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Friday, May 8, 2009

Underneath it All

I miss him.  I can usually only admit that to my husband.  He's actually experienced the man I call my father, and he can identify with my feelings for this complicated shell of a man. 

He's heard my stories about Dad and how I once idolized him.  It's like that moment on Say Anything, remember? When she visits her father in prison, hands him a pen, and says "Write me."?  Only I never had that moment.  I've chosen silence and alienation over communication and the closeness that used to come so naturally.  Is it my background as a "punisher", if you will?  Is it because I lived so long in the role of the disciplinarian that I feel this must continue? I don't know. I know only that there is a very deep well inside me, and at the bottom of this well is a love for my father that is bigger than life.  But as he has faded over the years, as he has pretended to wrestle with his demons for my sake only (because he only puts the show on for me and not my brothers and sisters) I have been forced to allow that bucket to inch and inch further down into the void.  Once step forward, one step back.  He goes forward with this addiction - I go back into my protective darkness.  Are you supposed to reach out to an addict when they are hurting you and hurting themselves?  I'm an educated woman,  and I know that answer.  It tempers the pain of our separation. 

I've been criticized by my family for being harsh with my reactions to certain crisis situations. I am not a bleeding heart, and sometimes this has created an oil and water situation that, for the most part, is unavoidable.  It's not only that I believe in following logical patterns of behavior, it is also that I find safety in logic.  My emotions are too big to be allowed to run carte blanche with my life.  And to excuse the inappropriate behavior of others is to devalue my survival.  In the midst of the most awful moments of my life, I did not succumb to the self-pity that I despise in others.  So pity comes quiet unnaturally to me, though I do try to fake it for the sake of those who cast stones.  That's love to me - shielding the ones I love from the fact that I don't accept excuses for bad behavior - protecting them from me. 

So, you see, there is no use in calling him.  I cannot pretend that I accept who he has become.  I will not accept the confused ramblings of a man who used to share his favorite literary nuggets and rules of logic with me.  We passed books between us like scrumptious pieces of chocolate, delighting equally in clever plots and well-written characters.  We frequently discussed psychology and sociology, marveling in the behavior patterns that formed us.  We talked about history and religion - him always more open to exploring different creeds than I was.  And we wrote each other letters. Long, honest letters in which we showed our best selves and dreamed about the future.  That is our history.  It is not our present, and will unlikely be our future.  A text message at 4:45 AM one morning told me this.  "You have always had a gift of words, my dear," he said. "Why not use your gift to write songs? I love you, Dad."  

Dad.  I kept all the birthday cards he gave me since I could read them.  Dad.  I looked forward to my summers with him, even though every summer showed more and more of the man I never knew and will never understand.  Dad.  I penned your worst experiences in Vietnam for you because you couldn't and needed them on paper.  Dad.  I have always written songs.  You used to know this.  

Don't we all have the gift of premonition to a certain extent?  Some of us listen, and some of us don't.  I'm a listener.  I pay attention when a voice says "Move into the next lane," or "Don't leave that glass there."  So, I know a moment is coming when I will have to reach out to him once again.  It will be unavoidable, and because I know he still at least has the ability to FEEL, painful for us both.  

But he's there, waiting for me, I know.  Waiting for a moment to make me feel like his most special child, his proudest achievement, as he always did.  I heard him just yesterday.  I asked my three year daughter if she knew how beautiful she was.  "I have your father's nose," she said, recalling, if a bit inaccurately, that I once told her she had my father's chin.  And she does.  She will always bear resemblance to a man she will never know.  Not the way I did.  For the rest of my life, when I look at her, I will see him, and I guess my move now is to decide if there's a gift in that.  And you know, even if I have to go the the bottom of a deep, dark well, I think I know which way I'll lean . . .