The night that my father died, I had a dream that I was having a verbal arm wrestle with Keith Richards. It didn’t make any sense that my Dad, Kevin James Butler was gone and Keith was hanging out stoned off his gourd. In the dream, I was in Keith’s kitchen, watching him prepare bangers-and-mash. I was like, “Keith, you have such a polluted body! Why on earth are you still alive?”
He shrugged his shoulders in a “you bore me” kind of way, and continued to cook. Cockroach!
My Dad may never have been a Rolling Stone, but he sure did instill the value of a good party. He loved his cigarettes, whiskey, and Guinness. He played his music loud, drove his Corvette fast and sought out taco shacks like he was looking for gold. He was a jock, a hippie, politically well voiced … to the point of being sometimes rowdy! He loved to cook (and man! could he cook) and his guests were always members of the clean plate club. He was handy, mechanical, great at math, incredibly well read. He was macho, crabby and didn’t take no shit. The man was like Rambo. I guess that’s why I found it somewhat incredulous that my Dad would die of lung cancer, less than a year after being diagnosed with this very fuck-you illness.
My Dad did stuff that good Dads do. My parents were great when I was growing up. We went camping, fishing, took road trips, played frisbee and fun games, watched the fireworks on the roof of our house, hung out in the car and pretended to be truck drivers and talked on a CB radio. We made “science projects” like putting a balloon on top of a Coca Cola bottle and watching as the carbonation filled the balloon. Dad taught me about planting a vegetable garden and because of this I loved vegetables from an early age. He took care of me when I had kidney surgery as a toddler. He took care of me when I was 30 years old and broke my ankle. He took care of me when my heart was broken.
The first lesson that I learned from Dad: “Everyone does bad stuff. You either got to be a good liar and never get caught doing something wrong, or just be good all the time. Do what you want, but if I catch you doing something bad, I’m going to punish you, so figure it out.”
I was eight years old and wondered, do I go through life with an Angel or a Devil guiding my path? Perhaps, an instinctive combination is the answer. It sure was his.
I learned this lesson when I was around eight years old and trashed an abandoned house. I made a really cool fort off the back deck. I believe this crime may have foreshadowed that I would later add Prop Stylist to my résumé. I was proud of my home improvement and when I went back home, I excitedly watched as Dad parked his big pick-up truck in the driveway. I couldn’t wait to show and tell him about my rehab.
Let’s just say, my Dad went a little nuts! Plus, I ratted out a friend who helped in the construction and really felt kicked to the curb when I was sent to my bedroom. Another thing, my Dad never liked a tattle tale … he didn’t trust them. I could tell that Dad was like, does my kid eat glue? Did she get in line for the idiot brain? Every good-natured Irish family knows about tom-foolery. We all know when to stop telling the truth. I learned that honesty can ruin lives, crush hearts, and make life even more hell. I learned that if I was stupid enough to do something bad, I better keep the lid on it, unless harm would result from the act.
My Dad was relieved that I fessed up to vandalizing a home, but uncertain why I would think that it was okay.
I’m a terrible, terrible liar. I always smirk, or giggle … a bad poker face! Much to my husband’s chagrin, I do S T R E T C H the truth (which is totally legal). He gets stuck listening to me spin the malarkey and remarks, “Erin, that’s really not how it happened.”
Yes it is, because in my world it’s all better. And my Dad said so!
Lesson # 2. Kevin was the oldest of eight kids. He learned fast that it’s about survival. When groceries were delivered, the boy with the bags was attacked … bananas and bread flying … the kids were battling and on the run with a burger and a bun! So Dad went to work pretty young and instilled in me a great work ethic. Give your work respect and it will respect you back.
He went on the be a successful electrician and was general foreman of several high stress jobs. I can remember watching America’s Most Wanted and he said, ” I work with guys like this … not all of em, but there’s a select few who are criminals.”
So strange. I thought of me going to work … walking into a photo studio smelling of bacon. My work space was warm in the winter, chill in summer. I worked with super cool people, models, dogs and babies. No one was wanted for anything but a hug. Everyone is happy and, how doodle-lee-doo. Most are highly drugged, but regardless, warm and fuzzy!
My Dad started work way too early, walked on the exposed beams of unfinished skyscrapers, and was hit with the worst the elements could throw at him. He took good care of his family and worked like a dog. I was never spoiled, but my Dad took care of me. He made sure that I was safe. He also made sure that I knew nothing is a hand out, so I too started to work very young. Too bad if I was an only child, he wasn’t about to buy me an Izod polo that I would out grow out of in a week.
But he did spoil me in a sweet Daddy way. Lesson # 3, Be nice or leave! Visits for dinner were always a culinary dream. He volunteered at an organic farm and loved playing the role of extreme foodie. He found out about books and music that I liked and would surprise me with a present. When I would leave my parents house, he would have filled my car with gas, give me a hug good-bye, lean into the car and hold up a $50 bill and say, “Look what ya lost in your car! See ya later kid, I love you!”
So much more to say about this great big man …what a character, but now I’ll wipe another tear from my eye, and say, “Right back at ya Dad…you rocked!”
Rest in Peace.