My father, by marriage to my mother (hereafter referred to as father #2), formally adopted me at age 5 and lived with us for the next few years or so until their eventual divorce. He was a brilliant man whose growth was tragically stunted by his mother’s stubborn refusal to allow him to accept a full scholarship in art offered him by the University of Michigan.
She might as well have shot him in the head and finished him off because she had already crippled his creativity with her selfishness.
Instead of a proud parent sending her gifted son off to college she guilted him into staying near her, inadvertently providing him a lifetime of regret and lost opportunity, tentatively propped up by booze and cigarettes.
While he still lived with us I got a taste of his talent a few times at the kitchen table when he’d do freehand drawings of animals and knights and whatever else I might request. I still have the drawings and while they’re only sketches, to me they are broken pieces of what he might have been; documents confirming that, yes, here was an artist without a canvas.
But it didn’t stop with art. He was a top notch musician (trombone), noteworthy magician and amateur academic whose brain assimilated information at a prodigious rate. He would digest books, any books, at lightning speed and with ridiculously accurate recall. After their divorce when I’d go and visit him at his new house I used to loan him books just to watch him go to work on them; like tossing a fat juicy steak into a lion’s cage, he’d have them quickly scanned, cataloged, indexed and hand me back the t-bone.
He was like some kind of mental Houdini, able to dump down half a case of beer a night and still explain the Warren Report to me the next day. It was like the most amazing frat party trick imaginable. How did he have enough brain cells left to complete the task?
If anyone was made for college it was this man of unlimited intellectual resources, just bursting at the seams with knowledge for any and all things, but it was never going to happen and a large chunk of the blame lie with him, who talked a good game but pretty much gave up on himself. He was the unrequited scholar, a learning machine that couldn’t be stopped until his heart succumbed to the onslaught of Camel straights that ended his potential once and for all at the relatively early age of 57.
Frankly, I was glad. It sounds cold but I was glad that he was free of the lost ambition that dogged him each and every day. It was a waste…a shitty waste of a brilliant mind and the only thing he had to show for it was a backroom full of empties.