Legacy From My Dad


"TRIBE",  2005,  10" x 25" x 4",  ceramic, wood, steel

"TRIBE", 2005, 10" x 25" x 4", ceramic, wood, steel


Roger Wilson Aten died when he was 51.

He was an alcoholic.  That’s not a great lead-in but true,  none the less..

He was an industrial designer for General Motors and in charge of the Styling Department.   His co-workers gave him an award for  ‘boss of the year’.  That really confused us at home because he was piss-in-his-pants drunk every night.

After all these years of therapy,  reflection,  ‘almost-forgiveness’  and musing-  here’s what I’m left with:

I loved him.

He loved me.   I could tell because he spent hours in is workshop showing me how to use giant power tools,  work with my hands and trust my instincts.  He seldom spoke.   We worked silently together and I learned by osmosis.   In his workshop it smelled like turpentine and wood.   When he was on an extended business trip and I was a child,  I went down there and drank some turpentine.  I got my stomach pumped.  I think I did that because I missed him.

He loved nature.  He built a Sunfish sailboat in the workshop by hand.  Wooden.  Red.
We took it on a trailer up to our summer cottage in Northern Michigan  (which he designed).  He taught us to sail.  We waterskied behind a powerboat he drove.   Mostly he was drunk but we let that slide and played along because he was so happy.  And that was unusual.
We 4 kids caught minnows in a square net early in the morning and he took us fishing.

I think my mother ended up hating him.  She was a bitter thing..  Hated anything corporate and constantly tore him down about GM.   Here he was, trained as an artist and truly a creative being but also knew how to manage people well.   GM gave him alot of money to forgo the active creative part and manage the people doing what he wanted to do.   I sort of became his wife in a way-  I can’t remember any overt sexual abuse but I,  as a sensitive young girl,  could sense what kind of emotional support he needed on his return from work each day; entertaining?,  distracting?,  ego-building?,  soothing?    Mortifying to write that but we must stare our shadows down or they’ll level us..eh?
He was an incredible provider…  We had everything and more.

Except him.

He was gone to us.

I think he drank to fill the empty place left by a cold-hearted woman,  a life spent providing for children he had no idea or interest,  probably, in parenting,  and starving for the connection to his highly creative self.   He died in his sleep.  Of a heart attack they say.   Next to his girlfriend as my parents had finally divorced a couple years earlier.   I think he just had had enough and let go..  I think he died of a broken heart.

At the funeral I sat between my mother and his girlfriend.   My siblings all chose to leave the church because of,  well..pick your reason… I think they made a wiser choice than I…

I stayed and fought to keep my stomach down.   It was over-the-edge family theater.

It’s been 35 years since he died.

This is what I got from my father:

….a true love and connection to nature,  a tendency toward silence,  a trust in my creative abilities and intuitive skills,  knowledge of working with tools large and small,  an upbringing safe from financial concerns,  a love of driving and fast cars,  a love of adventure,  needing long drives alone in open landscapes to clear my energy,  the choice to follow my artistic dreams without question and his unconditional support in this,  the ability to read energy and adjust myself accordingly,  the  questionable attribute of never asking for help,   a tendency to choose men to be in a relationship with who are emotionally removed,  a general distrust of the stability and safety in ANY situation as I’m expecting some weird or horrifying thing to happen,  a general deep weariness in my body and psyche as a result of being on hyper-alert all the time.

Love is complicated.

I am….

 and that is the true gift in the end.


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