If you get thru this without both weeping and 'nothing to say' you may have no
idea of 'the human condition'.
June 19, 2009 Los Angeles Times
My dad saved me, and I killed him
After an injury at birth, my father's passion and perseverance guaranteed that
I walked and played sports. But my last memory of him is a mixture of love and
By Richard Farrell
I killed my dad. I didn't blow him away with a gun. Instead, I let him die. I
pulled a kitchen chair up next to him and watched him struggle to breathe on
the floor. The skin on his face turned a reddish-purple. His neck took on a
bluish tint. Both his hands clutched tightly at his chest. And suddenly, the
white in his eyes became spider-web etched, in blood-red lines.
Why did I do it? It's complicated.
I loved the son of a bitch more than anything on the planet.
You see, 28 years earlier, I was born a cripple. A breech birth, feet first, my
head stuck in the birth canal. By my first birthday, I couldn't crawl, stand or
walk. My right arm and hand awkwardly clung to my torso. At first, the doctors
told my dad I would never walk or run normally because the muscles in my right
leg and arm would continue to atrophy.
When I was 3, Dad brought me to Children's Hospital in Boston
for answers. They told him I had cerebral palsy. A loss of oxygen to my brain
had destroyed brain signals to the right side of my body. The doctors
recommended that I attend private schools. They gave him a long list of places
that could better care for cripples like me, and they prescribed a full-length
removable leg cast to wear at bedtime.
He refused to listen. No son of his was going to be a
cripple. He found a doctor who instructed him in how he could take the place of
my injured brain. Every morning before breakfast and every evening before bed,
my dad placed me on the bedroom floor to exercise my right leg. The muscles
were shrunken and twisted together. His job was to craft them straight, at any
cost. Back and forth, up and down, my dad pushed and pulled the muscles into
shape. He stretched them until the heel of my right foot evenly matched up to
the heel of the left foot.
My Aunt Helen told me the process was almost unbearable to
witness. She said the sounds of me screaming soured her stomach. I was too
young; I don't remember the pain. But my mother said my dad would cry. He
couldn't look into my eyes. His tears made wet stains on my T-shirt.
But my dad's exercise of passion didn't stop there. For my
13th birthday, he threw me a special party. First, we ate my favorite peanut
butter cake. Then he allowed me to open every present but a large box neatly
trimmed in colorful birthday-balloon wrapping paper. When everybody was gone,
he marched me into the basement to open the box.
It was a set of boxing gloves. We put them on. My dad
proceeded to beat me unmercifully. Each time I tried to get up, leather kissed
my nose, eyes and jaw. Blood ran into my mouth from the spot where my front
teeth punctured my bottom lip. I begged him to stop. Instead he carefully,
systematically picked a target, never once missing his bull's-eye.
Hysterical, I collapsed in his arms. He cradled me, rocking
back and forth. Dad said, "I'd cut off my right arm if that would make you
whole." I couldn't talk. He said he beat me to get me ready for the world. Told
me I was a man now and things would be extra tough for me.
That same year, he caught me hitchhiking, duct-taped me to a
kitchen chair and turned on Mom's electric carving knife. He never touched me
with it, just held it close to my ears. It was for my own good, he said. I
needed to know what would happen if a "bad man" picked me up.
Ironically, it was also easy for my dad to engage in an
uncommon act of discernible love. That same year, I was the only kid in my
neighborhood that wasn't picked for Little League. Everybody laughed at me at
tryouts. My right leg awkwardly slanted inward as I ran.
My father heard their snickers. On the ride home, neither of
us spoke. I sat close to him. He held my hand, and we cried together. Two weeks
later, Dad started the Shedd Park Minor League. He raised money, bought
uniforms, enlisted coaches, acquired permits, and every kid played. Dad coached
the Yankees and made me a pitcher.
In high school, I became a football star. People said if I
had two good legs, I might have played on Sundays. One Saturday afternoon, I
read the quarterback's eyes, jumped the tight end and pulled the pass out of
his hands. Immediately, I headed for the end zone. At the five-yard line, I
looked around to see if anybody was close enough to catch me. Nobody was
chasing me, except Dad running full speed along the sidelines.
The power of my dad's love, insidious and reckless,
guaranteed I walked and more. And this Father's Day, like every Father's Day,
I'll relive the last time I saw him. My mother was in the hospital recovering
from surgery. And Dad was on the kitchen floor having sex with another woman. I
found them. He went for his heart. I thought he was faking. By the time I
realized he was dying and tried to help him, it was too late.
At the end, I remember a tear rolling slowly across his
cheek. His eyes opened wide. I bent forward and whispered, "I love you." He
slowly reached for my hand just as he had done years ago on that ride home from
Little League tryouts. And at that instant, we both experienced the pain and
madness of love. Then he was gone.
That night, I shot my first bag of heroin. Three years after
he died, I kicked a 10-bag-a-day habit. I became a journalist, covered the war
in Bosnia, made an award-winning documentary. In 1997, a brain surgeon in San
Jose told me I didn't have cerebral palsy after all. He explained precisely how
and where the doctor's forceps at birth had damaged the frontal lobe of my
My dad never knew the whole truth. But all that counts is the
bottom line. After all his madness, on this Father's Day, like every Father's
Day, I'm not a cripple.
Richard Farrell produced and directed the HBO documentary "High on Crack
Street: Lost Lives in Lowell" and is the author of a forthcoming memoir,
"What's Left of Us."