Ridgway, Colorado
May 15
A sometimes artist and photographer, sometimes I write too.  


Editor’s Pick
JUNE 18, 2009 6:44PM

A Change In Course

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Andrew Thomas "Tommy" Doyle



At the Del Mar Race Track, just north of San Diego




Last year about this time I posted a Fathers' Day story about my dad. The Pensioners described his love for the ones who worked for him, the ones that provided his living and how he cared for them at the end of their careers.* It was a positive story—an uplifting account that showed a man in his element acting with honor and empathy.





My father as a teenager in Dublin on a winning Gaelic Football Club team in 1932 when he was 16. He's in the front row seated, third from the right.




There was another side. Truth be told, I didn't have much to do with my father as he left my mother and the five of us kids when I was about four or five—and even before that he wasn't around much as he was often on the road dealing with his business. 


My first memory of him was when he wasn't even there—he'd left the house by the time I'd awakened from my nap and made it out to the living room where all the noise was. I was about three as I tottered out and I remember my mother saying to my older brother "Johnny, take the little ones out of the room." She was bleeding from a cut above her eyebrow, one caused by my father's hand when he struck her with a rolled up magazine. It could have been worse I guess, but it was bad enough. They divorced soon after that for reasons never explained though there were whispers later on.


You can see a hint of the aftermath in this recent post about my mother. My father barely got a mention in that post, which is fitting as she raised the five of us by herself. Oh, there was an agreement to pay $150 a month in alimony and another $150 for child support, but it was never consistently delivered. My mother ironed for others and cared for the elderly to make ends meet—or tried to—the ends didn't often meet.


But for all my father's successes down through the years, we never really connected. As a renowned thoroughbred trainer, he was whisked away by the Japanese government, back when the Japanese were buying most of LA, to talk to millionaires and billionaires about thoroughbred blood lines. He was sent to Keeneland to buy yearlings for owners because he was among the best in the world who could judge which horses would turn into winning long distance runners. He trained for J. Paul Getty Jr. and other notables, could speak Gaelic with Sean Connery at a favorite French restaurant, and was known by other Hollywood glitterati.



As an assistant early in his career in California with King's Mistake.






A winner for him in 1955. The horse was Powder Burns at the Del Mar racetrack. He's standing next to the groom in the white hat. My older sister Jennifer is next to him. I would have been three years old then.


One highlight late in his career was the win at Belmont in 1975, the third and longest leg of the Triple Crown. With Bill Shoemaker up, his horse Avatar came in first. 


I was too young to know any better, too young to figure out the way things ought to have been. My life was happy enough aided by a bubble of cognizance surrounding my head and only extending a foot or two outward. I mean, even suffering under the cunning cruelty of nuns and lay teachers at the Catholic school we all attended, it was as a fairly late 10 year old that I figured out there was evil in the world. 


In another week, it will be 20 years since my father's passing—an anniversary that I just realized. I'm happy that he saw our oldest as a baby, though I'm not sure what registered. He died from complications brought on by Alzheimer's, so I'm not positive he knew what I was saying when I told him I loved him. I did, and do, without condition or remorse. I'm happy with my life, and lucky with all of my serendipitous destinations. I'm a very lucky man.


It was at his funeral that I got a surprise. I spoke with the parish priest and asked if there was anything I could do to help with the service. I did one of the scheduled readings and was glad that I could play a part. After the service the priest and I fell into conversation. He was going back to visit his brother who was the parish priest for our Irish family. I told him I didn't understand. He explained that of my fathers seven siblings, there was one left, my aunt Carmel and would I care to send a message to her. 


Well, I was floored. You see, my father married my mother outside of the Church. She was English and Church of England, he was, of course, Catholic. It turns out that he never told his family, his mother and siblings, that there were the three of us that resulted from the union (my older brother and sister were halfs, from my mothers first marriage to an RAF pilot—a war marriage that dissolved when peace came). 


So the Irish family didn't know of us, nor us of them. My father was not one to offer information, nor did we know to ask the right questions. 


I was a bit flustered, but I asked the priest to carry a message to my aunt, to ask if she would like to get a letter from her nephew. I gave him my address and before long got word from him that she was as shocked as I and would welcome learning all about us. She came to visit the next year, with her adult son Kieran who has Down's Syndrome. We've since gone back to visit a couple of times and have kept in touch. My aunt's daughter Audrey is a few years younger than me, but we found that we grew up with the same concerns and issues and similar passions though separated by an ocean and only slightly different cultures.


There were other peccadillos, and certainly could have contributed to the divorce of my parents. Some whispers of bigamy—perhaps just an inattention to the proper paperwork. But there was one whisper of even more than that—he could have been a trigamist. It is probably safe to say he didn't tell the truth, that he was a philanderer. 


This all goes to one reason I retired from my profession when our first child was born. My bride is the business person, and a terrific one as the CEO of a national association, so it was easy enough for me to be the one to make the change. I stayed home and raised our three and took care of hearth and home—an anomaly especially in Dallas in the 80s. But I was able to continue as a cabinetmaker in my small shop, and continued with my own art and demonstrating it to our kids.


I wanted to be a father to my own children—the father I never had.



A few years before my father's death, with one of his pensioners and a couple of foals. You can see in comparison that he was a small man, indeed, before emigrating to the United States, he was a steeplechase jockey in Ireland.


I love you dad, happy Father's Day.




*The Pensioners story was back in the beta days, a good two months or so before OS went public. It's interesting to see that it got 3 positive ratings and a smattering of comments and garnered an EP and cover, but it was a bit easier back then to do that since we had just a few hundred members not the thousands we have today.







Please note: I'm updating this blog with the following unedited e-mail from my brother John. I sent him a link to this story and he wrote back with some thoughts from his perspective. He's a great guy and has always been a terrific brother to me. I wrote about him a while ago on Open Salon about how he saved a life. I think it's interesting that there's a slightly different view—though we were largely in agreement about my father. I hope it adds to the story, without trumping the central message: that love is better, that we are all personally responsible for the choices we make and that we are the sum of our choices.





Yes, happy Father's Day, and a well written story about your Dad and my step-father.


I was a bit older, so saw things through a harsher light. Still, when Tom was around, and as you said sometimes that was seldom after we came to the USA, I saw some good, along with a lot of hard times too.


I think he meant well, but sometimes promised more than he could ever deliver. Like the promised ponies for your half sister Jenny and I. They were supposedly waiting for us in America while we all waited for immigration clearance to follow him to this country. There never where ponies of course, but we believed him and were devastated by the truth - - which he didn't often tell (g).


Then there was the violence and fighting that you touched on. The physical violence didn't rise to bloodshed often, more an open handed slap now and then, and black eyes sometimes. I guess Mom felt trapped, and more, loved Tom. Mostly, at least from my recollection, it didn't happen often, or maybe just not in front of us.


He left Mom for a younger woman named Lisa D_ _ _ _. Lisa was a hostess on one of those early TV shows. A blonde looker for sure, but that affair didn't last long. I remember Mom in her jealousy, trying to snap a picture of Lisa on the TV screen. Probably just as well that all she got was a reflection of the flash bulb.


What did last for many years was the poverty. Mom would sometimes go through the dumpster behind the supermarket for the vegetables they'd thrown out. She worked so hard to make sure we had food in our tummies - - remember all those Velveeta cheese sandwiches? I remember putting cardboard in my shoes to patch holes. Mom would darn our socks and patch the holes in the knees of my jeans - - I think I always had holes in my jeans and in the toes of my tennies.


I made a promise to myself that I would treat my own children better, and though far from being perfect, I know we have both done better by our children than our fathers did by us.


My grandchildren have better fathers yet. Perhaps we're onto something and have started a trend.


For me, I've long ago forgiven my father for deserting me. He too was deserted by his mother after his father died when he was very young. British boarding school was no way to be raised back then, so it's understandable he had no idea of how a father should behave. Still, our parents did the best they could given their life circumstances . . . the war that ended as I was born in 1945, the unimaginable horror of the bombing they lived with in London, were our mother was an ambulance driver. And with the strictness and occasional brutality with which children were traditionally treated back then. Yes, they did the best that we could ever have expected of them.


Happy Fathers Day,






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Oh, WOW, Barry. What a story. What a rich and tangled history. What photos.

I can see you've come to terms with him regardless. Or maybe it's all about coming to terms with ourselves since most parents are the ones who do the most damage to their children, one is forced just to let them go.

Well expressed.
thank you for reading through this VR...not sure what appeal it will have generally, it's not the typical father's day post I guess, but it felt good to get it down.

Harry, I can't count how often you have parsed to the kernel of truth. Thank you too for reading this, for your words.
Barry, this is so full of so many threads. i have read it twice now and will read it again. I echo Verbal on this. WOW.
Life can have some strange twists and turns. I am happy you have come around to realize your father was human. We all are.
this post is just GOOD.
This is a great story.

Funny, I can honestly say that your father played a huge roll in the life of my father. My father played the horses EVERY DAY of his life, until he simply could no longer get to a track or convince one of his friends or children ---by no means the same thing--to take him.

In my day, I ran hundreds of bets for my dad---I wonder how many of them were placed on your dad's horses. I would imagine many.
Barry, nice to see a follow-up post from last year's story about your father! Happy Father's Day to you this Sunday!

By the way your post is the first I've commented on since my high speed internet went down this Sunday. Back online a few minutes ago and here I am!
thank you Mission for your lovely words. Indeed, we are human and still capable of love. The story may seem accusatory on the surface, but it is about love and the choices we confront. I think you picked up on that.

m. a.h, I love it when you stop by. I always knew there was a connection between just needs further definition. Thanks for this last puzzle piece.

John, thanks so much for reading. You've always been a consistent and dedicated friend from the very beginning, and I value your words very much.
You have a great heart, Barry Doyle. To me, all your other talents are lagniappe.

Happy Fathers' Day.
My brother, I would not have wished it any other way for anything else would not have made you the man you are.

A very moving piece. Well tended, and well tendered.

*Gives Barry a big hug*
You are one magnificent human being. Some brilliant person or another said something once about not worrying about the people that aren't in your life because you have plenty to do, worrying about those that are ... seems to me that you figured all of that out a long time ago. Happy Father's Day, Barry. xoxo
It takes wisdom and grace to move beyond the old wounds inflicted by a flawed human being toward genuine love, and forgiveness. Your mother must be very proud of the son she raised. And what a fascinating journey you’ve experienced along the way—so glad you shared it with us through these evocative images and words.

This was a great story and beautifully, lovingly told. Not-quite-fathers still contribute in ways we don't understand when we're young. (And, I can see where you get your looks!)
Happy Father's Day, Barry.
Wow, Barry, your dad sounds like my wife's grandfather. Though a rake, a rambler and a rounder, "Gilly" is celebrated in his infamy. It is too bad you didn't know him any better. That he died before he could really come to know his grandchildren makes him like my own father, in that way.

This is a great story. Thanks for telling it.
wonderful interweaving of your emotions and what happened
This story was stunning in the layers, I could easily see a screenplay about your father.

I'm glad you got to find out about the others in your family. I have absolutely no doubt you children benefitted from you staying home. What a wonderful gift you have given them!
A wonderful story, Barry- your heart must be big as all Texas to write so generously of a father that many would only be bitter about. What a glamorous man he was, and I say that with full attention to the many little uglinesses that often accompany glamour. No wonder you have such an observant photographer's eye.
This story is fascinating, your father must have been very charismatic from what you tell... I love when you say that you are a very lucky man and I remember you have said it before; I am sure you have a lot to do with your good luck, being the extraordinary artist, father and son you are.
walkawayhappy, how poignant your screen name is to me. we are the sum of our choices, and it's what I chose to do, to walk in affirmation and return love for something else that was delivered. thanks for coming by

Lonnie, my consider what other talents I have as freebies compared to what you perceive my heart is...well, I think that's the nicest thing someone has ever said to me. I'm going to tell my bride that she ought to have said that to me instead of an old grizzled hippie, even if you are cute

Thanks Bill, again, I think it's so true that we are the sum of the choices we've made. It's my honor to call you brother.

Aaron, I'd like to hear more about your choices...and yes, there are always compromises. Sometimes great ones. I was never a great "mother" and an ok dad...but the kids turned out fine. I'd hate to think of what they might have been otherwise without the choices we've made. Thank you.

Ann, you're just always too kind to me. I could never approach what you do, your hand on your boys and girl will give us all precious gifts in them.

MandM, thank you so much for coming by, for your words of affection and encouragement.

Ardee, your words are an epiphany to me. "Not-quite-fathers" indeed...what a brilliantly empathic concept. Thank you dear. (and for that other nice thing you said too.)

Thanks marcelle!

Rich, that's so interesting...we are all struggling through the same things trying to make sense of things. My son Colin, the one on the bike for cancer trip right now from Austin to Anchorage was named after my father. His full name is Colin Andrew Thomas Doyle. Yet another tribute of love to my dad. He never knew his grandfather, having just met him when he was only a baby.

Thanks Julie, and for your comment on the post about my mother. Good things can happen to us when we have kindness in our lives.

Thanks Buffy, for your constant affirmations. You in Hawaii? Everything going ok? We want pics now.

Sandra, your kindness knows no limit with me. I'm always amazed at the little truths you reveal. Glamor and ugliness do go hand in hand. Thanks for your love. I'm off to read your post about "Dad."

Muchas gracias, Macela, por todos. Claro, tengo bueno suerte siempre. Besos a ti.
Fascinating stuff, and interesting to see how it shaped your life.
Barry, I hope this does not sound cold, but I wish your dad had displayed as much care toward his children that he displayed to his horses. He missed out on so, so much. Your generous spirit toward him shines like a beacon to the rest of us.
Thanks Growel, I appreciate you reading this.

Steve, we cross posted, I just finished reading yours on Albert. I think you have found an interesting truth here. It's sometimes easier for some to relate to animals in better ways than the people in their lives. It still comes down to making choices for ourselves. I learned the way of affirmation from the lessons of the way of negation. As always, I love it when you stop by friend.
It is interesting to me that your father did, in fact, teach you how to be a father. You took the lesson with grace and not bitterness and that, my friend, is truly a gift.
Fathers and sons rarely come in neat little Lego packages. It's the complex relationships that are most informative.
Barry, this is such a great story. Of course I feel we're related!

I think it's remarkable -- or maybe not? -- how many of us were let down by our folks and yet have managed to be good parents ourselves (knock on wood, Nora's only 19) and still can say we loved our very imperfect parents -- and I do say that.

I said last year I wasn't ready to write my Father's Day post, and I'm still not. But I might change my mind inspired by your story. I have a long plane ride home Saturday night...
Fascinating stuff. You are very forgiving.
A wonderful tribute, the love shines through
What a great, complex memoir, Barry. Just beautiful. I really, really like it--you convey the difficulties of life, relationships, decisions we make... Well done.
I'll add "well done". This is a rich and compassionate remembrance of your Dad. Thanks for sharing his and your story.
A great story Barry! I am so happy you re-posted it. And i think the email from your brother in the last part is important!
He was a really beautiful man...I wish he could have been around more for you...
You are such a wonderful man, so whatever your father's problems, and like so many of our parents, he had plenty --we all can be grateful to him.
What a great piece, Barry. I just loved it. Coming to terms, indeed...still working on that myself!
Barry, this is another great example of how one parent's dysfunction and absence prompted a son to make sure he was nothing like that for his own family. What a fascinating story...the part about finding out about an aunt who then found out about relatives she never knew about...that's stunning! You are a wonderful husband and father and it must be comforting to know that the "sins of the father" have not been passed on to you.
Wow. You are a wonderful father and bring much humanity and understanding for your father.
Your forgiveness speaks volumes.

Your humanity is endless.

Your embrace, pure.
They say that forgiveness is an indispensable condition for growth and I think it must be true. You seem to have not a shred of bitterness for the father who failed you. That you have made it your mission to be everything that your father was not seems obvious.
As always, your kindness and warmth shines through this post. A real winner, Barry.
You figured out how not to pass the bad stuff on. That puts you in a select circle. Happy Father's Day Barry.
The letter from your brother was an interesting addition to your post - mostly because it reveals how much compassion the two of you have.
What amazing photos! this rude to say: I don't know if forgive your father but I commend your brother and you coming to terms with his shortcomings. Perhaps its because I was raised by a single mother (my dad died when I was six) and to think of your mom scrambling through dumpsters breaks my heart a little.

I don't know what the "typical" father's day post will be. I can't imagine it was ice cream and cherries for everyone. I appreciated your balanced look.
You and your brother both sound like amazing people. You are at the heart of a fascinating family. Wonderful post!
And I meant ...if I forgive your father. (Just completed lesson from Mr. Amant on using HTML in posts...still getting the hang of it!)
the email by your brother is a great addition, Thank you for adding it
Barry, what a powerful story. You are always amazing me every time I read one of your posts. It intrigues me to no end how individuals turn out the way they do. I would love to know how you became the human being you are....successful, warm and obviously, loving.
Is Joan Walsh your half sister?!
Is Joan Walsh your half sister?!

Patricia, you never know, but I sure hope not. That would mean my fantasies are seriously messed up.
Barry, your brother's letter was a thoughtful addition here. It's so nice to see how both of you were successful in handling your positions as fathers in such a beneficial way for your families. It's unfortunate that in far too many families the negative ways that fathers can behave are repeated one generation after another by children and grandchildren, etc. This story stands as a vivid example of how a father can be very proactive in a positive way towards his wife and children.
Thanks for re-posting, Barry, I missed this first time around and I haven't caught up on so many of the wonderful earlier posts. Love comes in many guises, as you and your brother have discovered. It seems you've reconciled yourself to your father's failings of you as his children. I like "Johnny's" idea of a new trend in father-ing spinning off from your experience! In today's deficit-focussed society, it's been wonderful to read a post which acknowledges the fact that every experience has something to teach us, even "not-quite-fathers". (Rated.)
Read every word. The letter, too. Wonderful.
Loving someone flawed and accepting those flaws is hard work, yet you write about it with such honesty and emotion that I am (as always) touched. The word and pictures speak truths. Barry, your kid are truly lucky to have you. Wow.
Fascinating post, and so well-written. And the old photos are great.
Wow Barry. Thank you for sharing this story. Not to brag or rub it in, but I truley wish your father (or all fathers) could have been more like mine. I am currently on a 2,500 mile motorcycle trip through Nevada, Idaho, Oregon, and Arizona. 300 to 400 miles a day with beers and reflection in the evenings. Good on you for you and your sibblings for turning out so well.

Happy Fathers Day!
wow, this is so powerful! thank you for sharing your family with us. i grew up in dallas, in the 80s, and i confess that i especially love your posts that kindle a little nostalgia in me.
Very touching story, Barry. I understand how having an absentee dad can make you want better for your own children. Fathers are important.
There's something about the combination of your story and your brother's letter that I find just heartbreaking. Two decent men trying to change history. Kudos to you, and Happy Father's Day.
I'm so proud of you, my friend, so very proud.
This is very powerful. Love, human frailty, and the gift of forgiveness.
Yeah, our Dad's do have a secret life. My own Father is a rambler/gambler/salesman/pitchmeister. Whenever something important happens it ALWAYS comes out of left field because he has kept so much away from his friends and family. I cringe when I see his name pop up on the call display because I know that he is up to no good again and will drag me into the spiral of his latest scheme. I can't help myself, so I try to help him, he is my Dad after all...
Great story Barry, of forgiveness of which I am familiar, but for different reasons.
The contrast of the scene where your mother is bleeding and asking your older brother to take you from the room when you were three and the photo of your father with the winning horse from the same time period is striking and awful. How can a man consider himself a success when he's unable to treat his own family with love and respect? I appreciate the choices that you, and other fathers, have made to break the cycle of abuse and dysfunction. The ripples indeed spread and touch others.

Happy Father's Day, Barry.
I don't know what I can say that hasn't already been said. This is a wonderful story of forgiveness and commitment to being a better father than you had.
Nicely written. I think it's great you made the conscious decision to be there for your kids, to avoid the mistakes of your father.
Amazing story Barry, and I have such admiration for you and your brother for turning a difficult childhood into a determination to be wonderful fathers.
a poignant entanglement, well-written and rated
Barry, I respect you and I know that you have been that father to your children - the one that you did not have. I think they are old enough to appreciate that now.

Happy belated father’s day to you.
A remarkable story -- intriguing and poignant. Your love for your father even after his departure is admirable. Thank you for sharing this.
A reflection of a life that has had the ability to teach in spite of itself. Happy fathers day to you.