A Pocket Introduction to My Father

Cammy Thomas


—(after Claire Bateman)

His own mother called him Little Hitler.

He was 5 feet 10 and weighed about 200 pounds.

Maitre d’s called him Dr. Thomas, but he wasn’t a doctor.

He remembered the plot of every novel he’d ever read.

He often went to the track instead of to work.

In the sixties, he wore a bowler hat and bow tie, and parted his reddish hair in the middle.

At fancy dinners, he lectured wine experts about wine.

He had lots of parties, and imitated his friends behind their backs.

He slept very little and roamed the house at night.

Often, and suddenly, he would become enraged and turn on us, screaming and swinging.

Humor could distract him.

He told his friends my sister had won a Rhodes Scholarship.  She hadn’t.

The first opera he took me to, age 8, was Salome, about the seductress who persuaded King Herod to have John the Baptist beheaded.

His checks bounced all over town and he borrowed money from everyone.

He was a famous child equestrian who was excused from school to ride in horseshows, and took home two huge silver trophies from Madison Square Garden at seventeen.

The third finger on his right hand was permanently bent, from a fall from a horse.

His father believed there was something deeply wrong with him, but did not live to see him grow up.

His sister believed he had burned down their childhood home.

He read the NYT cover to cover daily and loved scandals.

He wrote letters to various Presidents, telling them what to do.

A copy of the King James version of the Gospel of Matthew was always in his pocket.

He went to Yale Law School and did not crack a book, but passed the bar.

He was a corporate lawyer until he was caught embezzling money from a client.

Then he was briefly a law professor.

Earnest people who worked hard drew his mockery.

He walked with a jaunty stroll, head tipped back, smoking a cigar, looked a little like FDR.

He spent three inherited fortunes.

The Rolls Royce he bought his second wife, was repossessed.

He ate a lot of food, all of it covered with Tabasco Sauce and freshly ground black pepper.

He never paid child support, though he insisted he did.

When he listened to music, he waved his arms like a conductor.

He did not open his mail.

My mother said he slept with most of her friends.

When, after prostate surgery, he lost his sexual capability, my stepmother called it poetic justice.

He did not understand why we didn’t visit him much.

Seeing my name, Dr. Thomas, on the door of my office at the college where I was teaching, he cried.

When he was dying agonizingly of bone cancer, he almost never complained.

Though one day he said if he’d had a shotgun the day before, he’d have blown his head off.

He died with $50,000 in the bank, but he owed the IRS $120,000.

He was a big tipper.


Cammy Thomas’s newest poetry collection, Tremors, was released in September, 2021. Her first book, Cathedral of Wish, received the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America. A fellowship from the Ragdale Foundation helped her complete her second, Inscriptions. All are published by Four Way Books. Two poems titled Far Past War are the text for a choral work by her sister, composer Augusta Read Thomas, premiering at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC in 2022. She lives in the Boston area.


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