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By Charles Lam
That was pretty much the story of Hal Durham's relationship with his two children—Jeff, who is 34, and Michelle, who is 30. "I really didn't know my dad that well," Jeff concedes. "He lived up here until I was seven or eight—so I guess that would be sometime in the early 1970s. After that, I really didn't have contact with him. I talked to him again when I was 18—that would have been in the mid-1980s. But there wasn't much after that until after I got married and my son was born. That was a couple of years ago. I made sure I got ahold of him then. I wanted him to know."
Jeff is the manager of a warehouse for a food-manufacturing company. His wife works there, too. He says their little family is doing fine, that they are putting together a pretty nice life for themselves. He says he is dedicated to being a good father. He downplays the long-term effect of growing up without Hal. He says he isn't bitter that any chance for a reunion is over. "I don't really have any resentments anymore," he says. "There's part of me that would like to know why he did the things he did, from the stuff that happened when I was young to this last thing. I had hoped to come down to California and visit, take my son to see him and all that. I had hoped to do that. Sometime, you know? And that's unfortunate. But I can deal with it." Jeff pauses again, then continues. "I would like to have known what kind of guy my dad really was because I didn't really know him as an adult," he says. "As far as I know, he was kind of an easygoing guy. I heard he had a good sense of humor. That's about all I know about him, really. Or all I think I know, anyway. Is that how people have described him to you?"
Now it's your turn to pause for a moment. Then you tell Jeff Durham some of what people have said about his dad—about the extremes of his love-you-or-hate-you temperament, about the greeting cards he sent, about the problems he kept private, about the impenetrable mystery that surrounded him throughout his life and now in death.
"Hmmm, that's weird," the only son of Hal Durham responds softly. "He sounds like me."