Apr 16, 2005

Once there was a way to get back homeward
Once there was a way to get back home
Sleep pretty darling do not cry
And I will sing a lullaby

~Golden Slumbers

Photo: Bella by Barlight
Bella and Dad 1970

The last time I saw my dad was at Christmas time in 2001. We were never really close, I never did know how to talk to him. He was a good father to my brother who he mostly raised, but I grew up with my mom and my dad was always kind of a mystery to me. I tried to guess what he wanted me to be, I would imagine doing great things that would make him proud of me, but I never figured out what those great thing might be. Perhaps that is why I've developed so many different interests: I kept a little bit of each of the personalities I tried on over the years as I tried to be a person my dad would be proud of. In Dad's defense, he never disapproved of me, I do know that deep down. It's just that I saw him so infrequently that we didn't learn how to talk to each other. I didn't learn, as my brother did, to read the subtleties of his moods from which fatherly pride emanated if only one knew where to look. My stepmother was cliche the "wicked stepmother" spitting poison, careful to ensure there were never any witnesses. I knew that what she said to me was wrong and that my parents really had loved each other when they married, that they planned me, that I was born of love. That I was not simply the last in a series of dwindling deferment options during the Vietnam War.

I didn't fight back for two reasons, the first is that when I met her and the pattern of our relationship was established, I was 11 years old. The second, is since I only spent time with my dad during spring break road trips, the occasional weekend, a week here and there during summer and Christmas vacation, I didn't want to rock the boat. If it hadn't been Christmas I might have said something. If we hadn't been on vacation in the middle of Wyoming, I might have said something and called my mom to come and get me.

The last time I saw my dad it was Christmas day 2001. My father was in the kitchen making his famous stuffing. I was in the living room when my stepmother came in and asked, "so when are you going to bite the bullet and really go to school?" In retrospect the question, even delivered with the biting tone of condescension that is WS's (Wicked Stepmonster) special talent, shouldn't have upset me as much as it did. I guess I was simply exhausted owing largely to the fact that I was really in school. I was really in school full time and getting straight A's, and I was also working 20 hours per week. I wrote my last exam of the semester on December 18th and the next day went to work full time. I worked Christmas Eve in an insanely busy retail environment and Christmas day was my first day off in two weeks. I was scheduled to work Boxing Day too. And here I was on Christmas day not with my friends who love, encourage and support me, but with "family" who seemed to think I was a massive fuckup.

I quietly went to the closet and started pulling on my boots when my brother came around the corner and asked "where are you going?" I said, "I can't stay here. I'm either going to vomit or say something that will ruin Christmas." He asked why and I told him and he said, "why do you care what she thinks? Let's take the dogs for a walk and see how you feel."

So we took the dogs for a walk in the snow and I ranted and my brother calmed me down by reminding me that it was stupid to be upset over the opinion of someone I didn't respect anyway.

I knew he was right but after that I also knew I couldn't go back there again. A series of events occurred over the next couple of months that threw me into a deep bout of depression and by the time I emerged, I had moved to California.

Years of silence, not enough
Who could blame us giving up?
Above the quiet there's a buzz
That's me trying

~That's Me Trying

I've been home for a year and a half, but last week I finally sent my dad an email. On Thursday we went for lunch and enjoyed a lovely meal while we deftly skated around the hard issues. I couldn't explain my absence without saying something negative about WS, so I simply apologized. My father, for his part, treated me like the wounded animal I guess I am... he was careful not to startle me in case I might bite.

And after lunch he asked me back to his office to introduce me to a few people. As we walked through the halls, everyone who passed us was accosted by him, "this is my daughter!" and I heard pride in his voice and saw it on his face.

When I look at this photograph of us, I feel compassion. My poor dad. He was only 23 when this photograph was taken. My parents got married right out of college and I was conceived on their honey-moon and three years later they had two children. A year after that they separated. I'm so much like my mother it shouldn't be surprising that my father and I have trouble communicating. However, when it is just the two of us, without WS undermining my self confidence, I can see my father and leave feeling nurtured and loved and proud of my own accomplishments having seen them through my father's eyes.

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