Welcome, Mamma Crew! Today is Mamma Thursdays when it’s all about us! The mammas!
So before we get any further, I want to give you a heads up that this is going to be an emotional podcast. Don’t be too shocked if you hear me cry. And I might be discussing situations you wouldn’t want younger ears to hear. And usually, when I talk about my father, there’s cursing involved — so maybe adult language.
So last Friday, I received a message that my father is sick. The pandemic has hit my doorstep. This is no longer the friend of a friend. Or a relative I haven’t seen in a million years. Or someone that I don’t know very well; an acquaintance. Nope. It’s my father — possibly the most controversial relationship I’ve ever had in my life.
My father, who is incredibly smart; incredibly sophisticated; completely bitter and resentful; and alcoholic, and once, a drug addict. My father, from whom I get some of my best personal traits, like my intelligence, my semi-photographic memory, my work ethic. The man who crippled me emotionally, who beat me and terrified me. The man I have never been able to hate, but how, at some point in my life, I hated myself for loving him. The man who broke my heart because one day, I had to decide to stay away from him because of his alcoholism. And who continues to break my heart because I miss him so much. The man for which I cried all Friday.
Crying, because I could remember him as my daddy. The one that taught me to camp on the beach — with whom I hunted grunions, and fried them up for me and I ate them. The man who, despite my mother’s objections, got me my first puppy (who was just as excited as I was). The man who spent the night quoting beautiful poetry to me, from whom I learned my love of literature (he so enjoyed reading — I grew up seeing him read). The man who bought me and my two sisters each a bucket of ice cream and sat in the front yard, us with a spoon each, eating our buckets of ice cream until our hands froze, our brains froze, and he drank a sixpack of beer, talking to us about school and the world around us.
But he was also the man who often beat me and my younger sister (I have to admit that many times, those beatings were because I was intervening on behalf of my younger sister). The man who absolutely terrified me. I had night terrors into my early 40s. It wasn’t until I got married that those night terrors went away in the embrace of my strong, imperfect, wonderful husband.
But how can you not have night terrors? I never knew what was going to happen when my dad came through the door. I didn’t know if he was going to be sober and okay, sober and mean, drunk and happy, or drunk and absolutely terrifying.
I remember one day having a discussion about a movie we were watching in which one of the kids says to the parents, “I didn’t ask you to bring me into this world.” My father asked me what I thought of that. And my response was an honest one, which was, “Parents do make that decision for their children and it does create a responsibility to those parents.” He asked me if I felt that children should be grateful to their parents and I said, “I don’t know because it’s not like the kids had a choice.” He seemed fine with it. I was fine with it. I wasn’t meaning to be hurtful or disrespectful and he didn’t see to take it that way.
Three hours later, I was in bed, sleeping, and he came in, drunk. He had talked about my answer to one of his drinking buddies and the drinking buddy convinced him that I was not grateful for my life. That I was not grateful for everything he had given me. And this guy who had no children — never, in fact, had any children, never even got married — convinced my father that I was an ungrateful bitch of a daughter and that I deserved to be slapped. And frankly, I don’t think a slap would’ve been so bad.
Instead, my father rushed into my bedroom while I lay sleeping and threw me against the wall. I awoke as I hit the wall, ending all sense of security and safety. For the next 27 years, sleeping seemed not a release, not a rest, but a frightening loss of control.
But yet, there I was on Friday, finding out that he was hit by this epidemic. That he has the fevers and the sore throat. The body aches. That he struggles to breathe every night. And I cried. And I’m crying now. And I don’t feel any bitterness, even though to this day, I don’t understand. Yes, I understand that he had disappointments and frustrations and problems. I understand all that.
But as his daughter, the little girl who admired him and loved him — that little girl that’s still inside of me (despite the fact that this year, I turned 54) still doesn’t understand. But somehow, and I really don’t know, how, somewhere along the line, I forgave him and I don’t know how it happened.
I wanted him so desperately to meet my daughters. And he did, he finally met them. He had refused to do so for many years. He was so angry with me. And I admit it. I tricked him. I tricked him into meeting my daughters. I wanted him to meet my daughters. I wanted him specifically to meet the one that’s named after his mother because she has his mother’s personality. That infectious charm. That gift for gab that she has. I wanted him to know that I was proud of being linked to him. To my grandmother.
Despite everything — what he did; what I didn’t understand — I wanted him to know that I had loved him. That I still loved him. And he broke my heart again. After he had visited within us, he said to my aunt that he felt nothing for my children; that he felt nothing for me. We were complete strangers to him. And it just tore my heart out. I had hoped that he would at least say the girls were pretty. Or the girls were… I don’t know… As amazing as I think they are? As ordinary as they are? Something. That he felt some kind of connection.
But he didn’t say that. And I know my father. He’s so proud and stubborn that I know, despite the fact that he said those things, I know with absolute conviction that he felt something different. But he didn’t say it. And I wanted him to say it — just this once, I wanted him to give me that. But he didn’t. He didn’t because he couldn’t or he wouldn’t.
Nevertheless, through the hurt and the pain, I cling to both the bad and the good. And I know it doesn’t matter anymore. There is no understanding. There’s only accepting. And I accept that my father had a difficult life. And that life that he had twisted him into something that he did not deserve to be; into someone who hurt himself as much as he hurt others; into someone who doesn’t know how to accept the love of others. And despite the fact that he cannot accept that love, I still feel it.
I know that the chances of him surviving this disease are not great. He’s going to be eighty soon, has extremely high blood pressure and other health problems, plus a lifetime of alcoholism (which, I’m sure, hasn’t done wonders to his body). And I understand that he does not want to eat. He says he’s done.
It’s funny — you know, my father and my mother complained so much about each other and yet, they’re so much alike. My mother, too, got to a point where she decided she was done. She was going to die in her own terms. And my father’s doing the same thing. He refuses to go to the hospital. He refuses to do anything to save his own life, and he simply wants to die at home.
I don’t know if he wonders what his children are thinking. What his children wished he would do. If he cares. I don’t know. I know he loves us. I know that. Despite it all, I know that.
So I cry. And I continue to cry. And I cried for one day. That’s all I could do. I couldn’t do anything else. Then I would stop and the tears would come back. I couldn’t even be frustrated with myself! I was so incredibly sad.
It’s so funny. For so long, people have said that I had lost my father so many years ago. But let me tell you — it doesn’t feel like it. It feels that I’m losing him now. Because maybe in my heart of hearts, I wanted some kind of.. reconciliation. Of coming together. I don’t know. I am learning a great lesson from this. A parent never stops being a parent, and a child never stops being a child. I want to keep that in mind with my own children.
For now, all I know is that my father is not fighting for his life in this pandemic. He’s giving up his life. And I will wait, day in and day out, until the fight is over.
And I know the memories will flood back — the good ones, the bad ones — but it won’t change a thing. It won’t change the fact that I love him. It won’t change the fact that I’m losing him. And most of all, it won’t change the fact that it is a devastating loss.