A serious case of ‘father envy’
Everyone has a father, right? Somewhere?
Well, I did have a biological father, who lived in the same pink tract house in the suburbs house as I did. I guess that qualifies as a “father,” but that’s about as far as it goes.
We rarely spoke. I only have one memory of being in a car with him. He didn’t allow me in the kitchen if he was in there. Our only physical contact was when he beat me with his brown leather belt ” or whatever else was handy.
I knew something was wrong, but as an only child these were the parents I grew up with. What was normal? I didn’t really have a benchmark to measure. I just knew, at an early age, that something was very, very wrong.
I remember in the fourth grade having a realization that maybe I was adopted. It gave me hope that my stern, unsmiling father wasn’t biologically reated to me. My mother dragged my birth certificate out, pointed to the signed names and my tiny, inky footprint and told me to never say anything like that again. I didn’t, but I had vivid daydreams of my “other” family ” the normal happy ones my imagination conjured up.
My father was an angry man. His life hadn’t turned out the way he wanted ” I suspect ” and he took it out on those closest to him. He was 50 when I was born. He worked in a tire factory and hated everything about his job. When he retired at age 65 they gave him a cheap watch. Two years later he was dead.
By junior high school I had enough powers of observation to understand that most families weren’t like mine. As I began having sleep-overs with friends I saw fathers hugging their children; family dinners; actual conversation; and interaction. At that age, I figured it was my fault my father didn’t love me.
Most nights after work he sat in a chair in front of the television set, chain smoking and drinking jelly jar glasses full of burbon. On the weekends he was in the back yard, tending hundreds of delicate Bonsai plants as if they were the most precious thing on earth. To him, I think they were.
In high school I finally gave up wanting my father to love me. He was a mean, bitter old man. When boys would pick me up for dates on Saturday night, my father would be sitting in his chair watching “Sea Hunt.” He never even looked up as I walked out the door and into a waiting car. Remember the soundtrack to “Sea Hunt?” The sound of those bubbles? To this day if I hear that it reminds me of getting ready for my Saturday night dates ” the soundtrack of my coming of age, as it were.
It’s probably no surprise that I flew the coop at 18, marrying what I hoped was a nice boy with a good job and a sailboat. Knowing my father wouldn’t walk me down any aisle, nor would I want to even be that close to him, we eloped. We had surfing in common, and in my dysfunctional family situation I thought it would be enough. It wasn’t. But it wasn’t as bad as my home life, either. I had to go somewhere ” it was either marriage or the Peace Corps.
When my father was diagnosed with cancer shortly after retiring, he became even angrier. You know the seven stages of grief? My father never left anger. When he was in the hospital for what would be the last time, his anger reached new heights. Although he was sick and weak, he threw things at the nurses whenever they tried to enter his room. The water pitcher would go flying across the bed and he would spew out every swear word he knew. He pulled out IV’s, threw his food tray at the wall and did every menacing thing a dying man could do from a hospital bed.
The nurses asked me when when he had turned into this monster. I shrugged my shoulders, embarrassed, and said he’d kind of always been like that. I knew they wouldn’t understand.
And then, he was dead. At the funeral his 12 brothers and sisters told me how much my father loved me. They were all crying, but I wasn’t. I never shed a tear.
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