There’s school learning, and then there’s life learning. And that is what happened when Jack Long sat down to talk to his family for Dayton Youth Radio.
All high school seniors go through a discovery period. We’re about to leave the home we grew up in and the people that surrounded us for eighteen years. So, we instinctively reflect back on our family and our parents.
We want to know those crazy stories. We want to know those details that make our parents unique. You might find out that your dad played in a band called “The Stubby Butts and the Four Dweebs.” Or that your mom posed nude for extra money in college.
I’m just trying to figure out who my father is. I’ve wondered what he looks like, what he sounds like. Does he smile crooked like me? Does he have another family? Is he blonde like me? Does he know my mom’s dead? I want to know my father because I’m curious. I want to know if he looks like me. Does he like the same music? Does his family have a history of heart disease or high blood pressure? And what can he tell me about my mom? Learning about him can help me learn more about my mom.
I think of my mom almost every day. Her name’s Melinda. We all call her Mindy. There’s a picture that hangs on my wall beside my bookshelf. It’s framed in white oak with a red mat. It’s a picture of a white hibiscus. And I always liked this photo my mom took. If you catch it in the right lighting it looks like a man wearing headphones.
She was an avid photographer. We only have a few pictures of her. In the couple that we do have of her she has a camera slung around her neck. because she was always the one behind the camera. My memories of my mom are infused with stories from my Grandma, who adopted me after my mom died.
I know she was scrared when she was pregnant with you," says my Bridget, my grandma. "But she was excited because she loves little kids, especially boys. And she was real excited to name you Jack. I think you guys were the most important to her and everything she did was for you guys....she was just that kind of person.
We'd like to take walks and she used to make fun of me when I walked fast and she would say, 'Forrest run, run Forrest.' She was very smart but she was very funny. One time when we were on vacation, Mindy liked to talk alot and so on the way home she kept talking and talking and Pappy said 'I'll give to 10 dollars if your quit for ten minutes.' She was trying so hard, and then she'd start talking and then she's like Urrgghh!!"
I don’t think about my father a lot. I don’t really know enough about him to think about him. How he exists to me now is a crude caricature. I need to define him in concrete terms. I’ll need to talk to him. I got his phone number from my uncle, but first I asked my grandmother about him.
"He was awful," she says. "He wouldn't bring diapers, he wouldn't bring clothes, and he wouldn't pay child support. And then she'd have to call the courts, and they have to give him so many days and he had to be so far in arrears and then he'd pay a little bit. So I don't know...I guess I just hold that against him."
I want to forgive my father. He’s been gone for nearly all the years I’ve been alive. But there’s this need of wanting to learn more about him. But my grandma doesn’t want me to see him. My grandma has not forgiven my father for what he did to my mom and me.
"Because he hurt my child and my grandchild and lied to me alot and lied to your mom alot and who knows what was going on. I know he's been married a couple of times and has kids with a couple different women, and I just feel like there's things he said like after your mom died that he wanted to meet you again and he wanted you to come live with him. And so when I wanted to meet with him and his wife, he wouldn't do it. Because his wife didn't know."
When I told my grandma that I think I'd like to talk to him, she asked why.
"Maybe I just feel jealous," she says. "You know I had you this whole time and he's not been involved. I'm being possesive. You know...do you feel like you've missed out your whole life though?"
I told her that I've had other people to fill that role in my life.
"You know, you've had Uncle Jim, Uncle Joe. They've been good and Uncle Bob," says my grandma. "And John. Everybody loves you; they tried to be there for you. I think they are there for you don't you think?"
Jack Long at Bellbrook High School. Special thanks to Katie Bills-Tenney. Learn more at the school's website: https://www.sugarcreek.k12.oh.us/Domain/40 Support for Dayton Youth Radio comes from the Virginia W. Kettering Foundation and the Ohio Arts Council.