For the longest time, I called him Daddy — like a Southerner, like a child. Not consciously.
I didn’t speak to him for almost a year — until two weeks ago —
I was at home rehearsing my essay for the NPR show State of the Reunion. The producers were coming over to record the piece. I’ve never done radio before, so I was nervous. I’ve been busy, so I didn’t have a lot of time to write it — between anxiety over how to perform it and anxiety over what I had written (are these jokes as sharp as they could be, do they make me seem like a bitch, is it too revealing, could the whole thing be tighter, funnier, more cohesive ….) I was feeling nervous. But also excited — NPR! That’s pretty fucking cool.
Then I got a text from my real dad (I call him my real dad to distinguish him from my stepdad, who was there for me growing up and whom I adore) — whining about how he didn’t know what he did but didn’t I think I had made my point —
Then the NPR producers arrived.
I had to record my essay — which I was already nervous about — with this aching, anxious knot in my stomach in the shape of my father.
The recording went ok — not perfect, but it was fine. I spent the rest of the day dreading the confrontation I knew had to happen. I couldn’t let him just keep interrupting my life like that — it’s like he has a radar for when I’m starting to break free of him, so he can swoop in and suck me back into the tar that is his emotional mess.
I called him. Everything in me didn’t want to. Everything in me has resisted writing this post since this happened almost two weeks ago — but I don’t feel like it would be fair to this blog to write about deciding not to speak to him last year and then not write about speaking to him again. It would feel dishonest.
He was at a restaurant. I told him if this was a bad time, we could talk later. He said no, now that he’s gotten me he wanted to do it then. He stepped outside.
He started — he went off on how he didn’t know what he did but didn’t I think it was wrong to go so long without speaking to your own father, hadn’t I made my point, what point was I trying to make anyway? Hadn’t he been punished enough? That kind of thing. I let him talk.
Then I talked:
Your not loving me — your abandoning me over and over and over again — your compulsive selfishness — has left me unable to connect with anyone.
I said this between sobs — I was crying so hard I almost vomited —
I struggle — hard — with depression — because of you, because of what you did —
I can’t have relationships. I try and fail — I can barely even have friendships — this started with you —
I can’t afford to have you in my life. The last time we talked, I was calling to tell you I was going to withdraw my 401k, which was my only security in the world — and I really didn’t want to do that. And it was only $9,000 — $6,000 after taxes. I was hoping you would say “don’t do that. I’ll give you the money” which you could have easily done. Instead you gave me this awful speech about you didn’t know why I thought I would ever succeed as a writer — how long would it take before I gave up — how long have I been out here and when would I wake up and realize it wasn’t going to happen and come home — what was it going to take to make me wake up to the wrongness of my choices —
That was already a low, terrible moment for me — and you took it as the chance to kick me while I was down — and while you’ve done that before, in other areas of my life, it was the fact that it was about my career, the most important thing to me, that finally made me realize that I couldn’t afford to let you do that to me anymore. The biggest part of what I do is maintaining the emotional energy and momentum and courage to keep moving forward no matter what, and I cannot afford to have my own father planting doubt in my head —
But the worst part is — you already succeeded. You planted the doubt about who I am, as a person. When I was a child. You changed who I am, as a human being. I can’t separate who I am out from what you did. You warped what I became. I’ve tried, hard — and I continue trying, because I have a lot of hope and faith — but I keep running into the road block that is you.
I went on. But that was the gist of what I said.
He responded — you are 100% right and I am 100% wrong. I was very bitter and very selfish, and you suffered for it. I regret what I did. It’s not that I didn’t love you — I didn’t love you the right way.
He said more, but that was the gist of what he said. You might think that sounds like progress. But my father is a person who says whatever he thinks the other person wants to hear, and he never means any of it. He loves drama, which is why I think he loved to hear me violently sobbing and having this huge confrontation — it satisfied that craving in him. Unable to feel real emotions, he thinks these dramatic upsets means he’s interacting emotionally. He mirrors the people he’s with — so he basically just mirrored back to me what I was saying, in a very dramatic and insincere way. I have enough experience dealing with this man to know not to believe any of it.
I told him I wasn’t sure I could let him back into my life. But that one thing I was sure of — he was absolutely not allowed to criticize me ever again.
He asked if I was prepared to make the same promise — if I was prepared not to criticize him anymore. Caught off guard, I agreed —
Now that I’ve had time to think about it, I realize how absurd this is. Routinely in our interactions, he’s pointed out that he has forgiven me, so I should forgive him. I have done nothing to injure him — he has nothing to forgive me for. He injured me, greatly. For someone to commit evil and then to say that you can’t criticize him for it is just so twisted. I’m not going to hold that promise.
Eventually he said he needed to go back to his dinner but he felt a lot better about having talked to me — he just wanted to hear my voice. I hung up leaving things ambiguous about whether we would talk again.
Then I cried, a lot.
I had plans to see Inception with my friend S that night. I cried during Inception, during the father moments.
At the bar at the Arclight, I told S what had happened. I told her “he said ‘it’s not that I didn’t love you — I didn’t love you the right way.'” And I started sobbing — surrounded by strangers at the Arclight bar. S asked the bartender for napkins, and the woman looked embarrassed for me and said she didn’t have any.
S was kind and supported me. I went home and cried more, cried these last two weeks. Cried every time I’ve tried to write this post.
A few days ago I got a letter from my dad saying that he would stay out of my life and that I could solve all my problems if I accepted Jesus as my savior. He never used to be a religious man — until he took up with his 29-year-old Brazilian evangelist maid, who’s now his fiancee. My dad is impressionable, influenced by the people he’s surrounded by, whether they be crooks or evangelists.
Even if my dad does stay out of my life, which is doubtful, he’s in it at the cellular level. I’m having a very difficult time separating who I am from him and how I feel about myself because of him. I don’t know that I’ll ever be free of him. But I’m trying. Hard.