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Dexter goes on: “He must have been feeling an enormous burden—four kids, a wife constantly sick, not much money. All of this kind of stuff came out when I was writing Spooner.”
What most breaks Dexter’s heart, though, is what happened to his stepfather during his reporting days in Florida.
Tollefson had become an assistant superintendent in South Dakota’s Sioux Falls School District. It was 1972, and Tollefson had deep roots in liberal politics. Badly wanting his friend George McGovern to win the presidency, he paid for an ad on behalf of the South Dakota Democrat in the local paper, the Argus Leader. District officials and the school board were furious and made Tollefson’s life miserable, forcing him out of his job, recalls Dexter. Had it been a decade later, after Dexter had achieved a good measure of fame and money, “I could have done something, hired a lawyer, sued the school board, something. God, I’d have traded a couple of books if I could have made him happy the last 10 years of his life.”
Dexter says his stepfather was never bitter about losing his job, but it depressed him. “One day, I got a call from my mother telling me he couldn’t get out of bed. I never saw him happy again. He didn’t have as much fun as he should have had, and that’s what we’re here for, to have a little fun.
“Yeah, I still dream of him. He was the most Christlike person I ever met. Absolutely selfless.”
Sometime before he died in 1978, Tollefson paid a visit to his stepson in Philadelphia. “It tickled him to death that he saw what I was doing and where things were now heading for me,” says Dexter. “I guess one of my great sorrows is that he wasn’t there when things went really right for me.”
Sometimes, says Dexter, when he’s writing, or when the daydreams descend, as they often do when his thoughts turn to his stepfather, or the Rosatis, or Tex Cobb, “You get to revisit your past, and when I do that, I’ve come around to thinking, you know, that people are who they are.”
Or, as he writes in the final line of The Paperboy, “There are no intact men.”