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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with William E. White Jr., October 29, 2000. Interview R-0147. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Transforming his relationship with his father

White describes troubled relationships with his father and mother. They repaired their hostile relationship when, after his father's wife suffered a heart attack, White offered a great deal of help. White treasures the letters from his father, who is now dead. White and his mother had an unhealthily close relationship, at least according to some of White's friends.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with William E. White Jr., October 29, 2000. Interview R-0147. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

ASHLEY CROWE:
Could you talk a little bit more about how your relationship with your dad changed?
WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
Umm, yeah. When I was in therapy with Thomas Sherratt there was this routine where you write everything to your parents you always wanted to say, and you throw it away. Somehow I didn't hear the throw it away part, and I mailed it. And we started a two-year ling one-ups-manship. That scared the crap out of Dad, so he fired back with a letter that was even more scary. And it eventually boiled down to dad sending me a photocopy of every check he had ever written me. And saying, "Young man, you thought these were gifts; they were loans, payment is due now. If I don't have payment you will hear from my lawyer." I said, "Oh well godammit, I'll sue them." And Thomas looked at me and said, "Pay the man." I was like, "What?!" "Pay the man." I said, "I don't have that kind of money." He said, "Put it on your credit card." "What?!" He said, "Would you rather pay your credit card or your dad every month?" I said, "Oh jeez." That took the wind out Dad's sails. And we were just kind of at an uneasy truce then. Was it his heart attack? No Oh god, no. My dad's fourth wife died suddenly. Dad had gone into his office. Jean had gone to bed; Dad came in shortly there after and found his wife found. He gets on the phone to 911. They have this poor man drag this woman's body off on to the floor and try to give her CPR while they're on their way. We find this out, my siblings and I pile into my brother's car, and we drove this maniacal drive to Florida. And when I got there I found this man who was always in charge of everything, looking like a little kid lost in the mall. He was just distraught Mike and Diane had to go back because they have kids, my sister had to go back because she had no way to get transportation. I said, "Guys, I cannot leave him like this." So, I stay for three weeks. And did everything, I wrote his checks, I paid the bills, I bought the groceries. Because he couldn't, he just couldn't. And before I left he sat down at the table with me and said, "Son, you have shown me that you're more of a man than I ever was, and every could be. And I respect you and love you for it." And from there the relationship went up. So it was one of us have to prove to the other, and I didn't stay with him to prove anything, I just needed to, he needed me to.
ASHLEY CROWE:
And he had a heart attack as well?
WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
Yeah that's the second time I went down and took care of him. I think that may have been what sealed it for him. That I would take time away from my job, being self-employed, and once again went down and looked after him. Yeah, I went down after everyone else left. My siblings went screaming down. I said, "I can't go now." And when everybody had left and Dad was on his own, then I went down.
ASHLEY CROWE:
And how long were you down there?
WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
Oh lord, probably a month. There was a gym just about four blocks down from dad and every time he'd take a nap I'd haul off to the gym. There's lots of old people in this neighborhood. And every time and ambulance would go by, I'd be like, "Oh god no." So I went down with much fear and trepidation, and guilt. But that's how we became best friends. In fact I've got, oh lord I've got a stack this tall [about five inches] of letters and cards my dad wrote me. I read in Anne Landers once a woman talking about how she hated the fact that her kids wouldn't know her parents, and she suggested that people save letters from their parents. I thought, "I don't have and kids but why not." I can't read them yet, I mean Dad's been dead for four and a half years and I still can't read them. I can take them out and put them in chronological order, but I can't read them. I may never be able to read them, but I've got them. So that's kind of a part of him. So yeah, we were, it was good.
ASHLEY CROWE:
Did your relationship with your mother, did y'all ever reach the same friendship level?
WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
No, it was a much more twisted relationship. We kinda needed each other. Actually we kinda needed each other and we kinda needled each other. Umm, it befell on me to be the one to stay home and take care of Mom. Which I think is part of the reason I got married. Like I said, my mom was a very controlling tough person to live with. In fact, After my mom died, on my next trip down to my dad's at dinner, I said, "Dad, I owe you an apology. I blamed the whole divorce on you and I know now that Mom was hell to live with." And he just grinned. So no we never got - we were close but in an entirely different manner. It was more of a needy, cloying to close type thing. In fact, several people, they'd go, "Bill, you're too close to your mother." It was like, "Beg your pardon?" They were right. It was just too much; it was smothering.