By Ted Reeves
I am Ted Reeves, born December 30, 1973 to parents who were high school and college sweethearts. They married in 1971, had me and then my sister in 1977. We lived in Flat Rock, Michigan which is a downriver suburb of Detroit.
My earliest childhood memories are from four years of age playing “guitar” with a yardstick to “Dream On” by Aerosmith as my mother encouraged me to keep going in front of a crowded family Christmas party. This is my earliest memory of my father not being there for me as I looked up at the family members present. I deem that moment “event zero.”
My father was one of four brothers and was third in line. He was eight or nine when his parents divorced and he went to live with his mother since his father’s new wife told them they all had to leave and hopefully their mother would take them in. I believe that day left my father permanently scarred. His mother got sick with cancer and died while he was still in high school. My paternal grandfather was non-existent in my life as he was barely in my father’s life.
My father, who I love dearly, is a generous man. He is kind and compassionate yet, ironically, doesn’t have the capacity to allow himself to feel. Our conversations usually do not get past the weather or what each Detroit sports team is doing in that particular season. I longed for more of him. Who the man is. Deeper feelings.
Fatherly Hunger in my early years 1973 – 1981
My early years from birth until about 1981 saw my parents’ marriage disintegrate. Those years are some of the most memorable times I had with my father which led me craving more and more of him. Those interactions dwindled as their marriage came to an end. Let’s just say that my father was taking old “one eye” to a couple different optometrists.
I do remember my father pulling me behind the snowmobile on my sled. I guess that’s why the new snowmobile I purchased last year holds such value to me and my children. I wanted to give them some of my best memories from when I was their age.
There were times that he engaged with me and the neighbor kid in a game of wiffle ball, but it still left me wanting more and more of him and his approval. There were trips to my grandparent’s cabin on Georgian Bay in Canada, but those were not an annual tradition. These trips were only when he felt up to it. Again, I was craving more and more of him and his attention. I hold with me forever certain things in life that always remind me of those times with my father. During our trips to Georgian Bay, he nearly wore out the 8-track tape of Lipps Incorporated in our 1977 Thunderbird. You know the songs, “Funkytown”, “Rock-It”, etc. So now when I hear those songs, it takes me back to feelings of loss and longing for his approval.
My parents divorced in 1981 and we went to live with my mother in an apartment across town. I don’t remember my exact feelings at the time as it was confusing. The only coping mechanism I was provided by my mother was a book made for kids which “tried” to help them through divorce. I remember it, but nothing memorable came from it. That was about the time I remember the first feeling of emptiness inside me. My father had picked up my sister and me for his weekly visitation on a Wednesday. He then took us literally across the street to the Elks Lodge where he gave us four quarters each to play Ms. Pac-Man while he sat at the bar and drank with his friends. Not able to understand my father’s failings at that was at the time, I would save one of those quarters each time because it was part of my dad that I could have. This eventually led to all sorts of items I would save to commemorate the time I had with dad. To this day, I have a cedar box from our week long vacation to Houghton Lake, MI when I was eleven. There are two or three Detroit Tiger game ticket stubs from circa 1986 that are a prized possessions to me. I got to see a real professional baseball team with my dad!
During second grade, I remember having my name announced over the P.A. system that I was to ride a different bus “home.” This was a new destination to me as it was the home of a man my mother had started dating, who eventually became my step-father. This leads me into the next phase of my life where the father wounds grew two-fold.
Phase 2 // Fatherly Hunger deepened 1982 – 1989
This new man was also divorced and had a boy and a girl. Things went well at first like most new relationships. My mother moved in with the man dragging along me and my sister. I guess he understood it was a packaged deal. My mother and him were soon married in October of 1983. Shortly after that wedding, his son moved in with us. I now had a step-brother to share my room.
During that time, my father would pick up my sister and I for visitations. I remember his “night” of the week was always a Wednesday from 4 til about 9. There were times where he never came as my sister and I sat on the porch steps longingly looking out the front window for him to pull into the driveway. I never knew the damage that did emotionally at that time. My mother only told me to stop crying and that I shouldn’t feel that way. Something else must have come up for him to put us second in his life. Again, I was told to stuff my feelings and emotions of craving my father’s attention and love.
In the meantime, my step-dad had taught me some valuable skills. I learned hard work as we laid a new brick patio, re-seeded a front lawn and pulled weeds by hand. I learned a lot about camping and boating, but there was never an emotional bond that I so longed for. The times my father did pick me up for visitation, seemed to put him out as he was distracted with other items such as being on the phone or taking care of items he needed to get done in his apartment. More hunger and craving. More rejection.
Once I had a baseball game which I thought he would take me to as well as watch. Well, he happened to start assembling an entertainment center for some reason. He didn’t want to be interrupted in that process so I was late for the game. I didn’t get to play until the fourth inning since the coach didn’t’ know if I would show or not. I was hurt and rejected and thinking that I was replaced with an entertainment center. Not only was I late, but he never stayed to watch. I even rode home with the coach not seeing my father that night.
As I moved into junior high, I began participating in sports. I loved football, wrestling, basketball, baseball, and track & field. My father attended a handful of football games and my step-father never attended any of those events. I remember my mother coming to whatever she could as I believe my maternal grandmother “forced” her to go. The father wound had now gained deep roots.
There was a time when I was wrestling in a large tournament in a town close by that I broke my ankle and my father was called to come get me and go to the hospital. He arrived two hours later while I sat in pain because he was at the Elk’s Lodge and didn’t want to leave his “brothers” before the drinking was completed. At least, that’s how I perceived the situation. When I arrived home, neither him nor my mother said anything except “That’s what you get for playing sports.” That was the time I resorted myself to my room. I just didn’t want to be around him. He didn’t have too many encouraging things to say to me. Another root took hold.
From this point on, things degraded in my home life. My step-brother had started high school and wasn’t performing in school or sports as his dad thought appropriate. This led to an event that still haunts me today. I saw him punch my step brother down the stairs and then proceed to drag him to the kitchen table and call a family meeting. I hurried my ass to that chair so as not to experience the same result. My step-brother sat there crying saying that ‘he was done in our house’ and that he was moving back with his mother in Ohio. A week later, he was gone. I knew then that the only sanctuary and safe place I had was my room.
A short while later I started high school and played football at such a level that I was practicing with the varsity. I never played a varsity game in ninth grade, but felt accomplishment that I was excelling. I never heard any encouragement from my parents. The only thing I heard was “hope you don’t get hurt playing with the big boys.”
My freshmen year went by without any support from my parents, let alone the father I so much longed for. Our visitations dwindled down to about twice per month since both my sister and I poured ourselves into sports.
The fall of 1989 brought about some major changes in my life. I was playing Varsity football which was an accomplishment for a sophomore. My father ironically began to be “more” involved as he was running the chains on the sideline. My dad was actually at games! That was about it as I never saw him before or after the games. However, he was at the home games, but the away games were too far for him to travel. After football season, I started wrestling. Things in my step dad’s house were really getting bad as I never saw the man as I resorted to my room after practices.
One particular night still stands out in my memory that will never be forgotten. I was at the high school watching a basketball game. My friend came and picked me out of the stands and said his mom was waiting in the van and that I needed to go with them as something happened at my house. As we pulled onto our road, I noticed a lot of things lying in the road. As we got closer, I realized that it was my clothes and other personal items. My grandparents were there as well. My step-dad had gone off in a fit of rage, threw all my clothes out in the road, and ripped the main circuit breaker out of the electrical panel. This left the house without heat and electricity in the middle of December. I gathered all of my essential belongings and stayed with my friend that night. I never spent another night in that house.
The next day, we had a wrestling tournament in which I took second place. I remember being numb to all that was going on at home. My coaches knew what had happened but never addressed me about it. Most of my teammates had parents there with them all day except me. This was typical by now, but I remember sitting in the stands waiting my turn for the next match without that support a father or even a mother could provide. I learned at an early age how to compartmentalize things going on in my life. Shut down one area and focus on what was at hand. Later that night, I learned that I was not allowed back into the house. I stayed with my friend for a week until my father could prepare a space in his house for me and my sister. My dad graciously did what he could to accommodate us in such short notice, but was not present most of the time as he had half moved in with his girlfriend and spent most nights there.
I soon assembled a spot for myself in the basement which was not finished, but at least I had a place to stay. It was my own sanctuary where I could spend time studying and listening to music. The only annoyance was that the cement floor was cold in winter and the water meter would make a lot of noise for some reason. This went on for about a year until my dad could clear out a spot in the spare bedroom upstairs. Needless to say, he was slow at doing things. I realized this “hunger” I had for my dad turned into a wound. This led me into the next phase of growing up.
Phase 3 // The Wound Deepens 1990 – 1996
Since my father was spending half his time at his girlfriend’s house and half at our house, I never really had a time to develop a relationship with him. We would eat dinner together sometimes, but there really wasn’t much conversation. I remember cherishing these times, but that desire dwindled as I became more involved with my friends, sports, and my studies. The building blocks of a true father-son relationship were never established and therefore our bond was surface at best.
During this time, I was playing baseball at a varsity level even in ninth grade. My father would sometimes pull up along the angled parking next to the baseball field and watch from his car. He never stayed for the whole game or ever got out of his car. I knew he was there as I would see his car for an inning or two, but then he would disappear. Perhaps that was his way of supporting his son and it was the best he knew how to do at that time in his life. My mother and sister eventually moved into an apartment and then back in with my step dad. By this time, my friends had come up with a nickname for him: Mr. Friendly. We then shortened it to simply “Friendly” because he never even earned the right to be called “Mister” or “Sir.”
One night, I received a phone call about eleven p.m. from my mother. She was shaking as Friendly had gone off the deep end and was threatening to kill her and my sister. He actually brought out his shotguns. She called me first instead of the police. At 16, I was at least smart enough to tell her to call the police and that I would race across town to be there for her. Ironically, I beat the police there. Unbeknownst to me, Friendly had developed an addiction to crack cocaine. I later found out he was under the watch of the DEA since he was dealing it as well. I had walked into one of his rages while on the drug.
He called the police as well and by this time three police cars had arrived. What he didn’t know was that most of the police officers there knew me well since I played sports with their kids and I had never been in trouble with the law. The police asked me to sit in the back of their car for my own protection while they talked Friendly down from his rage. The guns were never pointed at anyone, but the police took them anyway just to diffuse the situation. Friendly blamed that incident on me and wanted money for the guns he lost. The police officers told me to go home and I never heard another thing about that incident.
This was a man who was supposed to take the place of my biological father, but rejected me in every which way. I was never truly his son and yet in a different way, I was never accepted by my own father. Where was I to go?
Phase 4 // 1996 to present, On my own and meandering through life.
I graduated high school in June of 1992 and began working three jobs that summer to support my college education. I had been accepted at three schools in Michigan and eventually chose Western Michigan University. That summer, WMU held an orientation for new students. It was to be a family event where parents travelled with their kids for two nights and three packed days of familiarizing them to the campus. My father declined as he was “too busy” and didn’t want to go. I didn’t realize at the time that the rejection I felt was stuffed as another boulder of burden I had to bear in my later years. I went to that orientation and remember feeling a loss in my life that my parents weren’t going to be involved in my education. I saw so many other students with their parents walking the campus, eating out, and spending time together. I sat on a bench watching a father and son play catch with a football during some downtime we had. As I write this, I remember that feeling of loss and invisibility to anyone. Again, I stuffed those emotions.
My summers were spent alone in our house since my father had married his on-and-off girlfriend. I worked in a steel factory and poured myself into as much overtime as I could take so as to pay my way through college and the living expenses required. My dad was sometimes present, but not for any real time spent with me. He just made sure that I was keeping the house in order, mowing the lawn, washing the dishes. Again, I experienced another area of rejection while I craved his attention and time. Rejection and stuffed emotions became the “norm” rather than the exception.
I graduated from WMU in December of 1996 earning my Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering. I was soon employed by Prince Corporation in Holland, MI and I was truly on my own now. The transition was easy, but there was a sense of loss once I spent that first night alone, without roommates, alone in my apartment. I was in an unfamiliar town and all alone. My parents didn’t call to see how it was going. I had to call them every so often basically to tell them that I was still alive.
After living in Holland for about a year, something stirred within me that I should meet people and the best way to do that was in a church setting. Now, I had not been to church since being confirmed in the Methodist church during my 8th grade year at the prompting of my grandmother. Once confirmed, I never knew who I was let alone who God or Jesus was to me.
At church I soon met my wife, who already had a one and a half year old child. She told me that on our first date to see if I would run. I didn’t, and 15 years later…well, here I am with her and 9 more children. When I told my father I had met this woman and was considering marriage, he told me that I should be careful and not consider adopting that child. It would tie me down and leave me without an ability to move on if things didn’t work out. I resent that comment to this day. I probably should bring that up with him and start working through it, but I’m not sure our relationship is at a point where it even matters.
Since that move to Holland, I am the one who has to contact my parents as they have moved on with their own “busy” lives. Sure, they come out to this side of the state for Christmas and Father’s Day, but there isn’t much relationship development. I’m still seeking my father’s acceptance and deep love. And I have to accept that I may never get it.
In August of 2014, I went through the Men’s Rites of Passage at Pilgrim Park. A new chapter opened for me as all of those “stuffings” came to me in a real and present way.
During the session of grieving, I instantly realized that I had to deal with this father wound. Unbelievably, I felt an intense emotion come over me in which I laid on that floor and cried uncontrollably for “daddy.” Flashbacks so intense I could smell the interior of his car that was mixed with cigarette smoke and cologne. I grieved for over 40 minutes that might as well been all day. I lay in a puddle of drool and snot that represented that pain that came pouring out. An hour or so later I remembered rubbing my whole head in ash as if it was a cleansing agent. I’m still digesting the symbolic nature of this ash and what it represented to me for the loss of a father, though he is yet living. So many emotions were unlocked that day. My struggle continues to this day. It’s a journey that will continue until I take my last breath on this earth.