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World AIDS Day, dads and dancefloors

December 1, 2009

Today was World AIDS Day and in 2009 it’s also a reminder that a decade ago this year my dad died of complications related to HIV.  Bad needles, bad sex, bad something.  I never got the whole story and to be honest that’s one tale I’m cool with not knowing.  Truth is I still feel kind of odd thinking about it I’m pretty sure this is the 1st time I’ve written about or publicly mentioned it.  Not exactly the kind of thing that comes up in dinner party conversations.

I remember the night I got the phone call in the spring of ’99.  It was a club night-during that time just about every night was a club night-and we were a few minutes away from the usual college debauchery when moms called with the news.  It was one of those time standing still moments, those I’ll remember this till I die moments: standing in my living room, leaning against the doorway with the phone cord  stretched in from the kitchen and mom asking me to come home immediately.  All I could think to do was find a dance floor.

The only thing that made sense at the time was the thump of a bassline, a heavy rhythm and the healing powers of sweat.  I kept the news to myself and didn’t tell anyone what had happened but I was the last one on the floor when the DJ packed in his tables at 4am the next morning.  Some people have religion and church. I tend to lean towards deep house.

I actually never knew a whole lot about my dad-definitely not enough to ever call him “Dad.” He was always Bobby.  An almost academic turned reluctant soldier, he came back from Vietnam carrying all the terrible cliches of wartime: drug habit, night terrors, Agent Orange side effects and a headful of evil memories that, as far as I know, he never really got over or spoke of.

In and out of jail and rehab for most of the 23 years I knew him, to say we never bonded was a bit of an understatement.  There was a short time-I think I was around 10-when we lived in the same space, but mostly I remember a lot of broken promises and absence.  It’s funny, there was never much emotion on my part-no real anger-just an acute acknowledgment of that absence.  There was a hole that was supposed to be filled with something I didn’t recognize until years later, when I saw the interactions between my friends and their fathers.

I think more than anything there was pity.  There was the pity of seeing an artist-a writer-who was never cut out for war, for fatherhood or for the cruelties of  the world outside of his own imagination, have to deal miserably with all three.  The times we spent together, whether in a bookstore or park or just the times he called from a holding cell or a halfway house, I always heard an unspoken apology in his voice, an “I’m sorry. This is the best I could do.” And I believed him.

And I believe that even though we never spent much time in the same space my relationship to Bobby shaped a lot of my worldview.  The Booth writer’s blood runs hot in me, as does an extreme distaste for war, a penchant for the academic and an inherent distrust of big business and societal norms.  I try to live with a determined sense of whimsy that’s largely inspired by the creative lives my parents never got to have. Flaneur as a socio-political statement. Dreaming as an act of defiance.

So to honor the memories of those who have passed due to this horrible disease, I offer my own small experience and a tribute to someone I never really got to know.  I’m not sure what kind of music Bobby liked so here’s something that always gets me up and through the BS.  Hold the people that are close to you close to you.  Dream fiercely and live like you really mean it.  Rest in peace, pops.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Alex G permalink
    December 4, 2009 5:21 am

    This is a beautiful tribute.

    • Boothism permalink*
      December 5, 2009 6:49 pm

      Thanks Alex. That means a lot.

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