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Glenn William Fillingham (Dad)

 

I've long believed that the best way to honor a man is to remember him as he was, not as we wish he had been. My father was a cauldron of contradictions, forever at battle with the world and himself. An essentially honest and good man, he was tormented by inner demons. He had the most wonderful sense of humor of any person I have ever met, often convulsing his friends and family with laughter! But he also was crippled by an uncontrollable rage that would bubble to the surface with almost no provocation.

A product of an alcoholic father and an irresponsible mother, he spent much of his childhood being shuttled from one foster home to another, where he was mainly exploited as a source of free labor. An intelligent boy of great promise and artistic talent, his lack of patience caused him to drop out of high school, and join the Air Force Strategic Air Command where he served as a Link Trainer Instructor and technician. It was during his enlistment in the Air Force that he married my mother - a woman who could hardly have been more different in background. Her upbringing had been in a stable "Ozzie and Harriet" family, imbued with values of tidiness, cleanliness, and intolerance for imperfection. My dad - not so much. The conflicts were intense. Worse, his anger had started to spill out in the form of physical abuse directed at her, and me. And so the marriage was over within four years.

As far as I know, he never abused anyone ever again after his marriage to my mother was over. After the divorce, he entered a period of depression mixed with a series of briefly-held jobs and a hedonistic parade of women. My dad could be a charmer, with self-acknowledged extraordinary good looks and a greater than ordinary appetite for the ladies.

My fondest memories of my father at this time were of his visitations with me. How I would look forward to them! I would go to bed early the night before, knowing that the sooner I fell asleep, the quicker the next day would arrive, and I could see him again! I would sit by the window, watching and waiting for him to arrive in his always beat-up cars (waiting for hours because he would often forget he had promised to visit me).

He'd take me to the observation deck at Hancock Airport in Syracuse, where we'd watch the jets and turbo-prop planes come and go. Sometimes we would go to Suburban Park - a seedy little amusement park that seemed like Disney World to me. Other times, we'd go fishing in the Seneca river by Bonta Bridge in Weedsport. I still go there when I can, to feel close to him.

This period in his life ended when he met his second wife - Sandy, who seemed better able to maneuver the minefields of his emotions. Further challenges awaited both of them, with the arrival of their daughter, Dyane, who was born with autism and mental retardation.

As time went on, my father's visits became less frequent, to the point where they were sometimes a couple of years apart. Perhaps I represented a painful reminder of an earlier life, or perhaps he simply became too caught up in what was happening in his new one.

Our relationship began to renew itself after I graduated from high school, and joined the Army. I enjoyed visiting with him, Sandy and Dyane during my leaves, and we were growing closer again over time, as he and his family would visit with me and my new wife when they could as I was attending Virginia Tech.

Things were going better for him in other ways too. He became engaged in community service activities, such as contributing to the Fairmount Children's Center fund-raising activities on behalf of autistic children, being member of the Syracuse Men's Garden Club, and its photography branch. He even ran for political office as a Camillus councilman. He was doing well at work, learning the latest Computer-Aided-Design technologies to add to his capabilities as a draftsman.

My father became engrossed with, almost obsessed with genealogical research, some of which can be found in the timelines elsewhere on this site. I often felt that he was searching for some greatness in his family history, or perhaps he was simply trying to understand his place in scheme of things.

Sadly, my father never got the chance to complete his search. He contracted cancer in 1987, and passed away in 1988, at the age of 49 - the same age I am now. When I stood with my wife at his bedside as he exhaled his last breath, I couldn't help but feel that life had mostly been a heavy weight on him that was finally being lifted - that at last the stresses and conflicts dwelling in his great, strong chest were being resolved.

My father gave me much of who I am, for better and worse. I will still break out in laughter recalling some of the things he said and did - especially as he was maturing, and had learned to make fun of his own foibles. I think that if he had time, he might have achieved much with the rest of his life, because he strove, always, to be a better man than he was. And maybe that is the finest complement that can be paid any man.

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