Monday, June 22, 2015

Daddy Issues

It's finally over, and I'm breathing normally again. Each year, for twenty four hours, I struggle to choke down the bitterness. Like a bad penny, however, it always returns. Father's Day. It's that 24 hour period when every father suddenly turns into someone to be respected and revered--a full day of accolades bestowed upon those with a penis who were lucky enough to implant a strong swimmer.  

Before folks begin jumping to their collective feet and screaming that biology doesn't make a father, allow me to elaborate on my perhaps skewed perspective. ANY MALE with the right equipment and active sperm can be a father--if you want to split hairs, I will concede that a father is far different from a dad. Therein lies the rub.

Yesterday, social media erupted in gales of enthusiasm as people posted pics and sent well wishes to fathers all over the world. Our local talk radio station asked callers to share the most important lesson their fathers taught them. Corporate PR gurus reached out to their customers and asked them to tweet and post favorite father/child memories. My email accounts were overrun with offers from retail establishments offering me huge discounts on last-minute Father's Day gifts. I wanted to vomit. In the spirit of the moment, however, I did share a few of my own memorable moments and even the life lesson my father imparted to me.

One memorable moment from my childhood, as it relates to my father, occurred when I was five. What began as a heated discussion between mom and he quickly morphed into a battle of epic proportions. At just the point where he had pinned her in the porcelain bathtub and threatened to beat her to death with the brass living room lamp he was wielding, the doorbell rang.  It was a family friend, who was also our insurance man. I still remember his name--Morrie Glick. Isn't that strange? As he heard mom's painful screams from inside the pink-tiled bathroom, he mumbled that perhaps he would come back at a better time. In spite of the fact that I begged him to stay, and in the midst of mom's persistent cries for help, he turned around and walked out the door without ever telling my parents he was there. It's funny that both insurance and the color pink evoke the memory of that evening.

Other childhood memories of my father tend to run together like water colors in the rain, as they ramble through my conscience in rivulets of muddied tears. Kicking my little dog Puddles when she barked. Ripping the phone from the wall each month when the phone bill arrived.  (The phone company eventually refused to come back and fix the damage).  Whippings with a black leather belt he dramatically removed from around his waist. My drunken father, accompanied by a drunken homeless man (everyone loved my father) coming to our kitchen to play chess until they both passed out at the table in a haze of smoke and cheap whiskey. My mother being involved in an accident that wasn't her fault and begging us not to tell him. 

The calliope continued to revolve into my teenage years, even after my mother found the courage to divorce him. For a short while when I started college we were housemates.  The night I forgot to do the dishes, they were smashed to pieces in the kitchen sink. The day of finals when I missed garbage pickup, a weeks worth of garbage was strewn across my bed. A rotted tomato had spread a reddish brown stain onto my pillow--the one he forced me to sleep on that night. By morning my tears had diluted the stain to a faint pink. I haven't used a pillow since.

When my father turned 48, he discovered he had Hodgkins Disease. By the time he was diagnosed, he was in Stage 4. I was at the hospital the night he died, a year into his illness, and held his emaciated body in my arms. I wasn't sure if my tears then were of grief or relief or guilt.  I grieved the man I knew he could have been. After his outbursts, during his illness, he would seek redemption through gifts. Clothes, money. The most extravagant was a new car he purchased for me, the downpayment for which he used money colleagues and friends had donated to allow him to fulfill his dream of seeing Vegas. He borrowed the rest, never telling the bank he was dying. There's the catalyst for the guilt,  I accepted those gifts and told myself that it was payment for all of the abuse. I will never own another Chevrolet. Upon his death, I found myself relieved at being finally free from that bond of biology. And then more guilt.

And so, I'm glad it's over, the whole Father's Day mess. I have another 364 days to prepare for the next one--and yet I know that somehow won't be enough. The lesson my father taught me was that there is a definitive difference between being a father and being a dad. I propose we rename the holiday Dad's Day, and with the new moniker agree to celebrate those who truly deserve it based on actions, biology be damned.

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