My father taught me so many things, among them:
- I wasn’t good enough;
- Me being me was a pain in the ass to others;
- My intelligence was something to be embarrassed about;
- I didn’t know anything that was important;
- I could be anything I wanted to be, as long as it was what he wanted me to be;
- Whatever I wanted to do, I didn’t have what it took to do it.
When he died, I burst into tears, I was so relieved.
He’s been dead a long time, but I don’t off the top of my head remember exactly how long.
He was not an evil man, or even a bad man. He was just…a crappy father.
It’s possible he was also a mediocre husband, but that is not for me to say.
My father was stunted by his upbringing, I know that. He had that almost stereotypically cold, hard, Irish Catholic mother who had too many children and was mean to every one of them. The first time she ever told my father she loved him was when he was shipping out for World War II.
When my father used to defend his mother (“She gave us a roof over our heads, a warm bed to sleep in, and three meals a day”), I would counter with the broken elbow story (when he was ten she went to hit him with “an iron fry skillet” and he put his arm up to protect his head and she bashed him in the elbow; the records at the old Boston City Hospital say that he fell down the stairs).
He was a grown-up man in his late thirties when I came along, about 15 months after my sister.
My sister was a nightmare, and I suspect that dealing with her wore him out for me.
My single greatest memory of my childhood is just constantly being in the way.
My other memory was feeling that I was not enough to “make up” for my sister.
I was clever, I was the president of the choir and the captain of the (junior varsity) volleyball team. I didn’t drink, I didn’t smoke, I didn’t swear, I didn’t go around with a bad crowd, I read a lot. I did the dishes every night after supper.
My father so done with being a parent that he just wanted to be left alone. Don’t call and ask for a ride from the bus station because you missed the hourly bus by two minutes, either walk home or wait for the next one. Don’t have any crisis of confidence because I really can’t take the time to buck you up. I’m not going to go to yet another of your concerts because the game is on, even if you are singing Mozart in a church. And don’t, under any circumstances, challenge me, because I can be meaner and nastier as a parent than anybody thinks I can be and can rip every rug right out from underneath you.
I learned to not engage with my father, because the outcome was almost never a positive. He made me very, very self-doubtful, and I preferred to find things and people that weren’t so damaging to my…self.
So, I kind of grew up on my own, a little funky, a little dorky, but damn if my friends didn’t get into ivy-league schools and those “small ivy” New England colleges that make for such great front-of-the-brochure images. Hell, I even got into one (for a while…).
It took a long time to start the process of getting him out of my head. Therapy was instrumental, as was allowing myself to have a relationship with a really wonderful guy who never sees me as my father did. Getting a glimpse of how other people see me (oh-my-gosh-you’re-wonderful!) has gone a long way to reducing my father’s voice to a very small one, and not one that I have to listen to any more.
And today is…
If you have a great relationship with your father, today will be a day to recognize and celebrate that. I can see how today is a good thing for that.
There are people who will be going to graves today, and tidying up a bit, and possibly having a bit of a chat with the man under the marker. There might be tears and sadness that he’s gone, whether it’s been one year or fifty.
There are others who feel the weight of family pressure to pretend that their father is not a drunk, doesn’t womanize, doesn’t take advantage of others, and is actually a good and decent person. Today will be a hard day for them.
But then there will be people who will only recognize the day because of the Sunday circulars, people who have (or had) a father that they have put from their lives because they couldn’t let him be in it any more.
If you’re in that latter group, it can take a long time to (learn to) be okay with that. It’s all about letting go of what you think you’re supposed to have, and just having what you have, with less judgment about it.
I am who I am because of what I’ve had.
What I had was a hugely negative father who was disappointed in the person that I was.
I lived for a long time believing what he believed about me.
But I don’t now.
Happy Father’s Day.