I had no idea how to become
popular enough to rate inclusion into their
me be clear about one thing. My classmates
were always cordial towards me. I do not
recall one instance where one of my
classmates was deliberately mean to me.
Yes, there was a boy who taunted me in the 10th
but for the most part I was respected due to my
good grades. Academically, yes, I belonged
at SJS. Socially, no, I had no business
being here. Consequently outside of class
the In Crowd ignored me... as
was their right. It was not their job to
worry about my self-esteem issues or my wish to
be included. Every one of my classmates had plenty of
growing-up problems of their own to worry about.
Why should they worry about me?
As for some
of their mothers, that was another story. There were
several mothers who could tell I did not belong here and treated me poorly.
was never the victim of overt snobbery from my
classmates. Okay, there were a couple kids who
liked to needle me about my inferior clothes or
lack of fashion sense, but I am not even sure
their comments were meant to hurt. It was
just teasing to them and I had a very thin skin.
What bothered me most was my eternal feeling
left out. No one enjoys watching a
birthday party through a window. I felt increasingly alone at my
was there, but I wasn't there. I wasn't
part of their world any more. By the end of the
7th Grade, I felt about as significant as a light
fixture or a piece of furniture. A
sense of futility came over me.
What I am
saying is that for nine years
I received subtle messages as to my inferiority.
No one wanted me here. Slowly over time, the acid of negative conditioning eroded my confidence.
Without a parent to counteract those messages, the
conditioning took hold. As my confidence dwindled,
I began to say less and less. The results
were disastrous to my self-esteem. I grew up
believing I wasn't good enough in many social
situations. The dark messages implanted in my subconscious would have
serious consequences later in life.
these consequences? For one thing, the longer I
stayed at St. John's, the more I turned into a loner.
I began to see myself as unattractive. When
it came to head to head competition for the prettiest
girl later in life, I would mysteriously throw
in the towel because I felt inferior to men who reminded me of
the confident boys at SJS. Or I would have trouble
standing up for myself when an alpha male asserted his
dominance in some way at my expense. Let's face it, there are people who enjoy making
themselves taller by stepping on those who are smaller.
I would allow myself to be elbowed by men I
should have had the ability to go toe to toe with.
many of my problems to my lack of parenting. My
father was long gone and my mother was a social cripple.
So who was I going to turn to counteract the increasing
evidence that I was the least important person in my school? The longer I
went to St. John's, the more I became convinced I was
socially inferior to my classmates. To avoid being
reminded of my inferiority, I kept to myself.
This self-imposed alienation prevented me from acquiring the
various secrets of popularity. I never discovered
the value of developing ways to be interesting.
Nor did I acquire the
benefits from learning to listen. I had no idea how to
tell a story or a joke and I never learned to dance.
I was forced to avoid sports due to my blind eye. I
never learned to tease, offer encouragement or pay compliments.
I never acquired the knack of showing interest in other
people or learned how to start a conversation. I avoided the
telephone like the plague. These
important formative lessons in friendship went right over my head.
place where I felt any pride was my
academics. Even that area bothered me. Here
I was competing with the smartest children in
the city. These kids were not only
brilliant, they had every
advantage one could ever ask for. It became crystal clear to me that I was a huge underdog at
this school in every possible way. However, I
did have one advantage. As my
bitterness grew, I became
determined to out-work every single one of them. I
vowed that someday I
was going to overcome my problems. I was
determined to prove - first to myself, then to
others - that I was very much their equal.
A SIMPLE ACT OF
Written by Rick
Rick Archer's Note:
So now the problem comes
clear. A young boy discovers he is a duck
out of water in a world where social status is
almost as important as academic status.
Increasingly aware he is slowly being ostracized
at his school, he is ill-equipped to deal with
the daily challenge of fitting in and competing
with Über-confident classmates.
I contend that confidence
starts at home. A few suggestions and
timely encouragement would make all the
difference in the world. Let's see how
that works out for this young man.
We all have unanswered
questions. My father is at the top of my list. He is
without a doubt the great mystery of my life.
Up till age 8, Dad was
my best friend in the world. That is why I have never
understood why the man abandoned me after the divorce. I have
my theories, of course, and I will get to them shortly. Our
relationship began to deteriorate during that awful year leading up
to the divorce. My father was really mean to my mother.
I took her side because I thought he was being a bully (which he
was). Maybe that's why my father turned on me.
The issue over St.
John's deepened the rift. My father was convinced that sending
me to an elite private school was a complete waste of his
hard-earned money. First he resented me for sticking up for my
mother. Then he resented me for being such a problem that the
psychiatrist had to get involved. Now in order to get his
divorce Dad had been coerced into sending me to this expensive rich
kid's school. In his mind, because I dropped the ball with my
emotional problems, he was forced to foot the bill.
To say the least, my
parents did not part on good terms. However, I guess Dad
managed to forgive me somewhat. Following the August 1959
divorce, I saw my father every other weekend without fail for
the next four months. Then something
terribly awkward happened that first
Christmas. I was 10 years old.
Here we were alone together in his apartment. We were full of seasonal cheer, just Dad,
me and the Christmas Tree.
Under the tree was an enormous
gift-wrapped box. I looked at Dad and he nodded. I ripped open the paper
to discover my father had bought me a
gigantic erector set complete with some kind of fancy electrical motor.
This was a very expensive gift. It came in a heavy metal box so large I could
barely lift it. Dad was extremely proud of his gift.
I have a hunch this was the kind of gift he had coveted when he was my age,
but of course never received because his mother was so poor.
Dad beamed at his lavish present. Being an electrical engineer, this erector set was right up his alley.
As for me, I gulped. I had never tried this sort of thing
before and wasn't sure how I would I do. But I kept my fears
to myself. When I hugged my father and
thanked him, Dad looked at me with a
huge smile. For a moment there, it was just like old times.
Dad could not wait to build something neat with his son.
That would make
this his best Christmas ever! "Why don't we build
"Well, sure, of
course, Dad, let's build something!"
I was beside with myself with happiness. I missed my father so
much lately. I watched hopefully as Dad took out the list of projects and looked it over. He immediately suggested
we build a drawbridge so we could take advantage of that fancy motor.
I wasn't so sure about this. That idea seemed a little
ambitious. I was thinking the beginner stuff on the first page was more my
speed. But Dad insisted.
With a huge lump in
my throat, I took out some of the parts and the instructions.
When I saw how complicated those drawbridge instructions looked,
I had a very bad feeling about this. However, if Dad said
I could do it, then I would give it try.
The drawbridge had
elaborate instructions. Dad said all we had to do was follow
the instructions. What could be easier? Dad handed me
the tools and worked with me for a while. I was game, but
didn't do very well. The instructions made no sense. As I had feared, this project was
way over my head.
I suppose it took about
15 minutes for my father to realize how totally overwhelmed I was.
At that point,
Dad got the strangest look in his face. He stared at me in
disbelief. When I saw his pained
expression, I gulped. I was almost certain I
knew what he was thinking.
I firmly believe that when my father was my
had the talent to build stuff like this without anyone's help.
So why couldn't his son do it?
deepened. He could not believe
how inept I was, especially when compared to his own immense
natural ability at mechanics. At that moment,
something terrible snapped in the man. I could see it in his
disgusted expression. It saddens me to say this, but when he began
shaking his head, I believe his bitterness at being stuck paying
all this money to a private school welled up. Lord have mercy,
his own son could not even build a
goddamn drawbridge. Dad had just discovered his son had no
mechanical ability. There would be no son following in his genius
footsteps, would there?
Dad set his coffee down
and wordlessly studied me in disbelief.
His face was crestfallen. What a
disappointment I was to him. How could I possibly be his
kid? And even if I was his kid, my value had plummeted.
At best, maybe someday I could get a job pulling bubble gum off
theater seats or something noble like cleaning public toilets.
snatched the tools out of my hands and began to build the bridge
Dad told me to watch carefully and he would
show me how to do it. Then I could do it again by myself tomorrow after
he took me back to Mom's apartment.
Yeah, sure, Dad.
Sick with self-loathing due to my incompetence, I retreated in shame
to the corner and said nothing while my father took over.
With the sparkling
Christmas tree as our backdrop, Dad got down to business right there on the
carpeted floor of the
living room. The happy smile on his face said it all.
It was the same smile he had whenever he used to work on his giant
train complex in the attic of our former home. The moment he stuck his tongue out the
side of his mouth, I knew he was in 'The Zone'. Sticking his
tongue out was Dad's characteristic signal that he was locked in.
I noticed Dad didn't even bother with the instructions. One look at
the picture was enough. I was incredulous... not even a second
glance! I was forlorn. Why didn't I have his talent?
How would I ever make him proud of me?
Dad was in another
world, so I stayed silent lest I interrupt his reverie. The entire time I did
not exist. Despite my sadness, I smiled at seeing how
happy Dad was. I had never
seen him look happier. Dad was probably reliving some of his
own boyhood Christmas memories.
I marveled at my
father's immense talent. Building that drawbridge came so effortlessly to him, I was reminded
again of the good old days when
Dad built his gigantic electric train complex.
Dad was a born engineer.
Three hours later, Dad
finished. It is
a good thing I paid close attention as he built that drawbridge.
Little did I know this would be the last time in my life I would ever see my father display his
I have to hand it to
Dad. The completed drawbridge was a magnificent structure.
It was huge. Hit a switch and
the drawbridge went up and down. Dad was so proud of himself.
This is what he was capable of. He
looked at the bridge and beamed with pride. Then he looked at me and frowned.
In Hindsight, it is
clear my father was being selfish. He wanted to work on
something that would interest him. So much for the nurturing
gene, right? I had zero mechanical ability and he lacked
empathy. You want to know
something sad? If it took my father three hours, that in itself should
explain how complicated this project was. This was the
same guy with the talent to build cranes capable of sending
astronauts in outer space. And it took him three hours to put
this together!! Would it have been so tough to cut me some
slack, to try to make me feel better? I never had a
chance, did I? But I was so young, I did not know that, so
I blamed myself!
Not once did my
father bother to
reassure me. Not once did he suggest this had been a tough place to start. My father
was so brilliant, he just automatically assumed that because he
could do it at my age, I should be able to do it too. Instead he
took another long look at me and his smile switched back to the frown. I got the message. I had failed him. I wasn't good enough.
When I went home that night, I was
ashamed of myself.
Over the years I have
asked myself many times if my
father wondered if I was truly his son or not. There is a
real good chance that exact thought passed through his head that
Christmas morning. However I seriously doubt my mother was unfaithful. The marriage was strong when I
was conceived. Besides, I look just like my father in pictures
taken at comparable ages. But I can understand his
disappointment. When it comes to academics, I am top-notch,
but mechanical things have baffled me my entire life. I
truly do not have an ounce of mechanical ability. If my bike
chain comes off, it might take me an hour to figure out how to get
the chain back on. Same thing with changing a flat tire. I hate to say this, but whatever
skill my father had
was never passed onto me. Dad had trouble accepting that. How was it possible that his
son did not have one bit of his limitless mechanical ability?
To this day, I still feel
like I failed him.
The skies turned dark
after the Christmas disappointment. Total disaster. After Christmas, Dad
disappeared from my life. I was supposed to
see him every other weekend, but he skipped our next weekend
visit. Then he skipped the one after that. The entire month
of January went by without hearing from him. I was
sick in my stomach the entire time.
Meanwhile, things were really bad
in my new home. Mom was struggling with the divorce and had
brought this awful man Tom Cook to live with us. God only
knows what bar she found him in. This guy had just been
paroled from state prison. Among
other things, Tom Cook stole my silver dollar collection to pay for alcohol.
Recently he had beat my mother up after getting drunk. He even tried to get
me started on smoking. What a pal. I was badly
rattled and needed my father. Where was he?
February came and went
without a word from my father. My sad little 10-year
old mind jumped to the conclusion that Dad's absence had something to
do with how badly I had done with the erector set. What
else was I supposed to think? He didn't even bother
to call to
explain why he would not be seeing me. Missing him, I asked Mom to check.
was still too angry about the divorce to get in touch with him. So I
stayed in the dark assuming his disappearance was all my fault. I went around
criticizing myself for being so stupid. Probably other
sons my age could have built that drawbridge with no trouble.
Meanwhile Mom went
off the deep end and married this ex-con. Married him!
Can you believe that? I was flipping out
with insecurity. I was scared of Tom Cook and worried to death
about my mother. March. April. Where is my
father? May. June.
Half a year went by without seeing or hearing from him.
Six months! Can you believe that? What father ditches
his frightened son for half a year? Then one day out of the blue Dad called and said he was coming over to pick me up for
our scheduled Saturday. I was thrilled! I've got my father
back! Dad had finally forgiven me for being so stupid. I was going to be the best kid possible.
Now get this.
I ran to my closet and pulled out the erector set which had sat
there untouched like a betrayed kingdom. Previously I was so
mad at Dad for deserting me I did not want anything to do with that
damn erector set. But now I needed to impress him. I worked
on the beginner models every day for the next few days
leading up to our
visit. I wasn't very good, but I finally figured out how to build a
simple house frame. Mind you, it
had no moving parts like the drawbridge, but it was a start.
The point is I tried as hard as I could to do something to make
my father proud of me again.
When Dad came to the
door, there I was holding my giant erector set kit in my hand. It was so
heavy I could barely lift it, but I was determined to show Dad what I had taught myself to do.
I was going to build that house frame for him without any of his help. Dad
took one look at the kit and frowned. He said, "You won't need that,
Richard. Leave it
When he called me
Richard, that was my first clue. "Richard" was code
word for any time one of my parents was unhappy with me. I
don't think Dad really wanted to be here. When I got
to his apartment, there was a surprise waiting for me. Dad introduced me to his
Her name was Jezebel. Yup, same woman. Of course I
did not know that at the time. I had never seen nor heard of
her before. Since Mom had not yet explained the gory details
of Dad's affair, I had no idea this was the woman who had broken up
my parents' marriage. Nevertheless, I sensed the evil. I
disliked the woman from the start.
Smiling Jezebel had lunch waiting for us.
She served the meal with one of those 'let's this over with'
looks. She ignored me when my father's back was turned and
acted phony nice when he was looking. After lunch, Dad suggested I turn on the TV. Dad spent
the rest of the day hanging out with Jezebel in the kitchen where I
could barely see them. I watched
nervously out of the corner of my eye as the two of them played court
and spark. Then they went into the bedroom for a
while and locked the door. I wasn't quite sure why Dad was
ignoring me. I guess Jezebel was better with erector sets than I was. Then
he drove me home. What a great father-son Saturday.
Since I was too ashamed to tell my mother how badly the visit went,
I remained in the dark about Jezzie for a long time. One day
in 1961 Dad broke the
news that he had married this awful woman. Hmm.
Obviously I wasn't welcome at the wedding. I didn't care.
I had already begun to harden my heart. However, I was
curious, so I swallowed my pride and asked
Mom for some insight. Putting two and two together, I guessed
the real reason Dad had skipped all those weekends
with me was to pursue his new flame. It had nothing to do with my
lack of mechanical ability.
Too bad I didn't know that at the time. I spent an entire year
feeling worthless for nothing.
After this chapter we are not going to hear
much about my father for a while.
Since we are on the subject, let's take his
story all the way to high school. Here
I am, this lost and terribly lonely 10-year
old, an only child with no one to turn to.
Could I depend on my mother? Hey, she
was so scared of her new husband, she would
crawl into bed with me just so our dog Terry
would protect us both. Mom was
absolutely useless to me.
Turn to my father? Are you nuts?
I was so disgusted to learn Dad had married
that awful woman, I could not see straight.
In her own way, Stepmother was worse than
Tom Cook. Where I was concerned,
Jezebel had merely gone through the motions
of parenting till she could seal the deal.
Jezebel did not like me and I did not like her. Mind you, Stepmother never came
right out and
admitted I disgusted her, but her disdain was apparent.
Coldest woman I ever met. After the 1961 wedding, Stepmother's next step was to get rid of
me. Sad to say, her extinction plan was wildly successful.
at age 11, Dad's participation in my life
dwindled to four visits per year.
played a game I called 'Four Seasons.'
He saw me on my birthday in October, once at Christmas, once in
early Spring, and once shortly before Summer break.
Stepmother allowed me into her home once a
year at Christmas time. It was the Christian thing to do, no
doubt. Feed the poor, be kind to the needy, hand a gift to the
stepchild. I would have
found more warmth in a holiday soup kitchen. Since I was not
welcome in Stepmother's home at any other time, for our other
three visits, Dad picked me up at school
for lunch. Lunch
was a convenient option. We chatted about nothing important
and his obligation was over for three more months.
Starting in 1961, this pattern continued for seven years till
graduation in 1968. I am unsure why my father
chose not to see me more often. After all, it wasn't difficult.
just down the street from St. John's. Since his office was a half
mile from my school, St.
John's was a four minute drive from his office. Maybe less. 3,000 feet
separated us, but a million miles in my father's mind. For a
busy man, much too far to take time to see the abandoned son.
This was a heartless
move on Dad's part. My father had no excuse. There were no rules, no limits on
lunch visits. Permission to see me was unnecessary. Dad
could see me any time he wanted.
had to do was phone the school to say he was coming.
Back in the Sixties,
school security was not a concern. At a posh school like St.
John's, there was no such thing as kidnapping. Since the
SJS receptionist knew
who my father was, any time my father wanted to see me,
he could show up unannounced if he wanted to. However, Dad was too
formal for that. He would call a day in advance, the lady would hand
me a note when I passed
through the Reception area, then Dad would pick me up for lunch
the following day.
So did Dad ever explain why he didn't
see me more often? No. Dad did
not like to talk about things like that and I didn't have the
guts to ask. Of course the reason had to be
Stepmother, but god forbid he admit that. Instead Dad
talked a lot about his long hours at work. That set me to
thinking about those long hours. If
Dad wanted to see me more often, but couldn't spare time for
lunch, I would have gladly ridden my
bike to his office in the afternoon, maybe get a coke and chat
in the hallway for ten minutes. I understood that I was unwelcome in
Stepmother's house, but his suspicious wife would never know her husband was seeing
the Forbidden Child during the day. I
would have been happy just to sit by his desk and do my
homework, maybe watch him
work. In the early years, I just wanted to be near him. Let's face it,
he just didn't give a shit.
I hate to sound so
bitter, but I missed Dad so much.
It was really
tough growing up without a father.
Once upon a time, my
father meant the world to me. The truth is that I have always
had a soft spot for my father even though another part of me despises
him for how he neglected me. I have never quite
understood my mixed feelings. No matter how much my father
disgusted me, I was always shocked to realize how much I looked forward
to seeing him again.
It was during my
nine years at St. John's that my father became the great mystery of
my life. The weird thing is that he abandoned me, but
never acknowledged the fact. He always pretended things
were great between us. Sad to say, I wish I had the guts
to come out and say, "Dad, tell me why you don't want to see
me more often." Unfortunately, I was too shy, too
timid to risk confrontation. With my luck, I would
probably never see him again if I stood up for myself. As
a result I have no real idea why
he turned his back on me. He obviously preferred his Four
Seasons approach. The rest of the time, Dad
made it clear how busy he was. Phone calls to his house
were forbidden and phone calls to his
office were a nuisance. The message was clear... I needed
to know my place. Dad was a busy man. Don't call him; he'll call me.
Oops, change that. He'll call the receptionist.
The two years after the divorce
were the worst times. Now that I wasn't allowed to bother him, like a desperate mistress I began to
wait anxiously for his call. Dad never called me at
home. God forbid my mother would answer. Instead he
would call the school. The first couple years, 4th and 5th
Grade, I developed a pathetic habit of walking past the
receptionist once a day just in case Dad had called.
Once I hit the 6th grade I didn't bother any more. Now the receptionist had to hunt me down
on the rare occasions he called. This
lady was always very kind to me. She guessed how much pain my father caused me.
She would always look at me with the most profound sympathy.
Nor was she alone. Several members of the St. John's faculty sensed my
I was fortunate that many of my teachers reached out when they saw me floundering.
Their small acts of kindness were the only thing that got me
through this rough patch.
I often wondered why
I continued to miss my father despite his cold
shoulder. Perhaps if my father
had ever been openly mean to me, I might have gotten the guy out
of my system. Such was not the case.
Whenever we met for
lunch, Dad was
invariably nice to me. In person, Dad was warm, always
friendly, always affable. I cannot recall a single harsh word
between us during those meals. I still remember that big smile
Dad would greet me with. I guess when you spend at most four or five
hours a year with your kid, you can smile with the best of them.
Must have been his sales training because this guy really knew
how to fake caring for me. Seriously, Dad put
up a great front. I swear a casual observer would never
guess the utter mediocrity of my father as a parent. I was so desperate to have a father, I guess I
was willing to settle for whatever he had to offer.
My father had two
children by Stepmother. They too became part of the Great
Mystery. No effort was ever
made to include me in his second family. I saw them each
Christmas for three years. However, once I reached high
school the invitations stopped. Dad had it down pat.
Pick me up, feed me dinner, hand me a present in the car,
drive me home, Merry Christmas, goodbye, see you in the spring. I never stayed at their house long enough for
my bad seed to rub off on the children. I wouldn't know what
my half brother and half sister
looked like if I passed them on the street. That said, I
know a lot about them. That is because my father had the strangest habit of
spending most of our brief time together talking about
his two children.
turned 13, Dad
began to talk to me like I was his best buddy. My father
adopted a personality that was more Uncle than Dad. What
does an Uncle do when he is in town for a day and wants to meet
for lunch? He talks about the kids, he talks about his
job, he talks how famous he is becoming, yadda yadda yadda.
That's my father, Uncle Dad. Maintaining a friendly, superficial rapport with me,
there was no heart
to heart communication whatsoever, just cordial stuff.
The weird thing is
that an actual uncle, someone like my beloved Uncle Dick who
lived in Virginia, would ask me how I was doing. Not Uncle
Dad. My father preferred not to know how I was doing,
probably because he knew if he opened the door all sorts of ugly
Pandora's Box-type emotions might spill out. Dad wanted to
keep it pleasant, so 99% of the time he
talked and I listened. You assume I am exaggerating, right?
Nope. It was really weird how our Father-Son roles were reversed.
the time, Dad
loved to gossip about his son Charlie and his daughter Joy.
While he spoke, I
pretended to be interested, but inside I was incredulous at how
oblivious Dad was to my pain. Good grief, back when I
was little, Dad would go on and on how much he missed not
having a father. But then he turned around and did the
same thing to me. What would make my father so blind that I
missed him, that I felt abandoned? It made no sense.
I was an Honor Student for crying out loud. Any father
should have been proud to have a hard-working son like me, but
he never told me he was proud. Basically I think Dad wanted to avoid any conversation
that might make him feel guilty. So to control the
conversation, he spoke about things that mattered to him.
painful aspect of our relationship was the knowledge that Dad
treated his other two children a lot better than he treated me.
I wanted so badly to chew him out, but
I didn't have the guts to bring up a sensitive
subject. Growing up, I was terrified to confront people. I got
that from my parents. Neither one of them knew how to
speak up. Instead of telling my father how outraged I was,
I just sat there listening to Dad brag about his
Based on the stories he told me, it was
apparent he adored them. And so I came to the conclusion
that Dad was a pretty good father to them. The
girl, Joy, was very bright, so Dad put her at Kinkaid, a private
school just as expensive as St. John's. I found this very
ironic because my father had told me so many times that private
schools were a waste of good money. His son Charlie was
handicapped due to a problem during the birth process. I got
the sense that Dad exhibited
real patience and caring for his struggling son.
Dad often described the lengths he went to help the boy overcome his
handicap. On a daily basis, he actively helped this boy
any way he could. When I say his concern
for my half-brother was very touching, I mean that. I just wish he had spent some time caring for me as
I have an
idea. Let me pretend to be my father as he speaks to me around age 13
"Rick, I spend a
couple hours every night helping Charlie and Joy with their
homework. I am so proud of them, but especially Charlie.
School comes easily to Joy, she's so smart, but school is an
uphill battle for my son. Did you know I put him in a
Special Ed school? Very expensive, but definitely
worth it. Charlie gets very frustrated,
but after I calm him down and give him some encouragement, that
boy works as hard as he is capable of. He depends on me a
When Dad talked like
this, I felt very
strange. On the one hand, I was proud of my father for
being a concerned parent. But it blew my mind to have him
tell me what a good father he was to my siblings when he was
such a lousy parent to me.
Here I am, this miserable, lonely kid in desperate need of his
attention, but instead of receiving encouragement for my own problems,
I have to politely listen to Dad brag about what a good job he was
raise his other two children.
To me, my father's behavior
was truly bizarre. It was like he had this giant Blind
Spot towards me. Dad would not dare bring up the subject
of my mother. Unwilling to hear about my problems, he just kept
yapping away about how great his kids were. His behavior
reminded me of a man who makes a starving dog watch while he
feeds his other dog, the one he likes. I was confused and
bitter. But since I did not have the courage to clear the
air, instead I observed him with an odd detachment. I must have been a
good actor because I don't think Dad ever had a clue the extent of
the contempt I felt for him.
I did not begrudge
Joy and Charlie his attention, but what about me? Why would
Dad make it apparent that he cared more for them than me? The whole thing blows my mind. Who in their right mind behaves like
that? Okay, I admit I was
withdrawn, insecure, and lacked mechanical ability, but is that any reason to give up on me? I was certain that
my father had loved me when I was a little boy, so why did he have a blind spot for me
Considering I never gave my father a bit of trouble, I could not imagine what I
had done to lose his love. I was an
Honor student at St. John's. In fact, I never missed the Honor Roll
once in the nine years I went there. I graduated 5th
in a class of 50 elite students. I worked a job after school.
What the hell does it take to get a father's approval?
In Hindsight, the sad thing is I probably will never know the real reason
why he turned his back. But I do have my theory. I
blamed his behavior on Stepmother.
I think my grandmother
Dorothy raised a Momma's boy. Since Dorothy was described to
me as domineering, I think my father lived and died for his mother's
approval. I have a feeling he acted the same way around
Jezebel. My theory is Dad married his mother.
I never understood this
at the time, but Jezebel had all kinds of reasons to hate me.
She must have bitterly resented me for draining my father's salary.
I cheated her out of a honeymoon. I forced her to continue
working after her marriage. I forced her to postpone owning a
home of her own. I forced her to delay having children.
Feeling cheated, she got even by depriving me of my father's
The moment my father
began designing cranes, his career took off and he was on his way to
becoming a relatively wealthy man. However, prior to the
divorce Dad was a salesman with a very modest salary. Sensing
his limited resources, the plan was to keep his affair a secret
until after the divorce. That would leave most of Dad's
savings intact and they would live happily ever after. That is
when I inadvertently put a wrench in their plans. My
parents' constant rancor was so vicious, I fell to pieces.
Imagine Jezebel's horror when they trotted me off to see the
psychiatrist. When Jezzie discovered some quack had
recommended sending me to St. John's, I imagine she blew her top.
Archer, what the hell is wrong with you? You have no business taking on this exorbitant
expense! This school you are considering sending your son to
is meant for rich parents. You are not rich. If you expect me to marry you, how are we supposed
to start a family when half your salary goes down the drain
to pay that
goddamn private school tuition? You need to put your
foot down and tell that idiot wife of yours exactly the way
it's going be. Otherwise I might just need to
reevaluate this relationship."
Dad was caught
between a rock and a hard spot. He was desperate to please his
mistress, but once that damn wife got this private school idea stuck
in her craw, she clung to it like a dog with a meat bone. Dad was chomping at the bit to
be free, so he made the Devil's Bargain hoping his mistress would back down and
still take him at half his salary. And so she did. What
choice did she have? But no doubt she exacted her pound of
flesh. I am sure
Jezebel nagged my father mercilessly over the considerable chunk of salary
that was missing. To keep peace in the family, my
father decided the easiest way to keep the shrew off his back was to
see less of me.
My father was a weak
man. It was always my impression that Stepmother was the
dominant one. Dad did what his mother told him to do and now
he did what his new wife told him to do. I believe Stepmother's animosity was related to their early
financial struggle. Paying for full tuition at St.
John's for three years was way beyond his pay range at a time when
his career was just getting started. It must have been a
tremendous burden and no doubt
nagged my father endlessly. How stupid could he be to waste
all that money? "Why the hell didn't you stick to
your guns, Jim? That kid barely passed the 4th Grade! He
belongs in public school!"
This ordeal lasted three
years. Three years is a long time, plenty of time to build up
an ocean of resentment. Because of me, Stepmother was deprived
of a lavish honeymoon.
Because of me, Father could not afford to give Stepmother a home of her own. Because of
me, funds were limited to start a family of her own so they had to
wait. Because of me, Stepmother had to keep working in order
to make ends meet. I am sure
the shrew reminded my father of these sacrifices every chance she got.
Considering my father was already bitter over being blackmailed into
paying for my education, I am sure he cringed every time the subject
However, at the same
time, what the hell was wrong with my father? If he had an
ounce of integrity, he would have defied her. This is why I say my father was
weak. What I never understood was how he
could be so good to Joy and Charlie and simultaneously turn his back
on me. Why would a decent man stop caring for a
child he once loved? That made no sense. But there was
nothing I could do about it. Can you believe the set of
parents I had? Mom marries an ex-con, alcoholic wife beater.
Dad knuckles under to a bitch who demands he stop seeing me.
Now we know why I had no choice but to begin raising myself.
Too bad I didn't do a very good job.
Rick, you have to tell them
about your childhood. Otherwise no one will
ever understand just how screwed up you were when
you started your dance career."
A SIMPLE ACT OF KINDNESS