PARTSCH: A silent Saturday of football
Raymond Partsch III
By: RAYMOND PARTSCH III
Roll Tide Roll!
Those were the words I was expecting to hear when I picked up my cell phone on Saturday evening. The gruff voice on the other end being my old man, as die-hard a University of Alabama Crimson Tide fan as they come, loudly expressing how good it felt to beat the hell out of our arch-rival Auburn in the game of hatred known as the Iron Bowl.
Those phone calls from my native Mobile had become commonplace over the years.
I was born in Mobile and born into Crimson Tide fandom. My entire family, with the exception of a few rogue Auburn fans, rooted for Alabama and worshipped legendary head coach Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant. Bryant would guide the Tide to his final two national titles the first two years of my life. There was no way I wasn’t going to be a die-hard Alabama fan.
But there was a time in my life that I stopped loving the Crimson Tide, and looking back now that had everything to do with my old man.
My earliest memories of my old man was that he was this hulking presence. He stood 6-foot-3 and weighed around 250-260 pounds. He had a long pony tail and scruffy beard. To me, he kind of looked like what Sean Connery would look like if he was a bearded ship welder from Alabama.
I remember him working out with his free weights on our deck, and swimming out miles off shore at Dauphin Island, so far out in fact he once got bumped a few times by a curious shark.
He was a brute of a man but also could be caring and charismatic.
But by the time I started kindergarten he began to transform into something else, a full-blown destructive addict. The man who would spend Saturday afternoons in the fall cheering on the Tide and playing in the yard with me had become something unrecognizable, joy had been replaced little by little with apathy and anger.
The pride he took in his profession waned to the point that he would be laid off and then fired from two different jobs. He seemingly gladly accepted receiving an unemployment check, and promptly spent it on booze and hard drugs - at first cocaine, and years later, crack.
With my father deteriorating by the day, my mother began working the brutal 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift at a bakery to keep the family afloat. How she managed to work those hours and still made time to get me ready for school, take care of the house and cook dinner before going to work is a strength that is easy to appreciate but hard to fathom.
As my mother worked, my father was supposed to be taking care of me. His addiction usually took precedent over that, as he would routinely pass out while going over homework with me. He would often leave in the middle of the night to go to the store, and not return for hours, or in a few cases until the next day.
Toward the end of their marriage, my mother simply took me with her to the bakery at night. I did my homework, played and slept in the office at the bakery.
Despite his neglect and behavior, I still loved my father and wanted to see him. My mother recognized that and after their divorce allowed visitation every other weekend.
For a brief time, the divorce seemed to sober my old man up, but it wouldn’t last. My weekends consisted of him scoring drugs after work on Friday night and accompanying him to a rundown and rough bar in Fowl River, where I was given quarters to play arcade games or play pool with the bikers on Saturday nights. If I got sleepy I would just simply go lay down in his truck in the parking lot. More than few times a lady friend of his would return home with us.
Things went bad from worse quickly as he moved in with his drug dealer and close friend. His drug use increased, and so did his erratic behavior. After his friend got busted by law enforcement and ended up in prison, my old man truly went off the rails.
He met and fell in love with a fellow bar patron and hardcore drug user and the two would form quite the toxic union. His visits would become less and less frequent and when I went to him, the stay was unpleasant to say the least. The bed I slept in was sold for drug money, his new wife stole my clothes because we were the same size and the weekends consisted of the two of them arguing, sometimes violently.
The most memorable was a drive back from New Orleans, where my mom and I were living with my new dad (who raised me as his own). The two got in such a heated argument, filled with expletives and threats of killing one another, that my old man decided to drive into oncoming highway traffic to prove that he could kill them both.
He eventually drove into the median and merged into the proper lane of traffic.
I would half-jokingly say for years afterwards that is what he got for marrying an Auburn fan.
Many of these tales I never passed on to my mother, because if I had she wouldn’t had allowed me to go visit ever again. My old man would always tell me before dropping me off to not tell my mom these things. He would often say, “if you tell her you can’t come back to see me.”
Despite all the chaos, I still loved my father and wanted him to change. I even begged him once, inside a Hardee’s in Mississippi, to please stop taking drugs and drinking. He simply told me he couldn’t.
My parents, thankfully, stepped in and made a life-altering decision. They opted to move across the country to central Illinois, knowing good well that my old man wouldn’t travel that far to see me. He could barely make the four-hour trip to Gonzales.
That decision by my parents is one that I am forever grateful for.
The contact I had with my old man became extremely limited after that. I would get a birthday card or Christmas present in the mail, but I knew good and well that my grandmother had bought them, and just had him sign the card.
My grandmother called me on my 17th birthday and then put my old man on the phone. He wished me a happy birthday and asked how did it feel to be 19. Not exactly the birthday greeting one hopes for.
It was during this time that I also abandoned my passion for sports, in particular Alabama football. Looking back now, I associated the Crimson Tide with my old man and that for a considerable time during my teenage years tainted my view of the Tide.
As I lived and thrived with my parents in Illinois, my old man would continue down a path of destruction, nearly killing himself a few times.
There was the time he drove his work truck -- at this point, he worked as a roadside tire repairman -- through a Jr. Food convenience store. Another time, he was on call and had to leave getting high to go repair an 18-wheeler’s flat tire. Because he was high, he missed the tire with his sledge hammer and it bounced off the rim and hit him in his face, breaking his jaw. An inch higher and he would have been killed.
His wife, who my uncles would later tell me, had gunfights with my old man in the house that they shared together, eventually left him broke and unemployed. He tried to drink himself to death, to no avail.
For more than a few years, every time I got a phone call from my grandmother in Mobile, I fully expected her to tell me that my old man had either died in a wreck, overdosed or was killed in a drug deal.
Then one day out of the blue, I got a phone call at my parents’ house. My family had moved back down to Louisiana and it was my grandmother on the other end. Like clockwork, she handed off the phone to my old man but this time the voice on the other end was different.
He was coherent and seemed to be happy. I would discover that he had quit doing drugs, and his drinking habit consisted of Budweiser and the occasional whiskey.
That conversation, and a few lengthy phone calls afterwards and support from my parents, would eventually lead me to move back to Mobile and live with my grandparents, and my old man who had moved in to help take care of his aging folks. After nearly a decade of strained relationship, we got to know one another again. We bonded over old black and white movies, 1970’s hard rock and of course Alabama football. That year I spent with my old man, and with my grandparents is something I am thankful for.
I had thought that year would have buried the heartache of my childhood but something was still gnawing at me. I still had a large chip on my shoulder, one that resulted in more than a few fights in school and a few knock-down arguments with people that I loved over the years.
So one weekend I drove back to Mobile and my old man and I would finally have the talk. The difficult and emotional conversation, which took most of a night outside of a Waffle House, was cathartic for sure. A huge weight was lifted off my shoulders, and that anger and disappointment I had bottled up for so long I was finally able to let go.
In the years that would follow I would see my old man become far more peaceful with himself and the mistakes he had committed in his life. He took care of his parents, working to pay the bills and take care of the house and even feeding them and helping them to the bathroom, once their health had waned.
He once told me that with all the hell he had put them through he thought that it was the least he could do. He even lovingly helped take care of his younger brother’s kids when they came to visit and he had a new love, who moved in and even helped take care of my ailing grandmother.
All the while, he and I would stay in touch. There were occasional visits, there was even a trip to a Alabama game (his first) and him leaving the state of Alabama for the first time since I had lived in Gonzales to attend my wedding. But mainly it would be those phone calls, especially on Saturday nights in the fall.
Three years ago this coming February, I got a phone call early one morning from his girlfriend. She was crying and the words came out -- she couldn’t get him to wake up. At the age of 62 my old man had passed away. There seemed to be a sense of irony in the fact that someone that lived so dangerously for so long, would die peacefully from heart failure in his sleep.
In the years since his death I often think about my old man. I wonder what he would be like with my daughter and if he would be a better grandfather than he was a father.
And of course, I think about him every time the Tide plays.
That’s why, even after all this time, I still picked up a non-ringing phone and hoped to hear Roll Tide Roll! It didn’t happen this past Saturday but one day it will.