My dad smoked four packs of cigarettes per day since he was fourteen years old. Eventually, in 2008 at age 69, lung cancer got the best of him. My father, in his usual style, made it seem as if nothing was wrong until he was rushed to the hospital for breathing problems, where he would die just two days later. I made it to the hospital to see him while he was still alive, but he was so medicated that I don’t think he understood or even heard anything I said to him. I had a good relationship with my father and frequently told him that I loved him, so I had nothing to say to him that I had not said before; it just would have been nice to say it again and have him hear it.
I loved my father, but he was far from perfect, and frankly I always felt that telling half-truths about a person is an insult to their memory. This is similar to the “Facebook effect”. This term is used to point out the stark difference between real life and how one’s life is portrayed on Facebook. People generally post pictures of vacations, birthdays, and other joyous events, and rarely post pictures of an average day at work, fights with spouses, and their kids’ failing grades on report cards. Like the Facebook effect, at virtually every funeral or memorial service in recorded history there is a very one-sided look at the person’s life that does not accurately portray who they really were. When my dad died, I volunteered to give the eulogy—one that would accurately represent who he was, yet was still appropriate for a church service. Here is what I wrote.
When I was in first grade, my dad flew out to Kansas for a business trip. I asked him if he could bring me back something… the magic broom of the Wicked Witch of the West. He agreed. Sure enough, upon his return, he presented me with the actual broom once owned by the witch herself—well actually, it was a standard kitchen broom from a local True Value hardware store, but I didn’t know the difference. My dad told me it was a magic broom, and if I made a wish it would come true. So being the Bennett that I am, I wished for money. Sure enough, the next morning when I woke up, I shook the broom and out came a bunch of money. It was amazing! So that night I wished for more money. The next morning… presto! Money fell from the bristles of the broom once again. This continued for about a week until my dad sadly informed me that by removing the broom from Kansas, the magic had left the broom. It wasn’t until many years later he told me that he simply ran out of money.
I like sharing that story because it is a testament to what kind of man my father was… caring and creative with a twisted sense of humor.
More specifically, who was Robert Alfred Bennett? As his youngest son, I would have to honestly say that prior to the mid seventies, I have no idea what he did. My father often told me many stories of his childhood and adolescence, one or two of which might have been true. So here is what I do know. Born on February 16, 1939 to Edward and Mary Bennett, Bob was the second of five brothers. Raised in Bridgeport, CT, Bob no doubt caused trouble while hanging out at Valley Farms, the place for cool teens to be in the 1950’s where he met my mom, Sandra Delores Martin. To this day I have no idea if he really spent time in the army or not. His stories would range from being awarded the Purple Heart, to not being accepted in the army due to his “flat feet.” The range of these stories were a result of the number of drinks he had at the time of their telling.
After marrying my mom in 1962 they had my brother, Stephen in 1963 and then my sister shortly after. I was “a surprise from God” in 1972. When I was born, coincidentally, on my dad’s birthday – February 16, I was not born healthy and needed an emergency blood transfusion. Although it was my mom and dad who gave me life, it was my father who gave me his blood that allowed me to live.
It wasn’t long before I realized that my dad was different from the other dads. Other dads went to the office every day. My dad went downstairs in his workshop. Other dads only saw their kids for minutes each day, then on the weekends. I saw my dad every day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
What most people remember about my dad was his sense of humor. Admittedly, inappropriate at times… most of the time, his sense of humor made it difficult to be around him without smiling. In his own way, he taught all of his kids to find humor in life where others didn’t—a lesson I practice to this day.
Professionally, my dad was an inventor. A brilliant genius, or a total nutcase—the jury’s still out on that one. My dad has hundreds of patents to his name, including the Wet and Dry vacuum cleaner, the first locking/retractable tape measure, and hundreds of patents for plastic caps and enclosures that we all use on a daily basis.
My dad, believe or not, was quite the sportsman. He loved the sports that required as little physical activity as possible—that could be done while smoking... and if possible, drinking. He loved fishing on his motorboat, golfing (assuming golf carts were available), and billiards. I’ll never forget how much my dad loved his garden, and how much he loved making me weed it. In terms of number of hobbies, he did not have many, but the ones he did spend his time on, he was passionate about and very good at.
Being a father of two myself, I often ask myself what makes a good father? Is it tossing the ol’ pigskin around in the backyard with your son? It is taking your son to a baseball game and ordering hot dogs and CrackerJacks? Is it hopping along side him in a potato sack at the annual father and son picnic? On the Brady Bunch, yes. But in the real world, it is much more.
It’s spending a full day to make a mold of Star Wars figures guns so your child would never have to be upset about losing those little guns ever again.
It’s spending hours creating a new eye for your child’s favorite stuffed animal by hand (this was long before 3-D printers).
It’s letting your emotionally troubled son who has watched way too many alien abduction movies with his mother, sleep in your bed until age 12, despite the fact that he is a kicker.
But most of all, being a good father is about teaching your children the most important lessons of life by leading by example. Not just by being an example of what to be, but also by being an example of what NOT to be, and swallowing your pride and making sure your children know the difference. To this extent, my father was as good as they get.
I love you, Dad.
Get the book, Some Really Personal, Yet Entertaining Stories From My Life That You Will Enjoy and May Even Find Inspiring by Bo Bennett, PhD by selecting one of the following options:
What is a “normal childhood?” Does it include almost being murdered by your sister with an ax? Speeding around town in the back of a station wagon because your mom is chasing an “alien spaceship”? Being busted by the police for intent to light a pond on fire? Tackling your mom to the ground and wrestling a knife out of her hand because she was trying to kill your dad? While my stories may be unique, readers will be able to relate to the broader themes are part of a normal childhood such as sibling rivalry, eccentric parents, doing stupid things, and frequently preventing one’s parents from literally murdering each other.
Although some of the subject matter is not something one would generally laugh at, you have my permission to laugh. Social rules don’t apply here; my rules do. It works for me, and who knows, after reading the stories from my past, you might be inspired to see your own screwed up past in a more humorous light.
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