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PART IV The Painful Road to National Politics v v CHAPTER 19 Finding My Father and Saving the FFA R usty Kelly and I had dinner one night at a popular restaurant in Houston. Rusty and I had become close friends when he worked for Speaker Clayton, and he had been incredibly helpful during my election campaign for the Senate. Rusty was a very well-­ respected, self-­ employed lobbyist in Austin. He was a straight shooter and very candid about how I might be impacted politically by the issues he was lobbying. I appreciated him very much. At that dinner, I thought a gentleman seated at another table looked very familiar, but I could not place him immediately. Finally, I recognized him as Mr. Crochet, a former neighbor in Houston, before my father had abandoned us. I approached his table to introduce myself and say hello. Mr. Crochet stood as I neared his table. He greeted me and excused himself from the table, and we walked to the front of the restaurant together. We made small talk, but I really had only one question for Mr. Crochet: “Do you know if my father is still alive?” I explained that my brothers and I had not heard from our father for twenty-­ five years. “The last time I heard from your father was several years ago,” he said. “At that time, he was living in San Francisco, California.” I was stunned. The thought had not really crossed my mind that my father might actually still be alive. Mr. Crochet and I returned to our tables, and all I could think about was my father and what a son of a bitch he was. 200 • The Grand Duke from Boys Ranch The National Democratic Convention that year was in San Francisco . I was elected by my party to be a convention delegate. I wanted to attend for two reasons: I wanted to broaden my base of contacts in case I decided to run for Congress one day, and more important, I wanted to find my father. Donna went with me. When we checked into the hotel room, I grabbed the telephone book and searched for my father’s name, Bob Sarpalius. There were no names with that spelling, but I did notice a different name, Bob Sarpolis. I dialed the number and then hung up. I didn’t know what I would possibly say to him after all these years. The convention was exciting, but I was totally consumed with Bob Sarpolis. Several days later, I sat on the edge of the bed in my hotel room, took a deep breath, and called the same number again, but this time I did not hang up. A man answered. “Is this Bob Sarpalius?” I asked. After a long pause, he responded, “Yes.” I asked him, “Did you have three sons named Bill, Bobby, and Karl?” After another long pause, he replied, “Yes.” I said, “Well, this is Bill.” It had been more than twenty-­ five years since I had heard my father’s voice. I didn’t know if I should feel disgusted or excited. We talked for a few moments and then agreed to meet for dinner that night. Donna and I took a taxi to a local Italian restaurant. We got there early. I wanted to see my father walk through the door. I wanted to hug him, but I also wanted to hit him—­ and hard. I didn’t even know what I should call him, except a “bastard” and a lot of other really bad names. I wanted to know as much as possible about him and where he had been for the last twenty-­ five years. I wanted him to apologize for abandoning us. I didn’t even know if I wanted to be there. I was so conflicted. He was late, and I figured he probably would not even show up. Finally, a tall, thin man with gray hair and piercing blue eyes walked through the door. There was no question it was my father. For a moment, I could not breathe. A short, platinum-­ blonde woman followed him. She had on a very low-­ cut, white dress. A Hispanic boy who looked to be about thirteen was also with them. They looked around the restaurant. I stood slowly, Finding My Father and Saving the FFA • 201 and they spotted me. As they approached our table, Donna and I stood to greet them. I shook his hand...


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