NEWS FROM THE WOODS

By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published July 24, 2003


"Regrets"


I suppose we all have them. It's part of being human.

"I wish I'd have done this…." Or "I wish I hadn't done that".

If Sherman could only set the Wayback machine to five minutes before I drove that jeep off the cliff or five seconds before I opened my mouth and blurted out the worst possible thing I could have said to my significant other.

There are so many little regrets, but not too many major regrets. Looking back, most of my major regrets are connected to my daughter Missy. You see, I've been married four times over a span of some 30+ years, but I have only had two children. Oh, I've helped raise more than that, but they came along with the package if you know what I mean. I treated them all as if they were my own, but it's just not the same as your very own "blood child".

Missy was my first. She was the best thing to ever come out of my first marriage. I got married in January of 1969. I was young and inexperienced… and pretty much broke all the time. Anyone of you who have been a musician or married to one knows how it is. It means no steady income and a life of turmoil for the most part. I also had a young career in radio but it didn't pay much at the time. At least it was steady money on a weekly or bi-monthly paycheck, but it was still a struggle for a young family. Also in radio you have to learn to be flexible, as there is a steady turnover in a radio announcers career. You tend to move around a lot. It's a lot like growing up as a "military brat", moving from one base to another.

Between my radio career and my music career I'm sure the pressure worked on my young wife. The marriage didn't even last four years. I guess I was blind to it all but one day I found myself sitting in a marriage counselor's office in Ft. Smith talking about my "failed marriage". I'm sure there were probably warning signs and nights of discussing unfulfilled hopes and dreams scattered in there somewhere, but it's all pretty fuzzy now and I've had all these years to grow emotional scar tissue on the subject. Anyway there I was, sitting in a chair and listing all my worldly goods and property. After two hours in an office, a person I had never met before was saying "Well, it seems to me that you two can't work this out and just need to be apart. I want you both to go down your lists and agree on who gets what".

Who gets what? THAT is what these four years have led up to? And what about Missy?

Well, you can imagine how things were in Arkansas back in the early 70's as far as divorce court goes. It wasn't even an issue, it was a given. The wife and mother automatically gets custody unless she is an axe murderer. Before I go on though, I want to go on record that I don't really blame my wife. I blame my own inexperience with relationships to have seen it coming. Although I thought she knew what and who she was marrying, I suppose she was just as inexperienced to know you just can't change someone, no matter how hard you try. I was stubbornly following my career choices and she wanted a husband who was a nine-to-fiver and came home every day at the same time, grab a beer, and go to the back yard to cook out burgers on the grill. In her defense, I suppose she held out for a long time before realizing that I wasn't going to change.

She wasn't a bad wife. We didn't have knock down drag outs. Actually, I am one to avoid confrontation if at all possible, so I may have diverted that anger for a long time before it all caught up with me. In any event, the bottom fell out that day in the counselor's office, and in less than 48 hours she had gone back to her folks in Little Rock.

With Missy.

And so began my long line of regrets from there.

At first I made the trip to Little Rock on a halfway regular basis. I'd pick her up and we'd usually go to the zoo. There wasn't much for a father and daughter to do in Little Rock in those days. But we'd spend the day together somehow and then it would be time to take her back. Leaving was ALWAYS painful, for both of us. I'd try to buck up and pull away and she would be reaching out with her little hands and crying. It was some of the most horrible memories I have of that time in my life. I can remember literally crying all the way back to Ft. Smith. Then I'd be depressed for several days after that. And my life wasn't going that well after the divorce anyway, so I became depressed at the thought "the leaving" before I'd even leave to go visit her. As time went on I made less and less visits. I regret that now, and I didn't know it then, but I should have kept those visits going, no matter how painful they were, because I was losing precious moments I could never regain again.

Somewhere in the haze of my third marriage Missy actually moved in with my family in Mountain Home. It wasn't a good time because I was - as usual - still struggling to make ends meet. I had also "inherited" a step-son and to make matters worse we didn't even have a house to live in. Times were very bad for us. I was trying so hard to make the studio a profitable venture but it was an uphill battle all the way. We were actually living in the studio. It had a small kitchenette and bathroom with a metal shower stall. We would drag a mattress from behind a curtain and sleep on the floor of the control room at night. The studio had a very small storage room between the kitchenette and the stairs to the video store above, and we converted that room into a bedroom for the two kids. They slept in a bunk bed and shared a chest of drawers. Missy never complained about the arrangements, but it was not meant to be. Our time together didn't last long as turmoil in my own marriage was building up and a lot of pressure was placed on me. My wife pointed out that we couldn't keep up with the bills as it was and with the extra mouth to feed it was only getting worse. I knew it was true but didn't want to lose her again. But it happened anyway. She moved back with her mother.

Regrets. This one is probably the one that I will never forgive myself for. I believe it hurt Missy more than all the other things put together. I let her go and continued to raise a step-son. And you know what? THAT marriage broke up anyway. Not specifically because of the incident with my daughter - It was much more complicated than that. Water under the bridge.

Time passed and Missy grew up, and I missed it all. I remember I got to see her graduate from high school, but even that memory is bittersweet. Just as they began to announce the candidates for graduation, a terrible thunderstorm came out of nowhere and it poured rain all over the field. Lightning was striking everywhere and everyone was running for cover. They literally ran the graduates through the motions and it was over in ten minutes.

The next memory I can recall was her wedding. No one was more proud than I, walking her down the aisle in that church. I gave her away, but I realized in that moment that I hardly knew my own daughter. I was happy for her and sick at my stomach at the same time. And for whatever reasons she chose to get married, it did not work out for her. They split up and she was left with a son to raise by herself. Sometimes life can be so cruel.

She moved to Florida to be near her mom who had previously moved there for a decent job opportunity. And that was that. We tried to keep the lines of communication open but neither one of us were good at writing steady to each other. I don't think either of us knew what to say to each other. We hardly knew each other but clung to the desire to want to stay in touch. It was an awkward time for the both of us.

Let's set the Wayback machine now for 1997. Flash forward to my fourth marriage. I am skipping #2 and #3 because I had no children with those wives. I helped raise several kids between the two marriages, but I was "step dad", and it's not quite the same thing. After all these failed marriages and wasted time I got lucky and God smiled down on me. I guess he figured I had built up enough Karma to deserve what I had always yearned for, a family of my very own, and a child I could raise from the ground up. Along came Robert, born on my birthday. A sign if there ever was one.

But the regrets continue. Every time Robert goes through a phase or learns something new I can't help but think secretly to myself "I missed that with Missy". And I feel guilty. Guilty as hell. I know it wasn't my fault (well, I must share half the blame for the failed marriage) but sometimes it just doesn't help.

If you are a regular reader of this column, you know that each year I write a letter to Robert. In some ways, I suppose it is a way for me to leave something behind so that someday he may read these letters and know how much his Dad loved him. But much of it is because of my experiences of my daughter. She has very little to look back on and to KNOW how much she has meant to me all these years. I won't let that happen again. But the more I write about Robert, the less there is to show for Missy and that isn't right either.

I once wrote a song for my daughter. It is my most favorite and cherished song, and I wrote it at a very painful time in my life. I wrote it for her and only for her, and I think I shall never write another song for someone I love. If it is the only thing I can do for her and for no one else, then so be it.

Missy and I have a great relationship now. She is such a wonderful daughter and such an intelligent person. She truly has a heart of gold. Somehow, by the Grace of God, she has found a way to transcend all these painful years and regrets and has seemingly forgiven me. She is happily married and has given me three grandchildren. Thanks to the Internet I send and receive more email than all the letters we didn't write to each other and I regularly get pictures of her family which I save, print out and show to all. Missy and Robert are truly brother and sister, although some 30 years separate their ages. She and my wife have a great relationship. Jane treats her like family, like I treat my two present step-sons, and Missy calls her "Mom". And Missy knows that Jane is The One. And Jane knows how very much my daughter means to me. And all is good in the world.

I have less regrets these days.

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