My Daddy, My Father, My Coach, My Nemesis, My Dad, My Friend

My Daddy,  My Father, My Coach, My Nemesis,  My Dad, Mr. Responsible, My Friend…Let’s  get one thing  straight…l  was  not a  good kid….  When I was  young, grade school  though junior high I ( and beyond) I had  hypoglycemia  which  made me  extra  “special” …a  better word for that is  evil  I think…..  I was constantly in  trouble and  talking to shrinks and  Dr’s  trying to figure out why I was  “nuts”….then High School came around and  I  was even worse…throw a   bunch of testosterone  in the mix  as well as  weightlifting,  swimming, track, tennis, golf  etc.. 6’ 2” and 220 of “V” shaped muscle  and  attitude  and well let’s just  say I sure would not have wanted to be  my  parent!!!    I may have given me up for adoption  after the first  few  years…… but they didn’t….. and for that I’m  grateful….. because I love my  parents.  But  this post in particular is about My Pops…

so growing up  he was  my coach in  football,  baseball and  basketball…… I  figured out the hard way that  my “personality” wasn’t  the best for  team sports… so he then  taught me  tennis and racquetball…..we   were a  struggling  middleclass   family, he  was an underpaid  air traffic controller,  and Mom  worked part time jobs, we went to church on  Sundays and had  “normal” lives….  They also  were  part of the foster program so we  took in  other kids  from  newborns to teens… to say  that my  father  was   patient  is an understatement….. I was born when he was  21 and I was the “middle child”   so he was only 20  when my older sister was born….I look back on when I was  that age and  cold I have raised a  kid as well as  they did? Um no….not even close…..  shoot   I had my son at 25 ( well his mother did  but you know what I mean)  and I  don’t know how I got so lucky…. Because I sure had it coming… anyway back to  Dad…. So  20 years old   and  father of 2  so far….the years  pass and   then there were  3 …. My two sisters and I …  life went along and  we  struggled , there were  good times and there were  wait in line for government cheese and butter times….. but  through it all he was patient…  my father didn’t  drink, smoke or swear…  must have been something he got from his Father ..I’ll have to  talk to him about that sometime….   I remember the one time  when I was young,  probably 10 or 11 that I did hear him  swear….  funny story leading up to this though…..

We had   “pets”  not very many a   few dogs and  Siamese cats (evil creatures when they aren’t “fixed”)  and gerbils….. Dad  didn’t like  or approve of   Gerbils….. but  my sisters and I loved them…we  did the whole a ”habitrail”  systems and stuff  but there were  too many times  that  our furry little friends got out….  Or had babies……but with this particular story   I don’t remember exactly how it went down….. but I do remember having a  gerbil in a  metal  lunchbox… and I  reached in to get it out and it  bit me….. I was standing at the top of the stairs and  through the lunchbox out the  window ( the gerbil was still attached to my hand)…. Only this wasn’t a  window that opened…. It was  large picture frame style  window at the  top of the stairs…  not really a way to get to it   from inside….  So crash boom bang…..   and “you wait till your father gets home”…YIKES….. but even then  that’s not when he swore….. I did  learn several lessons   from that event  though ….1.  don’t  blindly put your hand in  metal lunchboxes holding rodents, 2. If you do – don’t stand near glass of any kind….  And 3. How to install a new window.. and the fine art of glazing…..nope not donut,  windows…….I learned my   “everything is a  teachable moment”  from my Dad…I’m sure I got in big trouble for breaking the window   but that wasn’t the  end of it…  we got the glass and  I broke the new glass  at least once carrying it from the car to the side of the house……lesson learned: don’t make a 10 year old  carry a new window pane….  Take two,  Dad carried the glass….we  got up on the roof and in the process I   tore up a shingle….. we  replaced the glass and that was  actually a cool  lesson that I used later in life  on home repair…. But to get back on track , Hearing my Dad swear… not when I broke the window, not when I lied and tried to blame my sister ( she got blamed for everything and every now and then she’d even fess up like she really did  it…) ..not when I broke the first pane of glass….. it wasn’t until we  went back up on the roof to fix the shingle I wrecked….  Haul up   some new shingles, there are some others that need replacing  while we’re there…… tuck it in  here.. hold it while I set the  nail son…. Hammer… hammer…. Next one….hammer, hold, hammer, hammer SON OF A  BISCUIT  only he didn’t say  biscuit….  And his thumb was  black  and blue and swollen for  some time…..he did apologize to me for saying that and how  inappropriate it was etc…. but to me IT WAS  EPIC!!! I probably told everyone I  had ever met, ever….  My dad said the “B” word…….

Here’s that  house the  “spot” where he swore is the lower roof there on the right side of the photo..the window  we replaced  is the smaller of the  Three windows on the right….

The house I  grew up in

so life  went on and  I grew up under his tutelage and guidance…he took me to races, airshows, basketball and  AAA  baseball  games ( we didn’t have a football team  until later when Indy “bought”  the Colts), he was a great “Dad” he even took me to go up in a  glider/sail plane….just  the pilot and  I  (  you couldn’t pay  my Dad to go higher than  the roof top and even then I suspect he wasn’t very pleased or comfortable)  …   he was an  Air traffic  Controller  who hated to fly… same as  his Father….and  I suspect  his hopes were for me to follow  in that  as well… but this was   the 70’s and 80’s  …… he was  a member of PATCO  the Union…. Allegedly “Professionals” …..white collar job….not  teamsters…. or longshoremen….   Nerds basically … folks  with the   huge  stressful  burden of keeping  giant planes  full of people from   crashing into each other or  other things…..they worked in a  plain  building   without windows and  very non-descript other than the antennas on the roof…you’d never know the  critical  purpose of the  building and the  men and women in side it… and because of the  era  and  the stress of the job there was a lot of  “leeway”  with stress relief in the  office….  He  took me to work with him a  few times and  I remember those trips  fondly …there weren’t really   computers like we have today.. it was  real  eye straining,  stressful  thinking, planning  coordination  attention  must stay focused  job… and he was the best of the best….   The  “floor”  where all the  radar  screens were  was just a   giant  haze of smoke   (you could still smoke inside)  and there were  awesome (to a  kid) “nudey”  pictures  taped up  on the  stations, good luck charms  etc… but  also intensely focused   people…  Dad would  find a  station  and he’d work it and “plug  me in” and let me listen and occasionally   let me even talk to a   plane … the funny  and “unknown”  to me to this day is  how he managed his stress… he  didn’t  drink, didn’t smoke,  didn’t  swear,  didn’t  really play sports  other than tennis , he had  three kids and a wife  to provide for  and no real “hobbies”  …beats me…  but he  managed….better than  most honestly,    a lot of the  controllers   were  alcoholics or  worse back then,  the suicide rate for that profession was high , the working conditions and pay were not  really fair…  and then  they went on  strike…..  but not my  Dad… he couldn’t  afford to… he had responsibilities and the  “Union”  didn’t  pay enough for him to  be able to  provide for his family…so he crossed the picket lines…  and remember these  are “allegedly”  professional white collar  type people… well  my  father  had  courage  to   stand up and say   I’m  here to do a job,   I  agreed to do it and I’m   going to work to provide for my  family!  I really  respected that  he did that.  It was VERY hard on the family  we had bricks thrown through our windows, we had to have codes  to  call home  …don’t answer the phone  unless it  rings twice, stops,   then rings three times  and stops  and then the next time  pick it up on the 1st ring  etc…. otherwise  it was threats and  vileness on the other end of the phone and  things that kids  shouldn’t  have to hear….I have no idea what it was  like for  him actually driving to work and   crossing the picket line… I wonder…   that  had to have been so  very hard, and  took  a  special  kind of  courage… well  in ’81 when  President  Reagan gave the union the ultimatum things got even harder for us….eventually  most of  Dad’s  coworkers  got the boot from the Pres… and he got   promoted….  Teaching me  that you get rewarded for standing up for what you believe in  and  providing for your  family  no matter what… I was proud  of my Father. Though I’m sure he   lost many friends  and paid  a hard price for  it,  he  did the “responsible thing” .

a few years later,  in 1983 though,  the unthinkable happened… “Kids  we’re having a family meeting in the living room”….  the living room was a room where children were not allowed…it had the “nice furniture”  we were not allowed on it at all!! The only furniture we were allowed on in the Living room was the piano bench and that was  for  one of two things…. 1. Getting a  lecture and finding out the  “consequences” for our  misguided actions… or 2.  practicing piano …..so this was  seer-eeee-us…. And yes it was…..  they sat us  down, my Mom and Dad, and  explained that they were getting a  divorce…. We’d never even seen or heard them argue that I remember…… so it was a  real shock to us…. I was 13 and sitting on the piano Bench ( I think it was  specially  formed to my  backside) …Mom and Dad  were on the couch,  my sisters were on the floor (chivalry  didn’t count with sisters) …..I  do remember them  doing a  good  job explaining  why, and  that it wasn’t our fault and   trying to comfort us but it was a  big change… change that affected us all. I believe they handled it well especially given the  era….but  we were probably  a textbook case  of  how kids  act out when these things happen….. so Mom  moved out,  they didn’t want to  displace us  kids  so we stayed in the house we  grew up in  with a  single father…we still saw Mom and  there’s lots of   good stories and things  there but  again the focus of this particular post is for my Dad… so  a 14 year old girl,  13 year old boy  and 10 year old girl and my Dad  working  crazy shifts as an  Air Traffic Controller…. It  was OK for  a bit,  my older sister and I  took turns being “in charge”….looking back  there were many times where we   took  terrible advantage of the situation  but  it worked out….I can’t  imagine how difficult  it must have been for him during the couple years  that we went on that way. But we made it….of course there were  fights between the kids and we each  acted out  in ways  that maybe we wouldn’t have, but we  all learned and grew,  we  had  a nice roof , 3 squares and  more “things”  than we deserved I can tell you that….time went  by  and Dad “dated” he found  the new love of his life,  and they are still  happily married to this day,  over   25 years….. WOW   and they made it through a  LOT…   his “girlfriend” moved in with her 3 boys  similar in age to  us…  for the most part us kids got along ok, but by this time   my Older sister and I  were well into our teens I was 15 or so and she was 16 going on 17…..(how many of you just sang that?  And are now thinking of the sound of music? If you didn’t before you are now,  and You’re  welcome and yes  that makes you old like me) My sister and I  didn’t accept  “HER“ as an authority figure….and it didn’t work  out so well…. My sister  rebelled, I rebelled and acted out terribly etc…. we were angry  at everyone and everything…. I was  probably the worst mainly because of my size and my temper…. Many doors  and many pieces of sheetrock  had to be replaced because of my  fist….  Even to this day if you look at my hands they are all gnarly  from  the beatings  I gave inanimate objects ..and a few animated ones,  like  my  Father…….  Both hands, all fingers  both arms have  been broken multiple times mostly all   when I was younger in high school and  for a year or two after… other  stories for other times…. Bottom line, we gave Dad and his girlfriend HELL……and then the unthinkable happened….SHE (we blamed her  but  it was  totally  DUMB on our part) wanted us all to MOVE…. Um  we’ve lived in this house on this street in this neighborhood for like 12 years or more….. we  don’t wanna move…..well my Big sister ended up moving in with our Mom for a bit,  I ended up moving  along with the rest of  the  gang…for a  short  stint… very short…   the house  itself was  awesome… it   was owned by  a friend  from my schools  family   and was  a HUGE move up in  “status”  it had a POOL….. but  nooooooo I still had  to push the limits and   be a  total asshat teenager……My Father and  I didn’t see eye to eye…  and not only  because  I was a half a foot taller than he,   but because he was  and is to this day “the most  responsible man in the world”  I don’t know of a  time that he’s   ever   had the  chance to be  irresponsible…. Maybe when he  was a  kid but  I don’t think so , Knowing my Gramma and  Grandpa….  But  ever since I’ve  known him, he is the  epitome of  responsibility….    And  our dreams for me didn’t  match up…. I was  always a   very challenging kid as I mentioned … along with any other  problems they may have had,  I was a   large one!  We had many  arguments and  my rebellion finally  broke through  all of my   Dad’s patience… he lasted much longer than  any human had a  right to  with me….   I should have  been institutionalized (either jail or an asylum)  or  at least out on my ear long before he  made the call to do that…. We won’t go into the  story of the  straw that broke the  camel’s back  but  it was  very well deserved….. I got thrown  out, my  stuff put in  black garbage bags   and set out side the door… I lived with friends  some good ones  with good influences, and some not so good ones   that weren’t such good influences…. I lived with my Mom and her   Husband for a while  until  I finally graduated and moved on to  the next chapter …..I  did  eventually apologize to my  Dad and Stepmom – Donna, but  for the record now  on the “internet” and publicly I am so  sorry for   being such a terrible  teenager, you were both  wonderful and tried  very hard to make  it work and  I   know how badly I hurt you both  back then,  I am filled with  regret and remorse  but you DID  the right thing for me!!  I  think I turned out  pretty good    and that’s  from  My Dad, My Mom and My Stepmom  Teaching me right from  wrong and  how to be  a good  person..I learned even if I didn’t want to….. and I know  Dad you and Donna  accepted my apology years  and yeaars ago, but  here it is again for you. …ok on with the  story….

I had the opportunity to  go do college on scholarships if I had applied , I was offered  a full ride to  a couple different schools  but noooooooo not me….. I wanted  to travel as far from  Indiana as  humanly possible….. I wanted to  go to exotic lands, meet exciting new  people , and kill them….. I had a button that said that  on my  80’s jean jacket… I’m not lying about being a   messed up kid…. So I’m leaving on  a  Jet plane….Uncle Sam got a hold of me  and  shipped  me out west….Californ-eye-a… farewell family and  friends ….. and in my mind good riddance…  I’m a lone wolf  aaahhhoooooooo…..well   regardless  of  what  I thought I felt… my  Dad was there for me…  they flew  out for my boot  camp  graduation even.  And It was  good to see family…   but I also had a new family now military  family “brothers” in  arms….  …… now what to  do for the Military…. What job….  Well by then I had  somewhat  come to my senses  so I was going to  try to make my dad  proud and  become an Air Traffic Controller… that required a “secret”  clearance…  they did a   background investigation and  some jokesters that I worked construction with  thought it would be HILARIOUS to  tell some  totally made up  gross  stories to the FBI   during the investigation so   I got word  that  I could not get a  Secret  Clearance….. WOW  right on   thanks  guys… BUT they don’t call  Military  Intelligence an oxymoron  for nutttin…  they  gave me  another choice I could be a  Radioman….  Sounds  great…I didn’t really care ….just let me go  shoot  things and prove that I’m a  MAN dammit!! Only to be a  Radioman  you had to have a  TOP SECRET  clearance… they did a new  background investigation and I passed hahaha… brilliant!!  Unbeknownst to  me I was still following in my    families tradition.. My Dad’s Dad…My Grandpa Billy was  also a Radioman … I  ended up getting even further away though … finishing top of  my class in  school I got to pick  where I  got  stationed..I picked  Australia…..I ended up about as fer-away from  Indiana as I could get… .the very northwest cape of  Australia….

Meanwhile  back in Indiana  I had left  everything I’d ever owned  all over the place…  my car I had made arrangements to leave at my  Dad’s House,  my “stuff” ( lettermans jacket,  clothes,  records and tapes…etc…  at a  girlfirends house (good bye forever –  stuff) …and off I went to  Oz…. whiel My Dad continued to raise  his new “sons”  and  my little sister with his  wife…. I  was  the  prodigal son though…I came home  from that  duty station  just as the Gulf War was  getting  started I found my  Car at my  Dad’s and was welcomed  with open arms… we  took  my   beautiful car  that had  been sitting for the last  4 years in his driveway down to  a dealer and I had  saved up some money and had   some  cash and got a loan from Navy Federal  and bought me a  truck…. My precious.,….’79  Camaro….My 1979 Camaro

And  without much ado   off I went ….drove to Arkansas  picked up   my best friend  Daron   and we drove back out to California…. Went to  an advanced  school and then  took our time toodling up the  coast to  meet our  new Ship to head off to war…  I can only imagine   what my  Dad was  feeling about me   but he  had a  family to  be  responsible for……and he did  an amazing job with them…   those 3 boys  couldn’t have asked for a better man to  be there for them as well as my  sisters…eventually I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse  to   get out of the military  and  I chose to stay in  Washington State…. But like all prodigal  sons ..I squandered my  money, I was  irresponsible  I  got in over my head and I  had to crawl  back to my  father  for  help….and  because he is   so smart and responsible , even after all I  had done to  him , and against him he was still there for me….  but he didn’t just  give me money…he   helped me  budget and  plan and  become more responsible even at my “advanced” age of  my late twenties with a son of my own  now… he went as far as loaning  me  considerable money  but with  a plan to  pay it back…   I did “ok”  but not  that good at paying him  back over the years  until  finally one  Christmas or  birthday he said  my  debt was  erased as  my gift…  wow…. Compassion, understanding, love and support  for  me  still ..I do understand now that my kids  are  grown because  I love my kids  more than  life iself and would do  anything for them..but I’m still in  awe of  all that he  did  and still to this day continues to do for me…. there are a number of things he taught me  over the years..  “Can’t  Never did Nothin’”   is one  of those…and as I’ve mentioned he  truly taught me  responsibility and patience.. ..over the years we’ve now become  very good, trusted and respected  friends.. I so  very proud of my Dad, My  Father and My Friend…we talk on the phone  roughly  every other week, he USED to use me  as  his “keep awake” call  on  his drive home from work but  December 25th  was  his last Shift ever..he’s now  officially  retired from waaaay too many years to  count  with the FAA  keeping  everyone safe in the skies….he’s finally at  a point  where Dad, I HOPE you take some time to  do some irresponsible  stuff …you  DESERVE it!!!  I love  you Dad  more than  you know and I appreciate all you have done for me for the past 43 years and I want you to know just how proud I am to call you Dad and  Friend,  Mentor, Counselor,  sounding board,  voice of  objectivity and reason, even when I don’t take your advice I still    appreciate it!!!  There are  so many more things I want to say,  like  when you came out to watch me  Race  in “Nascar”,  when you came to visit  when Easton was  born,  when  you  came and  helped  with the  horses,  the trip to  Hawaii,  the trip up and down the east coast, the Indy 500’s  the Brickyard 400’s ..the list goes on and on….. but I’ve  rambled  enough for now….. but One last story to  close out this post…..  Richard  Bach……you played the Jonathan Livingston Seagull  “album” …and we all  listened to it   many times I think when I was pretty young ( 4-8 ish) ….. since then  I’ve read it  many times and also  read it to Easton as a  boy  many times,  and he has also  read it on his own  and used it for a  book report too… but besides that  moving book,   you gave me one of my most treasured possessions….  my own copy of Illusions…  I still have it  Dad and I’ve read it about a thousand times….whenever I feel  “down”  or need  guidance or advice in life and I pull it  out and  read it again….I’ve got notes in the margins and  highlighted sections  and  I’ll be  passing that  very copy down  to Easton  when he turns 18,, I gave Tyler his own copy  too  when he turned 18 …. It’s  a powerful book that you  gave me and I hope  you know how much it meant and means to me  still… you gave me so much in life, but  that one little book  is  a symbol to me of all of it….and as much as I’ll “miss” it…. I’m proud to pass it down to  the next generation of Cunningham Men…

I use this  particular   quote from the book  often, as we have many friends that  we consider family…. “The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.”

But Dad,   you are my  true family  and we are  blood, but you also  have my  complete  respect, admiration and I   have   Joy in my life because you  gave me that  life and are a  huge part of it even across all these many miles….

Congratulations on your Retirement  Dad.   Once again I love you  and our  friendship and  I  wanted to  post this for the world to see that you are a special man and that  we all need to tell people how we feel!! Shower the people  you love with love..show them the way that you feel…….

Your  Son, and Your  Friend.

Michael James  Cunningham.

P.S. I WILL  finish the  Italy video  someday….  Really I will…

3 Generations  of  Cunningham Men.

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