A.L. “Skip” Mahaffey is one of the country’s most identifiable country music radio personalities. He has been honored three times by the Country Music Association as Radio Personality of the Year and was similarly recognized by Billboard Magazine. Well known for his many charitable efforts, Mahaffey is the father of three and lives with his wife of 28 years in Tampa, Fl.
Adventures With My Father
Childhood Recollections of Divorce Dysfunction and the Summer of Love
by A.L. Skip Mahaffey
Adventures With My Father
Childhood Recollections of Divorce Dysfunction and the Summer of Love
by A.L. Skip Mahaffey
Published Nov 10, 2009
Genre: BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY / Personal Memoirs
"Ladies and Gentlemen...This is Your Captain Drinking..."
When A.L. “Skip” Mahaffey’s mom would send him off to visit his father, she’d slip a piece of paper in his hand and tell him, “If he tries to kidnap you, give this to a stranger.”
Such was the dysfunctional existence growing up with one of the strangest, most bizarre people Mahaffey ever encountered—his dad. Adventures with My Father is a greatest-hits collection of incidents like those, leavened with the kind of humor only Mahaffey can muster.
A gifted commercial pilot who was also an alcoholic, Mahaffey’s father abandons his family one day at a California motel to live with his girlfriend. But that doesn’t end his troubled, complicated relationship with his children. On visits with his dad, young Mahaffey travels the country, stopping at nearly every dive bar along the way. He learns to grocery shop at liquor stores, rubs elbows with the Hollywood elite, wakes up on strange couches in strange countries and encounters the one person who could out-weird his dad: his stepmother. Through it all is a sense of terror, awe, disgust and curiosity at the events that remain vivid decades later.
At once profoundly moving and laugh-out-loud funny, Adventures with My Father is a soul-searching attempt to come to terms with one man’s unique coming of age.
From Chapter 1 "That Sonofabitch Father of Yours" -
I can tell you one thing; the man knew how to fly a plane. My mother always said “That sonofabitch father of yours can circumnavigate the globe with nothing but a compass, an altimeter and a stop-watch but get him on the ground and he can’t find his ass with both hands and radar…but he sure as hell knows where the local liquor store is”. I think that’s a compliment. It’s really true though. We lived in the same house for nearly thirteen years and he could never, ever remember how to get there. But the boy could fly. He used his VA to go to flight school and upon graduation, started his professional career dusting crops in Texas and Louisiana. I would like to point out here that his prowess for flying was not passed down to my dear brother Sonny. It seems Sonny had a penchant for turning off the engines mid-flight when he’d go dusting with Pop. Had we only known how strange our lives would get, maybe we would have tried harder to end it all before kindergarten.
I’m not exactly sure how things progressed from crop dusting to airline captaining (if that’s actually a word) but I can tell you at one point my father was a pilot chauffeur for Battista when he still ran things in Cuba. In fact several years later, during a Wild Turkey and egg-nog induced diatribe, Mom told me that my father was on his way to Havana to get his employer the night Castro and his buddies decided to overthrow his government. Unfortunately for El Presidente, he was too hung over to fly. Still, I thought that was kind of cool in a James-Bondish sort of way, even though at the time I learned this I had no idea who Battista was and I thought Castro was one of the guys on the cough drops box.
Turns out the story really was he had come up with yet another one of his famous get rich quick schemes. Seriously, if he spent half as much time trying to make a million dollars as he did thinking of ways to make a million dollars, he would have had a million dollars. He had made a deal with a wealthy Cuban plantation owner to dust his crops for a substantial amount of money. Sensing immediate fame and fortune, he flew his Stearman to a tiny airfield outside Havana where he was then promptly arrested by the Cuban Federales. It seemed neither he nor the plantation owner obtained the proper clearance for this little project with the appropriate Cuban authorities. His plane was immediately confiscated.
According to the folk song, my mother then had to appear before the Cuban Embassy in the States to get “that sonofabitch father of yours” released from jail and get his plane released from the authorities. The release was granted but only under one condition; he was not allowed to fly the plane out of the country. This was no doubt my father’s biggest punishment due to the fact that he was the cheapest human being ever to walk the planet. He was forced to hire a ship and a crew to disassemble his Stearman and ship it back to the States. His get rich quick scheme netted him a stay in jail in a third world soon-to-be-Communist country and a butt load of money out of his pocket. So much for fame and fortune.
(Just a side note, I never really researched the authenticity of either one of these tales. I was happy to believe the folk lore).
By the time I showed up, we had left Louisiana for Midwest City, Oklahoma where Pop began flying for the now-defunct Capital Airways. It was the late summer of 1961. John Kennedy ruled over Camelot and Americans had just seen the first images of the Berlin Wall. The New York Yankees were well on the way to defending their World Series Championship, Patsy Cline and “Moon River” were on the radio. “West Side Story” was the summer blockbuster and somewhere in the middle of an Oklahoma City suburb, my mother and father pretty much couldn’t stand each other. I can’t tell you much about those days in regards to my father because frankly, I never saw the man. He was constantly flying somewhere, someplace or at home blasted to the gills with Old Crow seeping from his pores. Even as a toddler, I could find it amusing that the man who fell off the toilet the night before was off to carry your relatives and mine thousands of miles away thousands of feet in the air with a full blown hangover the next morning. Since decades have passed and I’m sure regulations as well, I feel comfortable enough to tell you that just about every pilot I ever met from birth to my teenage years were raging alcoholics. Two things that my father always had in his flight bag were a fifth of Old Crow and a .38. (By the way, I was a little shocked in the aftermath of 9/11 that they were considering letting pilots carry guns in the cockpit, from what I knew most of them were armed to the teeth already). Over the years when I see stories of pilots being detained from a flight because they were inebriated, I always double check their names to see if they are by chance relatives.
From Chapter 2 "Our First Adventure" -
I can’t begin to tell you what it’s like for a 3 year old when he sees the Pacific Ocean for the first time. I think it was actually the smell of the ocean that I noticed first. It was unlike anything I had ever sensed before. I could almost taste the salt as I drew the dampness of the air into my little lungs. There was that inexplicable sense of calming excitement that washed over me from the inside out that only those who have been there can ever truly appreciate. I remember my mother pulling me out of the car, trying to pull off my shoes as I was using every ounce of my strength to tear away from her to reach this magnificent expanse of water. I felt for the first time something that to this day is one of the purest, most simple pleasures in life: the ocean’s breeze. The air was full of the sound of roller skates and skateboards, buoy bells and boat engines, screaming kids ordering ice creams and burgers from the drive-in across the street and that unbelievable roar of the waves crashing in front of me. I was a little more than frightened but a lot more than exhilarated by the swarms of seagulls that swooped over, swirled about and gathered around me, looking for a hand-out.
To this day I can still clearly see my pudgy little toes peeking up at me from the warm sand. For what seemed an eternity, I scrambled across the beach to reach my brothers on the shore. I was so fascinated by the water rushing toward me and then retreating from me at the same time as I retreated from it. I was mesmerized by how my feet left perfect impressions and equally mesmerized by how the incoming waves would wash them away. Over and over and over I scooped up tiny handfuls of wet sand, crushed it in my fist and then let it slip away between my fingers. The water would then rush in immediately to put the sand back seemingly right where it belonged. I watched in awe as my big brothers jumped in to and dove over the incoming waves that seemed so strong and immense. They would disappear into the water and I would wonder where they went. My fears would disappear when I would see them explode from the below the surface of the water, kicking, spitting salt water and screaming with unbridled laughter. At that moment, I looked behind me and saw my mother in a way that I would keep and treasure with me for the rest of my life.
She stood on a small dune covered in vines of ice plant a few yards from me. Like all little boys, she was my mom and I thought she was the most beautiful mom in the world. The wind blew her long black hair behind her. She stood holding her shoes by the straps, hand on her hip and the other hand was above her brow, shading the sun so she could see her boys. It was the first time I had seen her smile in a while. I ran to her as fast as I could. With the grace of a dancer, she pulled me up and held me close to her. I put my head on her shoulder and presented her with a perfectly scalloped shell I had found on the beach. “Honey, it’s beautiful. Can I keep it?” I shook my head and took a deep breath. The ocean mixing with her perfume, having her all to myself, the absolute perfection of that instant lulled me into a place that I could only call warmth. I would give anything to have her hold me like that again today.
Throughout my childhood, into my rebellious teen years and even into my adult life, I would occasionally sneak into my mom’s room. In a drawer next to her bed, among the nail clippers, the latest Harlequin romance, the Parker pens and crossword puzzles, I would always find a fiber-thin faded blue Kleenex. Neatly wrapped up inside was a small perfectly scalloped shell. Inside that shell, in her distinct printing, she had written; SKIPPER, SEAL BEACH. JULY ’65.
From Chapter 11 "If You're Goin' to San Fransisco" -
It was a steep climb and seemed like a long drive to my father’s building. In fact his was the second to the last just to the right of a dead end road. The buildings had very little front yard to speak of and the back yard was little more than dirt and rocks that gave way to the steep climb up the barren side of the hill it backed up to (years later, this entire building would be wiped out by the other San Francisco treat, a mudslide).
If you stood facing the front of the apartment and looked up past the roofline, you could see portions of the seemingly gigantic houses that dotted the ridgeline above. Flowers were planted in newly created beds, everything smelled new and I had to admit it, it wasn’t what I expected but it most certainly could have been worse.
My brother and I grabbed the groceries and made our way up the walk. Once my father opened the door on unit B, the newness of it all gave way to that sick familiar feeling of re-visiting something unpleasant. You know, kind of like recognizing what you ate by tasting it again when you puke it up, “Oh yeah, spaghetti.”
The adventure in beige we were introduced to a few years ago in Fontana was back and although it was all in a different arrangement, it still gave off the same air of comfort as an Iron Maiden. And yeah, it still smelled like cigarettes and walnut ice cream.
Neither Sonny nor I can recall a lot about this place. It wasn’t so much that it wasn’t memorable, it was because after we got the run down of where we were able to go and not go, we were pretty much confined to one three foot square in the living room. There was one place there though we dared not venture to. It was in the back of the apartment, a small bedroom where the step-monsters parents lived. Christ, it creeps me out to even bring this up. I can’t tell you thing one about Momenstein and all I can tell you about Dadenstein was that he had the biggest lips on a white guy outside of a Don Martin character from Mad Magazine and they were purple. THEY WERE PURPLE. God I want to throw up right now! Fortunately, we were told by the monster that FrankenTammy was not going to be visiting this summer (apparently on trial in Salem) and Stevie was living at some group home (see what I mean?) somewhere nearby. Needless to say, night one in San Francisco was not very restful.
Within the first few days of our incarceration, we were informed by one of the other inmates that there was quite the playground nearby complete with a small petting zoo. Only problem was both were located seventy-five feet above us on top of the bluff immediately behind the apartments. Since there was absolutely no adult supervision (shocking, I know) we decided to have a bash and check it out. This proved to be quite the undertaking given we had only two options; we could either walk out the back door, go to the end of the dead end road and take a shot at climbing up the steep slope or we could walk to the bottom of the hill, cross several major intersections (one uncontrolled) and hike for what was approximately two miles up a winding hillside road. Naturally, my brother decided we should climb.
Let me share a basic foundation of “Fat Kid 101”. There are things that little fat kids can’t do very well. Gymnastics comes to mind right away. Unicycles? No. Keeping a shirt-tail tucked in? Forget it. Climbing straight up half a football field without the aid of a block and tackle or at least a rope ladder? Uh, no. The prospect was daunting at best but when I considered the alternative (hanging with Purple Lips at Stalag 13), I became a willing participant. So up we went.
The first few feet really weren’t that bad. The incline wasn’t steep and there was plenty of brush to hang on to. About thirty feet up, it got a little rough. The topography gave way to nothing but scattered ice plant and run-off culverts cut into the dirt. I knew I was in for a rough run so I did what any fat kid would have done. I sat down and commenced to bitching.
After some shaming and cajoling by my brother I gave up my spot (dubbed “Base Camp Alpha”) and with the agility of a boulder, continued my ascent up the summit. I took great caution, planting my feet in the prints of my trusty Sherpa Chucky. I was very surprised by my progress, that was until my ass-hole of a brother said the one thing he should never have said;
“Don’t look down.”
That’s all it took. In a mater of seconds, I tumbled through Base Camp Alpha and came to an abrupt stop with my head wedged between a bush and a Dead End guardrail.
It must have looked like a pretty bad tumble. Before I could figure out what in the hell had just happened, Sonny was on top of me making sure I was okay and laughing his ass off. The bastard.
Surprisingly, my tumble served only to shore up my resolve. I checked for any protruding bones and headed back to base camp. After a quick break to catch my breath and admire what was really a beautiful view, it was back to work. Sonny offered to let me go up first but we quickly determined that that would only serve to provide me a cushion for the next time I fell. We chose to tie one end of his belt to his belt loop and the other to my wrist. Rather brilliant we thought.
While it felt to us like the better part of our day was just getting up that freaking hill, in reality it was probably less than half an hour. As we got closer to the top, I was hit with this strange sensation. Something just didn’t seem right.
“What is that smell?” Suddenly, I wasn’t concerned with the climb or even falling again. I was more concerned about my brother’s digestive tract and just what in the name of all things holy would create such a noxious gas.
It was a rather (“rather” one of my favorite words) anti-climactic moment when Sonny finally reached the top of the cliff. He stood, dusted himself off, took time to survey the area and as outlined in the “Shitty Things to Do to Your Little Brother” handbook, he was required to lean over the ledge of the cliff and spit at me as I was nearing the top. Such a card, that Sonny.
I managed to dodge the barrage of saliva and pulled myself up the last yard or so to where he stood (having long since given up on the belt thing). When I pulled myself to my feet, what I saw certainly explained the foul stench I was smelling. What was billed as a “cool little petting zoo” was more like the San Francisco Satellite Campus of The Island of Dr. Moreau.