DJ Badger:  The News and the Journal


Entry Two Hundred Ten.
Sunday, 2017.12.03, 12:21 PM CST.

"Everything's better with gravy" - regarding the death of my father, William L. "Jack" Kelley.
Current Mood:  Pensive and full of memories, but optimistic.
Current Scent:  The Dreamer by Versace.

Hello, everyone. 

This is a very special update, and it's one that I've actually held off on posting for a very long time.  Seven years, in fact, without posting about it publicly here or on my Facebook page.  Hopefully you will understand why, once I explain it here.

 

My dad died in 2010.

Seven years ago today, on my thirty-ninth birthday, a Tulsa police chaplain showed up at my door at around 6:00 PM.  She had my wife take our then-three-year-old son, X, into his bedroom.  Then, the chaplain sat down in our living room and told me the news that I already knew was coming, kind of:

"Your father was found dead."

Now, I was expecting "your father passed away" or "your father died today."  I wasn't expecting "found dead."  That made it sound like he had been found in the parking lot of one of the casinos he frequented, stabbed to death in a botched mugging or something.  Fortunately, that was not the case.

After a quick bit of questioning on my part, the chaplain explained that Dad had been "found dead" in his home, his body discovered by his next-door neighbor, whom we had known for over thirty years.

Dad had collapsed in front of his refrigerator, dead from cardiorespiratory failure.  I have often said that the only thing that would have made it a more perfect death for him would have been if he'd been holding a handful of bacon.  He loved bacon.

 

Who my dad was to me.

My dad was a bigot, a bit of traditionalist country boy, an obsessive family historian, and an man of strong, unrefined opinions which often contradicted my own.

(I feel the need to point out that there's nothing wrong with just being a "country boy" or, in many ways, a traditionalist... or a family historian, for that matter.)

He also had quite a temper.  He often seemed to possess the belief that he could win arguments with me by simply interrupting me and being louder, and at one point in a particular argument, when Dad had had me crying almost to the point of hyperventilating, my mom had to advise him to calm down because she was afraid that he was pushing me into a nervous breakdown.

All that being said...  Dad was also a very hard worker and extremely dedicated to his family.  Despite our differences and the times that he yelled at me, he loved me and my mom very much, and he did everything he could to provide for us.  While I didn't love a lot of his viewpoints, I loved him.

I've often described my dad as a "medical train wreck."  At the time of his death at 77, he had battled his way through diagnoses of diabetes, emphysema, congestive heart failure, at least two heart attacks that I knew of, lymphatic cancer, and - towards the end - glaucoma.  He had stopped smoking (almost entirely) in the late 1980s, but the damage was already done.  In his final years, he had to carry around an oxygen tank wherever he went, but he still loved to socialize so much that he would usually go to the casinos two to three times on an average week, mainly to shuffle around and talk to people he knew.

Dad didn't seem to have the attention span to watch most television programs or movies, but he could usually watch documentaries about wars or the mafia without any issue.  Oh, and he loved "The Honeymooners."  I rarely heard him laugh as much as he would when Ed Norton and Ralph Kramden would do something stupid that would result in calamity.

Obviously, like all people, dad had good and bad qualities.  The good ones didn't make the bad ones magically "okay," nor will I ever pretend that they did.  But, he meant well, especially for his family.

 

My most precious memory of my dad.

Like I mentioned before, my dad passed away on my birthday.  Can you imagine that?  Happy birthday, William.  Here are your presents.  By the way, fifteen minutes later, someone's going to show up to tell you that your dad's dead.

I hadn't spoken with Dad on the phone all day, which had already seemed odd.  We normally talked at least once every two days, and he wouldn't have missed my birthday.

When the chaplain delivered the news, I wasn't shocked in the least.  I didn't cry at first.  I felt like I probably seemed cold in not doing so, but I had been expecting his death for a long time.  I hadn't been wishing for it, but I'd been expecting it.  And then, while the chaplain sat there, possibly surprised that I was taking the news so well, I finally thought of one particular memory that made me break down and weep.

My dad teaching me to ride a bike when I was around eight.

My parents didn't believe in training wheels.  They forced me to learn to ride a bike without them.  Dad would walk behind me, following as I pumped those pedals on my little Huffy... and eventually, once I developed the confidence and balance, he started letting go without telling me.  I would look behind me and he'd still be walking, but his hand would be off the back of the bicycle seat.  He was quietly letting go in a way that minimized my fear until I could really grasp that I could "do it."  And then, I would proudly tell him, "Look, Daddy...  I'm doing it by myself.  I'm riding all by myself." 

That memory - that one right there - that is probably my most cherished memory of my dad.  It still makes me cry.  Pretty much every time, including right now.  Dad's dedication to helping me ride the bike, and the time he took in doing so, was unusual.

 


Dad and I on Christmas morning, 1976.

Dad and my childhood.

See, here's another thing about my dad...  After I grew past my toddler years, the concept of interacting with his son kind of lost its novelty with him.

My dad was an aircraft mechanic, and he made a decent living.  We weren't "rich," but we did pretty well.  My mom was a stay-at-home mom - what some would call a "homemaker" - and she busted her ass around the house.  They were both hard workers in their own way.

Dad would get up obscenely early in the morning, take a trip to work in a special carpool van, work like mad, then come home.  Once he was home, he usually either slept or went to a friend's house to hang out or work on lawnmowers.  During my early childhood, I missed out on a lot of potential memories with him.

He didn't make time to play with me much.  That was mom's responsibility.  She watched TV with me, watched movies with me, played board games with me, and played video games with me.  Dad bought me a baseball bat, ball, and glove... but I think he and I may have played with them less than a half dozen times.  That was how things were.  Spending time with me wasn't much of a priority most of the time.

Fridays were special, though.  On Friday (sometimes Saturday), both of my parents and I would head into Tulsa and Dad would buy us dinner - maybe at Godfather's Pizza, maybe at Furr's Cafeteria, maybe at Bill + Ruth's, etc.

During those trips to Tulsa, he would usually buy me something - like a new toy, or a new magic trick when I was getting into performing "magic" (still a fascination of mine), or, later, a new Atari cartidge or computer game.  I had an "allowance," but if I didn't quite have enough for something, he would often go ahead and splurge for it.

(I was spoiled.  I know this, and while I know that I took it for granted at the time, I really learned to appreciate it later on.  I don't beat myself up for being spoiled, but I acknowledge that I had a lot of advantages that most kids didn't have.)

As the moneymaker, dad made sure that we had a roof over our heads and food on the table.  He put aside a good chunk into savings, which then got used on things like our trip to Walt Disney World around 1980, my first Atari 2600 in 1981, my TRS-80 Color Computer (for which they paid thousands) in 1982, or my Apple IIe (for which they again paid thousands) in 1985.  Those last two weren't just seen as toys; they were seen as investments in my future, because Mom and Dad knew that I would be able to learn more about computers if we owned them.

I know now that Dad was using money as a way to help make up for not spending time with me.  At least, I strongly theorize that that was the case.

One good thing that I can consistently say about his interactions with me during my youth... unless we were arguing, he would make a point of telling me that he loved me and that he was proud of me, especially for my academic achievements.  I was an only child, and Dad constantly carried around a few pictures of me to show off.  He would tell his friends how proud of me he was.  Heck, he would tell my friends how proud of me he was.  To this day, DJ TMJ - whom I introduced to my dad when I was 23 - still occasionally breaks out his impersonation of my dad telling him, "I'm proud of mah boy."

 


Mom, Dad, and I in late 1990/early 1991.

My dad's involvement in my becoming a DJ.

Even though we were very different people, dad usually went along with my mom in supporting my creative endeavours.

In 1989, as many of you know, my high school friend Dave French, who had taught me about DJing during my time with his mobile DJ company, had to move away for college.  My parents had noticed that I had become more and more social as I had helped Dave with the DJ events, and they believed that my high intellect (I was "gifted") might alow me to do well at running a business, could so they talked about it and offered to help me start my own DJ company.

Without their financial backing, I wouldn't have been able to start EKG Mobile Music later that year.  With Dave's knowledge/support and my parents' extremely kind financial assistance, I started running my own DJ company at the age of seventeen.

It's the kind of kindness I would never be able to repay - and the kind that I'll never forget.

Furthermore, Dad also insisted on helping drive equipment around, helping to set up and tear down gear for practically every EKG performance from 1989 until the final one in 2002.  He would then either head out to visit nearby friends, or - in many cases - he would stick around at the event, either resting in the car or making small talk with the people (i.e., school sponsors) who had hired me.

It was sometimes a little embarrassing, but I'm pretty sure that I know what he was really trying to do - make up for lost time.  Dad hadn't been around so much when I was a younger kid, so now that I had the DJ business, he was trying to find a way to spend more time helping me as a way to compensate for his relative absence during my childhood.

If any of those old customers are reading this and were ever bothered by dad's presence at my events, I'm sorry... but I assure you that he really meant well.

 

Quirks and dad-isms.

Dad had a slight bit of obsessive-compulsive disorder when it came to electricity.  He often feared that if he didn't make absolutely sure that certain light switches were turned off when he left the house, he was at risk of burning the house down.  A number of times, in the early morning hours, I woke up to see him in the hallway, holding his fingers down on the light switches to our main bathroom... then walking away and walking back to touch them again, then again... just to make 100% sure that those switches were off.

A child of the Great Depression era, Dad had gone through an extremely poor childhood; he would often say, "We were so poor the poor people called us poor."  Dad occasionally relished being able to talk about the details of the grotesque things that he ate when he was a child, i.e., squirrel brains and eggs.

My dad was one of the very few people who could call me "Billy" without irritating me.  His other nicknames for me were mainly derivatives of "Bill" - "Billy Boy," "Bull," "Bullet," "Bulletto," and the ever-popular "Bobo."

 

Also, a number of my friends have told me that I should write a book of my dad's unusual sayings ("dad-isms," which I'm sure isn't too unique of a term).  Here are a few of them:

If something was really bothering me - for instance, if I were afraid of not doing well at a school assignment or failing at something at work - he would say, "They cain't eat ya."  (I still hear that one in my head often.)

If I didn't think that I would be able to finish something and I was really distraught over it:  "Do what you can; hell with the rest."

Something insignificant was "a popcorn fart in a whirlwind."

If he had just gotten done eating a big meal:  "I could roll faster than I could walk."

And, finally, one of my favorites:  "Everything's better with gravy."  He like practically all fried foods, loved pork products, and he possessed a special degree of adoration for almost all types of gravy.

(It is important to note that during my dad's funeral service, the minister to whom I had given my eulogy for my father ended up bungling it.  She incorrectly read from the written page that my dad used to say "Everything's better than gravy" - a completely opposite sentiment than he had held!  I still cringe thinking of that moment in the funeral.  I should have spoken up.)

 

Why I took so long to post this.

When my dad died, he left behind a house full of stuff, a fairly long drive from where I lived.  So, any trip to dad's house was already a pain due to the distance.  At first, it was additionally painful to go out there because both my parents were now dead.  Then, it was even more additionally painful because there was so much stuff to go through.

I didn't post about his death publicly because I was continuously afraid that someone who knew where we iived would break into his house and help themselves to some of the property in the house.  So, I didn't want to just come out and advertise that the owner of a house full of possibly valuable property was no longer around.

(Unfortunately, last year, some thieves eventually broke in; that's a story for another day, but at least I can happily report that not much was stolen.)

I started referring to the house itself as "the albatross" - a reference to the large bird from "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," which (spoiler alert) the protagonist kills, after which he is forced to wear the albatross' corpse on a chain around his neck as a punishment, dragging it around everywhere he goes.

The subject of the house eventually became intensely sensitive; I didn't like talking about it or even thinking about it.  As time went on, I would even have a hard time enjoying meetings with friends or entire holiday seasons, because I would keep thinking about the fate of the house and all the work that would have to go into getting it cleaned up.

Last year, I finally started entertaining a deal with a longtime family friend to sell him the house so that he could fix it up and start renting it out.  We made it official earlier this year.

During the time the friend has been renovating it this year, he has been kind enough to let me continue to visit the house and remove anything I wanted, room by room.  As time has passed, he has made the decision that instead of renting it out, he would be better off simply "flipping" it and selling it for a profit.  I respect that and have no problem with his decision whatsoever.

Today, I'm happy to report that I'm about to go extract the last carload of items that I wish to keep from the house.  I didn't have a long-term goal of intentionally achieving this on the anniversary of my dad's death... but it's very liberating to know that my part will finally be "done" on this very special day, and to finally be able to publicly post something like this blog entry.

The albatross is no longer so much of a factor in my life any more, though I may still go out to visit it and soak in the memories now and then before it sells.  Until that point, it is being kept safe and secure, which takes a load off my mind.

If you're looking to puchase a really nice house (two bedrooms, one and a half bathroom, with lots of brand-new decor, a large shed, and a storm cellar) in the Claremore area, please feel free to get in touch with me and I'll be happy to point you in the right direction.

 

In closing...

My dad was far from perfect.  He had some egregious flaws and some very misguided beliefs, but he had some extremely kind qualities as well.  I am doing whatever I can to make myself a better parent, and a better person, than my dad was.

All that being said, as I've stated before, I know that my dad loved me, I really loved him, and I miss him.  I miss him.

More soon.

Badger

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