Having lunch with my dad is complicated. It's so hard to explain him. I feel like I'd have to start at the beginning of my life, and tell you about every moment of every day until you understood.
He isn't a monster. He did drink when we were kids, or beat anybody up. He didn't love us, either. Or, if he did, not more than he loved his whims and urges. I almost said, "Not more than he loved himself," but that's not quite right. He doesn't love himself, either. He doesn't love anything.
The thing about him is that he probably thinks he does, sometimes. He's been in love with a few women since my mom left him, three years ago. He probably believes that those feelings equal love. He's never worked hard for love, though. He's never gotten down on face, for love. Maybe he's been on his knees. Maybe he's begged and lost things, but that's not love.
He's never been up, night after night, with a life in his arms. He's never loved somebody so that they became a part of him. He's never born anyone on his back. He's always climbed over love to reach for the sky. He's always pushed at love and molded it, trimmed its edges, made it bleed.
He brought home cookies, the special kind with raisins and white icing. He sat with the bag in his lap and the children lined up in front of him to get one. I was older. I was the oldest. I didn't want to be like the little kids. I didn't want to seem so eager over such a little thing. I wanted to be mild and unassuming like my mom. I wanted to be grown up and reigned in.
He asked me if I wanted a cookie. I did.
I said, "Um, sure, I guess, if you have an extra one." I gave a little shrug to show that I wasn't so little. I was polite and dignified.
"You don't really want it?" he asked, holding up my cookie.
I shrugged again. "It's okay. I could have one, if there's enough."
He wasn't a monster, but he was mean. He had meanness inside of him. He didn't love me more than he hated my mother, their tenuous marriage. He didn't love me enough.
He said, "Well, if you don't really care either way -" And he took a huge bit out of the cookie. He sat on the couch and I watched him eat it deliberately, bite by bite.
This is why he is hard to explain. Can I tell you that I know my dad didn't love me because of a cookie? My whole life has been like this. Little things, stacking up against one another.
On my fifteenth birthday, I got to choose anywhere I wanted to go out for dinner. I picked somewhere my dad didn't want to go. We got into an argument as we pulled out of the driveway onto the street. I said, "It's my birthday, I thought I was supposed to pick."
Just like that, he put the car into park, the back seat stuffed with the four of his children, bundled up in our second hand coats and scarves. He left us sitting in the middle of the road and stormed into the house and locked himself into his bedroom.
My mom sighed and opened her door. A few cars were backing up behind us. This was my fault, their impatience. I watched through angry tears as she scurried around the front of the car, waving in apology and jumped into the driver's seat. We didn't go anywhere for my birthday dinner.
Is that enough to say I know? I didn't have a dad, like lots of people did. He was there, his presence dictating everything we did, but he wasn't a thing full of love.
He was recently treated for prostate cancer. They say he is fine, now. He's getting older, though, and I am full of anger. I can't bear to be wrong. I spent my childhood being humiliated.
I tell myself he doesn't matter, and he doesn't. We see him a few times a year. He buys lunch and brings the girls a present and it's fine. Any more contact than that, and I'll start yelling. He'll start accusing me of ruining his life. That's the way it's always been. He wasn't a monster, but he was enough to change the way I saw the world and myself. He made me, in a way. Every time I boil over. Every time I am destroyed by criticism. The way I can't have anybody above me.
He's going to die, someday, and I'm not sure how I'll feel. I imagine I'll feel confused and hurt, but I've always sort of felt that way. I imagine I'll have a shard of resentment lodged in my guts, but it's been there for as long as I can remember. Maybe I'll feel sad, but I always feel sad. I'll worry about my sister, about the way she feels things. They come at her strong and overwhelm her, she's a lot like me.
|my 4th grade school photo|