(“Pearl of Great Price,” decoupage, Frederick H. Read 2005)
So I am a big dodo, today. I totally thought it was Alex’s Saturday to post, which it SO is not.
Today I have to get my daughter ready to fly to India tomorrow–which means finding someplace to buy a mosquito net and water purification tablets and apparently a new pair of sandals since hers just broke, which is interesting since “broke” is what currently describes the amount in my checking account (my mom is paying for India for Grace and her cousin Sasha, which is astonishingly great of her.)
Also just got a letter in the mail this morning which seems to indicate that Grace’s school neglected to give her financial aid for senior year, and would now like me to come up with $30,820–$15,435 of it by July 1. I am wondering if walking into the fin aid office Monday morning and saying, “you know, I filled out all the online paperwork back in April and got it in on time and everything, and if there’s something more recent I neglected to do, I apologize but my father just shot himself and the whole family kind of went off the rails and everyone required a lot of long-distance phone call handholding for upwards of eight hours a day for the first couple of weeks after that, because it’s not like a suicide makes a crazy family suddenly SANER, you know? And could you possibly help me out here because at the moment I have $250 in my fucking checking account…”
And Dad checking out when he did also means I blew my June 1 deadline for book four, which means said book will probably not be published next year, and I kind of am having trouble getting my head back into the work, go figure.
On the bright side, my writing group back in California just read what I have of that manuscript, to date, and I made everyone cry twice, in just the parts that are supposed to do that, and they think the rest of it is funny and poignant and they like my arson investigator chick, so that is a huge relief (unless they’re just saying that to make me feel better because everything else in my orbit sucks so hard right about now, which is always a possibility but I think I’ll just go with hypothesis A, here, for the moment anyway.)
The memorial service in California was fabulous, though. It was so beautiful, and we all worked really hard to make it look good, and a friend of my dad and stepmom offered up his house for the day. My writing group and my publisher sent gorgeous flowers, God Bless Them Every One. A hundred fifty people came, twenty people got up and spoke. Everyone brought his favorite foods. One woman flew in from Australia to be there, two people came from Hawaii, lots from the East Coast. May pals Sophie Littlefield and Julie Goodson-Lawes and Muffy Srinivasan drove down from the Bay Area, which was such a hugely blessed occurrence that I can barely believe I know such fabulous women.
I have been thinking a lot lately about whether it would be harder to lose a parent who was wonderful and beloved and a pillar in your life, or tougher to have the kind of fraught relationship Dad and I had–missing the good parts, wishing there had been more of them, knowing that now that can never be fully resolved. I guess both options suck profoundly, only in different ways.
I miss the man I knew back in 1967,
(showing off for Dad in front of his new Porsche–Belgian shoes and all, Jericho, NY, 1967)
when I was four and he was my favorite person in the entire world–before the drugs and the Primal Therapy and the pain of life in general killed that guy off, so that I only got glimpses of his ghost for the following four decades.
(“Upper Orchard,” Centre Island, New York. September 17th, 1988)
He stopped speaking to me for twelve years, starting when my daughter Lila’s autism was diagnosed. That was a deeply shitty month–a week later I found out that my husband had been sleeping with a woman he’d worked with in Colorado for a year and a half. October of ’97 SUCKED, let me tell you.
Dad only got back in touch when my first novel was published. He came to a signing I did with Lee Child in Thousand Oaks, after having sent my mother (to whom he hadn’t spoken in decades) a note saying “we plan to see the author at her T.O. appearance.” He wrote that on a sheet from a small notepad, embossed with “Proud Supporter of the California Rifle and Pistol Association” across the top.
The weekend before that I was in Scottsdale with Lee, at Poisoned Pen for our first signing together. We were smoking outside the building, leaning up against the wall in the heat, and I said, “look, my dad is planning to come see us next weekend, and I haven’t seen him in twelve years. He thinks the KGB reads his mail and that ninjas want to barbecue and eat his feet and steal his collages. Plus which I still have his Marine Corps sharpshooters medal, and he’s now a postal worker, and he wrote my mom this weird note on gun-nut stationery… so if you want me to rent us both some Kevlar vests or totally pull out of the event, I’m totally okay with that. Because he’s pretty insane and it’s all freaking me out a little, here.”
Lee took a drag of his Camel and said, “well, if you’re really nervous, I think we have two choices. Either I can hire security, or I can just take him out into the parking lot and slap him around a little.”
And I thought to myself, “Lee CHILD wants to beat up my dad for me… that’s the coolest thing EVER!” Which in and of itself is pretty fucking weird, right? In an awesome Reacher kind of a way, of course.
And Dad thankfully didn’t shoot us, he just ate most of the plate of brownies the bookstore had put out, and got in the back of the line to have his copy of Field of Darkness signed, behind the 150 people there to see Lee, and he was actually kind of sweet about it all, and I didn’t even cry until I got back into the media escort’s car, which took a lot of fortitude.
After that he was back in my life, in the best way he could manage to be–not without mentions of ninjas and Primal tantrums and stuff, but still, my dad was back, and he got to know my daughter Grace, and told me how sorry he was about Lila, and I grew to love my half-sister, and get close again with my stepmom. They even invited us to spend three weeks with them at Camp in the Adirondacks last summer.
And Peter Riegert came up to visit and see if it would work as a location for the film of Field he’d like to do, and stayed for three days.
On the last day, Dad rowed Riegert and me around the lake in an old guideboat for a couple of hours, telling us stories about what it was like there when he was a kid, and being totally charming.
Peter said later, “I know you have kind of a tough relationship with your dad, and you have to deal with Angry Dad and Crazy Dad, but he was totally charming today to me, and I greatly appreciate that.”
(See: “Read Camp,” pp. 189-195)
And I told him it was really nice having a friend who was famous enough to make my dad get his head out of his ass for an entire afternoon, and not even mention a single ninja, but it also made me really happy. When Peter called up a couple of weeks ago to tell me how sorry he was to read my email about what had just happened with Dad, I told him that that afternoon is one of the best times I ever had with my father, and thanked him for making that possible.
I told the story of Dad showing up unexpectedly at “Father’s Weekend” at my boarding school when I was seventeen (he showed up with nothing but a sleeping bag, not having told me beforehand that he was planning to attend, and asked me to find him a place to sleep. Unfortunately he ended up bunking at the headmaster’s cottage, through a series of odd coincidencs, and I’m pretty sure Dad was the first person EVER to do marathon bonghits in my headmaster’s guest bathroom…) at Murder By The Book in Houston when I was on tour earlier this year. It’s kind of a long story, but it’s pretty funny. And it ends with the headmaster of my school coming up to me and saying, “I’ve been doing these weekends for twenty years now, and your father is the ONLY interesting man I’ve ever met at a single one of them…” which was especially nice since I figured he was going to tell me I was expelled because my dad had done marathon bonghits in his bathroom all weekend. Anyway, I made everyone in the store laugh a lot, which was awesome.
I told that story again at the memorial gathering. And people got to laugh again, which was good, and it made everyone cry, too.
Crap. Now I’m crying again, too. It’s been a couple of days since I’ve done that, and I’ve got a lot to get taken care of today… I will leave you with the following, the obit my Aunt Jean wrote for the NY Times:
(Dad with Grandmama Read and his eldest niece Edith, Camp, 1945?)
READ–Frederick Harvey. Frederick Harvey Read the eighth son of the late Vice-Admiral USNR and Mrs. William A. Read, of Purchase, NY died suddenly, May 13, 2010 in Malibu, CA. Fred attended Buckley School in New York City, St. Paul’s School in Concord, NH, graduated from Lawrenceville School and attended the University of Colorado. He then joined the Marine Corps where he was the outstanding marine in his division at Camp Pendleton and learned how to sky dive with Jacques Istel at Hemet, CA. After his military service he married Deborah Smith of Centre Island and had two daughters, Cornelia L. F. Read, the author, and Freya Read Read, a designer for The Pottery Barn, who survive him. He then became a Junior Partner at the Wall Street firm of Hayden Stone. In his early years, he was a member of The Brook Club in New York. He also sailed at The Seawanaka Corinthian Yacht Club. That marriage ended in divorce and after a brief stint in Nassau, Bahamas and Chandolin, Switzerland, Fred moved to Malibu to be near his children. During his years in Malibu, he was a short order cook at The Neptune’s Net, a taxi driver and a master Volkswagen mechanic. A fine hockey player, he played with Charles Schulz’s pick-up team. He married Bonna Newman and had their daughter, Elena Jean Read, both surviving. A loving father, he is also survived by four grandchildren, Lila and Grace Eggert and Indy and Sasha Read, his eldest brother, William A. Read, Jr. of Palm Beach, FL, his other brothers, Peter B. Read of Jaffrey, NH, Donald B. Read of Old Lyme, CT, his sister, Jean Read Knox of Williamsville, NY, and numerous nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by four other brothers, Curtis S. Read, David W. Read, Roderick F. Read, and Alexander D. Read. Fred was a wonderful trout and salmon fly fisherman, a lover of nature and beautiful green places, and a very talented artist. His work showed in 2009 in Toronto, Ontario, and at Diesel Bookstore in Malibu, CA. He was also noted for his scrimshaw which is in many private collections. Until recently, Fred was a 17 year employee of the United States Post Office in Malibu, CA. Fred will be missed by all who knew and loved him and his many friends. A memorial service will be held at the convenience of the family.
Dad’s collages are online at http://www.artforcetwo.com/home
(“Big Indian,” decoupage, Frederick H. Read 2003)