One Man’s Search For the Father Who Abandoned Him

Keith Mason watches a youtube video on his computer of an old TV show with a man on the screen.
On Father’s Day, A Local Writer Reflects On His Dad And The Investigation That Uncovered His Decades Of Scandal

by Keith Mason, guest contributor

The day always returned. That annual exercise to ensure dads didn’t feel excluded after moms got their flowers and burnt toast in bed the month before: Father’s Day. For a kid growing up in Philadelphia in the early 1950s without a dad, Father’s Day was nothing to be celebrated. 

I remember being in second grade and directed to craft something for the holiday. As my peers crayoned cards for their fathers, I scrawled my few words for my granddad. My mom and I lived with her parents after she kicked out her lying putz of a husband while I was still in-utero.

The census recorded me as a paternal orphan. In the early 1950s, 3 million children under 18 in the U.S. had no father. Fathers disappeared in a mortar pit in the Ardennes or froze in a Korean swamp, walked away in North Philly, or got T-boned trying to beat the light turning onto Eagle Road. 

When I was round the age of six, some kid asked, “Where’s your dad?” and in older years, “How come you never… what happened to….?” Children asked pointed questions, before they clued into the demarcation between curiosity and intrusion, which is usually via a shush from their mother.

Keith Mason, author of “Please Stand Up.” Photo Courtesy of Keith Mason.

I’d respond with the explanation provided at home: “Some people don’t have a mom and dad, only one of them, and that’s okay.”

Therapists would mumble “Now, there’s something to look at” when I outlined my dad-free insouciance, and they probed for sublimation and denial. It was not that I felt unwounded by it all; I was simply okay with it. This wasn’t an emptiness per se, as that would imply a vessel to fill. More of a blandness, the unvarnished gray feeling one gets from a gym locker. 

Yet there was plenty of my father in the construction of my face. The shape of the lip, the hair that wouldn’t stay down and the ears pushed car-door wide even before the eyeglasses when I was nine. 

My skeleton held so many Y factors, gifted by predecessors. Years later when my first wife was pregnant, there was anxiety about an entire genetic half of my father, a bloodline that could infect an unknowable burden upon my children or theirs. As it turned out, the kids were born and grew just fine despite whatever DNA they carried.

It wasn’t until 2016, at age 64, when I was idly sifting some keywords into the internet on my dad’s controversial career as a salvage diver that I stumbled upon my father. Walking, talking – in a YouTube video, as a contestant on a 1961 episode of the TV show To Tell The Truth.

Eight minutes of video spiraled me into three years of investigation and, ultimately, a book. My dad Burton’s life and times in the cultural, employment, criminal-justice and romantic realms, was that of a sociopath.

Burton was married seven times, twice to the same woman. Eight unknown siblings are also out here somewhere. Burt’s dad was a crusading reporter killed by a corrupt Texas sheriff in 1949 in an early case of silencing a free press.

“Please Stand Up” cover art. Photo courtesy of Keith Mason.

Being a lifelong writer, I was compelled to set this story to paper. I needed to show the startling discovery of this man, then the unearthing of his many messes, and the others he’d deprived, disappointed and or deserted – wives, children, business partners, employers, lawyers. I was both living through it and writing it, each draft changed by something new I found, each sibling I contacted. 

Father’s Day comes around again. I had no card to offer him. Just a book, Please Stand Up, but he won’t be reading this either.

The author’s history/memoir “Please Stand Up,” released in April, is available online and in bookstores. Find out more at: www.pleasestandupmason.com

Want to know more about family relationships? Read about couples dealing with infertility and navigating arguments with your loved ones.  

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