Monday, June 19, 2006

Father's Day

I wrote this yesterday. I wasn't going to post it and then I saw that postcard... I'm still not sure if it's a good idea but here goes anyway.

I want to tell you about my father. I want to tell you that he was a good man, that he loved us, took care of us. I want to tell you that he never hurt my mother, that theirs was a happy marriage. I want to tell you that he was my hero growing up, that he still is. That in my eyes, there is no other man like him.

I wish I could tell you that. I wish I could tell you that we were a happy family, that we have a strong relationship. Instead, I'll tell you that in many ways, my father and I are strangers. That most of what I know of him is condensed into a series of moments and memories that I can't let go of. That I worry over them the way you would a loose tooth.

I don't know what he was like when he was younger. I don't know what it was that made him marry my mother. Never were there two people less suited to marriage. I think it was desperation, more than anything. Both of them looking for something different, a way out.

I know that the first and only year of their marriage was turbulent, violent. I know that he drank and the she was left alone much of the time. I know that he hurt her, and that she was the one who left. I know that after they divorced, he disappeared, and I wouldn't see him again for four years.

He drifted in and out of my life, popping up at odd moments. On my sixth birthday, he showed up at my birthday party unannounced. He took me out to the car to give me my present, a puppy. He had it hidden in his coat and when he opened it up, I screamed "A puppeeee!" and ran off to show my mother. I didn't see him for two years after that.

He'd spend a day here, a week there. He took me fishing, to the movies, to the zoo. Whenever he came for a visit, I was always afraid to go with him. I had gotten it into my head that he wanted to kidnap me, that he wouldn't bring me back. This was my worst fear.

Once, he took me to visit his father, who lived alone in a trailer on the other side of town. He told me that his dad had "run away from home" when he was younger, and that he'd had to drop out of school in eighth grade to take care of his mother and the other kids. I sat in his cramped little trailer, listening to the two of them talk. Here was a man who had run out on his family, who had never supported them, never really cared for them, acting like none of it had ever happened. It didn't make sense to me how devoted my father was to him. It still doesn't.

When I was 11, he got a job installing fiber-optic cable all over the country. He used to bring me things from the places he'd been: a giant pine cone from California; a phone book from Nevada. Small things, things he thought I'd like. He'd take me shopping, buy me whatever I wanted. "Buying my love", my mother called it. He didn't pay regular child support. This was how he made up for it.

He'd tell me about the women he was dating; a waitress in Alabama, an artist in New Mexico, a masseuse in Nevada. I was curious about these women, curious what he told them about me. Several of them had kids of their own that he was more than happy to take care of. I wondered what made them so special.

Two years later, he and the waitress moved to the town I lived in. She brought her five-year-old daughter and a baby my father thought was his. An instant family. Exactly what he thought he wanted. At 14, I ended up having to go and live with them, in a house full of strangers. When my mother came over, she always stood out in the driveway. She never came inside. By now, she and my father had gotten to hate one another pretty well.

So much of the time I spent with them was unhappy. I remember him telling me that he didn't want me to use his last name anymore. He was ashamed of me, he said, he didn't want to claim me. They wanted to put me in a home for girls. They took me there once, for a tour. I still don't know why they didn't leave me there.

Over the next four years, the only thing they did was fight. She didn't want me there, she didn't like me interrupting her perfect life. The whole time I lived there, she only spoke directly to me a handful of times. He never said anything to me unless it was to yell at me for something or to hand out a punishment. I remember him raising his fist to hit me. I looked him right in the eye, to show him I wasn't afraid. I remember the look on his face, fury twisting into something else. Shock, I think, that he couldn't scare me anymore.

At 17, I moved out to go to college. I went home a couple of times a year, mostly on holidays. I would call every so often, short conversations where I said very little. I remember him telling me on more than one occasion that I was ruining my life. He doesn't say this anymore but I know he's thinking it. When we talk now, our conversations are full of forced pleasantries and awkward pauses. There is so much we don't say.

How well do we ever really know our fathers? I know him, in some ways, these small things about his life. I know what sort of person he is and the ways that I'm like him. But I don't feel like I really know him and I don't think I ever will. I wish I could tell you I knew how to change this. I wish I could tell you I wanted to.

All I can say is this: fathers, be good to your daughters. And daughters, try to keep your hearts open to them, even when it seems impossible.


Blogger Lynn said...

I'm so sorry, Rebecca.

6/19/2006 11:15 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

Wow Rebecca, this was something else. I hope you understand that your father is messed up, and that you had nothing to do with his decision to leave, other than to be alive and a burden, like any other child in the world would be. Men like your father hurt everyone around them because they can't see what they mean to everyone else. That is how little regard they have for their own importance. I totally get it, and I'm sorry you had to grow up this way. I like to write about these kinds of things too. It helps to let it go. I hope you will find a way to get by this, if you haven't already.

6/20/2006 6:53 AM  
Anonymous fringes said...

Rebecca, I couldn't stop reading your powerful words. You are a strong writer. We all have our histories and for you to be able to write about yours so clearly is a gift.

6/20/2006 6:57 AM  
Blogger Orange Blossom Goddess (aka Heather) said...

Thank you for sharing this.

6/20/2006 8:25 AM  
Blogger Writing Blind said...

Thanks everyone and welcome to Scott.

You know, I don't write about this stuff to make people feel sorry for me or to make myself seem like a stronger person than I am. I am in fact a very weak, mess of a person.

I write about it in the hopes that if I can get the words down on the page, I won't have to think about them anymore. That I'll be free of them somehow. Just because I can write about it doesn't mean I've escaped it. But I do hope it might help someone else.

6/20/2006 9:18 AM  
Blogger J Malcolm said...

I have to agree with fringes. This is so well written that I don't envy it, I'm in awe of it. It expresses so much more than any post secret card ever can.

6/20/2006 9:24 AM  
Blogger January said...

Yes, I echo what has been said before: you are a terrific writer. I couldn't stop reading your post (and I wanted to).

More important, I'm just amazed at your capacity to be open minded and open hearted. We need more hearts and minds like yours in the world.

6/20/2006 3:24 PM  
Blogger Writing Blind said...

January, thank you. I am not a terrific writer. I am not a good writer. In fact, I may still be working up to mediocre. But I'm glad that, for a moment, you thought I was.

6/20/2006 7:54 PM  
Blogger wendylou who? said...

I had a dad similiar to yours...but I didn't see him as much...and instead of puppies, he'd bring new woman, that always looked like strippers with their clothes on...Your "other mommies"..I'd see once and they were gone.

thanks for sharing your fathers day.

Next year, celebrate the fact, that as odd and insufficent as he (and mine) were, they somehow managed to make us!!

6/20/2006 9:19 PM  
Blogger Writing Blind said...

Wendy, welcome. I'm sorry you had to go through that. I know that it's not any fun.

As for celebrating, I don't know if I'm ready for that yet. But I'll keep it in mind.

6/20/2006 9:26 PM  

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