An open letter to my dead father

Trigger warning: lots of them; read at your own risk.

That young boy without a name anywhere I’d know his face. 
In this city the kid’s my favorite. 
I’ve seen him. I see him every day. 
Seen him run outside looking for a place to hide from his father, 
the kid half naked and said to myself “O, what’s the matter here?”  — Natalie Merchant

child-abuse-660x350When I was a child, my father used to berate me for my moodiness. Being a child of the Depression, he couldn’t understand why I would not find my life an endless series of blissful experiences.

“I’m tired of feeling sorry for you. You are so spoiled you don’t know what it’s like to have it rough!”

I always wished I could tell him that whatever the problem with me was (and he always thought I had a problem) that I couldn’t turn it on and off like a light switch. He might well have hit me for being insolent and I kinda liked my teeth.

“I don’t know what your problem is kid, but I’m tired of you complaining all the time!”

You know what dad? You gave me the greatest gift you could have given me by dying when I was 20. God forbid you would have been more disappointed in me had you lived to see what kind of adult I became.

I hated you.

There was another reason. And wherever you are, you know what it is you sick pervert.

I’m tired of the excuses everybody uses, he’s your kid, do as you see fit,
but get this through that I don’t approve of what you did to you own flesh and blood.

I hate being fucked up. You never knew how much you made me hate myself. Almost as much as I hated you.

Heaven knows what you would have thought of my three marriages, all the jobs and careers I had and lost and all the goofy, embarrassing things I did. I’m sure I would have cut all communication with you at some point.

But even though I was a fucked up parent as well, I never did to my kids what you did to me. My parenting guidance was simple – remember everything my father did and do exactly the opposite.

But what I did didn’t always work. And I take full responsibility for that. My son’s standoffishness bears witness to how my actions made our families disposable. And I will never forgive myself for that.

I have only come to see the deep wounds you gave me were mostly mental and not physical. Not physical because I spent my entire childhood in mortal fear of you and therefore walked on eggshells until you died.

But hey, I had a roof over my head and food on the table and private school education so I should be grateful. That’s how it goes. So what if I lived in constant fear and shame? Hell, I remember taking calls on the radio and hearing people tell me their old man beat the shit out of them when they were kids and they turned out just fine.

Sure they did.

In America, violence is the norm. Once you make a friend of violence and all it encompasses, you too can grow up to be a hard and tough man and take on the world and be a winner!

Just like you dad – the carpet salesman who spent his married life grinding his teeth over the fact that the woman you married always out-earned you. And you made her life hell for it too.

You made life hell for everyone except your hunting buddies. And when I didn’t fit in with that crowd, you emotionally abandoned me for the rest of your short life.
You died at 51. I’m 54. I beat you.

Remember that wonderful color Olan Mills portrait of our family that you and mom paid extra to have it look like a painting? The one that hung on the wall of the living room until mom died and I sold the house?

Yeah, well, a month ago I took it out to the back porch of MY home and poured lighter fluid on it and lit a match. I watched that motherfucker burn. And I enjoyed every second of it; especially the part where your face caught fire and crumpled into ash.

I also didn’t mourn when the fire consumed my psychotic sister (it does take one to know one) and my mother who enabled you and never greeted an aspiration I had that she didn’t discourage.

Hey mom, I started going through your old photo albums and guess what — yep, into the dumpster too.

And then the fire reached me. I watched me burn too. It was a cathartic moment, I assure you. If I could burn my entire past of my memory, I would too.

It’s so easy and cheap to blame your parents isn’t it? Even when they deserve it, you’re supposed to conform to our social tastes and worship them for simply not killing you.

But you did kill a part of me dad. I’ve spent an entire life trying to get it back. I probably never will.

So here’s to all the happy families on Facebook. I wish you all smiles and exotic vacations. I look at all the love and togetherness and wish you the best. I love it when the happy smiling Facebook people post pictures of their parents and memorialize them and thank them for making them the men and women they are today.

And I tried. Honestly, I tried to play the happy game. But I just can’t. It’s a lie. Dad, I will no longer put that photo of you holding me as a baby with that smile on your face on Facebook for Father’s Day. Because I know what came later. And mom, you too — sorry, but you were part of the package as well. And I think you know why I can’t. But I might write more about that another day. Maybe I’ll post my sister’s mug shot from the Lee County Florida Sheriff’s Department. It really captures the essence of her soul. May I never speak to you or see you again.

Ungrateful little bastard, aren’t I?

When you grow up in a dysfunctional family, often you don’t realize just how dysfunctional it really was until years later, when you can look back on it with a clear head and realize – that shit was really fucked up.

The reason is simple – we lie to ourselves that it was just the way it was. Fathers terrorize their children, mothers enable it and siblings land up resenting you for being born first.

It’s just the way it is. Despite all the memoirs (I’m looking at you Augusten Burroughs) and self-help books, no one really wants to admit they came from a fucked up family. It doesn’t get you hits on Facebook and most conservatives generally dismiss it as whining.

But if I’m going to write about my family, I have to be truthful. And things do happen behind closed doors. And I needed to write this. Take it for what it’s worth – an admission that life is not as ordered or pretty for some people as it may appear on the outside. And, finally, that some of us who deal with mental illness are also dealing with a host of other issues that impact on our ‘recovery.’

So my advice is — burn your family portrait if you need to.

It’s cheaper than an hour of therapy.

Answer me and take your time, 
what could be the awful crime he could do at such young an age? 
If I’m the only witness to your madness offer me some words to balance out what I see and what I hear. 
Oh these cold and lowly things that you do I suppose you do because he belongs to you 
and instead of love and the feel of warmth you’ve given him these cuts and sores don’t heal with time or with age. 

This entry was posted in abuse, anxiety, bipolar, Catholic school, childhood terror, existential dread, growing up, mom, my father, parenting, parents and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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