Father of mine

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The last time I saw my father, I was 13 years old.

He was supposed to pick my brother and I up at my mother's house in Vermont. He was late and I was impatient becuase I had turned down a friends boy-girl party to wait for him.

It had been at least 2 years since our last visitation at that point. My mother had a brand new baby with the man she would later marry. My brother was not quite ten.

While I remembered what he looked like, I also didn't. I mean...the eyes of an eleven year old girl recall her father being huge. Massive. All Encompassing. Larger than life.

My father was a Marine, by choice. He enlisted during Vietnam. This added a layer of toughness that was unmistakable. I was drilled with the Marine corp code. Always faithful. First ones in, last ones out. The shotgun was put in my hands when I was six and he laughed when the recoil knocked me down. When I began to cry, he called me a baby and demanded that I get back up and do it again. This is similar, apparently to the way he taught me to not touch medicine. He held it out to me, offering. As I reached out to take it, he smacked my hand. After several attempts, I gave up, hand stinging. Lesson learned and noted.

These memories are tempered with the moments when he was a tender and loving father. I recall after my brother was born, he came home, got me dressed, painted my nails, took me to dinner and a movie. He told me that he loved me and that I was his daughter, his first child.

This is the same man who, in a fit of rage, shot my dogs to death one winter night because they were barking. My mother had to clean the bloody snow up before I woke up. I was told that Candy and Karen had run away. Or after telling me that I had been a naughty girl, hid all of the Christmas presents as I napped. I woke up to find everything gone. Santa, I was informed, had changed his mind and taken everything back. I was five.

Some of my ability to closely observe people came from living with him. His moods needed to be monitored closely. I learned to read him. I learned how to stay quiet and watch. I never moved first, but planned my counter move in response to the first move of his whims. For instance, you never woke him up by approaching him by the side of his body - always from the top, near his head. He tended to punch as he woke up, and I had gotten socked in the gut enough to know better.

I wonder sometimes what he looks like now, and have occasionally pondered making the drive back to the Ohio valley where I was born to see for myself. I am no longer a little girl seeing him as a demi-god. Was he tall, or is that just how I remember him? I remember that he had black hair and brown eyes. My brother resembles him, and yet doesn't. My brother has a sense of humor, a tenderness about him that my father never exuded.

I doubt that he remembers the same things that I remember. I suspect that years of drug and alcohol use have dulled his memories. I tend to wonder if he would even recognize me if I walked out into the driveway of my grandparents house. I struggle with the line between bravery and fear. Am I brave enough to open the light of reality onto him, bright rays chasing out the foggy images I hold from more than twenty years ago? Or does it speak of more bravery to walk away from this man, shutting and bolting the door, then bricking the wall so that he and his kind never reach out to my daughter?

Would seeing him as a 57 year old man make me pity him - the logic and reality of all these years of therapy to undo his carnage showing me that he is a damaged human being who could neither help nor understand the impact of his actions? That he is a frightened abused little boy?

When I first started my therapy when I was 18, I tried for a year to understand. To be compassionate. To tell myself that my parents did the best with what they had. I was trying to absolve and forgive before I had even unveiled the litany of wrongs. Imagine my relief when my therapist told me that I didn't have to forgive him. That the things I had experienced, the abuses of my trust in a parent, the abuses of my body, the abuses of my mental and physical well being - well. They were unforgivable.

That is how I began to heal. I didn't have to forgive. I didn't have to be the bigger person.

And now...Well, I sometimes dream of him. I dream of my grandmothers house. I dream that he sees me pulling into the driveway and that I walk in to find him. Sometimes we talk in these dreams, but more often we don't. I sometimes wake from these dreams to wonder what his reaction to me today would be. I envision my brother and I walking in to that house, side by side. His children - we who look so familiar and yet are not at all known to him.

I fear that by humanizing him, by actually seeing him in the flesh,I would have to forgive him. I would see a man. A human man. I would realize that I am far stronger than he could have ever imagined and that his hold over me was too long mythologized in my creation story. I would see that rather than being God, he was just a bit player with a few random lines. I would see that he, in fact, did not cast me from an imaginary Eden...but that I walked out of the gates of my own free will free from any vestiges of sin.

18 Baleful Regards:

SUEB0B said...

That is a truly sad story. I am sorry that you didn't get the dad you deserved. You are a precious pearl.

I hope he has found some release from his demons as well.

Jamie said...

I can so understand so much of what you wrote, perhaps our fathers were brothers. I am amazed at your ability to capture your feelings from that time. The only thing that has kept me from completely losing it at times was to know it wasn't my fault. And it was okay to hate him. And once I realized that, I didn't anymore. I pitied him. Thank you for such a compelling, honest post. :)

Anonymous said...

The fact that you think about him at all, consider seeing him and even for a nanosecond consider forgiving him, speaks volumes about you as a person, your strength and your ability to overcome.

Karen Bodkin said...

I don't have the answers, having been in your shoes at 29. I chose to see my Dad, and it made things worse. But every situation is different. Try, in your heart, to forgive him for yourself...not for him. (If you know what I mean). It's a struggle, but please know you aren't alone. We both deserved better.

Bobita said...

You know my story, it is so very much like your own...which would explain the river of tears streaming down my cheeks as I write this.

One of the last times I saw my dad, we met in a restaurant. He spoke of his own father, who had just died. Then, he wept. He apologized for how fucked up he was. He blamed his own father.

I wanted to feel forgiveness or pity for him in that moment. I really wanted to. But his tears, his apologies...meant nothing to me. They seemed like such an afterthought. I never wanted to be an afterthought, I wanted to be considered.

Regardless, I still dream of holding his hand. I wake up, startled by how comforted I was to feel the warmth of my hand in his.

Monie said...

Wow. I spent the majority of the weekend reading your blog and I'm so glad I did. You're an amazing writer and an amazing person. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I was just thinking today that evil often comes in the form of pity to draw you in. It never really lets go, does it.

I admire your strength.

Mitzi Green said...

bleh. there's no easy answer to that question, dear. i think the thing that keeps us wondering (or keeps us coming back) is that stupid human hope--hope that maybe, just maybe, we'll get the apology/reaction/connection we always wanted, the one that will magically make the past disappear, or at least have less of a hold on us. only after we get it do we realize nothing really has changed, and if anything, we feel worse than we did before, because that hope, well, it was something, at least.

i wish you luck with this. my situation with my mother wasn't nearly as damaging as the behavior you describe, and i still struggle to come to terms with it. which could explain the dreams i've had over the past year or so, wherein my mother is coming at me for some stupid reason--and i beat the crap out of her.

Mitzi Green said...

"To tell myself that my parents did the best with what they had."

oh, and as for this? yeah, i did the same thing, and it worked--until i became a parent myself, and realized that I had the good sense to not do the things my parents did--so what was their excuse?

Anonymous said...

its scary just how close this is to my own experience of late. but its nice to know that my sister and i are not alone.

Anonymous said...

For years I made excuses for my parents being the way they were. For their toxic behavior, their inability to love and nurture the four children they CHOSE to being into the world, for not protecting me from years of sexual abuse, for not embracing me with heartfelt apology years later when counseling encouraged me to confront them. The list goes on and on, none more or less painful than the one before or after it.
So they did the best they could with what they had, and what they knew. And when they knew better, did they do better? Nope. More of the same, just like your dad I imagine. Forgiveness is for you Dawn, but your therapist is correct, you don't have to forgive your father. You are a strong, gifted, beautiful woman with a tremendous "voice". You are a light in so many lives. Thank you for sharing yet another facet of the gift of you. - Lola

Anonymous said...

Wow. Just...wow.

Jenny said...

I think it's brave to write about it.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I absolutely think it's braver (and more difficult) to shut the door and lock it.
I know what you mean about the pity. The pity is the only thing that makes me second guess my decision to keep Myles away from my father, but it's not enough to make me change my mind.
I can't take the chance that he would ever, ever do to Myles what he did to me.
And humanizing him, understanding that he is a flawed human being? It means you're able to be objective. But what I always remember and tell myself is that my father is an adult, responsible for himself.There was and is nothing stopping him from getting the help he needs, from changing, yet he doesn't do it. Not my problem.
You are stronger than he ever imagined and that's only in small part due to any influence he had. YOU made yourself strong, under the worst possible circumstances. That's pretty amazing.

E. said...

Great post. I also struggle with issues surrounding my totally fucked-up dad, who I finally gave myself permission not to have a relationship with after working through it with a good therapist. It still hurts to be so disconnected from someone I once loved so much, but I know it's much saner and healthier than trying to actually have a relationship with him, buckling under to his manipulations.

I envy your relationship with your brother. At this point in my life, I think it's the only thing I really regret about being an only child, that there's no one in the world with whom I can share the grief and confusion of having the father I have.

Fraulein N said...

Wow. It's awful, in a way, to arrive finally at a place where you just say "fuck it" about people who are supposed to mean something to you. It's also incredibly freeing to realize that you don't have to forgive the transgressions of others, that it doesn't make you a bad person. I wish you peace, whatever you choose.

Anonymous said...

Dawn, I knew there was something tumultuous about your relationship with your father, but I could not have imagined how really bad it was. I think it's brave for you to write about this -- I hope it's therapeutic as well.

Beth said...

Beautiful post, Dawn; it took some seriously vulnerability to write this. I'm grateful for your willingess to share.

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