Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Things Learned from my Father

Two ships in the Caribbean

For many years I've been giving credit to Mother for my better qualities. My parents split when I was a toddler, so I have no memories of the two of them being together. I no longer know my father, and even though my issues with him are mountainous, I do have to credit him for teaching me some valuable lessons in life.

My parents divorced when I was about two and my father moved away. He moved to Dallas when I was 13 and I moved in with him just before entering 8th grade. It must have been a huge inconvenience for Gary, who was a card-carrying bachelor and one of god's gifts to society, although no one else seemed to get that memo.

One day, in my sophomore year in high school, he comes to tell me that for Thanksgiving, he and I would be going on a vacation to the Bahamas. I was really excited about this. We flew in first class and stayed in a nice hotel with rich surroundings and a pink exterior. Our room looked out towards the ocean. I could see the pool and there, beyond, a little pier with a gazebo, jutting over the water.

It was here that I had my first experience with cruise ships. My step-father worked in the shipping industry, so he had taken me on tours of large ships in the Houston Ship Channel. But these huge, white palaces full of revelers and lights…for a young teen, they were whole worlds yet to be explored.

Using binoculars, I watched with great interest as huge cruise ships would start out as a white speck on the horizon and slowly grow in size as they would near port. I soon noticed the tug boats leaving the dock to help bring them into port. Gary saw my interest in them, and one day asked if I wanted to go see one up close. I sure did! And as we approached the ship, he said, "Let's go on board and look around." But could we? With no time to debate, all I could do was follow.

One thing I learned from my father was that if there is something you want to do, do so with authority and like you are doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing. There may be questions of whether or not it is ethical, but if executed just right, one could get away with anything.

The next thing I know, he was talking with the people at the gang way, and we were soon going up the steps inside the ship. It was just that easy. We walked into the casino, now quite deserted, since gambling only took place in the open waters. We went high, onto the upper decks, and enjoyed the view out to sea. Then we crossed over to the port side and looked out onto the island, a view from such heights we had not enjoyed up to now.

I looked down to the ground and to the dock and saw ropes being undone and the gang way we'd come in on beginning to move on board. I punched my father for his attention to this detail and at the same moment, without either of us saying a word, we bolted towards the stairs and down them, post haste. I've never seen my father move so quickly in my life!

When we got to the door, after only being on board for 10 minutes, he had to explain that we were not passengers; they were very reluctant to let us off. He told them someone outside had let us come on, but earlier, I think he more or less made them think we belonged on board. The man in uniform muttered something about being lucky that we weren't arrested as stowaways. The gang way was returned to the dock and I followed Gary off the large ship, having to walk quickly to follow him, as his tail went between his legs.

He slowed down only after turning the corner, back on the street towards our hotel. We both had a laugh while catching our breath; glad to be back where we belonged. I asked him what would have happened had we become stuck on board. He supposed that we would just have fun as stowaways until the next port, where we'd have gotten off and found a flight back to Nassau! He said this like it was no big deal and I almost wished that had been reality. What an adventure to tell back home!

It was a huge lesson for me, watching him work his magic and seeing it blow up in his face. And the lesson learned wasn't so much how to make things work in my favor as it was that each action has a consequence. I know what he did was wrong; he didn't have to lecture on that. But I knew there was a power there, and if I were willing to use it, I had to be willing to accept the ramifications of doing so.

The following day was spent at the pool. It was the early '80s, so, as was the fashion with teens, I had my portable tape player, headphones and a collection of tapes of my favorite music. Gary spent a few hours with me and then disappeared; probably off to a bar to hit on women as usual (if they only knew).

I looked out towards the horizon where I could see a white speck. Reaching for the binoculars, I could see that it was another large cruise ship heading right for us. I looked over to where the docks were and could see a tug boat and its captain readying it for launch. I grabbed my things, dashed to the room and then to the dock. When I got to the tug, I looked up to the captain, a large, surly man with a beard and a hat and wearing yellow cover-alls, and asked if he was going to bring that ship in. And then I asked if I could come along. He welcomed me aboard, showed me upstairs and said that I had to stay there, out of the way. "I won't move," I assured him.

After reaching the balcony and looking down, I saw the last mooring line being pulled in and then we were off, just like that. Had I been a minute later, I would not be on board. And it suddenly dawned on me what I had just done. I didn't tell my father where I had gone. I asked a stranger if I could ride on his boat out to sea, while he was busy working to bring in a huge vessel. A smile graced my face as the wind blew my hair and I felt so alive. There was nothing I couldn't do. And I knew my father would be proud of me.

We reached the huge boat not too far out, took in some lines and pulled it back to Nassau. People lined the rails of the ship and waved down to me. The tug seemed so small next to that large boat and I felt as big as the ship in my success. I waved back like I was in charge of the whole operation.

The tug docked and the man who let me on motioned for me to come down, which I did. I thanked the crew and jumped on land and ran back to the hotel, where I found Gary. While not too concerned, he asked quite simply where I had been. Indeed, he was impressed.

My father was also successful at the bar, where he'd met a lady. He informed me that she was staying at a resort on the nearby island, and had offered for the two of us to join her for dinner.

The island was a short taxi ride. We reached a guard house and the man within seemed hesitant to let our cab go through. I paid little attention to what he said, but I recall feeling a little uncomfortable with the story Gary was making up. But the story did its job and the gate arm lifted to allow us to proceed. He looked over to me with this look on his face. It was like he'd just gotten past the palace guards. All that was left was to conquer the king. Or in this case- queen.

We left the cab at the main entrance to a luxurious all-inclusive resort. There were lush trees and bushes, sandy areas with bars and the beach could be heard nearby. Tables were being set with linens and nice, white china and all around were sexy, young couples, in varying degrees of intoxication. I've never seen such a collection of string bikinis, and so much cleavage!

Caribbean Sunset

Gary found his date, who greeted me with enthusiasm. They spoke briefly and then we walked to the dinner table. We dinned on steak and shrimp that night under a canopy of stars and palm trees. I had a virgin daiquiri, but Gary let me sip on some of his as well. It wasn’t so virgin. As dinner concluded, a man took the stage. Before I knew it, there was a call for volunteers from the audience to come and do a dance number. Gary prodded me into going up. I didn't want to, but finally gave in, not realizing at the time that it was a way for him to be alone with his lady friend. So there I am on stage, dancing like I was born to do so. One song blended into the next. Each time a song ended, a few people left the stage. But I remained, loving the attention of being in the spotlight. I'd look down to our table to see Gary and this girl. He'd look at me with a proud smile and give me the thumbs up and a wink. He had a look on his face like he wished I could stay on that stage all night.

Soon, my part in the show was over. There was a statue given out, but sadly, not to me, which sent me back to my table empty-handed and sweaty. "Let's go for a walk," Gary exclaimed. My father had also taught me good manners, and was big on chivalry. I folded my napkin and placed it along side my plate, as I had learned to do, pushed my seat in, and dutifully followed my father and this poor woman to the sandy beach. Before long, I lost them in the night air as I ventured off on my own to explore. It was a very nice resort, more secluded than our pink palace in town with its private beach and views of the harbor.

He later took me back to the hotel and then left again, saying he was going out for the night (meaning back to the resort to screw around with that lady). I walked out onto the pier, as seen from my room. It was a windy night and I loved to feel the breeze on my face. I put in a Stevie Nicks tape and reflected on our holiday weekend in the Caribbean. I thought about all that we had gotten away with. And thinking back on our flight from Dallas, he hadn't bought first class tickets. He had talked his way into those seats and then got a bag full of minis to boot! He talked his way onto the cruise ship, into the resort for dinner and had me feeling no fear in going out to sea on my own. Gary had taught me a lot on that trip, that you can get away with just about anything! He really was a smooth talker. I'd need a lot of practice to be as suave as him.

While in college, I got a job working concert security. I was good at what I did and saw in others a lot of my father. There were those who would try to get backstage with stories of how they were related to the producer, or friends of some big so and so. It didn't work, but I was greatly entertained. I knew their game because I'd learned from a pro.

I have used what he taught me from time to time. I went back stage at concerts more than once without proper credentials. I've eaten at places reserved for those I was not a part of. I even learned how to access my favorite theme park without paying. No one ever said a thing. I looked the part, just as I learned in Nassau. The odd thing about having been successful in these adventures is that I'm a horrible liar.

These days, I don’t find myself in such situations like I used to. And I suppose that I've gotten most of that kind of thing out of my system. As much as my father has disappointed me in my life, I am thankful for some of the more profound experiences in using that power, and rarely with negative ramifications. Only twice was I discovered backstage, and each time I was simply escorted out. Now if only I could figure out a way to fly on Air Force One!

Airforce one at SFO

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