My Dad…. Bridges Burned, Lessons Learned

On this Father’s Day, I would like to tell you a story. It is about the special relationship between a Father and his son. The remarkable bond between a Dad and his first born male child. The dynamic that materializes in this journey together. The imparting of Fraternal wisdom and guidance and a fervent desire to establish camaraderie and shared experiences. These are the foundation and building blocks that establish belief systems, core values and even greatly influence future pathways. Much of this may sound like common sense, however, the means that determine the results can come from a surpring, diverse, unconventional array of directions.

My, Father, William W. Keefer, was born on Groundhogs Day, February 2, 1935. His mother, Juliana was a newly married 18 year old. He would be her one and only child. His father, William H. , was a 21 year old aspiring young business man. The couple was not prepared for the challenge of parenthood and certainly not cognizant of the unexpected twists and turns ahead. She would soon embark on a 30 plus year career as a Federal Government employee. She became a career woman in the late 1930s when there were relatively few full time working women. Her husband would struggle to find himself and address the failures by relying on ever increasing dependence on alcohol. When my Dad was nine years old, his parents separated. He was shipped off to boarding and later military style schools. His mother remarried. His new step father was tough and demanding. Teen aged Bill Keefer was a wild, rebellious young man in the era of Elvis and James Dean. Still, he flourished in the classroom and on the football field at Randolph Macon Academy. He was invited to walk on at Duke. He stayed one semester and then left school. He returned to Washington and went to work in a friend’s father’ lumber yard.

A year later he met a dazzling blonde from West Virginia, who was new to the the bright lights of Washington, DC. Six months later Bill, 21 married Sara, 20. Ten months later, viola, enter….. me!

My Dad found a real job as a salesman with Johnson Wax. My early childhood memories are playing in my neighborhood and weekends at my Grandmothers massive house and vast wonderland on the edge of the Chesapeake Bay, I clearly recall as a 6 year old, my mother weeping for the slain young President in Dallas on that fateful Friday. And, I remember idolizing my Dad. His passions were Washington Redskin football and horse racing. By the time I was 7 years old, I knew every player, poured over the schedule and watched every game, living and dying with each snap. The Redskins were horrid but my Dad and I shared the experience. He had season tickets, given to him annually by his mother. He usually went to games with his friends but my expertise and enthusiasm eventually earned me an opportunity to go to home games most of the time. Our other thing, horse racing. Going to the tracks in the DC area on a Saturday, Laurel or Bowie, was a huge deal. A couple of times a year, we took a train up to the Shenandoah Valley and went to the races at Charles Town. It was the ultimate quality time with my Dad. I could read a Racing Form before I mastered the adventures of Dick, Jane and Spot, and the enthralling kids news sources, The a Weekly Reader and Highlights.

There was a champion horse that I absolutely loved named Kelso. I saw him win a race in person and just a month or so later was thrilled to see him win again in New York via black and white TV. That fall in 1965, my Dad sprung the ultimate surprise. On a Thursfay, he showed up at lunch time at my school and checked me out. The reason, Kelso was running that afternoon at Laurel in a race known as The Washington DC International. Heady stuff indeed for a third grader. Kelso won, I spent a weekday afternoon with my Dad. It was one of the most memorable days of my childhood, heck, my life.

A few months later my father was offered a promotion that would require relocation to the south, to Atlanta. I had just become aware of the existence of such a place because of the Braves relocation that spring from Milwaukee. My folks traveled to Georgia to find a house. Upon returning my Dad asked me, “Who is the shortstop for the Braves?” I said, Denis Menke. He looked at my Mom and said, ” I told you he would know, ” looking back at me he said, ” He’s your new next door neighbor.” Another moment I will never forget.

Dunwoody North was instantly awesome. The pool, our massive backyard, Tenneco on the corner and a big league player next door. I suddenly made friendships and my father’s career demanded much of his time. Between his job and partying in the neighborhood, our time together dwindled. I was introduced to Little League but my Dad was rarely present for my games. I was a decent swimmer for DNC. One meet, the first my Dad attended, I floundered badly in a race because I raised up to make sure he was watching. By 7th grade, I was seldom home, always out playing something, somewhere. My Dad was increasingly a rare visitor and his work was not the only culprit. The sexual revolution was in full swing and he he had no intention of missing it.

I watched my parents marriage implode. I didn’t know the issues, but it did not matter. Eventually Wild Fire busted down his stall and was lost. Three days before my first day at Peachtree, August, 1970, my Dad left us to move to Buckhead and pursue without obstacles his new lifestyle. Except in Hollywood, divorce then was not widespread. I was horrified, mortified, ashamed send embarrassed. I told no one, I was in denial. The bill of goods parents try to sell, that it has nothing to do with you, well, they were peddling something I wasn’t buying, then or now. The selfish choice he made was to leave his family, his marriage and ME!! My Dad, my former idol, and Our relationship didn’t have enough standing or merit to rival his narcissism. For the most part, our time was up. We were basically estranged for the next couple of years. I wanted nothing to do with him.

Adulthood brought new perspective and a modicum of forgiveness, however the dynamic was something altogether different. While he voraciously pursued an adolescent, all consuming lifestyle, I assumed the role as the mature, level headed, voice of reason. He had been promoted and transferred to Memphis in 1973. After Peachtree, I attended college in Memphis and lived with him. Over the next few years we were together in various living arrangements as I pursued opportunities in Memphis and for a year when he was assigned back to Atlanta. During that period of years, there were two more failed marriages, numerous relationships with a variety of women, excessive drinking and smoking, reckless gambling on anything and everything and basically a never ending quest for fun. I fiund myself becoming the antithesis of Bill Keefer. The irony was, his unfluence in that wacky, unconventional era proved to be extremely influential in molding the person I was becoming.

I spoke to my Dad today, Fathers Day, 2014. He is 79 years old. He has grudgingly slowed down in the last couple of years…but hasn’t stopped. Rum and vodka still flows, the smokes still burn and his judgement melts away when he encounters a pretty smile. Just a year ago, a woman in her 40s feigned interest in him long enough to steal several thousand dollars and his car. Just the latest in a string of stories. However, despite all his shortcomings, there is not a mean bone in his body. He has chosen to run roughshod through life and roll the dice at every turn. My friend Mark Random Random said a few years back, “If Bill Keefer can make it to 75 there is hope for all of us. ”

When you have a Father who’s two enduring lessons imparted were … Knuckle down, buckle down, Do It, Do It, Do It, and Women are like busses, stand on the corner and another will come by, you must look deeper for substantive lessons. I have made a living in the racing business and broadcasting. Predominantly sports and advertising. I was a General Manager of a track at 36. I was doing radio, writing and voicing commercials in my early 20s. Those opportunities came early and easily. I had a 20 year head start by trying to bond with my Dad. And cautionary tales garnered from his antics, well those were incredibly educational. Especially in my own fatherhood career. Understanding that being a successful father involves putting the emphasis on your kids and not yourself is key. The confidence of knowing they came first regardless yields secure, self assured, bold personalities. My Dad taught me that, by what he did not deliver. But teach me? You bet he did!!

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6 thoughts on “My Dad…. Bridges Burned, Lessons Learned”

  1. A very informative story. How is it that after twenty years of marriage to Kristy that I never heard it? In any case I can remember traveling on business with IBM to Atlanta. I took the time to try and familiarize myself with Kristy’s past. I found the house on Peachtree, pulled into the driveway, then walked to the school down the street. It is forever engraved into my memory. i was where you guys were, but about fifteen years later or so. In the end, I screwed it all up anyway. Life sucks sometimes.

    Regards,
    Dave

  2. Kipper. A profound and beautiful story. The lesson that none of us are perfect. And some of us are better at some roles than others; with or without a play book. I know you will fix the typos! So bold and difficult it must have been to tell this realistic tale of your life! Love you! Keep on!

  3. What great insight. Thank you for sharing your story. It helps me to understand my Dad. Fathers do not have to be away, to be distant, but their love is always there.

    1. Now that is a great story! I could not stop reading. I want one copy of the book please! Let me know where to order! Lessons come from many different types of people, places and times! It is like what teachers have to think about! You might tell children something but they really are watching you and what you do!

  4. What an amazing colorful life you have had. Though your dad followed a similar path that many do, I think he left a wake of wisdom for you. It is clear that you understand and know the joy of loving your family.
    This is such a smooth read ( despite typos). Thanks for your story. Love it.

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