The AFD in AFD Studios

For those who don't know, the company name I've operated under for however many years is "AFD Studios", which stands for "April Fool's Day". Why? Because that's the day fourteen years ago that my father passed away from an aneurysm, a complication of the asbestosis that had robbed him of most of his lung capacity. I was there when it happened, which I still think about every few days even all this time later.

We always joked, my six siblings and I, that when our father died we'd all inherit one seventh of his debt, but as it turned out he was able to leave us each a little bit. It was enough, anyway, for me to take a year off to work on what became HeroMachine 2. Thus the company is named in his honor, as he helped make it possible.

I wrote the following article back in 2006, and it still sums up my feelings pretty well. I wanted to share it with you folks, who have made the time since so much fun and so fulfilling. This is the guy we owe part of the success of HeroMachine to. Thanks, Pop. Rest easy.

Today, April 1, is the anniversary of my father's death. I've put together some thoughts about him and me below the fold ... it's pretty raw and heavy, so don't click on the button unless you're ready for that. The short version is that I miss him more now than I did while he was alive, and appreciate the fact that he raised seven great kids and greatly contributed to his community. I also mourned and came to peace with the fact that my idea of what I needed as a father died long before his body did.

My relationship with James L. C. Hebert was complicated while he was alive, and has only gotten moreso since his passing. Now that I am the same age he was when I was born, I realize how difficult life must have been for him and Mom. Seven children by the age of 36, and him without a college degree or a steady job. Yearning for the freedom of the open road and no obligations, even while overloaded with them. Driven by the loss of his own father while forced to be a dad for seven little ones. Destroying his body with alcohol and cigarettes while unknowingly being eaten from the inside out by asbestosis.

Of course I knew nothing of that as a child. Children, like animals, aren't terribly interested in your burdens or your demons, in what happened to you when you were younger or in how hard your life has been. Children need love and security, and I got little of either from Dad growing up.

Dad was less a person while I was growing up than a kind of elemental force of angry nature. Life as a child for me was spent figuring out how to avoid his rage. My most vivid early memories of him are of yelling -- at me, at my siblings, at my mother, at people on the phone. I remember a birthday party of mine (maybe I was seven?) when I was apparently acting like a brat, whining and sullen. I don't remember why I was being rotten, but I am pretty sure I was.

I do remember Dad hauling me inside the little entry to our house while the other kids were outside playing Red Rover. He started spanking me, yelling at me to shape up. I remember it hurting, but it was probably more from the emotional trauma than that the blows were terribly hard. He spanked me into a corner and I was crying so hard I peed in my pants. At my own birthday party. I had to go change and then wipe my eyes and pretend that I was happy to be there.

That was probably the lowest moment.

There were good memories too, of course, but honestly, not very many. Most center around him bringing stacks of comic books home ... maybe that's why I love super-heroes so much. The idea of a person with amazing powers, able to escape whatever mundane troubles plagued their secret identities to become a crusader for justice and righting wrongs. Plus it was about the only thing Dad and I could share, so that made it even more special.

He and Mom took my sister Donna and I to Dogpatch, USA, which was fun mostly for the scene of him in a centrifugal force ride. It spun so fast his toupee flew off his head and stuck to the wall. That was pretty priceless.

I still think of his lessons about road manners. He spent a lot of time travelling as a salesman for one thing or another, and had good insights about how you should act on the road. I still thank him whenever I flash my lights at a semi to let him know that he can move over safely.

It's tempting, when talking about someone who's died, to suppress the bad and emphasize the good, to end on a positive note and wrap things up in a nice neat bundle with ribbons and good cheer. But life's more complicated than that. When he died I didn't really mourn. I didn't have crying jags, or get terribly depressed, and I couldn't understand why.

I finally came to realize that the father I had needed and longed for as a child had died long before in my mind. In fact, in some ways he'd never been allowed to exist. The hugs and the love weren't there when I needed them, as a scared and lonely little boy, convinced his father despised him and yearning for approval that was never to come. When I was no longer a child, I had already buried that idea of a Dad.

What replaced it was respect for a man who did the best he could, and who (all things considered) did pretty damn well. Along with Mom he helped raise seven great kids, who have all gone on to success and happiness. He helped hundreds of drug and alcohol addicts recover and move on with their lives. He brought happiness and love to his siblings and his mother and his grandchildren.

It gets easier, with each anniversary of his death, to concentrate on those things and not on the father I needed, but never had, as a child. I feel sorrow for the people I love who miss him, and I hope against hope that he is in a better place now, free from the burdens and pain that dogged him throughout his life, able at last to hit the open road with a clear conscience and a happy heart.

7 Responses to The AFD in AFD Studios

  1. DiCicatriz says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Jeff! It’s incredible that you are able to find respect and positivity in your relationship with your father and the memory of him. I don’t know if I could do the same were I in your shoes and it speaks very highly to your character.

    I’m also very grateful that therein you found inspiration to create this site/community/program that has brought us all so much joy. 😀

  2. djuby says:

    A lovely tribute.

  3. Kaldath says:

    I have to say you are a bigger man then I am Jeff. I respect you for how you found forgiveness and respect for your father. I am a victim of physical abuse at the hands of my own father, and to this day at age 40 I despise that man, There isn’t a single cell in my body that doesn’t hate him and I am certain I can never forgive him. I have no idea where he is, no idea if he still lives or not and I absolutely do not care. So as I said I respect you for overcoming the flaw in my own character that I just can’t get past.

  4. Herr D says:

    Well done, indeed. I have heard the mourning style you described as “advance mourning” and “deferred mourning” in the context of deferring mourning away from the biological life involved. There are many reasons people tend this way, including child abuse, neglect, emotional distance, etc. I have been informed that it does not make mourning any easier. Survivor issues is something I may be posting about on my blog soon.

    On another note, one of the happier couples I’ve ever met married on AFD and used to joke that if things got bad, they wouldn’t need a divorce. It never got bad.

  5. ams says:

    Here’s to you, Mr. James Hebert, you would be proud of the man your son has become!

  6. Legatus says:

    Thank you for sharing! So personal, so deeply moving…

    I lost my father to cancer when I was fifteen and I hold him so very dear in my memory. He was a gentle and kind person, … my rolemodel to this day!

  7. Cliff says:

    Hey Jeff. A very poignant memorial. We here enjoying Hero Machine owe a lot to him.
    Sorry this is so long responding, my computer was down for a few days then yesterday I ended up in the hospital for BP 210/113 and light chest pains again. must less so than February’s and now I have Nitro for emergencies.
    Anyway my dad passed away in 2007. Eight years after my mom died in 1999.
    When Arthur Roberts was 2 his dad “accidentally” shot dad’s mom in the head. She lived but was blind the rest of her life. Dad lived with his grandfather and grand mother, his blind mother, and his younger sister on a farm. He had to quit school young and never made it to high school.
    He married a woman he was in the army and went to Korea, they had a daughter, who died at one year old. One day he came back from leave and caught his wife in bed with another man. They divorced. (I didn’t know about all this till I was 40)
    Mom always told me she knew the first time she saw Dad that was the man for her.
    He was a quiet outdoorsman, grew small gardens in the back yard, sold sporting goods so each weekday he drove all over north Texas and southern Oklahoma and returned home each evening,
    He fished, hunted and trapped, not only for sport but for food. He loved dogs and hated cars. He married mom June 24 1961, a few day’s before Mom’s birthday on June 27.
    SEVEN months later I was born.Jan 28, 1962 (I was 30 before I did the math).
    Dad was the disciplinarian, and I lived in a little fear of him and his belt. Mom would get mad at something I did and let Dad whip me. I don’t know if I deserved all of the whippings, but I know I did some of them.
    (Those early days weren’t so good) Mom and Dad would go to American Legion and leave me at the babysitters where I remember watching wrestling on a black and white set, or the
    “it’s 10PM do you know where your children are” and I would think ‘I don’t know where my parents are’ and when they picked me up Dad would be drunk and they would be yelling, I would run to my room and unsuccessfully try to ignore them. They didn’t actually physically fight, only verbally. Once I remember did he slap her. Eventually Dad stopped drinking and smoking so the fights stopped as best as I remember.
    Although Dad was always ready to go to a family function or somewhere adn Mom would ALWAYS be late which would lead into yelling matches which would make me dread going anywhere.
    Dad gave me haircuts, BURRS in the 60s and 70s, those I hated. Which is why though I am bald on top my hair still comes down to my back.
    But there were good times with Dad too. He really tried considering he was a tall robust outdoorsman with a effeminate artistic (in the closet ) gay kid. Dad could draw one thing, that was a duck, which he also liked to hunt. He and mom always encouraged me. Why I never had more self confidence I don’t know. I guess it was due to the rest of the small town schoolmates who weren’t so encouraging.
    I remember Dad playing Hot Wheels with the orange loop track with me that I got one Christmas, playing with a remote controlled lunar rover.
    They often bought me artistic gifts, Etch a Sketch, Spiralgraphs, pencils, colored pencils, paints, glass cutting kits, yarn looms you name it.
    When he and Mom would take me fishing I would usually catch the first or the biggest, but then would get bored and go run and play. I imagine that disappointed him that I wasn’t more of a fisherman like him, but I don’t remember him ever showing it. I do remember saining for minnows in waist deep cold water, and catching grasshoppers at night (hated the wiggling things in my hands) so he could make his own stink bait. He would even cut his own sponge to make the hooks, and he melted lead to pour sinkers which he also sold. Sometimes when times were hard he would keep the more non desirable fish like gar cause he knew a black guy who would buy them.
    When I wanted an Irish Setter, he got me one. Sadly it was colored like a dalmatian so I was less than enthused. When I wanted a horse, dad found a way to get me one, true it was a bit of a nag, and would bite, so I never got to ride it and we had to get rid of it, but he had tried.
    I wanted to play Flute and they got me one, sadly my breathing problems kept me from being able to play it much.
    I wanted to go to boy scouts and they let me. .Thanks to pictures I vividly remember him cutting up with me as I was about to leave for a Boy Scouts function.
    They put me into soft ball, which was VERY short lived.
    The year of the original Star Wars movie they bought me $300 worth of the toys (if I only still had them now)
    So yes, Dad and Mom tried to give me whatever I wanted that they could.
    Dad loved hot peppers at Mexican restaurants and would eat them till ge got red and sweat popped out on his head. He also liked buttermilk which I didn’t. and Butter Pecan ice cream, which I would inevitably get into and eat around the pecans eating half of his icecream, He would get onto me a little, but never whipped me for that. He made the BEST fried fish! Which is my very high measure of fried fish to this day. NO ONE has ever lived up to my Dad’s fried fish. He also made a mean deer chili. As a kid I was horrified that dad would go hunting to kill “Bambi” but after I ate the deer chili a few times I would be asking Dad when he was going again.
    Dad had a dirty sense of humor, which Mom would never let him let out at the house. He would start singing “Beans beans the musical fruit the more ya eat, the more ya …” “ARTHUR!” Mom would yell. Now that’s how my and my wife sing it with dad’s name as the last word instead of “poot”. 😀
    I am sure that on Dad’s sporting goods route he let it out quite a bit more, or when he would go to the American Legion.
    Every time he had to change a blown fuse he was get into the box, Mom would tell him to be careful and he would just and make a ZZZZT sound and make her yell at him.
    He was so good at pool one angry step uncle accused him of being a hustler, but that was just sour grapes, as far as I know of Dad didn’t try to hustle anyone at pool.
    All in all Dad wasn’t perfect, but he was a good man and did his best and Idespite him being a pretty quiet man, I knew very well he loved me. He didn’t hesitate to hug me and tell me.