FOR a long while, my father’s way of coping was to walk
quietly from the room. He doesn’t remember this. I do. I can still see it, still
feel the pinch in my chest when the word “gay” came up — perhaps in reference to
some event in the news, or perhaps in reference to me — and he’d wordlessly take
his leave of whatever conversation my mother and my siblings and I were having.
He’d drift away, not in disgust but in discomfort, not in a huff but in a
whisper. I saw a lot of his back.
And I was grateful. Discomfort beat rejection. So long as he wasn’t pushing me
away, I didn’t need him to pull me in. Heart-to-hearts weren’t his style,
anyway. With Dad you didn’t discuss longings, anxieties, hurts. You watched
football. You played cards. You went to dinner, you picking the place, him
picking up the check. He always commandeered the check. It was the gesture with
which he communicated everything he had trouble expressing in other ways.
But at some point Dad, like America, changed. I don’t mean he grew weepy, huggy.
I mean he traveled from what seemed to me a pained acquiescence to a different,
happier, better place. He found peace enough with who I am to insist on
introducing my partner, Tom, to his friends at the golf club. Peace enough to
compliment me on articles of mine that use the same three-letter word that once
chased him off. Peace enough to sit down with me over lunch last week and chart
his journey, which I’d never summoned the courage to ask him about before.
It’s been an extraordinary year, probably the most extraordinary yet in this
country’s expanding, deepening embrace of gays and lesbians as citizens of equal
stature, equal worth. For the first time, an American president still in office
stated his belief that two men or two women should be able to marry. For the
first time, voters themselves — not lawmakers, not courts — made same-sex
marriage legal. This happened on Election Day in three states all at once:
Maine, Maryland and Washington. A corner was turned.
And over the quarter-century leading up to it, at a succession of newspapers in
a succession of cities, I interviewed scores of people about the progress we
were making and why. But until last week, I couldn’t bring myself to examine
that subject with the person whose progress has meant the most to me: my dad.
He’s 77. Closing in fast on 78. Hasn’t voted for a Democrat in a presidential
election since Kennedy. Pledged a fraternity in college. Served as an officer in
the Navy. Chose accounting as his profession. Remained married to his high
school sweetheart, my mother, until she died in 1996, just shy of their 40th
anniversary. He still mentions her daily.
She was the freer spirit, and I told her I was gay back in 1981, when I was 17.
She implored me not to tell him — too risky, she said — and to let her handle
it. A few years later, she informed me that she’d done so, and that was that.
Dad said nothing to me. I said nothing to him. When I would come home to
Connecticut from college in North Carolina, he would give me the same kind of
hug he’d always given me: manly, swift, sincere. When I was in graduate school
in New York City, he would swoop into town to take me to the Four Seasons for
I was sure that he’d resolved simply to put what he’d learned about me out of
his mind and pretend it didn’t exist. I was wrong. He was mulling it over,
trying to figure it out.
“It was just so unusual to me,” he recalled, groping for the right word.
He’d heard it said that gay people were somehow stunted, maybe even ill. But
that made no sense to him, because he was confident that I was neither of those
He’d heard it said that peculiar upbringings turned children gay. “I thought
about it a lot,” he said, “and I came to the conclusion that it had to be in
your genes, in you, because I couldn’t think how the environment for you was any
different than it was for your two brothers.”
He said he worried that I was in for a more difficult, less complete life than
they and my sister were. I asked him why he’d never broached that with me. He
said that it would have been an insult — that I was obviously smart enough to
have assessed the terrain and figured out for myself how I was going to navigate
IN the years before Mom died, I had my first long-term relationship, and I could
tell that seeing me coupled, just like my brothers and my sister were, gave him
a new, less abstract way to understand me. I just wanted what they wanted.
He welcomed the man I was with effusively. Took the two of us out to eat.
Then Mom was gone, and all the parenting fell to Dad. He tapped reserves I’d
never imagined in him. When I broke up with the man he’d been so effusive
toward, he must have told me six times how sorry he was about that. It was a
message — that he was rooting for my happiness, no matter how that happiness
came to me.
What he struggled most with, he admitted to me over our lunch, was his worry
about what others would think of me, of him, of our family. His
Italian-immigrant parents had been fanatics about the face a person presented to
the world — the “bella figura,” as Italians say — and when I would write
candidly about my life, as I did on occasion, he’d flinch a bit. Still does.
But he has decided that such writing is necessary. “There’s prejudice out there,
and it’s good to fight that,” he said, adding that visibility and openness are
obviously integral to that battle. “I’m convinced that people who don’t accept
gays just don’t really know any of them.”
He’s increasingly irked at his political party, which he thinks is signing its
own death warrant with its attitude toward gays, toward guns, toward immigrants.
You have to bend to reality. Evolve with the times. Be open-minded. Be fair.
His evolution continues. Same-sex marriage is a tough one for him, as it is,
still, for no small number of Americans. It’s as exotic a proposition as my
being gay once was, a challenge to the way he understood the world and its
traditions for so very long.
But he’s not prepared to say that what two committed men or two committed women
share is anything less than what a man and a woman do. In any case, he noted,
society is moving in only one direction on this front. And he’s O.K. with that.
As our meal ended he asked me — first time ever — if I wanted or planned on
kids. I don’t. He said he was sad that I’d never be a father, because it was an
experience with such deep satisfactions and so much joy.
Grabbing the check for once, I confessed that I’d long felt a measure of guilt
about the extra burden I’d confronted him with, the added struggle.
He shook his head: “I almost think I love you more for it — for being what you
are rather than what was expected of you.”
Stacks of discount-price children’s shoes lined the walls of a
large closet at the Beardsley home in Carmel, Calif., in the 1960s and ’70s —
size after size in three types: oxfords for school, patent-leather dress-ups for
church and tennis shoes for play.
Frank Beardsley, a retired Navy chief warrant officer, had bought them in large
quantity at a naval base store so that he would always be ready to refit his
children’s growing feet.
He had 20 children.
Rather, he and the former Helen North had 20 after merging two very large
families in a second marriage for both, he as a widower and she as a widow.
Their union prompted wide media coverage and inspired a book and two movies
titled “Yours, Mine and Ours,” the first starring Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball.
Mr. Beardsley died on Dec. 11 in Santa Rosa, Calif., his eldest son, Michael,
said. He was 97 and lived in Kenwood, Calif.
Mr. Beardsley was 45 and a father of 10 when he married Helen North, a mother of
8, on Sept. 9, 1961. Reporters and a large crowd flocked to the church in Carmel
for the wedding and later to the courthouse in Salinas, Calif., where each
parent adopted the other’s children. Within three years, the couple had two
The attention did not end. Tour buses stopped outside their home. A bread
company hired the Beardsleys to do a commercial and posted a family photograph
on its trucks. Shortly after their marriage, Mr. and Mrs. Beardsley appeared on
Johnny Carson’s “Tonight” show. (Mr. Carson described their life as “Camp Run
Amok,” one of their sons, Gregory, recalled, adding, “But we were pretty
In 1965, Mrs. Beardsley wrote a book, “Who Gets the Drumstick?” It described
assembly-line sandwich making and dormlike living in a house that had to be
expanded to eight bedrooms and five bathrooms. By then, Mr. Beardsley was
retired from the Navy and had opened a gift shop. The family later owned three
bakeries as well.
Mrs. Beardsley’s book caught the attention of Ms. Ball, whose Desilu Studios
bought the rights and adapted it for film. In 1968 it released “Yours, Mine and
Ours.” At the premiere all 22 members of the Beardsley family joined Ms. Ball on
stage. The characters in the film were also named Beardsley.
A remake starring Dennis Quaid and Rene Russo was released in 2005, to
not-so-favorable reviews by the family. “It’s a cute movie, but I don’t know why
they called it ‘Yours, Mine and Ours,’ because it’s not our story,” Germaine
Robison, one of the 12 daughters, told The Associated Press. Among the changes,
the children were given new names and several were of other ethnicities and
Francis Louis Beardsley was born in San Francisco on Sept. 11, 1915, to Charles
and Mary Grennan Beardsley. He joined the Navy in 1936, rising to chief warrant
officer in a 31-year career.
His first wife, the former Frances Albrecht, died in 1960. A year later, he
married Helen Brandmeir North, who died in 2000. He is survived by his third
wife, the former Dorothy Cushman.
In addition to his sons Michael and Gregory and his daughter Ms. Robison, he is
survived by his other children and stepchildren, some of whom have changed their
last name back to North. They are: Charles, Joseph, Mary and Veronica Beardsley;
Colleen, Janet, Thomas, Nicholas, Gerald and Phillip North; and Rosemary
Richter, Louise Ingram, Susan Pope, Joan Rodewald, Jean Murphy, Teresa Wyble and
Mr. Beardsley is also survived by about 60 grandchildren and about 24
great-grandchildren, Michael Beardsley said.
Gregory Beardsley credited his parents with not overplaying the family’s fame.
“My parents,” he told The Monterey County Herald, “always used to remind us,
‘You’re only 5 percent of the equation, so 5 percent of a celebrity isn’t too
much to brag about.’ ”
June 17, 2011
The New York Times
By CHARLES M. BLOW
Occasionally, without warning, the drunken wreckage of my
father would wash up on our doorstep, late at night, stammering, laughing,
reeking of booze.
Bang! Bang! Bang! Beating on the door, pleading to my mother to open it. “These
my boys just like they is yours!”
He was on his way home from drinking, gambling, philandering, or some
combination thereof, squandering money that we could have used and wasting time
that we desperately needed. Sometimes he was a stone’s throw from our house in
rural northern Louisiana. As a parting gift, he would drop by to bless us with
an incoherent 30 minutes of drunken drivel, crumbs that I hungrily lapped up,
time that would be lost to him in the fog of a hangover by the time day broke.
It was as close as I could get to him, so I took it.
It was the late-1970s. My parents were separated. My mother was now raising a
gaggle of boys on her own. She was a newly minted schoolteacher. He was a
juke-joint musician-turned-construction worker.
He spouted off about what he planned to do for us, buy for us. But the slightest
thing we did or said drew the response, “you jus’ blew it.” In fact, he had no
intention of doing anything. The one man who was supposed to be genetically
programmed to love us, in fact, lacked the understanding of what it truly meant
to love a child — or to hurt one.
To him, this was a harmless game that kept us excited and begging. In fact, it
was a cruel, corrosive deception that subtly and unfairly shifted the onus of
his lack of emotional and financial investment from him to us.
I lost faith in his words and in him. I stopped believing. Stopped begging.
Stopped expecting. I wanted to stop caring, but I couldn’t.
Maybe it was his own complicated relationship to his father and his father’s
family that rendered him cold. Maybe it was the pain and guilt associated with a
life of misfortune. Who knows. Whatever it was, it stole him from us, and
particularly from me.
While my brothers talked ad nauseam about breaking and fixing things, I spent
many of my evenings reading and wondering. My favorite books were a set of
encyclopedias — the greatest single gift of my life — given by my uncle. The
volumes were bound in white leather with red writing on the covers. They allowed
me to explore the world beyond my world, to travel without leaving, to dream
dreams greater than my life would otherwise have supported. I’d pick a volume at
random — G — and off I’d go: gemstones and Ghana, Galileo and gravity. It was
But losing myself in my own mind also meant that I was completely lost to my
He could relate to my brothers’ tactile approaches to the world but not to my
cerebral one. He understood the very real sensation of touching things — the
weight of a good wrench, the tension of a guitar string, the soft hairs on the
nape of a harlot’s neck — more than the ephemeral magic of literature and
So, not understanding me, he simply ignored me — not just emotionally, but
physically as well. Never once did he hug me, never once a pat on the back or a
hand on the shoulder or a tousling of the hair. I was forced to experience him
as a distant form in a heavy fog, forced to nurse a longing that he was neither
equipped nor inclined to satisfy.
My best memories of him were from his episodic attempts at engagement.
During the longest of these episodes, once every month or two, he would come
pick us up and drive us down the interstate to Trucker’s Paradise, a seedy,
smoke-filled, truck stop with gas pumps, a convenience store, a small dining
area and a game room through a door in the back. It had a few video games, a
couple of pinball machines and a pool table. Perfect.
My dad gave each of us a handful of quarters, and we played until they were
gone. He sat up front in the dining area, drinking coffee and being particular
about the restaurant’s measly offerings.
I loved these days. To me, Trucker’s Paradise was paradise. The quarters and the
games were fun but easily forgotten. It was the presence of my father that was
most treasured. But, of course, these trips were short-lived. My father soon
sank back into his sewer of booze and women.
And so it was. Every so often he would make some sort of effort, but every time
it wouldn’t last.
It wasn’t until I was much older that I would find something that I would be
able to cling to as evidence of my father’s love.
When the Commodore 64 personal computer debuted, I convinced myself that I had
to have it even though its price was out of my mother’s range. So I decided to
earn the money myself. I mowed every yard I could find that summer for a few
dollars each, yet it still wasn’t enough. The grass just didn’t grow fast
enough. So my dad agreed to help me raise the rest of the money by driving me to
one of the watermelon farms south of town, loading up his truck with wholesale
melons and driving me around to sell them.
He came for me before daybreak. I climbed into the truck, which was littered
with months-old coffee cups, dirty papers and rusty tools and reeked of cigar
smoke and motor oil. We made small talk, but it didn’t matter. The fact that he
was talking to me was all that mattered. We arrived at the farm, negotiated a
price and fussed over the ones we would take. We loaded them, each one seemingly
heavier than the last, and we were off.
I was a teenager by then, but this was the first time that I had ever spent time
alone with him. It felt great. We drove around a neighboring town all afternoon
selling melons to his friends. I got to see a small slice of his life. People
smiled when he drove up. They made jokes, some at his expense. He smiled and
laughed and repeatedly introduced me as “my boy,” a phrase he relayed with a
palpable sense of pride. We didn’t get back home until it was dark. It was one
of the best days of my life. Small gestures are easily magnified when there is
nothing against which to measure them.
ALTHOUGH he had never told me that he loved me, I would cling to that day as the
greatest evidence of that fact.
He had never intended me any wrong. He just didn’t know how to love me right. He
wasn’t a mean man. I had never once seen him angry. He had never been physically
abusive in any way. His crime and his cruelty was the withholding of affection —
not out of malice but out of indifference.
So I took these random episodes and clung to them like a thing most precious,
squirreling them away for the long stretches of coldness when a warm memory
would prove most useful.
It just goes to show that no matter how estranged the father, no matter how deep
the damage, no matter how shattered the bond, there is still time, still space,
still a need for even the smallest bit of evidence of a father’s love.
June 21, 2009
The New York Times
By DOUG GLANVILLE
Before they closed my father’s casket, I left him with a gift.
After all he had given me, it was the least and best I could do. He passed away
the day I got my 1,000th career hit, in the final game of the 2002 season, so at
his side I left the ball from my milestone.
Besides the surreal and horrifying last moment of seeing him lying in permanent
stasis, it was also the first time I could remember giving him a special game
ball without him slipping a $10 bill into my hands to congratulate me. His
illness kept him out of whatever stadium I was playing in during the latter
years of my career, though that didn’t stop him from patting me on the back from
afar with a phone call or by what I could best describe as a “spiritual moment,”
one when I would feel him sitting on my shoulder advising me while referencing a
page out of his psychiatric repertoire.
I left baseball in 2005, with a Triple-A contract on the table from the San
Diego Padres. I left not for physical reasons — I’d had a torn hamstring tendon
in 2003, but it hadn’t affected my speed — but because it was my season for
change. So I decided to walk away and once I did, like the vast majority of
players, I was lost. It would be the first time since I learned to swing a bat
that I would spend an entire summer without ever putting on a uniform. Even if
you get a going-away party like the one the Phillies gave me on June 25th, 2005,
when I threw out the first pitch of the Philadelphia-Boston game on a national
TV, once the last partygoer walks out the door it’s no longer you against that
fastball, it is you against yourself.
So you swim around trying to figure out what young, retired baseball players do
with their lives. For me, the moment was stark without the guiding wisdom of my
father, who could communicate with me with just a nod of his head.
Since my retirement, I have searched for the next passion that could fill the
void that a life playing baseball creates when you are no longer putting on
those spikes. It is a daunting journey, and many players never find that closure
or that next love. But they keep looking, even if other parts of their lives are
crumbling behind them. Maybe that was part of the problem: searching. I found
myself agreeing when I heard John Locke, the main character on “Lost,” say, “I
found it just like you find anything else, I stopped looking.”
Of course my father could never be replaced, though that didn’t stop me from
trying to find ways to preserve his legacy, his worldview and his work. He was a
practicing psychiatrist, but his passion was writing. He left behind a body of
poetry that guides me now that I can’t ask him how he handled his sons when we
wanted to sleep in our parents’ bed, or what the best course of action would be
in dealing with a difficult business partner, or a racist coach.
(I have always remembered those moments when my father would be spontaneously
inspired to write a poem. He would just walk off and lock in, pen to paper. He
could turn his already phenomenal vocabulary into music. When I found out that
he started writing poetry at age 7, I was amazed. Outside of the original
collection of poetry I have, he left behind two books he published on his own.)
I didn’t stay lost forever. I found something that I wasn’t looking for: a voice
through writing. Only later did I understand that this would be a bridge to
understanding my father in another way. A way that led me to connect to a
passion I didn’t realize we both shared.
Writing introduced me to people who were otherwise strangers and made them
guests at my table. Words can appear to be part of a one-way mirror, but they
are in fact surprisingly reciprocal — a dynamic I’m reminded of when I call upon
my father through his poetry. In this way, my father stays with me. I can
preserve his inspiring legacy more powerfully through writing than through the
hummingbird pendant I wear around my neck to honor his homeland of Trinidad, or
a picture or heirloom.
After my first column, I went as a guest to a friend’s church in Chicago. In the
foyer, a woman who also knew our host was waiting. She asked me whether I had
written that opinion piece on fear, steroids and baseball. I told her I had. She
proceeded to tell me that she taught journalism at Northwestern and that she
thought it was the quintessential opinion piece. I had already known that for me
writing was passion and even therapy, but now I also thought that maybe I’d
found my next profession.
Thankfully, I always knew my father was proud of me — before the major league
debut, before the Ivy-league degree that was unfathomable to a generation of
people who had only recently earned the right to vote. But despite living the
dream of so many Americans and reaching its highest level, I have no doubt that
he would be even prouder of what I am doing with my words. Words that I can
leave for my son to read...one day.
June 21, 2009
The New YorkTimes
By JOHN S. BURNETT
THERE was a water-stained photograph, faded from years of tropical heat, of my
10-year-old son and me as we walked away down the pier toward my sailboat. I had
my arm around his shoulders and his arm was around my waist; there was a lot of
love in that picture. Permanently framed in the boat, the photo captured that
sad moment — the last time I was to see my son for 27 years.
I met him again in a crowded hotel lobby in New York City. We had agreed to
meet, to test the waters. A son was now ready to find out who his father was, a
father wanted to know how his son turned out. I heard a man’s voice behind me
and I knew it was him.
There are no guidebooks on how to prepare for that first awkward meeting. There
is no Web site that will tell a reappearing father what to expect or how to act
when he and his son meet for the first time since his childhood. And what about
those crucial first words? “Hey, son, how are you?” “Long time, no see.” Or:
“I’m sorry, son. It was not your fault.” It is a moment that a father, possibly
defensive, and a son, probably resentful, have played out in their minds for
years. We had to tread carefully.
There are millions of absent fathers; there are at least that many children out
there who are wondering who their fathers are. Barack Obama recalled in “Dreams
From My Father” that when he was small, his father just vanished. “It was into
my father’s image ... that I’d packed all the attributes I sought in myself,” he
wrote. When Mr. Obama was told that his father had died, he said, “I felt no
pain, only the vague sense of an opportunity lost.”
My son was not going to miss his opportunity. I had tried to make contact a few
years earlier but it was not the right time. His best friend had just lost his
brother to a roadside bomb in Iraq. But the hours he spent helping his friend
try to make sense of what had happened got him to thinking. “I realized it can
all end so suddenly,” he told me later. “There were some things I realized I
wanted to get done and one of them was to know who my father was.” That death
and my previous unanswered attempt to make contact were the forces that caused
him to make his own move. He greeted me with a firm handshake and a strong
voice. But it was not until later that I recognized him as my onetime
So that first evening, we met as strangers. Our wives were present, necessary
buttresses for this delicate moment. He spoke first: “I recognize you from the
“Yeah, like a beacon in a fog-bound channel,” I said.
He had once seen me on CNN in a hotel in India and thought, “Jeez, that’s my
father.” But he had already known I existed, for his mother often said, in a fit
of pique I would imagine, “You’re just like your father!” The first he knew I
was still among the living was when he noticed a book with my name on it on a
table in Barnes & Noble, and he wondered if the author was his old man. He saw
the photo on the jacket and he knew. When he read a reference to himself in the
book it was then that he realized that he had never been forgotten.
The evening was strained but friendly enough that we agreed to meet again the
next day in Central Park. Our wives walked behind us as he and I spoke about his
work, about mine. His wife said, “Look, they even walk the same way,” and indeed
I am told our mannerisms, the way we move our hands when we speak, even our
voices are similar.
“Why did you leave?” he asked me suddenly, a question I had expected, but still
had some trouble answering. I had come from a dysfunctional family, exiled to
boarding schools at a punishingly early age, and instead of going to college, I
bolted down to the Brooklyn docks and signed on a merchant ship. I had not been
groomed to know much about the obligations of a dad. As Mr. Obama has said,
fathers often “abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of
“I thought of myself as a seaman,” I said. “It was not your mother and it was
not you, I just had no sense of responsibility. I just dropped out, sailed away.
I’m sorry... You must still be very angry, have a lot of resentment.”
“I got over that years ago,” he said. “Maybe some resentment. You know I don’t
need a father now, something I didn’t have; I only wanted to know who you were.”
Late at night in the apartment of my sister, whom he had also not seen since he
was a child, he asked other questions. About other marriages, about other
children, and I bared all. There was no reason to lie, no reason to hold back. I
wanted him to judge me. His condemnation would free me of my new
responsibilities. His forgiveness might allow me to try to become the father I
never was. It was his call. After my wife had gone to bed, I answered all his
questions, in detail. Indeed, he and his wife now know more about me than my own
wife, more than any living person. And my son was, on that night, still a
There must be so many absent fathers, burdened with guilt, regret, defiance and
defensiveness, who like me wonder who their sons are now that they are grown
men. And if they consider making that first move, they surely speculate about
that first meeting: could it be anything but confrontation, his anger, his
sorrow, his pain? These things do not always turn out well.
It is too late to pick up where we left off so many years ago and I certainly
won’t make the mistake of now acting like a dad. But there is a chance we might
at least become friends, even one day feel the love we had for each other when
he was a little boy. The relationship is still fragile but we are in contact; I
think that we will slowly, cautiously build something lasting. There is some
hope. On our last evening together, just before I had to return to Europe, we
faced each other awkwardly and then hugged. Not a hail-fellow-well-met hug, but
a serious bloodline hug, and I felt for the first time in 27 years something I
had forgotten existed.
It looks as if my boy turned out O.K. The credit goes to his mom. He is a sort
of a geek working on fiber-optic technology. He’s a good-looking kid and I
admire him not only for what he has overcome and become without the benefit of a
father, but also for his courage to contact his grateful dad.
LATE last year, while resting in my hotel room on a business trip to India, I
saw my father being interviewed on CNN International; this was the first time I
had seen him or heard his voice in 27 years.
The coincidence intrigued me enough to attempt to contact him and after I
returned to the States, I spent the next few days trying various combinations of
e-mail addresses until I finally hit upon the right one, and received a
response. Before I knew it, we had set a date in February to meet. I was about
to find myself face to face with a man who was more influential in his absence
than he could have been in his presence.
My mother struggled to raise my younger brother and me on her own; in one way or
another we always got by without our father. We had what we needed. We went to
great schools. We spent the summers with our grandparents. We were good
children, relatively speaking. My mother always let me think I was the man of
the house, but everyone else knew differently. When I was asked by a guest if I
was the “man of the house” my brother piped up and said, “The man of this house
is a woman.” She was and she was all we had, and my brother and I knew it. And
though she did what she could to make up for the absence of a father, for me,
the absence was inescapable.
As a child, I waited for my father to contact me; as a teenager, I realized it
wasn’t going to happen. So as an adult I wanted closure. I wasn’t interested in
retribution or making him feel sorry for leaving because somehow I knew he
wasn’t sorry at all.
I knew as well that I was not in search of a “Father” or seeking advice or
absolution. I surely didn’t expect him to fall to his knees and beg for
forgiveness at the sight of his long-slighted son. Nor did I expect him to act
any differently than he did.
As the date for our meeting neared, I tried to remember the endless list of
questions that, as a boy, I promised myself I would ask him if I ever had the
chance. But the truth was that the answers to these questions weren’t important
to me anymore. I had either answered them for myself or asked them of others.
I realized, though, that I wanted to find the man — not the mythical figure my
father had become over the years. I had heard so many fantastic stories and I
didn’t know what to believe: tales of sailing solo across oceans, thwarting a
band of pirates aboard his small boat in the Strait of Malacca, doing relief
work in Somalia, writing a screenplay for David Bowie. I needed to know who this
guy really was.
We met in a hotel lobby. After we dispatched with the initial pleasantries, we
headed straight for the bar. Over drinks and dinner, we nervously chatted about
the past 27 years. The conversation focused on the superficial similarities that
a father and son might share. Still, the mundane chitchat, which most fathers
and sons must take for granted, was, in hindsight, what I really wanted.
And so it went for the weekend. I asked questions, he answered. I listened to
him talk about previous marriages and relationships, other children he’d
fathered, his feelings for my mother — things he wasn’t very comfortable talking
about. I began to see the mythical character as a man. I learned that he is as
fragile as he was powerful in a young son’s eyes. Toward the end he asked if I
would call him Dad; I cannot. But now that I know more about him, we can move
I am still digesting our reunion and will be for quite some time. While he is no
longer this mythical figure in my life, he is who he is and I am who I am,
partly because of his absence. Already, though, I feel relieved and free to move
I have always wanted to be a father and a husband. I want to be there for those
who count on me and I want to be counted on. I have made a good life for myself
in the suburbs of Washington. I am married and still very close to my brother
and our mother. While I am hopeful that my new relationship with my father is a
lasting one, I learned the closure that I needed comes from relationships that I
had all along.
June 17, 2009
Filed at 4:31 a.m. ET
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The New York Times
NEWTON, Iowa (AP) -- When a mysterious visitor showed up last
fall at Jerry Damman's Iowa farm, there wasn't any reason for him to suspect it
was the toddler son who long ago vanished from a stroller in front of a New York
After all, five decades of silence have passed, each of them bringing no new
leads about the fate of his blond 2-year-old boy, Stephen.
Damman's wife directed the man to a neighboring farm where her husband was
working, but the man never showed up to speak with him. The couple dismissed the
visit at the time. Damman now wonders if that visitor could have been his son, a
grown man from Michigan who recently told the FBI that he was the missing child
taken so many years ago.
''It's just one of those things, you know. Nothing's happened all those years,''
the 78-year-old Damman said Tuesday. ''You don't figure it's going to now, but
maybe it did.''
The man's identity hasn't been released, but an official familiar with the
investigation said he believes he never fit in with the family in which he grew
up and began researching missing persons cases around the nation. That's how the
man learned of the Damman case, said the official, who spoke on condition of
anonymity because the claim was still under investigation.
Nassau County Police Lt. Kevin Smith said the case was referred to the FBI in
Detroit and authorities are awaiting DNA results to determine if the man's claim
''To a certain extent, this would probably close it,'' said Damman. ''Just like
a death gives you closure, you know sometimes, it will give you closure to know
Jerry Damman and his wife, Charlotte -- who is not Stephen Damman's mother --
said they've often thought back to the stranger's visit to their farm and his
decision not to identify himself. The missing child's sister also got a visit
from the same man, they said. ''She looked at this guy, and he looked like
Jerry,'' Charlotte Damman said.
Investigators learned that the Michigan man reached out to the woman he believed
to be his sister, Smith said, and that the two conducted a private DNA test that
found they could be related. The FBI is conducting its own tests, Smith said.
''He came all the way down from Michigan,'' Jerry Damman said. ''I don't know if
he was kind of timid about it. He probably was.''
Damman said he has tried to call the man twice since a report of his claim was
published Tuesday in the New York Daily News. Jerry and the missing child's
mother divorced a few years after their son's kidnapping. His ex-wife could not
be located to talk about the case.
Jerry Damman was working at Mitchell Air Force Base on Long Island when his son
disappeared. His wife, Marilyn, left Stephen and 7-month-old daughter, Pamela,
waiting outside a bakery while she went inside to shop on Oct. 31, 1955,
according to Smith and news accounts from 1955.
''Back in that time, it was probably not that uncommon to do something like
that,'' Smith said.
After 10 minutes, Marilyn came out of the bakery but could not find the stroller
or her children, authorities said. The stroller, with only her daughter inside,
was found around the corner from the market a short time later, authorities
More than 2,000 people searched for 28 hours without finding Stephen. The
county's assistant chief inspector, Leslie W. Pearsall, called off the search,
saying that the boy's disappearance had become ''a case for detectives only,''
according to 1955 story in The New York Times.
The family received a ransom note in mid-November, according to an Associated
Press account. Stephen's parents also made a public plea to the kidnappers at
the time, saying Stephen suffered from anemia and asking that he receive
medicine that included vitamins, aspirin and a tonic, the Times reported.
Today, the spot where Stephen was taken is a Waldbaum's supermarket at a busy
strip-mall intersection. The report has stunned residents old enough to remember
the futile search for the toddler.
Joan Bookbinder, 81, was a few years older than Damman's mother in 1955. She
said it was common at that time to leave babies outside in their carriages while
''They would all be lined up outside the supermarket,'' Bookbinder said while
standing outside the market. ''We never worried. We never thought about it.''
Everything changed after the toddler was kidnapped.
''We never left the carriages outside again,'' she said. ''All I remember is the
fear amongst the mothers.''
Associated Press writers Frank Eltman and Amy Westfeldt
in New York and Nigel
Duara in Iowa
and AP researcher Susan James contributed to this report.
February 13, 2009
Filed at 12:32 p.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
LONDON (AP) -- A 13-year-old boy pictured in a British tabloid
cradling an infant is reportedly one of the country's youngest-known fathers.
Baby-faced and only 4 feet (1.22 meters) tall, the boy, Alfie, was just 12 when
he impregnated Chantelle, now 15, The Sun said. Shown in a video posted Friday
to the tabloid's Web site, Alfie looks more like he's 8 -- not 13 -- as he takes
the newborn girl in his arms.
Asked what he would do to support the child financially, Alfie asks in a
high-pitched voice, ''What does financially mean?''
The girl was reportedly taking birth control pills but missed one, the newspaper
reported. Friends and relatives left the family home near Eastbourne, about 70
miles (110 kilometers) southeast of London, without speaking to reporters
waiting outside Friday. The teenagers could not immediately be contacted.
The Sun did not say whether any tests were conducted to prove the boy's
Police and child services in Eastbourne, in southeast England, said in a
statement that they were ''aware of a 14-year-old girl that had become pregnant
as the result of a relationship with a 12-year-old boy,'' adding that they were
offering support to both young people.
Alfie's front page picture has sparked renewed debate about teen pregnancy in
Britain. The country has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in Europe, and
government figures show that about 39,000 girls under age 18 became pregnant in
2006. More than 7,000 of those girls were younger than 16.
''I don't know the individual details of the case, but of course I think all of
us would want to avoid teenage pregnancies,'' Prime Minister Gordon Brown said
Britain had 27 births per 1,000 women aged 15-19 between 2000 and 2005,
according to a report published by Population Action International. Comparable
figures are 10 per 1,000 for Spain, 8 in 1,000 for France, and 5 in 1,000 for
Britain's teen pregnancy rate, however, is still far below that of the United
States, which registers 44 births per 1,000 women aged 15-19 and are more line
with English-speaking countries such as Australia and New Zealand, which have 17
and 27 births per 1,000 women between 15 and 19, according to the report.
In a controversial move last year to tackle the high teen pregnancy rates,
British education officials announced they would start introducing sex education
earlier in English schools. Beginning next year, children as young as
kindergarten age will be given basic sex education.
Local lawmaker Nigel Waterson called the situation ''a very sad story which will
have a huge impact on both the parents and the child,'' adding that it raised
''huge questions'' about the sexualization of children in British society and
the effectiveness of the country's sex education.
The Sun said Chantelle gave birth Monday and that the newborn and her mother
were released from the hospital Thursday.
In its profile, The Sun described Alfie as a boy whose voice has not broken yet
and likes things boys usually like -- computer games and soccer.
''I thought it would be good to have a baby. I didn't really think about how we
would afford it,'' The Sun quoted Alfie as saying. ''I don't really get pocket
money. My dad sometimes gives me 10 pounds (about $15).''
Alfie's father, Dennis -- who reportedly has nine children -- said his son told
him it was the first time he had sex. He was reportedly allowed to sleep over at
the girl's house.
''It hasn't really dawned on him,'' Patten, 45, was quoted as saying in The Sun.
''I will talk to him again and it will be the birds and bees talk,'' he said.
''Some may say it's too late but he needs to understand so there is not another
Britain's youngest-known father was said to be a 12-year-old boy in a suburb
north of London who impregnated a young neighbor in 1998.
Boys can usually impregnate a girl when they reach puberty, which is normally
between the ages of 9 and 13.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- A father says he wasn't trying to
shame his 14-year-old son when he made the boy wear a large sandwich-board sign
saying, ''I abused and sold drugs.''
''I'm not out here doing this to humiliate my son,'' the father told WATE-TV as
the teenager walked up and down the sidewalk Wednesday in front of Cedar Bluff
''I'm doing this because I love him,'' he said. ''We do have an extreme drug
problem in America, and maybe it's time for extreme measures that parents need
to take to monitor this problem that we have.''
The man wasn't identified by the station to protect the confidentiality of the
son, but he appeared on camera. The son's face was not shown.
The father said he recently learned after reading the boy's MySpace page that
his son was involved with marijuana and OxyContin. That's when he decided to
act, and the boy agreed to the punishment.
After a short time, the school's principal soon came out and asked the father to
call it off, which he did.
By then the boy said he'd learned his lesson. ''This is embarrassing. I ain't
going to be doing it again,'' the boy said. ''Drugs are for losers. That's all I
Jane Wyatt, who reigned as America’s
ideal suburban mom during the 1950’s when she starred with Robert Young in the
television sitcom “Father Knows Best” and who nearly lured Ronald Colman away
from diplomacy and into a lamasery in Frank Capra’s 1937 film “Lost Horizon,”
died on Friday at her home in Bel Air, Calif. She was 95.
Her death was confirmed by her publicist Meg McDonald, The Associated Press
A petite, attractive brunette, Ms. Wyatt found it hard to avoid being typecast
and wound up playing quite a few of what she described as “good wives of good
men,” though she confessed she would have been happier “playing the murderer or
the heavy.” She did get to play a few offbeat roles on stage and screen. In
Philip Barry’s wryly titled play “The Joyous Season” (1934), she was a moody
member of a family seething with petty feuds. As the wife of an attorney (Dana
Andrews) in the 1947 film “Boomerang,” she became embroiled in the corruption
surrounding a notorious murder. And in Lillian Hellman’s “Autumn Garden,” on
Broadway in 1951, she was married to an indolent drifter (Fredric March) for
whom she felt nothing but contempt.
For the most part, however, as she shuttled between Hollywood and Broadway, she
was called upon to be loyal, loving and courageous. In “None but the Lonely
Heart,” a 1944 film starring Cary Grant and Ethel Barrymore, she was an adoring
musician who pined for an indifferent Grant. She was cast as a courageous nurse
in “Canadian Pacific” (1949); as the faithful, supportive wife of a naval airman
(Gary Cooper) in “Task Force” (1949); and as a happily married (to David Wayne)
mother of five in “My Blue Heaven” (1950).
Her Broadway credits included “Night Music” (1940), by Clifford Odets, a Group
Theater production directed by Harold Clurman, in which she played a young woman
who finds the love of her life in New York; and “Hope for the Best” (1945), by
William McCleery, with Ms. Wyatt as a factory worker who helps a popular
columnist (Franchot Tone) see the light of liberalism.
Jane Waddington Wyatt was born on Aug. 12, 1911, in Campgaw, N.J., into a family
of distinguished lineage and grew up in New York City. Her father was an
investment banker, her mother a writer for Commonweal and other publications.
She attended the Chapin School and studied at Barnard College for two years
before joining the apprentice school at the Berkshire Playhouse in Stockbridge,
Mass. Back in New York she found work as an understudy in a Broadway show, and
her name was removed from the New York Social Register. Clearly, the wicked
stage was no place for proper young ladies.
Not daunted, she continued to audition and soon made her Broadway debut in 1931
in A. A. Milne’s “Give Me Yesterday,” as the daughter of an ambitious British
politician (Louis Calhern). She achieved a breakthrough of sorts in 1933 when
she succeeded Margaret Sullavan in “Dinner at Eight,” the hit comedy by George
S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber, and then toured in the show, leading to a contract
offer from Universal and her Hollywood debut in “One More River” (1934), based
on John Galsworthy’s last novel.
Ms. Wyatt said at one point that her favorite film role had been in “Task
Force,” opposite Gary Cooper, but she is probably best remembered for her work
in “Lost Horizon,” based on the novel by James Hilton and directed by Frank
Capra. Most of the film’s action takes place in Tibet in a fabled region called
Shangri-La, ruled by an ancient High Lama. A plane crash brings a small group of
Westerners led by a British diplomat Bob Conway (Ronald Colman) to the lamasery.
There, Colman meets and is entranced by Sondra (Ms. Wyatt), an attractive young
woman who has grown up in Shangri-La. The High Lama is looking for a successor,
Sondra is looking for love, and the Colman character must choose whether to stay
or return to the war-torn world beyond the mountains. Critics agreed that Ms.
Wyatt was luminous in the role.
Ms. Wyatt had already made a number of appearances in television dramas before
she joined the cast of “Father Knows Best” in 1954. The show followed the lives
of the Anderson family in the Midwestern town of Springfield, with Robert Young
as Jim Anderson, Ms. Wyatt as his wife, Margaret, and their three children, two
of them teenagers. Family crises arose — a son’s first dance, a daughter’s first
crush — and were firmly but lovingly resolved. When CBS dropped the show in 1955
there were so many protests from viewers that NBC was persuaded to pick it up.
“Father Knows Best” returned to CBS for the 1959-1960 season, its final run of
new episodes. The show brought Ms. Wyatt three Emmy Awards. In 1977 she returned
to the role, this time as a grandmother, in two made-for-television movies, “The
Father Knows Best Reunion” and “Father Knows Best: Home for Christmas.”
Ms. Wyatt married Edgar Bethune Ward in 1935. He died in 2000. She is survived
by their two sons, Christopher Ward of Piedmont, Calif., and Michael Ward of Los
Angeles; three grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
One of her more offbeat television parts was that of Amanda, the human mother of
Mr. Spock, the pointy-eared Vulcan member of the “Star Trek” crew of space
voyagers in the late 1960’s. She reprised the role in the 1986 film, “Star Trek
IV: The Voyage Home.”