Home Up





Written by Rick Archer 



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 arduous task. 

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 shrugged. 

He replied, "Bad luck?  Good luck?  Who can say?"

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.  

He replied, "Good luck?  Bad luck?  Who can say?"

Soon after, the farmer's only son 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. 

The old farmer wasn't so sure.  With his whimsical smile, as usual his only reaction was, "Bad luck?  Good 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 cripple?  In 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 frequently disrupted my 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 if my 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 were 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 discipline.

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 my parents.  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 they 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

dr. Mendel


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 sarcastic.  Yes, 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 me in 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 problem. 
My father was deeply opposed to the expensive price tag.  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 position.  There was no way Dad was ever going to agree to this folly.  Forget it.


September 1958-may 1959

the mistress


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 bad news. 


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. 


However, the 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 passed up.

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.

However, 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 repair. 


September 1959

is st. john's a supernatural event?


As we shall see, St. John's School was the main reason I survived my childhood at least partially intact.  So I 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 thank you?

Oddly 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.








Lucky Break
Unlucky Break
  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.


Lucky Break
  A sudden impulse to play arcade game saves Rick and his father from instant death at the Stock Car accident


  Unlucky Break
Cosmic Blindness
  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.





Chapter FIVE:  St. John's School







Written by Rick Archer 



Rick Archer's Note:

Hail to the Faith and the Virtue.  St. John's School was the center of my life for nine years.

I would 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 their efforts. 

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 spirited rivalry. 

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 me 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 story.


wealth and privilege



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 basis.

St. John's 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 the Upper School (9-12). 


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, my school 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 something special.

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.


The St. 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 Guild

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 events.

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 agendas 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 opportunity to 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 Upper School.  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 Grade.


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. 

Since school 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 that out. 

The ladies would mingle in a lush, carpeted area decorated with wood paneling, valuable paintings and a fire place.  The Commons Room was furnished with plush leather chairs, comfortable couches, expensive tea sets, and soft lighting. This was a luxurious setting indeed.

Because I 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.



St. John's 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 Street.

The lovely 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 much, 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 important.

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 at first, 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 noticing. 

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 gatherings.  I developed a theory that 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 goings.  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.  Sometimes 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 this group.  I decided 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.

I have 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 then. 

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. 


St. 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. 

However my 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 8th Grade. 

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.   


Was I 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. 

However, 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, especially since 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 Kid.  This 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 circles. 

Let 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 Grade, 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.  However I 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 of being left out.  No one enjoys watching a birthday party through a window.  I felt increasingly alone at my school.  I 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. 

What were 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.

I traced 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.

The only 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. 












Written by Rick Archer 



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. 



ollowing the divorce


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 something, son?"

"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 age, he had the talent to build stuff like this without anyone's help.  So why couldn't his son do it? 

Dad's frown 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.

Impatient, Dad snatched the tools out of my hands and began to build the bridge himself.   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 amazing ability.  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 totally 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 for me 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.  Unfortunately she 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 here."

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 'new girlfriend'.  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. 


four seasons


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. 

Starting at age 11, Dad's participation in my life dwindled to four visits per year.  He 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 my graduation in 1968.  I am unsure why my father chose not to see me more often.  After all, it wasn't difficult. 

Dad worked 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.  All he 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 sadness.  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.  

When I 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.  To fill 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. 

The most 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 other children.  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 partially mentally 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 well.

I have an idea.  Let me pretend to be my father as he speaks to me around age 13 or 14.

"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 lot."

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 father's 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 doing to 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 now?

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. 


momma's boy



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 attention. 

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.

"Jim 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 Stepmother 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 came up.

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.

"But, 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."  -- Marla Archer, 2013




Chapter seven:  TERRY




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