february 29, 2008
i started reworking my book about my dad this month and the progress has been pretty good. it’s hard to know what’s the right thing to write, what i should leave in, what should be left out and sometimes even knowing what i’m comfortable writing.
i’m going back and forth between my dad’s childhood and the way he was raised and the effect it had on him as an adult and then as a parent. and then it forces me to talk about how all of that affected how i was raised, how i chose to receive the parenting i got from him and how i raised myself in his absence during the week.my dad was a weekend dad from the time my parents got divorced until i was fourteen. that’s when my mom decided i was too hard to handle and that my dad needed to take the reigns as the non-fun parent with all the rules. it was quite a change from what i’d been used to from my dad as a parent.
i was excited to move in with my dad because i’d always had fun when escaping to his house for the weekend. only it wasn’t weekend dad's anymore. he noticed things like what time i got home from school and whether or not i’d done homework. it was like he was talking to my mom...learning tricks of the trade or something.
with my dad’s new-found interest in my life outside of tagging along with him to friday through sunday softball, i found it hard to like him as much as i had before i moved in. he wanted to know where i’d been, who i’d been with, what i’d been doing, and why i got back so late. the prying into my personal life was invasive, at best.
even though i was no longer living with my mom—and more importantly, her boyfriend—the issues that had been created while i did live there still lingered. since my dad didn’t get home from work until after 6pm on most nights, i had to go to my mom’s after school. only, my mom didn’t get home until after 5pm, which meant i shared empty space with steven from the time i got there until my mom came home.
after the hawaii incident, he didn’t touch me at all. he still looked at me like i belonged on in a section of playboy without words, and he still made inappropriate comments from time to time. but i could live with that, as long as he didn’t touch me anymore. only, my dad didn’t know about any of that yet.
at fourteen, i felt like an adult. i’d had my own key to the house out of necessity of letting myself in since i’d been in first grade. i’d been stealing my dad’s truck at least once a week and taught myself to drive a stick in doing so since i was thirteen. i’d had sex by then, and while i understand much more about it all now, i really thought i had a handle on the world and people and knew how things should work.
i’d had the example of an alcoholic single mom who divorced a man she loved but didn’t want to be married to; who divorced another man who decided that he wanted to be with another woman; and who refused to marry a man who probably cheated on her numerous times (and what of his thoughts and actions with me?) but she couldn’t bear the thought of another failed relationship. so she stayed, portraying misery as the foundation of any relationship worth having.
i’d been drunk on numerous occasions and smoked more pot between the ages of twelve and fourteen than i ever have after. i’d tried lsd, coke, and speed but only stuck to speed (due to the ease of acquiring it, even when i did have to pay for it). i’d been arrested five times before i turned fifteen.
i was sure i was all grown up.
and in all of this, i was still fourteen. i was still three years away from getting my driver’s license. i was still four years shy of being able to vote. seven years short of legally being able to drink. only two years away from losing my mom (as it turned out) and becoming more adult than i ever could have imagined. at fourteen, even with all my experience, i was still a child; still in need of parenting. only my dad just didn’t know how.
his father left his mother for another woman when my dad was a teenager. his step dad beat him with a stick that my dad had to go find himself in the yard. the navy showed my dad how to smoke pot (or at least, his fellow seamen did), so even though he earned a free education on the GI Bill, it almost went to waste because he smoked pot and played softball more than he went to class. luckily he was somewhat of a genius and ended up with a degree in history, which he never had the confidence to use.
as told by my dad, he muddled through his twenties, thirties, and even forties unsure of what he wanted to do with his life. he was a good man though, aside from all his faults and absentee parenting he received as a child. he found a way at some point to salvage something of fatherhood and began to take care of me. i didn’t realize he was doing it at the time--i thought he was just trying to piss me off. turns out he knew a little more than me.
turns out we’re not always the bad part of what our parents taught us. my dad never beat me. my dad only loved me. i was able to escape alcoholism because of my awareness of my mom and grandfather never fully getting a handle on it. my dad was extremely patient with me as i began to reveal the details of the (my) “relationship” with my mom’s boyfriend. in the end, i think he internalized too much of the blame and may have been part of what caused his death. i’m not saying guilt causes cancer, but the toxins that it does create certainly don’t maintain a pure environment for the body—guilt certainly doesn’t provide energy for the immune system to fight off even a cold, let alone the cancer that overtook his body for death in just fourteen months time.
my parents spent most of their lives trying to escape their respective childhoods (and maybe their adulthoods, as well). my mom and her abusive father. my dad and his abusive step-father. the drugs and bad relationships. the always trying to please everyone but themselves. they spent their whole lives trying to escape instead of trying to let go.
and still, here i am. in all this realization of lives and loss and regret and remorse and letting go of things i never knew i was holding onto, i still have so much more to learn, so much more to let go of. like the idea that my parents were perfect, just because they’re dead. they were parents and they were human. and if not for how they raised me, i would not be who i am today. and so, all i can do is be grateful. i wish it were as easy as it sounds.
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