This may seem like a repeat, but it isn’t. My previous post was all about my husband, and that post stands. It could actually be multiplied several times over before you had a true sense of how much I love and admire him.
When I checked my Facebook page today the whole thing seemed to be full of heartfelt comments similar in feel to my post about my husband. Friends posted both current and retro pictures of themselves and their fathers, all of whom are (or were) apparently The Best Father in the World. Wow. That’s an awesome amount lot of love and gratitude on display. I was impressed. I also couldn’t relate.
Let me be clear, I loved my father. He died several years ago, alone. It was several days before anyone found him, and thinking about that, which I do, periodically, absolutely breaks my heart. But his death didn’t turn him into The Best Father in the World, and I’m not sure I’d want it to. He was real; he was damaged. I’m a lot like him in many ways of which I am proud, and also in several of which I am not.
My dad was an alcoholic. I got that in part from him. I got sober at a fairly young age; as far as I know he never did. My dad was probably the most brilliant person I’ve ever met, but definitely not the wisest. I suspect his awareness of his intellect caused him to separate himself from other people. I hope I am never that smart. On some level I have aspired not to be that smart. He loved to write and I have no doubt my love of writing came from him. He was never the writer he wanted to be, though. My mom said that after his death they found a drawer full of rejection letters. That puts him ahead of me… at least he had the courage to put himself out there. I do wonder if he kept the letters as motivation or as punishment of some kind. Regardless, I never felt like he thought I was a good enough writer. I felt endlessly compared, to him and… to everyone. I never felt like I was enough.
After my parents divorced there were other issues. He wasn’t reliable with child support; my mom would punish him by denying him visitation. Once, during one of these punishments, my sister and I were sent to visit my grandmother but weren’t allowed to see him, or to mention the visit afterward. He found out, and angry, he wrote me a letter. Why he wrote me and not my mom is unclear. He started the letter by saying, “This is a very grown-up letter, and it might hurt.” I think I was 10 or 11 at the time. My son is almost 10, and I can’t imagine fashioning a letter the intent of which was to hurt him. My father’s cruelty could be astonishing.
My dad wasn’t great with kids. This might seem obvious. His world was a world of adults; it was my job to fit in where I could. This was the 70’s, and my dad took full advantage of his single status. Women liked him, and there were many for awhile. I tried to be blasé. He took my sister and me with him to the bars. We ate popcorn and drank soda dosed with grenadine and maraschino cherries. This was the 70’s; if anyone found our presence troubling, no one ever mentioned it. My sister sprained her ankle jumping off the stairs outside of one of the bars. My mother wasn’t happy.
Later, I lived with my dad while in college. I was newly sober, he was often drunk. I suppose if nothing else he was an excellent reminder of why I needed to keep going to meetings. He yelled a lot when he was drunk, and sometimes when he wasn’t. He wasn’t easy to live with, and I stayed away as often as possible. Once I graduated and moved to California, I rarely saw him. He hated the phone, and wasn’t very good about sending letters, strangely. When I got married, it was my mom who convinced me to let him walk me down the aisle along with her (she alone was my preference). I was lucky; he was tipsy at the wedding but managed not to get drunk. His “Father of the Bride” speech was entertaining; later I joked with Chris that my dad could make a better speech drunk than his could sober. (I adore Chris’ dad, but this is completely true.) While we were dancing the Father/Daughter dance, something I had been dreading, he told me he’d been moved by the ceremony. He didn’t have anything negative or ironic to offer, which for my dad was high praise indeed. I can’t remember which song we danced to; the song was picked with its brevity in mind.
It was my sister who called to tell me that my dad had died. I fell apart, and cried often for a long time. I have a lot of unresolved issues where he is concerned, and questions he’ll never be able to answer. Sometimes that makes me angry, others it makes me sad. In my mind, it’s easy to pretend he isn’t dead. I saw him so rarely after I graduated I was used to his absence, and he was such a poor communicator his silence was normal to me. Much like my childhood home, which has been razed but whose rooms I knew so intimately it still stands intact inside my mind, my father still exists there too. My father was not The Best Father in the World. He was far from perfect; I’ll never write one of those super-touching Facebook posts. But he was still my father, and I loved him. He’s a part of me. I’m sorry he’s gone.