Father's Legacy by Clive Aaron Gill

Justin Miller's despised father passes away, leaving behind a surprising legacy; by Clive Aaron Gill.

I hated my father, Ethan Miller. As a youth, I feared his repeated clouts to my head, followed by days of silence. He told me he had experienced the same discipline from his dad. When I saw other fathers shooting baskets with their sons or throwing a football to each other, jealousy clung to my heart like a dark stain. I often wondered if Dad was my biological father.

One evening, while I showered, he shouted at me for misbehaving, his face crimson. He slapped my face, and my head struck the side of the shower. Blood spurted. He paled, put a towel to my head and helped me dress. In his car on the way to the Emergency Room, he said, "Tell the doctor you slipped and fell." If I didn't do as he asked, he'd say his anger was my fault and he'd punish me for telling.

I fantasized strangling him with a rope. He'd struggle for air. I'd tighten the rope and scream, "I despise you." I'd watch him die, then walk away without spilling a tear.

My dad had accumulated wealth while striving to bury memories of poverty. He told me that, as a boy, he lived with his parents in a cramped room infested by cockroaches, rats and fleas. In their filthy, overcrowded building, pipes froze and burst. Now in 2010, and overweight at the age of fifty, he focused on socializing with professional men and their wives in San Antonio, Texas, where we lived.

When I was five and six, my dear mother read children's stories to me at bedtime. But she rarely hugged me. During the following years, she suffered from depression and spent months at a time in a treatment facility. When she lived at home, she stayed in her bedroom most of the day. During my early teen years, my mother endured abdominal pain, weight loss and fatigue.

One morning, when I was ten, she rushed to the toilet and dropped to her knees, retching, her body shuddering as if she struggled to breathe.

"Help me," she called. "I'm scared."

My father ran to her and stood by her side. When she stopped heaving, he helped her up, held her elbow, and steered her with slow steps to her bedroom.

We never talked about the frightening incident.

She died from colon cancer a month before my sixteenth birthday. After her cremation, I found a photo of her in a family album, captioned, "Eighteen years old." She stood beside a palm tree with a look of hope, her long blond hair tied with a red ribbon, her smile innocent. A different person from the mother I knew.

While my mother was ill, my father had hired a maid who prepared our food. Now, he and I ate most of our simple meals together in prickly silence. On Sundays, he left before lunch, to my relief. He didn't tell me where he went or when he would return.

On an oppressive morning, I approached my father when he sat at the dining room table after breakfast. "Dad, I want to go to college in Houston."

He looked up over his thick glasses from the financial page of his newspaper. "I got where I am today with only a high school diploma."

I had heard that many times. "Right."

"To study what?"

"Environmental management."

He scratched his head of salt and pepper hair. "Your best bet is business administration."

"Why?" I narrowed my eyes, glaring at him, my hands clenched.

"You'll have more options for your career."

Keeping my voice low, I said, "I want to choose my major."

"Not if I'm paying for your tuition." He dismissed me with a familiar flick of his wrist.

I left him reading the newspaper, walked out of the house and slammed the front door. I resolved to do well in college, even if I had to study business administration.

At nineteen, I grew a head taller than my dad, my shoulders broader. He never hit me again.

I achieved the honor roll, membership in the French Club and worked as an editor for the college newspaper. None of that was good enough for him. I avoided his eyes that seemed to say, "You're rotten."

Ten days after I graduated, my father collapsed while flying back from a business meeting in England. A Delta Airlines representative told me the cabin crew performed CPR. The pilot, after contacting a flight dispatcher, diverted the plane from San Antonio to Dallas where a doctor boarded the plane and pronounced my dad deceased.

I told family and close friends of his death in a calm tone, knowing I wouldn't miss him. They said, "I'm sorry for your loss," or "He's in a better place."

Eight days after my father's demise, thirty people, wearing formal, dark clothes, attended his graveside funeral and offered condolences to me. A Methodist pastor gave a sermon and a eulogy that exaggerated my dad's contributions to charity and the community.

At the reception in the family home, relatives and friends reminisced about their long relationships with my father. I kept a straight face when someone said, "He had a smile that lit up the room." Others said, "I can't imagine what this has been like for you."

My uncles, aunts and cousins returned to their homes the next day, leaving me with vases of lilies and white roses, and cards of condolences. In my father's office, I found a file with passwords and checked his email and bank accounts. I discovered he had made monthly payments for ten years to a person named Lauren Sullivan. Who was she? Why did he give her money?

I strode around the large office, my head pounding. The woman might have been friends with my father or a lover. My mother might have known about Lauren.

I found her address and contact information and decided to visit her the following Sunday without calling ahead.

On Sunday morning, dark gray clouds slid across the blue sky. After shaving and leaving a fashionable stubble, I drove to Alamo Heights, a community with tree-lined streets in central San Antonio.

I hesitated at the third-floor apartment door, wondering if my father had stood at the same place with a key in his hand. I rang the doorbell and imagined the woman who would come to the door. Either wide-hipped and plump, with a short upper body or sparrow-boned and flat-chested like a runway model.

The door opened, and I gawked on seeing a tall brunette, in her thirties, with a creamy complexion, her mouth small, her nose upturned, a butterfly tattoo on her neck. She wore white jeans and a lavender bell-sleeved cotton top. "Can I help you?"

"Are you Lauren Sullivan?"

She arched an eyebrow above her black-rimmed glasses. "Yes. Who are you?"

"My name is Justin Miller."

"Miller?" Her hands moved to her chest, and she gaped. "You look like a friend of mine. He's also tall and wears glasses."

"My father, Ethan Miller..."

Lauren paled, stepped back and gestured for me to enter her linoleum-floored living room adjoined by a kitchen. "Come in, please. Sit down, Justin."

I sunk into a comfortable armchair, and she sat opposite me on a beige sectional sofa. A painting of my father hung on the wall behind her.

"This is difficult for me," I said.


"My father... he was -"

"Tell me."

"On a plane coming back from London... he died."

"No." Lauren covered her face with her hands and moaned. "No. That can't be."

"I'm sorry."

She gripped a gray-brown throw pillow and sobbed. "Oh, God."

I waited until she stopped crying. "Can I ask you something?"

She wiped her nose with tissues, then gazed at me with reddened, watery eyes.

"When did you and my father meet?"

"Twelve years ago, at a city council meeting." She fidgeted with her hoop earring. "I was the secretary recording the event. He came to find out where he could build apartments. We talked, and he seemed lonely."

"I see. I understand my father made regular payments to you."

"What are you implying?"

"I'm just trying to make sense of my father's life."

"I loved Ethan. He was such a kind man. I can't believe he's..."

Jealous of his relationship with her and angry, my face flushed. "The payments?"

"Oh. I told Ethan I didn't want the money. But he insisted. I'll be lost without him."

"I'll come back another day."

"Don't leave, Justin." She wrung her hands. "Please stay."

"Well... just for a short time."

A baby wailed.

"Poor girl," Lauren said, her eyes despondent. "She won't see her father again."

"Your daughter?"

"Ava. She's my... and your father's daughter."

Feeling the sting of embarrassment at my ignorance, I scowled. "What?"

"Your half-sister."

I shook my head.

"She's ten months old."

"He never told me." I seethed with resentment at my father's secrecy.

"Would you like to see her?"

"I need to go."

"No, wait." She stood and staggered to the side. Reaching for the wall, she stumbled and collapsed, putting her hand to her forehead.

I rushed to her side while she sat without moving, her expression blank.

"Let me help you." I held her arms and eased her to her feet while her daughter continued to cry.

"I... I don't know what happened."

"Sit down, Lauren."

I led her to the sofa, then wet paper towels and brought them to her.

She dabbed her face and sighed. "I'm okay now."

"Are you sure?"

"I'm fine."

"Maybe I should go."

She twirled her loose hairs. "I need to talk to someone."

I sat, tapping a coffee table while she walked with slow steps into a hallway and returned with her chubby daughter clasped in her arms. The copper-haired child rubbed her blue eyes, then gazed at me.

"Your father adored Ava. We often took her to the park and sat under a tree. The one with orange-yellow blossoms in spring."

"I don't remember going to a park with him." Bitterness rose like bile in my throat.

"Really?" She fanned herself with her hand. "It's so hot today, don't you think? Or is it just me? Would you like some water?"

"Let me get it."

I returned with two tall glasses of water, the ice cubes rattling.

Lauren put Ava in a playpen in the kitchen. The child, dressed in a yellow, sleeveless cotton bodysuit, didn't have my father's features. I wasn't convinced she was my half-sister. I tried to appear calm. Inside, I felt as if I was speeding on a rollercoaster.

"I'm so upset." Her lip quivered. "I can't believe he's gone."

Wanting to change the subject, I said, "Tell me about your family."

"Where to start? Your father told me your mother was depressed and died of cancer when you were a teenager. I'm sorry about that."

"Thank you."

"He said you don't have brothers or sisters."


"My family? I have a special bond with my brother, Chuck. He's super intelligent, and I love him. People think he's stupid because he doesn't talk much. His resourcefulness reminds me of your father."


"Yes. My other brother, Calvin, is athletic and popular. He cares mostly about himself. I can't stand the way he boasts. More water, Justin?"

"No, thank you. I won't take any more of your time."

"I prepared lunch for Ethan... for your father. Will you stay?"

I had no one else to talk with. "Well, I am hungry."


"Can I use your bathroom?"

"It's at the end of the hall."

As I walked toward the bathroom, I glanced into a bedroom and saw a pair of men's slippers on the floor beside a king-size bed. What else did my father leave here?

Lauren fed Ava thinly sliced apples and oranges. The child watched me while she ate. Then Lauren served salad and fried rice with chicken at the kitchen table, occasionally wiping tears off her cheeks.

"Do you enjoy living here?" I asked.

"Oh, yes." Lauren sniffled and wiped Ava's mouth. "People are friendly. And we have events in the recreation room and cookout area."

Lauren and I talked about movies on Netflix, the weather and our favorite ethnic food.

After we had eaten, I stood. "Thank you for lunch."

"I enjoyed your company, Justin. Will you come again?"

"Um... I don't know."

"Why don't you join me next Sunday at noon? For lunch."

I had been feeling isolated and lonely, and she was hospitable.

"I always have Sundays free," she said.


During the week, I studied my father's investments, properties and business commitments. Thinking about my next meeting with Lauren and Ava, I was excited.

At twelve-fifteen on Sunday, I arrived at Lauren's apartment. She opened the door, and I enjoyed seeing her in a yellow blouse and slim white ankle pants.

"Come in," she said. "I'm so pleased you could join us today."

I discovered a rare comfort in her presence. But the thought of her loving my father repulsed me.

Lauren fed Ava before we sat at the linen-covered dining table, a purple orchid at the side, to eat Mediterranean salad, hummus and lamb kebabs.

"It's good to see you," I said.

"Me too, Justin." She chewed the inside of her cheek. "When you were fifteen minutes late, I worried you wouldn't show."

"I'm sorry. Being late is a bad habit of mine."

"That's okay. I'm glad you're here."

"This lamb is delicious."

"Thank you." She passed a plate of pita bread to me. "Tell me something about yourself."

"There's not much to tell."

"Like, when you were young, did you get into trouble?" Lauren asked, as if she knew I did.

I scratched my cheek. "Yeah."

"What trouble?"

"You know... typical kid stuff. Like toilet-papering a tree."

"I've seen TP'd trees," she said. "What else?"

"Stealing fruit from a neighbor's garden at night. Or from my teacher's yard."

"That forbidden fruit probably tasted good."

"It did." I grinned. "What interesting things have you done, Lauren?"

"I went with Dad and Mom overseas."


"The Carnival in Rio. The Boryeong Mud Festival in South Korea. Kings Day in Amsterdam when the Dutch celebrate the birthday of their king."

"I've been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Lots of parades and parties."

"I'll bet," she said with a knowing smile.

After dinner, we drank coffee and ate nutty biscotti.

"Can I help you clean up?" I asked.

"I'll do it. Why don't you put your feet up while I change Ava?"

"Thanks." I sat in the armchair, took off my shoes and lifted my feet onto a footrest. Lauren changed Ava's diaper and put her down to nap.

When she had washed the dishes and stacked them on a rack, I asked, "Will it be okay if we talk about your financial support?"

"I hate to talk about money. But expenses for my darling Ava have gone up."

Anticipating an inheritance from my father's estate, I offered her double what my father had been giving her.

"I don't need that much. My income from my secretarial work almost covers my expenses."

I lowered the amount.

"Okay. Thank you. There's something I want to tell you."


"Your father once told me he didn't do a good job of supporting you emotionally."

"He admitted that?"

"Yes. And he said he'd try to do a better job with Ava."

"That's interesting." I stood to leave.

"Will I see you again?" she asked in an eager tone.

"Um... yeah."

She smiled broadly. "Next Sunday, same time."

After we exchanged phone numbers, I said goodbye.

Lauren and I continued to meet on Sundays for two more weeks. During that time, I searched for a copy of my father's will, but without success. I called the assistant to my father's attorney, who told me she would contact the executor and ask if she could have permission to speak with me. The next morning, she called me and said, "We'll probate your father's will. Anyone named in it will get a copy." She wouldn't tell me who was named.

The following week, in the late afternoon, a manila envelope arrived with the attorney's address in the top corner. I tore it open and read the will, not believing what I saw. Feeling faint, I lowered myself onto a leather-upholstered chair. Half of my father's fortune was willed to Lauren Sullivan and half to Ava Sullivan, to be held in trust until she was eighteen.

Reading further, I learned my father had omitted me from his will except for his high school diploma. Was this his way of showing his loathing of me? I imagined myself burning that certificate.

Lauren called me that evening. "Justin, I got a letter and your father's will from an attorney. I read about his generosity to Ava and me. Oh, my God. I don't believe it's for real."

"I got the same letter. It is for real."

"This is a huge shock."

"It is."

"Amazing. I'm pleased he's taken care of Eva and me. But I'm sorry your father didn't will some of his fortune to you."

I dabbed sweat off my forehead with a tissue.

"Remember, I expect you for lunch on Sunday at noon."

"I'll be there. On time."


  1. Very well written. A hard father-son relationship that smacked of memoir. Believable. Open ended, almost as if unfinished, which only increases its credibility.

  2. Tell me about it. It was as if it was my story. Excellent pathos, well written. Cudos to the author.

  3. Wow! The writer kept the father character true to the end. The legacy? A family. Really enjoyed the story. Clive Aaron Gill cuts to the chase and his imagery is right on. Great story.

  4. Enjoyable story. Characters stay true to who they are. Great job! Clive

  5. This story kept me gripped to the end. The will was a real twist. I really like the open ending, with just a hint of menace to keep us guessing.

  6. Excellent story, but the ending left me unsatisfied.

  7. Entertaining story with a lot of drama and the complex character of the father is completely believable. The son ends up involved with his fathers legacy and mistress even though he strove so hard to make his own life.

  8. Very effective: I hated the father! But I figured he would surprise his son with a financial legacy--in an effort to cause unwarranted remorse on the part of the son (and undercut the integrity of the story). But he was true to character! Very nice! But I doubt the boy will continue the relationship with Lauren and Ava on a regular, weekly basis for very long. Certainly he deserves to enjoy some vestige of a family. Well done--a great story!

  9. I think I know where this is going. Thanks for a nicely told tale.