It’s funny, writing all this recent stuff about my relationship with my father. Not “ha-ha” funny. “How long can I keep boring people with this same topic?” funny.
Let’s find out about that, shall we? Cuz there’s one more thing I thought I might say on the matter.
In my life, my father has not been a terrific burden to me. As I wrote in the first post of this series (Death, Be Not Stupid) I was eleven years old when it fully hit me that the quality of my life would be largely determined by how comprehensively I came to terms with my father not loving me. (To those who’ve been following this series: that realization was largely fueled by my father never responding to the notes I wrote about leaving him in “Love, Whatsisname.”)
I was eleven when I began making it my singular business to process all that my father was, and would never be, to me. And it’s not like I had no tools to apply in that regard. When I was eight, my mother returned to college to take her Master’s degree in psychology; I grew up learning about Freud and the ego theory like other kids might learn about … I dunno, bunnies, or whatever. At nine or ten years old, I wrote a whole book called Getting in Touch with Your True Feelings. (I did it on yellow legal pad, mostly in pencil—so I could erase and rewrite, if you can stand it. That manuscript was huge. I think it was actually book size.)
Point being: I was on this stuff, from way back.
I lived my life, from when I was, say, nineteen onward, without a lot of interior trips about either of my parents. Of course learning to be okay with having parents who couldn’t care less about you is a lifetime process—but by the time I was, say, married (at twenty-three), I was okay with it all. I’d been on my own, living and working, for six years. I’d found the right woman for me. I’d decided to be a writer (as opposed to an actor, which a wide-open door for me). I was okay.
I was okay as a kid, actually. One time maybe I’ll write about how I really survived my childhood. In a real way, my family has always been this … strange abnormality I just worked around.
For now, just trust that throughout my life, I’ve been emotionally okay. Not great sometimes, of course, but, generally speaking, no worse than anyone else. But I haven’t spent my life losing sleep over my dad. I haven’t tripped about my dad. I haven’t lived my life in the long, dark shadow of my dickweed dad. Pretty early on in my life I did, in every last way, write him off as an outstanding sperm donor, and not, sadly, much else.
What recently changed is that this is the first time where my writing off my dad actually hurts him. That’s the radically new dynamic now at play. It was one thing to have utterly dismissed my father from my life when I knew that he was perfectly fine—when I knew he preferred that.But here, now, he needs my help. Impossibly (and fleetingly) enough, he’s once or twice told me that he wants my help. So now continuing to ignore him means actively participating in his demise.
That’s … pretty freakin’ different.
And of course it brings into sharp focus the question of what, exactly, do I owe my father? He did, after all, give me my life. He provided me with food, clothing, and shelter. I am a Christian.
So what are my moral obligations to him? Do I really just … let him die? Not fly across the country to see with him, stay with him, care for him? Not arrange for him to come live out here with my wife and me, if that’s what he wants? Turn my back on the possibility that, as his life comes to a close, he might, finally, care to know anything at all about me, my wife, my life?
All those sorts of new considerations are the forest in which I’ve recently found myself a bit lost. This new paradigm is what I’ve lately been thinking and feeling (and writing) my way through. And that’s why I (very barely) decided to go and stay with my dad for nine days. I had to see if anything with him might have changed.
And wow, did it ever not. Completely unsurprisingly, he still has no more interest in me than I have in what he paid for any one of his (literally) hundreds of pairs of shoes. (My dad is insane about clothes. I can’t even begin to tell you how much clothing he owns. He could open a men’s clothing store: Vain and Cheap. Big and Dorky. Golf Asylum. Whatever. But it’s so crazy.) He still can’t stand to have me near him. If anything, he feelings in that regard have increased. (Which I understand. It’s not like he doesn’t know how weak he’s become, and how strong I am. I know that having me, however gently, playing the role of his parent doesn’t exactly warm his cockles.)
And now here I am, back at the place where I have to again write off my father—only knowing, this time, that doing so means he won’t take his medicines; he’ll fall and crack his head and bleed to death; he’ll burn down his house; he’ll as likely as not drive his car through the back wall of his garage straight into his bedroom.
Now my writing him off means sending him, with no goodbye, straight into his grave. (Though, that said, the man seems incapable of dying. I’ve been basically waiting for him to die ever since, at thirty-nine, he had his first massive coronary. Everybody has. He’s just … a horse.)
And I have written him off, again, forever. My door is now closed to him. I will not open it again. He can die.
And what makes it so “easy” for me to do that now is the same thing that made it so (relatively, I guess) easy for me to do it before: it is precisely, and only, what he wants.
And what else do I want, but to give my father what he wants?
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