Photo Below: c. 1979, with my father on a back-country canoe trip in Canada.
Photo Below: c. 1976/1977, my parents before their divorce (far left) with friends in our driveway in Hingham (probably around Christmas… Mom’s birthday!)
Photo Below: c. 1968, my parents on a camping trip (before kids).
Photo Below: January 29, 1966, my parents’ wedding.
October 23, 2020
My Father – Chapter 1
Just some thoughts… reflections on the nature of “dysfunctional family” and the impact on my life.
On August 25, 2020 I was visiting with friends at a lake in Palmyra, Wisconsin [before I continue this post I must say that if you every have the chance to visit a lake in Palmyra, Wisconsin in August, GO! — it was magical!]…
As I was sitting with my friends by the side of the lake — and the kids, of all ages, were playing (socially-distanced!) and catching the tiniest of frogs — my iPhone rang…The screen displayed the name “Harvey Budgett”. My father was calling…my father. I hadn’t spoken to him (or seen him for that matter) in 8 years.
The last time I had seen my father in person (which was also the last time we spoke at any length) was more than 8 years ago — on Sunday, June 17, 2012. My son, Charlie was 3 (almost 4). My son, Avi was 7. My son, A.J. was 9 (almost 10). My son, Colescott was 15 (almost 16). [Charile, A.J., and Colescott all have July birthdays!]
It was the day after Portland’s World Naked Bike Ride [which is an anti-oil / pro-environment mass protest, Portland-style]. The reason I know the date is because it was also the day my niece, Chloe graduated from college. Michelle Obama was the commencement speaker at Chloe’s graduation. I wasn’t invited (tickets were very limited) – but my mother was invited — and she decided to bring my oldest son (Colescott) as her “date”.
There’s a (separate) whole story about what happened that day (and all of the family drama around that), but as a quick summary: I dropped my son off with my mother, and then made arrangements to pick him up after the graduation ceremony [in the parking lot of a motel she had stayed in the night before]. My whole family came to the motel that afternoon (my mother, my sister, my brother-in-law, my niece, my nephew, my chlidren – and possibly my stepfather and stepmother too, although I don’t remember for certain if they were each there) – and that included my Dad, who was also invited to the graduation. I took my younger children to play in a nearby river during the graduation, and then met everyone at the motel at the appointed time to pick up my oldest.
…That was the last time I saw my dad.
He wasn’t very nice to me – nor to my children that day. He actually screamed at me (at length) — when I had tried to share the recently-completed trailer to my film with him in the parking lot. He angrily insisted “he did not have the time” to watch the two-minute video that summarized my advocacy work and my life over the previous 7 years. My husband encouraged me to “let it go”. That side of the family (my sister and her family, and my father and his wife) made it clear early on in my Lead-poisoning journey that they did not “believe” in Lead-poisoning — nor did they “believe” that my children had been impacted in any way, and they have always been completely disengaged from (and frankly, cynically contemptuous of) my advocacy work (but that’s another story)!
But let’s back up a bit – to 2006
My father and I hadn’t really spoken much at all over the years (between 2006 and 2012) — following an incident back in the summer of 2006 (I believe it was July – around the time of my children’s birthdays), in which he was physically abusive to my son, A.J. (who was just turning 4 years old at the time). [Below is a picture of A.J. from around that time.]
Continue reading below the image.
My father was so violent with my son that he left bruises in the shape of handprints on each of A.J.’s upper arms. This was his grandson – his grandson who had been Lead-poisoned less than a year before! I believe, if I recall things correctly, that A.J. was jumping on the couch (with our permission – because he had that kind of energy!) and it was my father’s opinion that he was “misbehaving”, so he grabbed and shook him violently and bruised him and terrified him. This was a tiny 4-year-old child, by the way — A.J. was a very small kid when he was young [we used to call him “John Smallberries” as a silly nickname — a reference from one of our family’s favorite movies, Buckaroo Bonzai!]. He also engaged in this abuse in front of my other children. My eldest son told me the other day that he still remembers the incident vividly.
My father was always volatile and violent and cruel; my parents divorced when I was about eight years old, because of the way he treated us. He abused my mother my whole childhood, and also abused me [the abuse came in all forms — physical, verbal, mental, emotional and sexual]. As a grandfather with such a history of being an abuser (as a core characteristic of who he was / the fabric of his being), he did not seem to think twice about physically abusing his grandson — continuing a legacy that included behavior I had naively thought had stopped with me.
I had forgotten when exactly this incident with my son happened, but then just the other day I spoke on the phone with a family friend [one of my “surrogate dads” since I didn’t have an engaged father], Jay — who said he remembered seeing my dad for my kids’ birthdays that year, when we had a party at the pool… so it must have been July – July, 2006.
After that incident in 2006 (14 years ago now!) my husband and I talked it over, and tentatively agreed we would still allow my father to visit his grandchildren, but we would limit it to short, supervised visits (with one or both of us present), and we would make sure (to the extent possible) that these visits would happen outdoors — in parks, on playgrounds or in other spaces — where the kids would have the freedom to run around and be kids (and their wild exploration and antics would be less likely to trigger my father’s abusive behavior).
2007? – short outdoor visits
Following that incident, I remember one time we were driving down to California and we specifically met my father at a school playground near his house – so he could play Frisbee with the kids (my father always loved playing Frisbee!) outside, supervised. That went well. It was a very short visit, maybe 45 minutes. I also recall that he may have come up to Portland and stopped by for a brief visit in our yard once or twice when he was in town to visit his sister [my Aunt — who also has never called and almost never visited with us, despite living just about a mile from our home!]
My mother on the other hand…
My relationship with my father was always in stark contrast to my relationship with my mother. Mom visited my children all the time. She was there for each birth (in the hospital with me). She took us on trips as a family and came up to Portland at the drop of a hat (to take the kids trick-or-treating or see them perform in a school concert — so she could be there for the little things, and stay engaged in their lives); she was always there for us.
An Amtrak train ride
A few years passed…
We moved into a new home (where we still live today) in April of 2007. In July of 2008 we had another baby — Charlie! Charlie was still just a baby when we decided to “go on an adventure on the Amtrak train with the kids” to visit my father in Mount Shasta, California. [I am not 100% sure of the exact year…but I believe Charlie was still nursing, so I think it must have been 2009; I’ll dig around for some photos and update the post if I don’t have these details right!]
At this point we were willing to “give him another chance” with his grandkids (and we knew we would always be with them whenever he was with them!)…
I remember that visit pretty clearly, as we did stay at my father’s home; Avi was just about four years old…and he (still a little guy) was hopping down to get off of the couch… and – in doing so – he smashed his head on the glass top of my dad’s coffee table (he still has the scar today!)
There was a lot of blood, and as I had dealt with many similar injuries as a mother of four boys, I handled it calmly, and slowly, and patiently (cleaning up the blood, and bandaging Avi’s head) — while my father flew into a rage and screamed at us – insisting we should go to the hospital [which I had determined we didn’t need to do; Avi was actually fine, and we had butterfly closures and band-aids, which was all he needed!] Frankly it really didn’t help to have a grown man screaming at me while I was trying to comfort and take care of a 4-year-old disabled kiddo who was scared because he was bleeding!
I think there might have been a couple of other visits or attempted visits between 2009 and 2012. He may have stopped by our house unexpectedly to say hello one time – although I am not 100% sure. Despite his obvious tragically-damaged psyche, he was their grandfather, and as such, he was always invited to be part of our life (albeit with increasingly vigilant oversight). I took responsibility for the kids’ safety around him, and we would never close our doors to anyone in the family. I have always been a stand for “family” — in whatever messy, imperfect form that it presents itself.
My dad had our phone numbers (he could have called any time). He never called. He had our address of course, too — and our doors are always open (literally), so he could have stopped by any time. He could have sent a card for the boys’ birthdays, or invited them to meet up at a park when he was in town next (or when we were near him next). He never did. He could have e-mailed any time. He never did.
My birthday is November 20th (1969) and his is November 21st (1942) – so his birthday was always an easy date for me to remember. Over the years I left messages to say “Happy Birthday, Dad” a couple of times…but he never returned my calls. At one point (c. 2013) we hadn’t heard from him for a long time, and I actually Googled him — to see if he was still alive…and it was then that I learned – from an Internet search – that he had moved from Mount Shasta, California to Ashland, Oregon!
Apparently he bought his new home in Oregon (with his 2nd wife, my stepmother – who he married when I was about 15 years old) in April of 2011. They didn’t bother to tell me that they had moved to Ashland — that they now lived in the same state (Oregon) as us, his daughter and grandkids!
Driving through Ashland
My mother died in May of 2016. Prior to my mother’s passing, we would drive through Ashland quite a bit on our way south from Portland, Oregon to Napa, California to visit her.
On one such drive through Ashland, we visited with my friend, Meredith and her kids in the park in downtown Ashland (our kids all played together for a bit, as we all just happened to be there in the park in Ashland at the same time — even though we lived in Portland and they lived in Santa Monica!!) Meredith’s son blogged about this trip – so, while writing this post I was able to look up the date of the visit on his blog and confirm that what I am about to share with you took place in mid-June of 2015. (Thanks Max!)
On that trip – on our way back through Ashland – I (again) looked up my Dad’s address on the Internet. I drove with my kids to within a block or two of his house. I decided to call first instead of just stopping by (I wasn’t even sure if he still had the same phone number — he did).
I called and he picked up the phone… I said “hello” – and told him I was sorry that I had not called since my last birthday call to him. He was fairly non-responsive (didn’t have anything to say by way of smalltalk). I told him that I was in fact in Ashland and I was also (“by chance”) just a couple of blocks from his house! I asked if he might like to visit with his grandchildren – either at the park [that park in downtown Ashland is still one of my kids’ favorite parks!], or a local playground, if he knew of any? He nonchalantly said, “no.” – and hung up.
That was the last time I exchanged any words with him at all (and it was far short of being a conversation by any definition of the word)…until his call two months ago.
August 25, 2020
Two months ago
When I saw his name on the caller ID, I hesitated….I didn’t really want to pick up the phone. [I am often so busy with kids that I have a bad habit of not taking calls if I don’t think I will be able to focus or give them the amount of attention they deserve.] But in the split-second between the first and second ring, I realized that if he was calling me (after 8 years), it must be “important“.
It was fairly early in the day, and he was calling to let me know that he was just starting hospice that morning. His medical team was stopping his treatment, as his prostate cancer had metastasized throughout his body and there was nothing else that could be done. [I didn’t even know he had prostate cancer, let alone that he was dying from it — since he hadn’t called me in so long (although my sister had contacted me earlier this summer – on June 19th – to tell me that my father wasn’t doing well and – without many details – that she didn’t expect him to be around much longer).]
He went on to say that it was his understanding that he might have “6 to 12 months to live” (without assistance, interventions and medications), now that he was on hospice. I told him that my mom (his ex-wife) had died the very first day that she was on hospice — and that one cannot normally expect to live 12 months in those circumstances, so he might want to ask some more questions of his care team about that — in case it influenced his decisions over the next days, weeks or months.
Caught off guard by his call, I tried to keep the conversation light.
I told him what my boys were up to, and that we were doing a cross-country drive (for work — and also taking A.J. to college!) I told him about everything A.J. had accomplished (including getting a full scholarship to college!), and about Colescott’s recent graduation from that same college, in May. I told him that the kids were playing in a lake in Wisconsin as we spoke, and that on our way from Portland to Wisconsin we had just gone to see a lot of the National Parks and National Monuments that he had taken me to see when I drove with him cross-country when I was about 9 or 10 years old (the picture of the two of us at the top of this post is from that trip). I asked him if he wanted me to send him some pictures of the boys (and I explained that we had been posting pictures of the trip all along on Facebook, and he could look at them there). He said sure — that he would like that, and he made sure I had his e-mail address.
He asked how I was doing, and I explained that I was actually doing amazing, and that my advocacy work had really taken off and, most important to me, how much I missed mom — and how I was sure she would be so proud that I am now making a living as a writer (and not only writing, but doing something that helps other people and makes a difference in the world!)
It was the kind of conversation I expect many people might have when a parent they haven’t spoken to in 8 years calls their adult child to tell them they are dying and on hospice.
I don’t know how long the call lasted —I think it was about 20 minutes, maybe a little longer. Then, towards the end of the call, he said something I didn’t really expect (in light of everything I have conveyed to you above)… He told me that his biggest regret in life was not getting to know my children better.
I don’t know if there is a lot more to say than that. I think it’s pretty damn profound that his biggest regret in life was not getting to know his grandchildren — when it was 100% his choice to disengage.
The impact of a single choice
I had grandfathers well in to my adulthood. My maternal grandfather (Arthur Joseph Glickfeld, aka “Pakka”) died when my eldest son was about 4 years old (so, when I was about 30). My paternal grandfather (Harvey W. Budgett, Sr., aka “G.G.”) died when he was 95 years old – in January of 2016! (when I was 45!)
My children always wanted a “real” grandfather; that’s definitely been a “something missing” in their lives. I never gave up on the possibility; in an effort to repair the relationship (and at the urging of countless therapists and coaches!), I discussed my Dad’s abusive behavior with him on several occasions over the past three decades of my adulthood. In the end, it was always his choice to not acknowledge the abuse (to outright deny it actually — gaslighting at its best!). It was his choice to do nothing towards repairing the damage he had done to his family. My father chose “hate”, “denial”, “anger” and – in the end – “regret” over “family.”
We all have many choices in life — we make dozens (hundreds?) of them, each and every day.
My takeaway from my experience with my father: we need to start by making choices that make us happy (don’t stay stuck in a bad job that makes you miserable, for example; don’t stay in a bad marriage; don’t live in a city, if you are a “country mouse” at heart!) We need to make choices that bring us joy and move us towards our goals!
It’s also our duty to our children and future generations to make choices that make the world a better place to live in.
Last but not least, we all need to actively make the choice to take care of ourselves (to the best of our ability to support our physical and mental health – whatever that means for us as individuals).
I’m particularly present to all of this recently — given the news of my father’s dying, but even more so because three of my friends have also died (each much too young) in the past several weeks. For me at least, this is a profound time for reflection — especially given all that is going on in the world.
Some closing thoughts…
Be here now.
Enjoy life (every moment!)
Take care of yourself (and each other.)
Leave the world a better place.
Don’t live a life full of regret — choose to live a life you will cherish and be proud of.
P.S. The important “stuff” in life is experiences and time shared with family and friends, not tangible things. If you have stuff (things / consumer goods) that is a burden to you in any way – get rid of it. Living a simple life makes for living a much richer life.