We all turn into our fathers at one point.
It could be just a look that we give when someone says something supremely stupid, or the way we tell our recalcitrant teenager that they are most certainly NOT going out dressed like that. It may be the way we sit or walk, the lilt in our voice when we talk. It could be just a few bits and bobs of dear old Dad, or maybe even the whole thing, a younger doppelgänger of the family’s patriarch.
You may love it or hate it. But he’s in there.
Now in my fifties, my wife points out certain looks I give and will say, “That’s your father!” Or my mother, when she sees me reading, will comment, “You’re just like your father. Always reading.”
My father passed away eight years ago this month. He went in to have a kidney stone blasted and never made it out of the hospital. We watched his body shut down, organ by organ, over a twenty-four hour period. The early morning call to say our goodbyes was followed by witnessing his heart crash and doctors resuscitate him, but not until we heard his rib cage crack like dried branches. As a family, we made the call to remove the machines from him and he was gone in less than a minute.
It was devastating not just because I’d lost my father in such an unexpected way, but because we had come to a place where he was more than just my father, he was my friend. I looked forward to weekly bocce with him, which were really excuses to drink in the fresh air and shoot the shit. Now all of that was gone when I was sure we had many more years together.
Just yesterday, my neighbor asked my mother if I got my sense of humor from my father. I said, “No, he was way more mature than I am. I’m just an idiot.”
That way more mature person who seemed to know everything about everything and was highly self-educated on all things political, historical and economical was also the man who created a monster-loving horror writer. He had a dark, gleeful side that I was privy to from an early age.
Dad used to wake me up to watch Chiller Theatre with him (just don’t tell your mother). He learned quickly that this kid wasn’t scared of what he saw on the screen, which meant frequent trips to the local drive-in or theater two blocks from our house. Together, we watched it all, from the Universal monster movies they would play on PBS every now and then, to atom age monsters, B-movie horror at the drive-in that were mostly horrible but very educational for a young lad, Hammer films, and classics like The Exorcist, The Hills Have Eyes and a family favorite, The Last House on the Left. Yeah, we’re a fucking weird family.
Want another example? My father refused to get cable for the house, but he was the first to run out and buy a top-loading VCR. Right after he got it out of the box and hooked it up to our old timey console television, he jetted to the nearest video store and signed up for his monthly membership card. What’s the first movie he rented, you might ask? You know, the one he gathered the family around to watch? Videodrome. ‘Nuff said.
I’m lucky enough to have been on the tail end of the generation that bought and put together the Aurora monster model kits. My dad would tune the radio to the local college station that would replay the old radio serials like The Shadow. Sitting at the kitchen table, surrounded by the sounds and stories of another era, we’d assemble the Phantom, Wolf Man, Frankenstein and The Mummy. Man, I wish I’d been smart enough to keep them. Instead, they were eventually tied to firecrackers or cherry bombs so my pyro friends and I could get a chuckle.
One of my favorite double features he took me to was at the Bainbridge Theater in the Bronx. It was around the corner from my grandparent’s apartment. I was eight years old and we went to see the release of the new animals gone wild thriller, Grizzly. That’s where I saw my first decapitation, or at least the first I remember. I’m sure there had been plenty of others during late nights at the drive in. It was followed by Jaws, which blew me away and made me want to fish for Great Whites. I wasn’t afraid to go in the water, though, because I was pretty sure the toxic water at Orchard Beach would kill any shark. The stuff practically ate through my skin as it was.
But the double feature that changed my life happened right by our house. I was all of ten now, and Dad and I took a walk down to the Kent Theater. I had no idea what I was in for. The first movie was a very adult sketch comedy called The Kentucky Fried Movie. Holy cow! So many boobs. Clowns throwing pies on bare asses. A couple having sex while the nightly news anchorman and his studio team watched through the television. That movie forever rewired my sense of humor. From then on, I was irreverent, bold, shocking before Howard Stern came into my ear holes. I’m still the same way today and give zero fucking apologies.
Once we’d settled down from the madness of The Kentucky Fried Movie, the screen came to life with the original Dawn of the Dead. Holy shit! I saw Dawn before Night and from that moment on, I knew I wanted to do something in the world of horror. I had to be a part of it, no matter what. I never looked at malls the same way again, always fantasizing about how I would fortify one with my friends and who would die first (never me!). The gore in Dawn of the Dead was on a whole new level. I remember we came home and my mother served spaghetti and meatballs. I believe I dug in with my hands, recreating the intestine-eating scene with the fallen bikers. My father politely excused himself and threw up.
From then on, it was all horror. Dad worked in Manhattan and would bring me home copies of Famous Monsters of Filmland, Fangoria, The Twilight Zone Magazine, and those magazine-sized black and white comics of Conan and Red Sonja. The walls in my bedroom were covered with pictures and posters of beautiful women (with a heavy emphasis on Victoria Principal and Farrah Fawcett) and stills of gore torn from the pages of Fangoria. If you wanted a representation of what The Kentucky Friend Movie and Dawn of the Dead had done to my brain, my walls said it all.
Even when I was years away from puberty, he encouraged me to read. First it was comic books, but then it was going through his paperback collection of Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, John Saul and so many others. I didn’t need or want kid versions of the real thing. Fuck that noise. I was very proud of myself when I introduced my father to Clive Barker. The grasshopper had become the master. And I was off to the races.
My father was there for my early struggles as a horror writer, always encouraging me. I’m beyond thankful he was with us for my first book deal. I raced home after getting my acceptance letter from Don D’Auria when he was at Leisure. I had printed the email and read it to my parents as Dad popped champagne. He was with us for my first few Samhain books, and I was hard at work on a book specifically for him. The man loved his westerns, so I had decided to write a western horror, even though I knew no one read that kind of stuff (though that has changed very recently). The book was called Hell Hole and I kick myself for not letting him read it before I sent it to Don. It came out just after he’d passed away, and I dedicated it to him and his memory.
I actually think he has read it. The reason why is because he came to me the night he died. He passed away in the morning and I told my mother I’d stay with her for a few nights. I was downstairs on the couch, working on The Montauk Monster, when the sound of something heavy hitting the glass case for my father’s prized stereo sent me rocketing off my seat. I looked over and saw the glass vibrating. My father knew my obsession with not just horror, but the paranormal and the mysteries of life after death. He came to me that night, knocking loud enough for a deaf man to hear that he still existed.
And I like to think he found a way to crack open Hell Hole (or Ghost Mine, as I renamed it when it was re-released with Flame Tree Publishing). I know he’ll tell me what he thought of it some day. Pretty sure he liked it. I mean, I wrote it for the guy!
So this Father’s Day, I’ll sit in his yard and have a few beers. We don’t smoke cigarettes, but we will buy a pack of Marlboro red and take a few puffs. I’ll get the barbecue going and after we’ve eaten, we’ll watch a horror movie or two. Maybe one of his faves like The Sentinel or 30 Days of Night. No matter what we choose, I know he’ll be with us, still delighting in the celluloid terror. And even if he’s not there in spirit, he’ll be there, inside me. For I am my father, and that’s a very good thing.
Hunter Shea is the product of a misspent childhood watching scary movies, reading forbidden books and wishing Bigfoot would walk past his house. He doesn’t just write about the paranormal—he actively seeks out the things that scare the hell out of people and experiences them for himself. You can follow his madness at huntershea.com.