Bobmill: A Father’s Day Cautionary Tale

About ten years ago, something happened on the Internet auction site eBay.  There was a dispute among the sellers on eBay about how much the auction site could claim in terms of fees and shipping costs and whatnot.

One of the sellers, a stamp dealer who went by the eBay handle bobmill, decided that he would use eBay’s auction site as a form of social protest.  After he achieved 10,000 positive feedback transactions, bobmill received a very nice eBay suede jacket from the auction site.  He decided to put the jacket up for auction on eBay, along with a very long and detailed description of his dispute with the company over their fees and charges.  The original auction has long disappeared; a copy of it was mirrored at this link. Here’s a summation of the contents of the auction description:

Only 64 of these jackets exist – one for each of the folks whose thousands of dollars in eBay fees and outstanding customer service have earned them the coveted Shooting Star for 10,000 unique positive feedbacks. They cost so much (I understand over $140.00 each) that future Shooting Stars aren’t going to get them so this may well be your only chance to have one – assuming you really want to be a walking billboard for a company which learned everything it knows about honesty, decency and ethics from Bill Clinton.

The box arrived the same day that eBay made it perfectly clear that they would listen to the two nitwits and the halfwit who make up their marketing department and ignore the anguished screams of all the folks who made them the success that they are … It was my intention to put it to its proper use of lining the Kitty Box but I thought there might be someone who wants it so here it is.

The starting bid is not my idea of its value – eBay does not allow a starting bid of a negative amount – so I have to set it at a penny. Please pay very careful attention to the special terms of sale which apply only to this one auction. They are in full agreement with eBay’s new policy of screwing the folks who built them.

We reserve the right to change, abolish, reword, revoke or ignore any and all terms of sale anytime we feel like it. Any complaints will be ignored since we know best. We may cancel any or all bids for any (or no) reason and close the auction early if we feel like it. For that matter, we can do anything else we want just because we feel like it. If you don’t like it, go eat grass – we are eBay and you will be assimilated.

Should you be outbid, we will inundate you with unsolicited commercial email (a.k.a. spam) recommending that you go elsewhere and bid on something else we, in our infinite wisdom, think you want. We will use the following priorities in selecting such auctions for you to bid on.

If you are so stupid as pay us a very large amount of money, we will dump manure on your head, insult you, ignore anything you say and rely upon our in-house birdbrains (none of whom have ever sold a thing so them must know better then anyone who only runs 10,000 auctions a month) who will rig questionnaires and “survey” a selected group whose input will be ignored unless it agrees with their own views.

Bid early and bid often as eBay needs the money. It wouldn’t do to disappoint Wall Street. Why that would be almost as terrible an idea as actually listening to the people who use the service. And we all know that eBay would never do such a silly thing.

This auction actually caused a big stir – and bids of up to $43 million in protest – before eBay shut the auction down a day later.  But the point had not been lost on eBay; they changed their fees and options, and a few years later, bobmill was named part of eBay’s Community Hall of Fame in 2005.

Sounds like a case of man bites dog, and man wins.

Bobmill lives in Utah with his wife Glenda, and they sell postage stamps and postcards through eBay.  They also have several websites devoted to cats, to Gene Barry, and to Bobmill’s stream-of-consciousness autobiography.

Seems rather innocuous.

See, this is today.  Now let’s spin the wayback machine backwards to about the summer of 1963.

That’s when Bobmill – who in his pre-eBay days was known as Bob Miller – was pacing the hospital floor while his son was being born.  He wasn’t a happy person that day.  He hadn’t expected to be a father, and now the title was bestowed upon him whether he liked it or not.

Yep, that was when I was born.  Three more siblings would follow – John, Allen and Brenda – before my parents finally broke up in 1968.  Back then, my father was working whatever odd jobs he could hold down – including, I believe, everything from a front office worker at Dun and Bradstreet to pumping gas at a filling station – and the stress of maintaining a family became too much for him.  According to my mother, the final straw was when he got very violent and abusive towards her one night, then saw me walking into the bedroom, where I caught a full view of the abuse – and he cold-cocked me so hard, I went flying down the stairwell.

Airborne at the age of four.

My mother eventually moved out a few weeks later, and I stayed with my grandparents in Slingerlands.

Of course, the adage goes that time heals all wounds, and by 1978, living with my parents had become too toxic.  So I got in touch with my father – who, by that time, was living in Massachusetts with Wife #3.  Arrangements were made, and I would start the tenth grade in Abington, Mass. with my father and Wife #3.

The situation was worse.  I once wrote about it in a short story called The Chestnut Prison, how all the pain and anger and misery can be absorbed though the shell of a chestnut, until the contents inside are cured into the edible nut inside.

From about August 1978 until December 1978, I survived some of the most insidious emotional and verbal abuse by someone who was supposed to be a lifegiver, a role model, a protector.  And Wife #3 was just as cunning and sharp in her verbal abuse.  She often told me that since I was born out of wedlock, I didn’t have as many rights as someone who was born to a married couple.  She also boasted that she was the smartest girl in her high school, but because she only received an “A minus” in her senior typing class, her academic average moved her from first in her class to third, preventing her from speaking at her high school graduation.

Eventually the torment was too much for me to take – even survivors have their breaking points – and I negotiated to move back to Albany, and stay with other relatives until I could get my life back in order.  I last saw or spoke to my father in December of 1978.  And as far as I’m concerned, it hasn’t been long enough.

For me, I barely got out with my sanity.

About six years later, my sister Brenda decided she could no longer live with my mother and stepfather, and decided to go live with Bob and Wife #3.

About two weeks after I found out Brenda had moved to Abington, I was in college, working a shift at Hamilton’s student-operated radio station WHCL.  The rules on how to contact me were as such – if you needed to find Chuck Miller, call the radio station first, then call the college computer center, and if I wasn’t at any of those locations, then try my dorm room.

My mother got me at the radio station, while I was working an on-air shift.  She was in tears.

Apparently Brenda could only survive being with my father for about two weeks, when the emotional abuse became so violent and painful and acidic – that she found one of my father’s guns, loaded it, and pointed the gun at her stomach – and pulled the trigger.

Brenda was in the hospital for about two weeks, undergoing several surgeries to save her life.  I went to Boston and visited her.  We’re not that close, Brenda and I – but this was very different.

My father and Wife #3 weren’t in the hospital at the time, but I did hear from some of the nursing staff about comments they made during their visit.

Including a comment from my father to the doctor, asking, “While you’re removing the bullet, Doctor, would you see what you can do to remove about 40 or 50 pounds from her as well?”

Surprisingly, I understand that he only received a fine for having an unlicensed gun in the house.

Spin the clock forward to August of 1986, when I became the proud father of a baby girl, whom I named Cassaundra.  Today Cassaundra now lives in Seattle with her girlfriend, and recently just got a promotion.  I think she turned out pretty well, at least I can say I did my best as a parent.  I won’t say I was the best parent – but I learned how to not make the same mistakes my father (and my stepfather, which I will save for another post) made.  I got a card from her the other day for Father’s Day – well-wishes and a $50 gift card to B&H Photo, the Disney World of camera stores.  Cassaundra’s a good kid.  I miss her.  I wish she’d come to Albany for a visit.  Maybe this summer.

As Cassaundra grew up, she and I used to go bowling together, either at Sunset Recreation or at Playdium.  One night, I came home and my grandmother (Bob’s mother) called me.  I was told that my brother Scott had contacted her, looking for information on how to contact me.

“Scott” wasn’t my biological brother.  He was Wife #3’s son, and I only knew him for about the four months I lived in Abington.

Vicki and I drove out to Abington and met with Scott and his wife.  We both shared horror stories about Bob.  Scott actually told me something chilling.  He remembered when I was living with Bob and Wife #3, and that he admired that I had the courage to get out of that house with some sort of sanity attached.

He also told me that he tried running away on more than one occasion, but because he suffered from Type I diabetes, he couldn’t get far enough away without suffering from insulin shock – and then would have to come back home.

Scott was the one who told me that Bob was surfing the Internet one day, and eventually found the person who would become Wife #4 – and decided to leave Wife #3 then and there.

Classy.

So what do I want to say on this Father’s Day?  Just some words of wisdom.

Essentially if you are a father, or a stepfather, you need to do the best you can.  Ask for help if you can’t do the job.  Admit that at times you make mistakes, but that you’re willing to learn from those mistakes and be a better parent for it.

Never give up on your duties.  You have someone who’s counting on you every day.  That someone looks up to you.  That someone wants your love, your approval, your guidance, your compassion.  They don’t care that you had a crummy day at the office or that you’re thirsty for a can of Pabst.  All they care about is that you’re there for them.  And that you’ll always be there for them.

And if you have that connection – no matter how slim or fragile that connection is – fight to keep it.  Fight with every fiber in your body.  Never let it go.

Oh, and as for Wife #3 and her smug comments about not making valedictorian… you should have seen the smile on my face, a smile that introduced one ear to the other, when I spoke as the valedictorian of my graduating high school class in 1981.

Happy Father’s Day to all.