I often think about the humanity of my father

It's always been too easy for me to look at what my father did and not who he was as a person.

I saw how he cheated on my mother with other women during the short time they were together and I saw how that hurt her deeply.  Then I saw his complete abandonment of me and my mom.  It was like we were tossed off a train in the middle of the desert left to die.

Now let me emphasize that I know how much I've been blessed.  I will talk about that, but not now.

But, I never spent a whole lot of time looking at who my dad was as a human being.  There had to be more to who he was as a person.  My mom married him.  She must have seen something in him.

How much did she know him before they were married?  

He had to have some goodness in him.  What about his childhood?  His teen years?  Young adult?  His siblings?  His dad?  His mom?  What were the tipping points that changed him?

I grew up with the fear that I'd be like him and run away from problems.  When life pinched me, I would wonder if I had it in me to run away like my dad.

I'm still here.

Christmas celebrations are made for real families

Our world is made for two parent families, a dad, a mom and kids along with aunts and uncles who have kids and grandparents who are surrounded by their kids and their grandkids.  It's not tooled up to handle single-parent families where there's a mom with kids and no husband or dad.

That was my experience growing up in the near-northern reach of Michigan where the memory of past Christmases is still very clear.  It was a time to be happy, at least for a few minutes.  But, I found that it never lasted.  There was a whole lot of sadness and emptiness.

It might not be too strong to say I hated it when radio stations, the music played over loudspeakers downtown and other places would be Christmas Carols.  It wasn't real.  It wasn't my reality.

My mom felt the full sting of being left alone to raise a sickly kid during the late forties and she had the entire responsibility to make sure that we had something to eat and a roof over our heads.  What part did my aunts and uncles play in helping her?  The church?  Other people?  There are lots of stories that I remember.

What stands out are church and family functions during Christmas.  I may not have had this formed thought in my mind as a kid, but I grew to feel that the Savior came first for real families where both parents were present and then if He had time for the rest of us.  

Aunts and uncles would quite often invite us over for dinner on Christmas Eve and Day.  There were great dinners and lots of laughing and talking.  But I never felt connected to the family chain.  It could have been the times, but my uncles never seemed to want to connect with me.

As I grew I found a doorway to a connection and this was politics.  I became interested in how we as a people governed ourselves through the political process.  They were interested in that too.  So, at age nine and ten, I could raise questions about President Eisenhower and the U.S. Congress and Republicans and Democrats and unions.  There was a connection there for a while and then it would go away for a bit and then come back later.

I was part of one children's Christmas program that I never forgot.  I was in first or second grade at Mount Olive in Bay City and I had a piece or a verse to memorize and recite.  It was John 3:16.  It stuck with me throughout my life and never left.  There was one verse that was seared into my memory and that was it.

My views about Christmas have transitioned quite a bit.  But now I'm part of a real family.  I'm now a grandpa and I'm married.  But I see more clearly the hope that the birth of Jesus ignites.

Growing up in the Banks neighborhood of Bay City

I grew up in a neighborhood called Banks because it's situated right on the Saginaw River which runs out into a bay.  I grew up with boats big and small going right by my house.  There were gravel boats and big foreign ships.  There was a shipbuilder about a half-mile down the river where guided missle destroyers were built.

I can't wait for my grandson Xavier to ask about where I grew up.

It was a world onto itself that had an old rickety bridge as its main doorway.  When bigger boats wanted to pass through,it had to swing its center span open where there was a bridge tender in a neat little house. As a kid, I'd stay on to get a free ride that would disconnect me from both sides.  As I got older, I'd go down there on Sundays during the spring and summer when the bridge would open and close constantly.

Riding the center span provided an escape from the rigors of growing up in a single-parent home in the fifties and sixties.  It also fed my imagination as big freighters and tug boats passed through.

Next to the bridge on the shore were big gravel piles that were replenished on a frequent basis by boats that would come in right in front of our house.  They had big conveyor belts that took the gravel from the boat to the shore.  As a kid, those gravel piles were my imaginary mountains that could be climbed with some risk that the rocks would move and cover you.

On our street, there were two separated little business districts with bars anchoring each end, the Town Tavern and the Last Chance Bar.  They were patronized by neighborhood people and by a regular group of bar flies.

Our neighborhood had a couple of convenience stores, a little restaurant, a city dairy, a fire station, a barber shop and when I was four or five years old,there was a milling company kitty corner from our house that made wooden pallets.  I remember the day that it burned down.

This is the neighborhood where my mom and dad bought a big old house that had to be way over a hundred years old.  My mom talked plenty and with some detail about the circumstances of moving there when I was a baby.

But most of the details went in one ear and out the other.  She talked about such things often.  I'd listen and nod my head and acknowedge what she was saying.  Now I wish I had taken notes.

I feel some pride in being able to say I grew up in Banks.  I'm not sure why.  It was a place where there were no pretensions.  There were no country clubbers where I grew-up and a minimal amount of fanciness.

This is the house where we were living when my dad walked out one day in 1948 and never came back.  He left for a carpentry job and just vanished into thin air.  

It's where I grew up.  I did a whole lot of learning here.  It's where I became a man.  A lot of my personal history took place right there.

What would I say if my grandson asked me about where I got my identity?

What if my eighteen-month-old grandson Xavier called me up on the phone and asked me where I got my identity?  Now he's smart, but he's not quite at the point of asking those deep questions.

But he may very well ask that at some point.  Just who was or is his Grandpa Thorp.  What defined one of the patriarchs of his clan?  What made him tick?  What gave his life purpose?  Where did he find true meaning?  What did he accomplish in his life?  What was he most proud of?  What would he do differently if he had the chance?

I could go the job route.  I got a good chunk of my identity from the various jobs I've held.  I worked as a reporter at a major metropolitan newspaper covering a big neighborhood in a large city.  It was there that I talked to a really big-time mayor, a mob boss and a local minister who became a national political figure.

I spent a chunk of time at a series of smaller newspapers where I covered city council's and township boards right next to another major metropolitan area.  My by-line was in the paper multiple times a week.  I knew lots of people and they knew me.

At our State Capitol, I reported for a chain of small newspapers through a column that was in 40 plus papers every week.  Then I was the pressroom manager for lots of years at the Capitol Building where I served as a conduit between reporters and the legislature.

I could go the family route.  I have really enjoyed being married.  I love having the title husband on my resume.  Doing stuff together, facing life challenges as a couple has been super beyond description. There's a buzz that comes from being part of the synergy of being a couple who love each other.

Then I could tell Xavier about the dad role that I've played for almost 30 years.  I love everything about being a dad.  What tops it?  Nothing, in my opinion?  I can remember every moment when his mom was born and I can remember just about every event of her childhood that I was involved with.  Same for his uncle.  

What about sports and my performance in that arena?  I didn't really play any.  I tried out for Little League once to get a baseball cap, but I didn't make the cut.

For several years, I played a lot of golf with his uncle.  That was fun, pure fun.  We had fun trying to get the ball to go where it didn't want to go.  I wasn't very good at it.  But my grandson's uncle, my son and I, had a grand time.  

I'd put being a father in all caps in resume.  I have a life's worth of fathering memories.  These are pure gold to me.

Next I could point to my various involvements in politics.  I got a big chunk of my identity there.  My political interests gave me at a young age an entry into the world of my uncles.  They would listen to me and I would listen to them.  My involvements in this arena grew.  

I became a page in the state Senate during my high school years and got to know a lot of legislators.

After college, I returned to the legislature and never left.  I retired from there.

There was another title that was part of who I am and that's being a son.

I was a son to my mother and that was important.  She was a vital person in my life.

But the other half of that was always a dark hole.  It was filled a whole lot of nothingness with the exception of bits and pieces of information about the person who contributed to the other half of me.

I always wanted to be the son of a father.  I wanted a dad who could say he loved me and who was proud of me.  That meant more to me than anything at certain times of my life.

It never happened.

That hole was not filled in until I was firmly in my sixties.



Here's a status report on the book I'm writing about being a baby-boomer turned senior citizen


Justin and i pose in front of the U.S. Capitol
This is almost the exact same spot that my son and I posed for a picture more than a decade ago.

 Becoming a senior citizen

I'm writing this for my grandkids and for anybody else who's interested in a story about how a member of the first class of baby-boomers is doing with life as a senior citizen.  

I've been looking over my shoulder at my past and have tried to share what I've learned.  I'm a firm believer that we can learn from each other.

I've written approximately 20,000 words of notes and now is the time for me to start stringing them together in one place and leave them for my grandchildren.  

I have only one, but I assume I'll have more. And I hope to validate others who have had experiences similar to mine.  I hope that I can shed some light and hope.

"So what," you ask?

Why should you be interested in my story and what I've learned and which I'll start sharing in this blog soon?

Some questions

  • Are you the child of a parent who has been derelict in his or her duties?  
  • Are you a single-mom left with kids who are suffering because of an errant father?
  • Are you a retired baby-boomer looking at all the time that has passed and how litte is left?  
  • Are you the sibling of somebody who is suffering horribly from a broken relationship?

My biological father

During the past sixty-years I've let my primary identity be determined by my father who abandoned me and my mom in 1948.  He simply vanished.  

There was no word from him period.  Then I found him when I was in my twenties.  He completely disowned me.  I was left with a ton of anger and no place to put it.

Continue reading "Here's a status report on the book I'm writing about being a baby-boomer turned senior citizen" »

Here's my rough plan for writing my book on how I was affected by my dad's abandonment of me as a baby

Me2 I'm not looking for sympathy in doing this.  I'm just trying to sort out the major parts of my life as I move into my 65th year of life and beyond.  Maybe somebody can learn from reading my story and use it to understand themselves, their kids or somebody they know.  I am a firm believer that we can learn from each other.

That's why I'm trying to write a book about being abandoned by my father when I was 18 months old.  In 1948, he just walked out on my mother and me and never came back.  He vanished and never wrote, called or sent word.  

The experience shaped my childhood and left an indelible imprint on who I am today.  I have some big scars and that's not a bad thing.  They can protect from wounds that never healed completely.

One wound from my background got a new dressing this past week when a half-nephew I never knew I had emailed me and asked me to call him.  His mom was a half-sister who I never met.  He seemed really happy to learn more about his grandfather, my dad.  

How is this all valuable for someone today?

  • Parents today, especially dads, have checked out all over the place.  They are no-shows in their children's lives.  What are the consequences?
  • Baby-boomers who span generations born from 1946 to 1964 have had all kinds of spotty experiences with parents, but, especially dads who have checked out of parenthood and are coping with attitudes and emotions that they don't understand and don't want to talk about.
  • Single-moms dot our landscape and are dealing alone with responsibilities meant for two fully-engaged parents.  They need to understand better how to deal with this.
  • Churches, at least in my experience, have stumbled in helping the fatherless and they need some understanding and direction.

It's time for me to write about my story and what I've learned.  Can my experiences and the lessons from them help somebody else?  If they can then there would be a positive result from being thrown to the curb figuratively by my father.

How am I going to do this?

I need to develop a "Table of Contents" for my book and to do this, I'll use this blog for a brain dump. I'll throw down thoughts, lessons learned and happenings from my personal history with the goal being to share something useful to others.

It may seem disorganized and fragmentary.  But my goal is to pull it all together.

I invite comments throughout this effort.  Can anybody relate to this need?  Anybody have a rugged father experience?  

Stay tuned.  More to come.