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….
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….
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.