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After growing up in the 1950s, a father comes to terms with his own dad

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

It's time for StoryCorps. When Tom Badgett sat down for an interview with his daughter, Jordan Perelle, he remembered growing up in small-town Tennessee during the 1950s and his complicated relationship with his dad.

JORDAN PERELLE: I've heard you say before, I walk by a mirror, and I think it's my father.

TOM BADGETT: I do. It's creepy sometimes (laughter).

PERELLE: So tell me about him.

BADGETT: Well, he was president of a major community bank. But if I were to try to summarize his overall personality when I was young, I'd have to say distant. I remember Mother saying he was a good provider, but he never changed a diaper and never fed a kid. He came home from work and went straight to a bottle. He was drunk, really drunk, a lot of the time.

I remember him going out in the backyard and kind of falling down and going to sleep in the middle of the day on Saturday. And when I was 9, I'm in the garage, and there's this blanket over something in my wagon. I pulled the blanket aside, and it's my neighbor's mailbox. Well, Dad came home late, and he made the curve a little long and took the mailbox with him.

PERELLE: So do you have a memory of a time where he really came through for you?

BADGETT: Yeah. It's a Sunday morning, and he says, let's go take a drive. We're driving in his '56 Ford. I've got to be 15. He says, you want to drive?

Now, why that's funny is a couple of months before Mother and Dad go to Florida and leave me there because I'm in school, and I teach myself to drive his car (laughter). And he knew that, of course.

PERELLE: I wondered.

BADGETT: (Laughter) I said, OK, I'll drive. Well, we met a car. And he said, always look to the side of the road. Look where you want to go, not what you're trying to avoid. And that rings in my ears every time I try to make a decision. Look where you want to go.

PERELLE: After he died, what did you learn about him that surprised you?

BADGETT: I came in for the funeral, and people are coming in and saying, your dad's going to be missed, or I can't tell you how thankful I am what your dad did for me when he was at the bank. But one guy, obviously a farmer - I mean, he was at his funeral wearing overalls, boots, beard. He takes my hand, and he said, you know, your dad knew I couldn't afford that loan, but he gave it to me anyway. And I paid back every goddamn penny of it. And that stuck with me because we didn't always see that level of care at home. But as I look back, he was there in the way he could be. We are the sum of all of our parts.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SCHMITZ: That's Tom Badgett and Jordan Perelle for StoryCorps in Knoxville, Tenn. Their interview is archived at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jey Born
Shira Smillie
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