My father, looking to peddle some stolen items, walks into a bar with my sister and me. Who do we see perched on a stool?
It was December of 1982. My father had crashed back into our life, having recently been released from a few years behind bars. Some might expect people would change their ways after a stay in the pen, being away from their children, but my dad was quick to return to his vices: drinking and stealing. I learned by the age of 7 that people rarely change, that people always show you their core if you are paying attention.
We spent the day in Fort Dodge, Iowa which was about a 40 minute drive from my hometown. Our mom was at work, so our dad was taking care of us that day. We were going shopping. By shopping I mean that my sister (who had just turned 5) and me (age 7) were distracting sales clerks as my dad stole a phone, answering machine, and other miscellaneous electronics from Sears.
We went into JC Penney and quickly made our way through the children’s clothing section and picked out items for us to have wrapped under the tree. We left quickly with our finds, not paying for a single thing. We piled back into his car with all of his loot, our loot, and headed back to Algona, Iowa. It was the middle of the afternoon as we pulled into the parking lot of a local bar, the Choctaw.
We walked into the bar. My dad was carrying in some of the hot items he was hoping to sell. I was holding my sister’s hand, taking in the dark, smoky room as we made our way to the bar when, who did I see perched at a stool? Santa Claus. I was flooded with excitement as I pulled my sister towards him, but as I got closer I noticed the drink in his hand and the cigarette between his lips. Clarity washed over me in that moment.
I knew right then that Santa Claus was not real. And neither was the hope that my father was ready to be a good dad. I learned that fantasy and hope were not worth my time, that I could not count on people to protect me, and that my own father was unaware of the impact of his actions on my childhood. Unfortunately, at that moment, I gave up on the idea that good men existed, a pattern of thought I would carry with me for decades.
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