Taking The Blinders Off

After separating from my mother in the 1960s, my father grifted around Alcoholics Anonymous meetings with a string of girlfriends in swanky neighborhoods—Manhattan, Palm Springs, Brentwood and Palm Beach. A lawyer, he engaged in non-contractual legal work negotiating contracts for labor unions.

He eventually bought a coal field on a railroad spur south of Terre Haute, a semi-legitimate business with headquarters in Chicago. He registered the business as Great Lakes Coal Company. Loan guarantees from the State of Indiana paid for equipment to strip and haul the coal from the land. Once he had the equipment financed, he had leverage to obtain bank loans for mining operations.

The price of coal dropped in the 1980s, and when he could no longer make a profit, he shut down the company and walked away from his financial responsibility to the State of Indiana. With the help of a La Salle Street lawyer, he concocted a scheme to defraud the banks holding his loans, starting with hiding his assets in a trust.

I was named one of the beneficiaries as well as the trustee.

My father directed me, as the trustee, to stash $500,000 in a Canadian bank he’d found for this purpose and subsequently to invest $250,000 of the stash with his broker. I signed a lot of legal documents, blinding myself to what the consequences of my own actions might be. He bragged to me and his closest friends how he was getting away with cheating his creditors, the State of Indiana and the IRS. Breaking laws came easy to him, doubled down with the aid of a high-powered attorney. I trusted that he’d keep me from legal harm. I secretly feared he’d harm me in other ways, however, if I didn’t go along with his scheme—by cutting me off, not from his money, but from his approval. That fatherly approval seems to have been an ancestral deficiency, masked as love. It has caused permanent fissures in my entire family and led to my own fits and starts in psychotherapy.

He flew to Las Vegas, checked into Caesar’s Palace and pretended to gamble away his money to provide an alibi to bank investigators for why he was broke. Florida th-11homestead laws protected his property from creditors, so he moved from Chicago to a get-away home in Palm Beach where he could live with his new girlfriend and her little boy.

“I’m done with Chicago,” he told me, “I can’t stand living in a town where a ‘queer black man’ is the mayor.” He’d repeat that forcefully to friends over the phone adding, “There’s nothing here for me anymore.”

When Harold Washington was running for mayor I never heard my father express prejudice or bigotry of any kind about him. But he was obsessed with saving face, not from family and friends, but from future marks. So after Washington won the 1983 election, my father used sudden hatred for the Mayor to concoct a dramatic reason to get out of town before the creditors closed in and exposed him. He seemed to embrace his manufactured prejudice. He knew his wealthy friends would nod in solidarity. And they did.

Perhaps that is the genesis of  blustering bigotry—the need to hide from a completely unrelated truth.

Like cheating your creditors.

5 thoughts on “Taking The Blinders Off

  1. He was such a brilliant man with incredible charm, he could have done such good instead he used all his intelligence and sparkle to hurt everyone, especially the ones who loved him most! Such a damn shame!!!

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  2. Your honest story about your father is so refreshing. No coloring it up with psycho babble.. You have told a story of a flawed human being who in the end cheated himself and his family more than anyone. I am sure that what goes around comes around, and in the end he must have paid dearly for all his deeds. He has a daughter who knew right from wrong and the beauty of the story is you loved your father no matter what he was or what he did. Now, that’s the kind of love and loyalty I admire. You did not diminish what he did but was able to love him in spite of it.
    A beautiful story!

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  3. This is the most damning story I have heard from you about your father. Approval is strong; wondering about mine.

    Do you agree with this distinction: Father – a term that recognizes physical (sperm) parentage Dad – a term that recognizes love and support I tend to use Father when referring to mine.

    Llani O’Connor lsaunders1612@me.com 312.952.9379

    Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. – Margaret Mead When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace. – Jimi Hendrix

    >

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    1. This is an abbreviated version of a longer narrative in my book. The publisher wanted more detail on him. I never use Dad. But that’s more a cultural thing. I think of him as “Burke” and my mother as “Agnes” since that’s what everyone else calls them. Neither of them ever really parented.

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