Frank Barker came to my attention sometime between 1996 & 1998. My little brother, Jon, was calling me for something else while I was living away from home. He filled me in on the news that Mom was going out with someone – someone special to her. This was a big deal because up until this point to my knowledge, my mother had never dated anyone. Since my parents’ divorce, my mother had devoted herself mostly to her children & her work. For her to be interested would mean that the guy would have to be something special.
Jon was about 16 or 17 & he certainly thought so.
He's cool, Jon said.
He smokes. He's a recovering alcoholic & a drug abuse counselor. He tells really funny stories from like the 60's & get this, Jimmy, he cusses.
In my mother’s house? I thought. Now I knew he had to be something special because of all the anti-smoking lectures we'd gotten as kids. Suspicious & – as most boys are – protective of my mom, I went to meet Frank & find out more about him.
Frank talked. A lot. He made good on Jon's description with the stories. He'd had four ex-wives & been a recovered alcoholic for more than a dozen years. He also loved movies & we immediately found common ground talking about Star Wars, Star Trek and other sci-fi stuff. He'd seen thousands of movies & this was the common date he took my mom out to see the latest summer blockbuster at the Cineplex. Later I found out he made sculptures & abstract paintings. Space ships or time machines or alien creatures often influenced his work.
He had grand ideas about politics & the world. He wanted to go visit Hawaii, but was horribly frightened of flying. So he described a floating bridge constructed of recycled milk cartons that should be built from California. He wrote letters to George Bush saying we shouldn’t waste time & American lives trying to find Taliban terrorists, but should just level the country completely from outer space.
He also told me on many occasions how much my mother talked about me. Without realizing it over a long period of time, he was helping my mother & I become closer again. Whenever he cussed or told dirty jokes my mother’s eyes would just roll & she’d chide him.
Oh, Frank! she'd say, because there was nothing else that she could say. He'd just look at her, smile innocently & say
Later on, I came to find out that he had two children whom he had not seen in the flesh since they were 2 & 3 years old. He didn’t know where they were but still loved them very much. There were other family members he had lost touch with, brothers & sisters. Still, our family would wish him a happy father's day every year with gifts of cards or little found objects to add to his collection. When they were born, he loved my children instantly & started bringing them toys.
One of my favorite Frank-isms – which I don’t think is in the book yet – was
Life's short, eat dessert first. And he certainly did in an almost hedonistic way. Not just in food, though, but in everything Frank did for the time that I knew him; he savored all the good things in life. Though he was in pain & it worsened in later years, Frank smiled & laughed & told jokes & made practical jokes & brought joy & happiness & a welcome addition into our family.
Most importantly, though his past demons in life had separated him from family & friends, he had no bitterness. He used his experiences to help others & fight back from their abyss. He touched so very many lives and put the 'good stuff' first. We are truly blessed to have had him.