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,