I have some very early memories of my dad, Michael. I’ve been told by close family members, that those memories are most likely from when I was between the ages of three and six years old; possibly even earlier.
For the first two years of my life, I lived in Rhode Island. At about age four, we moved to Maryland, so my mom could be closer to her family.
For about four years we lived close to the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, which is located near Leonardtown, Maryland, before we moved back to Rhode Island in August 1984.
My mom and dad had an interesting background. Both were young when they met; somewhere in their early to mid-20’s. Their meeting and follow-on relationship was far from healthy. Both my mom and dad were very immature. They lacked the basic skills needed to have a successful marriage; never mind starting a family and having kids.
From what I’ve been told through several first-hand accounts, my dad was a very intelligent guy. He had a natural gift for science and history. He was cerebral and intellectual. He was also very gifted physically; in fact, he was remarkably handsome and well built.
If one side of the coin was my dad’s giftings of high intelligence, striking handsomeness and robust physique, then the other side of that same coin would be a dark brooding nature that he held deep inside.
There was a depressed and moody side. Honestly, as I’m typing this and thinking back to clearer memories of him, I remember my dad always having a serious look on his face. I can’t remember him ever being a happy guy.
Like I said, he was gifted intellectually and physically. If my dad ever harnessed his full potential, he could have easily been one of the leading minds working at any number of the industrial or technology corporate giants. If he hadn’t wasted his God given talent, my dad could have been a doctor, lawyer, philosopher, a historian, or a professor…there was so much untapped potential.
His intellectual prowess, combined with his chiseled looks, steel blue eyes and strong well-formed build, made him someone who was truly gifted.
Despite all his gifts and talents, my dad wasn’t happy. He lived with a brooding atmosphere of melancholy which surrounded him.
In addition to his temperament and emotional issues, my dad wrestled with alcoholism and drug addiction. I have vivid memories of my dad going into drunken rages.
That dark and depressed climate, which he carried while sober, was magnified when he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
There were the times where I’d see him abuse…wait, actually abuse is almost too generic of a word.
There were times, when I saw my dad flat out beat my mom. His anger could be absolutely terrifying.
Bear in mind, his fits of rage and violence where not a common occurrence, and he didn’t lose emotional control every time he drank.
There were plenty of times, where I can remember when he’d sit back, have a few beers and quietly watch his favorite T.V. shows.
In fact, that was majority of the time.
Strangely, these were actually the good times. He was mellow and relaxed; friendly and engaging. He would have a warm glow and things seemed to be ok.
The times when he would be angry and violent were far between, but when it happened; oh my gosh…I was scared for my life.
During those short six years that my dad was with us, we didn’t have much; in fact, we were dirt poor.
In the four-year season we lived in Maryland, we stayed in a trailer-home, which was located in a trailer park, only a few short miles from the Navy base and my mom’s parents.
We didn’t have a car, so we had to walk everywhere. I don’t even know what my dad did for work or money. If I think back really hard, I can vaguely remember him working some manual labor jobs with a construction company.
One memory of that really stands out: My dad had come home from work with a bloody bandage covering his thumb. The tailgate of a dump truck had slammed down and crushed it. My mom sat with him and prayed that everything would be o.k.
Aside from that one memory, I can’t recall anything particular about what my dad did for work.
What I do remember is us, on numerous occasions, not having enough food to eat and living in a rundown, roach infested trailer. Like I said, we were poor…very poor.
During those early years, I remember my dad had several small run-ins with the law. He had been arrested for minor drug possession charges. In fact, there was a time where he had been in the county jail, and my mom and I went to visit him.
Throughout those four years in Maryland, my dad was gone a lot. He would leave for days at a time; where he went and what he was doing, I’ll never really know.
Looking back, I can only assume that he was involved in some illicit, reckless activity which compounded his irresponsible and immature mentality.
I didn’t have much time to get to know my father. I only have a few pictures of him. I don’t even remember what he sounded like.
Sure, there a few clear memories of spending quality time with him. Simple memories such as him taking me to a local convenience store to get ice cream, or taking me to a fast-food joint for a cheeseburger and fries.
Probably, the most vivid and fondest memories that I have of my dad, is him taking me to the movies. One time we went to watch ‘Star Wars – Return of the Jedi’, and another time we went to see ‘Star Trek – The Search for Spock’.
My dad was a big science fiction buff. Some of my happiest memories of him, was when he’d sit on the couch and watch shows like Star Trek or Battle Star Galactica. One of his other favorite shows was M*A*S*H, a comedy/drama show set in the Korean War era.
Years later, these same shows and movies would end up becoming some of my favorites as well.
I’ll never forget the month that ‘Star Wars – Return of the Jedi’ was released in theaters. A few weeks before the big screen debut, there was a three-hour Star Wars special aired on prime-time T.V.
He made a big deal about it and wanted to make sure he and I watched it together. The night of that Star Wars T.V. special, my dad had all kinds of snacks and refreshments set up for us. During the commercial breaks, he’d tell me all about the characters and their backstory.
I was so excited. It was one of the few moments that I felt like his little buddy.
These are really just a few instances of closeness, in only a small handful of moments that we would share as father and son.
The years, stress and trauma of my journey since his passing, has turned those memories into, what really seems like, fragments of a dream from long ago.
In August 1984, we moved back to Rhode Island. This season in my journey would be where I would spend the last moments with my dad.
Monologue: Later that month he would end his own life…the darkness and pain, which my dad wrestled with for years, would take their final toll.
My dad, Michael John Mattera, would end up choosing to abandon my mom, an unborn son and I, his oldest boy…