2. Daddy

IMGMy father was the enforcer. He hid in the closet until Mother summoned him to lash my butt with his belt. Once or twice a year. Enough to keep me on my toes. Even when all was quiet, he was lurking.

Daddy would whip Sally, too, though less often. Once he went after her with such fury Mother feared he would seriously injure her.

Ulcers ate at Daddy’s stomach, and he was always ready to explode. His own father had been a sharecropper, and when he was young Daddy had worked the farm too. Until he retired, Daddy worked hard, real hard. Still, the only thing I remember about him from my time in Arkansas is the Jewel Tea truck he drove while distributing and selling sundries. In my life, he was a non-entity. Gan-Gan was my de facto father.

Around the time I was born, when Mother took the family to Arkansas, Daddy decided he would divorce Mother as soon as I left home. He decided to wait because he didn’t want people to say about him what they had said about his father: that he left home when his kids were still young. In Daddy’s case, the birth of my sister Mary confined him to another ten years of love-less marriage. As noted previously, I rarely observed any exchange of affection between my parents.

Before he married Mother, Daddy had been married to another woman, but his first wife had died. I think that broke his heart. And maybe he had been worn down years earlier by having to be “the man of the house” after his father left home. As the eldest son of a single mother, and having a bad back, he was excused from serving in the military during World War Two, but the war must have affected him. That event, and the Great Depression that preceded it, traumatized many of his generation, leaving them numb.

As was the case with most of his peers, Daddy was not very good at handling or communicating feelings. Visiting someone in a hospital, for instance, was a traumatic event for him, so he hardly ever did. The only heartfelt feelings he ever expressed to me before I left home consisted of long monologues. I think there may have been three.

Daddy’s father, George Sr., lived in Corpus Christi, and we’d visit him from time to time. When he was sixty or so, he married an emotionally disturbed woman who was thirty or forty years younger than he was. They had a child, who had her own hard time in life.

During our visits with George Sr., Daddy, his father and his siblings would mostly drink and play 42 and Moon, two games played with dominoes. They were very serious about it and played for money, a penny a point.

Daddy was serious about everything. The main lesson he taught me was, “A job’s not worth doing unless it’s worth doing right.”

We’d go over to his mother’s house in Dallas for Thanksgiving and Christmas. His mother was rather strict, and I didn’t particularly enjoy her company. The females would prepare the food and the males would go into the living room and watch football or play 42. I did enjoy my cousin Sonny, who was closer to my age. I also liked my two uncles, Roy and George, who were quite lively.

Daddy worked afternoons and nights seven days a week managing theaters, so I’d only see him during dinnertime. The family would eat while watching the evening news on television. We didn’t talk much.

Daddy and I basically only discussed sports. He never told me anything about sex. But when I was twenty and very involved in the young adult group at the Northaven Methodist Church, one of my best friends, Frank Murray, was an older man who sold beauty supplies. He was gay, but I had little inkling of that. He’d give me a ride home and, when we’d pulled up in front of my house, I’d stay in the car with him awhile, continuing our philosophical conversations.

Mother was worried and told Daddy to warn me about homosexuality. He did so one day while I was riding with him in his car: a ten-minute lecture that mystified me. I knew little about heterosexuality, much less about homosexuality. So I just listened and said something like, “Okay.”

But, with Mother’s concurrence, Daddy did buy me the Vespa motor scooter for my paper route. Without ever complaining, he also paid for the windows I’d break when I’d zoom down the street, throw a bundled paper toward the porch, and hit a window.

During my high school years, Daddy hired me to work at the South Loop Drive-in Theater, which he managed. Though Daddy never cursed at home, he cussed up a storm at work, revealing a hidden side of himself that stunned me. To me the change seemed like Jekyll and Hyde.

Most drive-in theaters were known as hot-beds for adolescent sexual activity, but Daddy was proud of South Loop’s reputation as a “family theater.” One popular feature was a children’s playground in front of the screen. Daddy would walk the back rows of parked cars, snooping on patrons with a flashlight. Whenever he found flagrant sexual behavior, he’d demand that the perpetrators leave. Years later, I deduced that those inspection tours probably gave him a sexual thrill.

Once, he horrified my mother and surely disturbed many of his regular customers by showing And God Created Woman. The movie introduced the world to Brigitte Bardot, the French sexpot known for being photographed nude on the beach. Though the film contained nude shots of Bardot, it was tame by today’s standards. Back at that time in Dallas, however, it was considered to border on pornography.

On another occasion, we were leaving the house and Daddy glanced at a film on television featuring Sophia Loren. He made some comment about her large breasts, which disturbed me. He was definitely a man with a dark side.

After I went to Berkeley, Daddy disapproved of my involvement in the civil rights movement and reduced his financial support because of it. He did this in spite of his increasing income. After I graduated from high school, Associated Popcorn Distributors, Inc. hired him to be Vice President in Charge of Sales. The job involved selling concession supplies to the Astrodome in Houston and to theaters throughout the Southwest. Daddy was a great salesman, so sales boomed and he began to earn big bucks. His crowning achievement was an invitation to join the Dallas Athletic Club, an old, exclusive country club where he played golf. He bought several pieces of land throughout Texas, including the “ranch” in the Hill Country where he ultimately retired.

Over the years, however, the ice between us melted. One turning point was reached when he heard two sermons about racism and the civil rights movement. Those sermons were apparently an epiphany for him. He told me about them and said he had been wrong in his views on civil rights in the past. He didn’t express explicit appreciation for my involvement in the movement, but it seemed to be at least implicit, which was comforting. (But when Mother invited her spiritualist friends over to hear my report on LSD, he fell asleep in his recliner.)

Later, when Mary was in high school, Daddy softened even more. I couldn’t believe how much he loved the family’s poodle, Choo-Choo. He’d sit with that dog in his lap for the longest time.

Daddy was living and working in Houston, and having an affair, when Mary finally graduated from high school. Soon thereafter, with no warning, he mailed Mother the divorce papers, which shocked and devastated her.

Daddy’s new wife, Wilma, was about twenty years younger than he was, and proved herself a loving, compassionate woman by the good care she took of him in his illness-plagued later years. She was good for Daddy and he became noticeably happier.

Despite his heightened mood, however, he still never gave my sisters or me praise for our accomplishments. Occasionally, I’d try to explain my life commitment to community organizing, but I don’t think he ever understood. Once I told him, “I think you should tell Mary you are proud of her.” He never did.

One day I told Wilma, “You know, Daddy has never visited me in San Francisco. I’d really appreciate it if you could get him out there.” A few years later, she and Daddy came together, and we had fun touring around. Wilma kept saying, “Well, anything goes in San Francisco.” She was a serious evangelical Christian, but had a tolerant streak.

One of Wilma’s siblings who had several children got into serious trouble of some sort. In the circumstance, she and Daddy adopted two of the children, who were in grade school at the time. Whenever I visited, I’d notice that Daddy would treat the children like slaves, ordering them around to do this or that. That behavior bothered me, in part because it reminded me of how he had treated me.

As it happened, when his best friend at Popcorn Distributors died, the remaining partners fired him. They later regretted the act, for the company’s business rapidly collapsed without my father around to massage his contacts.

Daddy then made a serious mistake. He invested in a jewelry company that failed when the Texas oil economy tanked. His brother George had to persuade him, in the face of Daddy’s great reluctance, to declare bankruptcy and salvage what assets he could. Thereafter, he was forced to sell most of his properties and squeak by on Social Security. A sad downfall.

Once he visited me in San Francisco for about a week by himself and stayed with me in my apartment. I enjoyed his visit, especially our road trip north to Bend, Oregon, where we spent the night next to a beautiful river. In the city, he seemed thrilled like a young child by the sound of fire, police, and ambulance sirens. Once, while we were walking down the street, a hooker passed in front of us. Daddy crudely lifted his cane horizontal to the ground simulating an erection and made a suggestive comment. I ignored him.

My father’s older sister, Jenny, had been married multiple times and had several children. The last I heard, the children were all still at odds with one another. Daddy’s younger sister married twice and had a troubled second marriage. My father’s two brothers were married a number of times, never had children, and had many health issues. They both died at a fairly young age.

Since neither of my uncles had children, I was the last male on that branch of the family tree. (There was some distant Hudson male who may have kept his branch alive, but we weren’t in touch with him.) Once I asked Uncle George if Daddy was concerned that the family name might die with me. George said he was. But I felt our branch of the tree was profoundly poisoned. I didn’t care to keep it alive.

After I had settled in San Francisco, one of her sons, Sonny, moved to the Bay Area. I visited him and his family once or twice, but he and his family never accepted my invitation to come and see me in San Francisco. Once, my father and I visited them on the peninsula. At one point, out of the blue, Sonny started talking about the shape of my thin lips, which felt creepy.

All in all, it was not a healthy extended family.

In early 1987, Daddy’s youngest sister told me, “Wade, you should go see your father. He really needs you.” She said it in a way that indicated that was all she wanted to say, so I didn’t ask why.

When I arrived at his home outside Harper, Texas, I learned that he was in trouble with the authorities for sexual abuse of the twelve-year-old girl he and Wilma had adopted. After dinner, Wilma went to bed and left us alone to talk. He told me that he’d been accused of fondling the girl and had agreed to go to a certain number of therapy sessions in exchange for having the charges dropped. But now, he said, the authorities were threatening to file charges against him anyway.

During my previous visit to his home, Daddy had been using a large scalp massager to give family members back massages. At the time, I was encouraged to see the interest he had taken in massage and relaxation. But in retrospect, I suspect the scalp massager was a surreptitious sex toy for Daddy that he used with his adopted daughter.

Though Daddy never fully admitted the crime, he left no doubt in my mind that he was guilty. But he was seventy years old and I didn’t want him to go to prison. So the next day I consulted with a friend from high school, Mike Doughty, who was a social worker. He recommended that, because Daddy’s caseworker was on vacation, I talk with the caseworker’s supervisor instead and urge him to honor the agreement Daddy had described. I did so, and the supervisor assured me that the charges would be dropped. Later, they were.

I left Harper with an empty feeling in the pit of my stomach. In my own mind, I basically disowned the Hudson family. I had long ago lost any sense of attachment to them. This discovery was the final straw.

Sometime later, I learned that my father had engaged in similar behavior with my older sister Sally when she was about the same age. When Mother found out about it, she was outraged – though, overtly, she blamed Sally! It must have been because of that incident that she told me she was thinking about divorcing Daddy. No wonder!

Still, I loved my father and continued to visit him occasionally, often with other family members. Daddy and I pretty much talked only about sports and politics. He was basically a right-wing populist. He hated “the Rockefellers” as much as I did.

The last long conversation we had before he died was when Ralph Nader was running for President in 2000. He asked me who I liked. I told him I hoped Nader would get 5% of the vote to qualify the Green Party for federal funding during the next election, since that would give Nader a platform for promoting his ideas. Daddy said he agreed with me. I was thrilled and relieved. Other than our shared disdain for “the Rockefellers,” this was more than we had ever agreed on anything in connection with politics, and he was eighty-eight years old.

In the end, Daddy died a long slow death as a victim of Parkinson’s disease. Over the years, he got more and more stiff. The last time I visited him, he seemed to be frozen solid. Lying with his back to me, he said, “Son, do you ever cry?” I said, “Yes, I do from time to time.” He replied, “Well, so do I.”

After a while, he said, “I feel I was not a very good father.” I answered, “You did the best you could.” I could also have told him that I appreciated his repeated support for my independence, and that I had picked up from him his moral concerns, his interest in politics, and his dedication to hard work.

Prior to the funeral in Dallas, the wife of one of my cousins brought the scalp massager to the house and laid it on the floor by the door, which came across to me as a statement of disgust about Daddy’s sex abuse.

When Uncle George and I were alone in the living room, I asked him if he knew why Daddy and Mother had moved to Arkansas. He didn’t say a word. Instead, he got up and left the room.

Not many people came to the funeral. When I arrived, I sat down next to George, feeling close to him and sympathizing with his loss. He moved away to another seat. I can only guess why. I assume he disapproved of my religion, my politics, and my life style. And he probably thought I had not been a good son.

Since Wilma had warned me not to say too much, I said only a few words at the service. So did Sally and a few other people. Then, with Wilma’s three sons and some other family members, we scattered Daddy’s ashes at a golf course, the field of green where he played out one of his greatest passions.

When I headed back to California, I swore I’d never set foot in Texas again.


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