It all happened after I was awakened from a sound sleep around 30 years ago.
The man on the phone asked if I was related to Charles McBarron.
This was not unusual. Throughout my adult life I had received numerous calls from strangers looking for my grandfather, H. Charles McBarron Jr.
These were “fans” wanting contact with the “dean of American military illustrators,” usually because they had a perplexing question, such as “How many buttons were on a 1913 Navy officer’s uniform?” Or, “Did Army uniforms in the mid 1800’s have fly’s?”
My grandfather actually knew these things.
It was the timing of this call that was unusual. It was around midnight on a weekday.
The man calling wasn’t looking for my grandpa. He was looking for my father, Hugh Charles McBarron III.
He said they were Army Reserve buddies, who met when they served in the 1960s. This made some sense. I can remember my father was gone for short periods when I was little because he was training in places like Fort Benning, Georgia.
It occurred to me the caller might be a little tipsy. Not slurring his words, but definitely melancholy. He asked if I knew where my father could be found.
As nicely as I could, I explained that I wouldn’t be able to help him, as my father and I were not in touch and, in fact, hadn’t seen each other or spoken in many years.
“Oh, that’s too bad,” he said.
Something about the man’s voice made me want to explain, even though, early on, I recognized the conversation was destined to go nowhere.
“Well, it is too bad,” I said. “But it’s been that way since I was 11. He’s been gone from the family for a long time.”
“Well, I’m sure he misses you.”
“Thanks, but I don’t know about that. There are lots of ways to be in touch, but it just hasn’t happened.”
“I know what it’s like. Sometimes it’s just difficult…”
It went on like this for a while. The caller being somber, me trying to cheer him up, telling him the situation was disappointing but I had come to terms with it (a lie, but I thought it would make him feel better).
After a little more back and forth, the awkward silences couldn’t be ignored. In the kindest way I could, I told him it was time to wrap things up.
The caller made one more stab at telling me he was sure my father cared deeply about me and his other children. I thanked him for his kind thoughts and said goodbye.
Sometime later, I had an epiphany that made sense of the caller’s interest in my relationship with my father.
I decided, if he called back, I’d handle it differently.
It never happened.
I always envied my friends who had their fathers for most of their lives, particularly those whose dads were good fathers and husbands.
If you’re fortunate, you find someone willing to share your life, regardless of how growing up without a father screwed you up. If you’re extra lucky, together, you have children who turn out to be great people.
I’m extra lucky.
Happy Father’s Day to those who had a dad, and those who didn’t.