Douglas Atkins was born on February 11, 1959.
He died on November 12, 2017 at 58 years old.
I hope you take the time to indulge me as I share some of my memories of him.
The last time I talked to him was this summer. During our conversations, I usually got the same questions and stories.
Yes, I’m still in college at Kent State. He went there for one year before going to the Pittsburgh Institute of Art. Oh, he remembers the times where the clouds of cannabis smoke were so thick in the dorms you couldn’t see. He remembers the protests of the MACC building and getting tear-gassed as an observer of the chaos.
Well, he remembered.
He would tell me tales of how he worked security for big bands at some large venues in Cleveland and party with them afterward. I took these stories and their details for granted. But I can’t remember what bands or venues he worked.
And I’ve missed my last opportunity to ask.
In the last years of my dad’s life, he was homeless. By his own choice, he would say. It was simpler. Better. Our family tried to help, but you can’t make someone accept what they don’t want.
He was also an alcoholic. I won’t waste any words trying to convince you that he was anything otherwise.
But he was human.
My dad was an artist. He never lost that gift. For my sixteenth birthday, he made a portrait of me out of markers. For a man who hadn’t seen me in eight years, he captured every detail perfectly.
(He did get my age wrong, though.)
I used to think, “Well, maybe someday I’ll reconnect with him. I’ll get to know him and rebuild the relationship between father and son.”
Sometime between now and then my dad laid his head down, closed his eyes, and took his last breath.
I did get to see him before that, though. Last summer, I got to talk to him for about an hour in person, and the same dad I remembered was still there, underneath the veil of alcohol that stripped him of so much.
My family all remembers him fondly, to say the least.
My mom could tell countless tales about their adventures together — just ask her how she got the scar on her lip.
My sister, Samantha, remembers the times where he asked her to do his makeup as a cheerleader for Halloween or how he would pretend to trip on his farts.
My aunt Laraine remembers the time she was on the way to the Eagles concert at the Cleveland Stadium. They had to stop to pee, and she and my mom had to squat on the side of a convenience store. My dad caught the moment, full moons and all. Or the surprise party he threw for my aunt when she went away for the Air Force.
My uncle Jeff remembers the times where my Uncle Steve and Uncle Brad would go against him and my dad in tackle football in the hallway. My dad would pound them into the carpet and my uncle Jeff would jump over them for the touchdown. And, for the record, my dad is the one who gave him the nickname “Hef,” which is short for “Heifer.”
My uncle Brad remembers my dad’s honesty, advocating endlessly for the underdog. He recounts that he wore the title of an “Atkins” with pride, knowing his older brother — full back of the high school football team and homecoming King — was Doug Atkins.
My Uncle Steve remembers coloring with my dad, copying pictures and learning to draw free hand. My dad would share lessons from art class with him, and he went through high school known as “Little Atkins,” on the coattails of my dad’s popularity.
My grandparents remember when he blew the engine on their Chevy Suburban because it had no oil. He thought the car had plenty, but it turns out he was just checking the brake fluid.
I remember the things he created. The swing set behind our house in Mentor (that I broke my arm on). The art that made him so successful. The memories we all share. My family.
Things break apart for me here. I can’t fathom the pain my family is going through. My grandparents — forever even-tempered — couldn’t stop their tears from shaking their voices. My mom’s disbelief. My aunt’s voice falling silent. I heard my sister break apart on the opposite end of the phone.
And me? Well, he was an artist, and I am a writer.
Our legacy is one of creation, of love, of compassion. Take some time to spread a little extra love today in his memory.
Rest in peace, Dad.