My father and I endured a complicated relationship. What I mean by that is: my father was a morose, mean, and spiteful drunk. He was not opposed to physically pushing my mother around when I was a little kid. Toward the end of his days, he was widely known as the town drunk and conspiracy theorist in the last small town where he lived in far Western Montana.
I and two of my sisters were raised by my grandparents due largely to my father’s failings.
My father was, at the same time, one of the most brilliant and humorous people I have ever met. I enjoyed my father in those rarified times when he was sober. My love of jokes and science came from my father’s input. He encouraged inquiry and reading.
By the time my father passed, we were not really talking much. In 1995, my father flew off to Hawaii to undergo a series of hydrogen peroxide treatments to cure the cancer that had him coughing-up blood.
Only his luggage returned to Montana.
Yesterday, I found myself hanging out in the corridor of the East Helena City Hall—a building that was my grade school back in the early 1960s. Dozens of old photographs are displayed on the walls of the corridor there. The photographs either mark some moment of significant history for East Helena or they picture gatherings of various city officials.
As I glanced through some of the photographs I chanced upon a picture from 1961 that stopped me cold. I found my father in the photograph. There he stood: Wayne Hegman (his first name was actually Vincent), Fire Chief for the East Helena Volunteer Fire Department.
I stared for a long time before I captured a picture of the black and white image with my twice-as-smart-as-me-phone. My father is the man in the very upper left corner…seeming both sober and important.