He’s got lions for hands. And he has sword!

My Freaking Dad Stole My Freaking Voltron

I Can’t Remember My Dad Giving Me a Toy… But I Remember Him Taking One

I do a lot of talking about my mom in my writing and very little about my dad. There are a few reasons for this. But the short answer is this — he just wasn’t around.

My mom was around. And she made for some seriously wacked-out stories.

In a recent post, I repeatedly questioned why my dad bothered to come to my high school graduation.

After my parents divorced when I was five, my dad became visitor. In the span of about six years he went from frequent visitor to intermittent to finally someone who called once in awhile.

If you’ve heard the stories about kids who wonder what’s wrong with them after their parents divorce, it’s actually true. Only it didn’t start immediately after the divorce. We moved out of state for a while, so at first I thought it just wasn’t possible for him to see us (little did I know, we were just over an hour’s drive away). But when we moved back, things changed.

Looking at it as an adult, I find a weird logic in it. He wasn’t a great parent. But when I lived with him, it was easy to relate to me. I was just there. If he didn’t want to talk to me, he didn’t, and I went off to play with Tonka trucks. If he wanted to goof around with me, he did.

But now we’re “visiting.” Visiting is for a limited time, so by nature it ushers you to “catch up” or do something interesting. I was fricking seven years old. I talked about nonsense. And to a bad parent — someone caught up in addiction and victim complex — nonsense interferes with his running internal monologue. “Scrooge McDuck lost all his gold? I’ve got problems, kid.”

My dad didn’t disappoint me on any acute level. There’s no “day he broke my heart.” Yes he preferred talking with my sister. That stung a bit, but I got it. She was older, and at the time they shared a love for popular music. They could actually talk.

When I quit baseball, he all but ignored me for months. But in both cases I thought I did something wrong, or something was wrong with me.

There was one time, though, when he just flat out did me wrong.

He stole my Voltron.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Voltron was one of the most popular cartoons when I was a kid. A distant planet is the last hope of fighting an evil alien empire. And hidden on the planet are five spaceships shaped like lions. The lions are formidable on their own. But when they’re in big trouble, they link up with each other to form a human-shaped robot named Voltron. And my man has a sword. And it’s on fire (not figuratively. It’s literally called the “blazing” sword).

They sold a toy of Voltron. But at this point in my childhood I had learned that toys were not an option. It was always spotty whether I would even get a toy on Christmas. So an ad hoc mid-year toy like Voltron? I didn’t even ask. Even in less lean times it wouldn’t have happened. Each lion cost about $25. And there were FIVE of them.

But I was a creative kid. I drew a lot. And I had a lot of time on my hands. I only had a couple of friends. And my mom wasn’t at a point anymore where she was concerned with play dates and introducing me to her friends’ kids. So one day I decided to make my own Voltron.

I grabbed all the cardboard I could find. Shoe boxes, the backing from packs of loose leaf paper and memo pads, empty rolls from paper towels. I grabbed tape and glue and markers. I cut each piece as exact as I could, rolling some into cylinders and others into box shapes. I figured out where some pieces needed to be inserted into others with inside out loops of tape to make them “interlock.” In the end, I had an 8-inch tall, fully three-dimensional replica of Voltron. I colored it exactly and drew in details like gears and insignias — all in a painstaking effort to match the cartoon. I made a pretty cool sword, too.

I played with Voltron a lot, occasionally having to apply new tape on the inside to hold a cylindrical upper leg inside hollow rectangle of the lower leg. Literally no one saw this thing but me. My mom was oblivious. And my sister never came home after school while I was playing with it. My dad was the first to see it.

A few months after I’d made it, he came by to visit. He wasn’t allowed in our apartment anymore, so we talked in the yard outside. I was holding Voltron. He asked me for it, and as he held it a look came over his face like he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

“You made this?” he asked. And I nodded. He just kept looking at it — turning it around again and again. “Wow, bud.”

I felt this amazing sense of pride. It felt good that he was impressed with something I did. My good grades didn’t do much for him. My drawing to him was no different than a kid coloring. But this home-created action figure seemed to floor him.

“Can I borrow this? I want to show it to people.”

Now I was conflicted. I was psyched at the idea of him showing off my handiwork. But at the same time… Voltron would be leaving the house. I was nine at the time. The idea of saying, “No, dad. Give me my freaking Voltron back” might as well have been calculus to me. So dad took Voltron.

I didn’t hear from him for weeks. At the time he lived two blocks away from my grandmother. On Saturdays she would walk me (and sometimes my sister) down the hill to see him in his basement studio apartment. This particular Saturday, I came in and plopped on the end of his bed to watch TV. But I looked up, and on the mantle above the TV mixed in with his softball trophies was Voltron.

I faced this kind of weird conundrum. I missed Voltron. I worked freaking hard on Voltron. The actual thought of making a new Voltron popped into my head, but I remembered the hours I’d spent. It had been really hard. I wanted this Voltron back. At the same time, he was displaying something I’d made. To me this was the same as him having my photo hanging on the wall (side note: he didn’t).

In the end I left Voltron with him. And as the times I saw him got farther and farther apart, I had fewer reminders that my cardboard robot friend was out there. I eventually forgot about him altogether. When the memory came back when I was much older, I got a different perspective on it. One that summed up my complicated relationship with my dad and my evolving sense of him as a parent and a person. It all came down to one question:

Who the freaking hell takes a freaking toy from a freaking kid?!?