So, Father’s Day has come and gone.
Mine was very nice. I got the sweetest cards from my wife and my daughter, and of course a wonderfully funny and insulting one from my sons, because that’s how they roll.
And I did think about my dad.
He’s been gone six years now, a bit of an early exit at 65. It’s very bittersweet, because my feed was filled yesterday with wonderful tributes to dads gone too soon, or gone at a reasonable time, but missed nonetheless.
My relationship with Dad was hard in a lot of ways. He was a broken person and hard to be around. He and my mother separated when I was 7, eventually divorced. I didn’t see him again until I was 14. I heard from him a handful of times during those seven years.
He loved to blame others for everything that went wrong in his life. He didn’t want to trudge the longer road to normalcy and success – whatever that might have looked like. He wanted to cut to the chase, go right to the top. He got opportunities on the great force of his personality – charisma he had in spades. He lost those opportunities on the lack of his follow through and humility. Hope always turned quickly to paranoia and that to failure.
He once told me that the reason he didn’t buy me the birthday present I’d hoped for – that he’d hinted I’d get, because when he was shopping he found this pair of shoes he always wanted, and man, how often was he going to get a chance to get those, right?
He did have this period in the late 80’s – early 90’s when he was in pretty good shape. He was living in San Francisco and I spent a lot of time up there with him. We went to a lot of AA meetings, where I learned a lot about life that I still hold on to today. He had started and run a plant-leasing business that did pretty well for him for years. After an injury he ended up managing a very nice restaurant near Union Square and doing very well there for a number of years.
He also got hooked on Vicodin.
For years I was the sounding board for his increasingly fucked up thinking. I just listened without judgment as best I could at the time, because I knew nobody else would. I didn’t know what else to do.
I couldn’t reject him. Not after I’d got him back after so long.
It was a long torturous road from that last bout of normalcy to the ICU in Sacramento where his liver finally killed him. The combination of way too much Vicodin and the years of damage from his early chemical dependencies were not going to leave him be in the end. I confess I was both crushed and relieved.
From this you might think that I didn’t like the man, that I resent him, am angry at him. That’s not the case.
And you might think he was a monumental asshole, the worst in self-centered sociopaths. That is also not the case.
You see, he really did try.
The part I haven’t mentioned is the part where a supremely talented, intelligent, gregarious, charismatic person gets damaged so severely that he never quite heals right. He never can fix all the broken pieces.
My dad was abused by no less than 4 different people during his childhood, either verbally, physically, or sexually. All of these people were people who should have been looking out for him – some whose paid responsibility was to do so. Instead they victimized him in the worst way, when he was most vulnerable.
So many stories we hear of people who are victimized, especially sexually, are stories of overcoming, of rising above. But they don’t all overcome, and they can’t all rise above. If you throw someone far enough down in the ravine, they can’t always climb up. And if they try to climb, and the response they receive is not a rope, but another rock cast down on their heads, at some point the climb becomes too hard, too much.
My dad tried. He tried so hard. He climbed and scratched and clawed, not always aware of who he was hurting while he tried to find purchase, any handhold or foothold to haul himself up. Many tried to help him along the way, later on, but it was like trying to save a drowning person who wouldn’t stop thrashing and flailing about. If you kept trying, you too were going to get hurt or drown in the process.
But at least he tried.
I do have resentment. I resent the people who hurt him then went on living. I resent those who damaged him, then went on to find the stability and fulfilling life my father craved. While I’m sure their existence wasn’t perfect, neither was it the tortured scrabble up the cliff face Dad attempted and, in the end, never really achieved.
I’m glad he tried. I’m glad he clawed and scratched, I’m glad that he did what he could to be a Dad to me and my brother. I’m proud of him for trying again and again, in his own fucked up way, to get it together. In a traditional sense he failed. But he did all that he could.
And to hell with anyone who doesn’t think that was enough.
I love you Dad, and I always will.