Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Why Father's Day sucks

This is a repeat of a previous post, but it's still accurate.

I’d love to tell you all the warm and fuzzy tales about my Dad and our relationship, but that would be utter bullshit. There aren’t any. Growing up, he was always busy – working or playing golf with his friends, or going out to various functions. He didn’t sit around the house much and wasn’t interested in playing with his girls. I always wanted him to love me and he may have, but not enough to pay any attention to me.

Still, at age 11 when Mom and Dad started fighting openly and Dad left, I was devastated. My world crashed down around me and reality took a big bite out of my ass. Daddies didn’t leave. They stayed and loved and protected their little girls, watched them grow up, and then walked them down the aisle and passed them on to their husbands. They didn’t leave!

My parents’ separation was ugly. I remember screaming and shouting and seeing Mom chase Dad through the house with a cast iron skillet and a tennis racquet. It scared me to death. I begged them to stop fighting and my father not to leave - but of course he had to. He was caught having an affair with his secretary and in our very small town this was very big news. My Mom moved my 2 sisters and me to another town 250 miles away and we saw Dad occasionally for the next few years.

When I stayed with him in the summers I worked, either as a bus girl, maid, porter or sometimes at the front desk of his hotel. It kept me busy, but created long, lonely memories. I once overheard one of his employees commenting that I seemed to be a very sad girl. She was right. He didn’t know how to give me what I needed most – his time and attention. I was in his life but not part of it.

I went to college in the town where he lived and worked for Dad part time while in school. Having him in the same town was an advantage because I got to see him occasionally, I had a job, and a lot of people in town knew him and watched out for me. It was a disadvantage because a lot of people in town knew him and watched out for me. I learned to be very sneaky – or so I thought until he ended up having to extricate me from a couple of embarrassing situations. He never said anything except, “Try to be more careful next time.” I think in some ways I was too much like him for his comfort. I wanted him to love me and only seemed to get his attention by acting out. I acted out frequently.

We disagreed on almost everything. He was a staunch conservative Republican who boasted he never voted for a Democrat in his life. I was and still am a liberal Democrat and never tired of reminding him that at every election I was proudly and deliberately canceling out his vote. In fact, that was one of my prime motivating factors for always voting.

When I moved to Chicago the first time, because I was still rather shy and not assertive, Dad decided I needed something to bring me out of my shell and prevent me from being eaten alive by all those big city folks. So, he made me go to a Dale Carnegie course which was a good thing for me. Those were the type of things he did that indicated he might actually care for me. They didn’t happen very often.

When I went back to college and got my 2 master’s degrees Dad gave a party for my graduation and even told me he was proud of me. It was the first time I ever remember hearing him say that. I didn’t believe him.

He married twice after my mother. The first stepmother – the secretary with whom he had cheated - gave new definition to the term wicked . Unfortunately, she lasted 10 miserable years. She left for another man whom she thought had money. She had big plans for him. I heard he dumped her. Karma!

My second stepmother was wonderful and took good care of Dad. He still wasn’t interested in his girls, but since my sisters insisted, she encouraged him to get to know his grandkids. Since I didn’t have any kids, there wasn’t much reason for him to see me. They lived in Florida for the last 15 or so years of his life. In all that time, I was invited there once and it was a command appearance. It was his 75th birthday party and I was told to come, given accommodations and plane fare and then summarily dismissed when the big party with all his rich friends was over.

I dutifully sent Father’s Day cards, birthday cards and Christmas cards and he dutifully sent cards and money on birthdays and Christmas. Occasionally we talked on the phone but there was never much to say so we talked about my 2 sisters and their kids. It was really the only thing we had in common.

He died July 19, 2000. I cried briefly but more because all hope of ever having a warm happy relationship with my father was gone forever than because I was truly sad he was dead. His picture sits on my mantle, but it doesn’t evoke any strong emotions.

The ironic thing is – I look just like him.


Travis Erwin said...

I feel much the same about my father.

Trée said...

Likewise, my father died three years ago. No tears for the lost, only tears for the lost of the idea.

cindy said...

wow, thank you for sharing this, AW. *hugs* i'm also glad to read you're on the mend!

ChrisEldin said...

"only tears for the lost idea" That summarizes my feelings about my parents exactly, although I'm much harder on my mother than my father and I don't know why.

Your father lost a big chunk of his life by not connecting with his family. That's very sad, all around. But what is it that makes reaching out (as a child) ignored on every level? Can never understand this.

Robin said...

Anti, I'm not a very huggy person but...hugs! That made me really sad. Your dad really missed out.
If you come visit me in PA, I'll dress like a man and play catch with you. Then we could swear a lot and go to a cigar bar and watch golf. Perhaps it will be a healing experience, and not just creepy.

Mary Witzl said...

Father's Day is so hard for people who have had a less than felicitous relationship with their fathers. My father had many good qualities, but in many ways he was like your father. When my youngest was born, my father had already died. Every day, the father of one of the other new mothers visited her, bringing sushi, fruit, candy, her favorite magazines. I cried my heart out every time I heard his voice. Even if my father had been alive, he would never have done any of that for me. I look exactly like my father too. It's eerie.

Hugs from me too!

Erica Orloff said...

Great and honest post.

My dad is so utterly complicated, but man, I knew he had my back and still does. The guy would walk through fire for his family, can't go more than 48 hours without talking to me . . . and now I see all the complexity, the hard-driving relentless pushing and demands for me to be a straight-A student, to push myself, to achieve, to reach beyond anything I dreamed of . . . that I took as him being "hard" was all about this fierce love. And the older I get, the more I understand, and the more I feel and ache for my friends who didn't have that person in their corner. He's blind now, moving near me so I can help take care of him, and when the time goes that he passes, I will have very few regrets.

Hugs, Anti-wife. Our relationships with our parents can be like hidden landmines.

Doreen Orion said...

Someone I'm very close to had a terribly abusive father who died a couple of years ago. She cried her eyes out, when she'd always assumed she wouldn't shed a tear. We talked about how she was mourning the loss of the hope of ever having a good father.

Lovely, poignant post, Anti.

Caryn said...

What a loss. I'm sorry that he was that way, but I can sense that you have a lot of strength and wonder if this history is part of the reason for that.

wordtryst said...

I always admire your honesty. I haven't had a great relationship with my father either; sometimes I don't communicate with him for years at a time.

I made myself call him on Father's Day, though. Don't know why I feel I should be making these gestures - must have something to do with growing older and knowing that he's growing old.

Demon Hunter said...

Wow. I just read the comments. I thank God for great parents. My Dad is cool and has always been there. Sometimes I told him to go away and stop bugging me so much. :-) So, I suppose I should really appreciate that. ;*)

He calls me every day, and when I take too long to call back, he'll call my cell, house (again), ask my mom has she heard from me...lol. I am truly grateful. Thanks for sharing this, AW.

Polly Kahl said...

Thanks for sharing that. I'm really glad you're reading my book. Honored, in fact.

Had to laugh at "never tired of reminding him that at every election I was proudly and deliberately canceling out his vote." Gratifying, indeed.

Chumplet said...

My dad left my mom for the same reason, and we harboured a lot of resentment against him and his new girlfriend. Years passed, and through a lot of tears and bitterness, we all worked things out. Thirty years later, we treat each other with love and respect.

He dotes on my children, and encourages my writing. We email each other often, and I've even grown to admire his wife (the girlfriend).

I'm sorry you didn't have a chance to reconnect with your dad on an emotional level. It seems that somehow in later life he did his best to make up for the neglect in earlier years. Hugs for you!

Brenda Bradshaw said...

Wow... even the well-loved weep at this post.

Maya Reynolds said...

Hey, AW: If I didn't already know you were a writer, this post would have convinced me. Excruciatingly honest and painfully told. Thanks for sharing.

As I've said previously, my father was a physically abusive drunk. He knew my mother would leave him if he laid a hand on her, so he used me as a punching bag--with lots of excuses for the things I'd done wrong to deserve it.

My mother was afraid to leave him so she compounded it by telling me it was my own fault. It was way too scary to realize that I couldn't depend on either of them so I smothered my rage for years.

When I finally had the good sense to go see a therapist, I was a ticking bomb. I was fortunate to find a kind and loving social worker.

All that's in the past now, but my heart hurts for you.

Take care and get better--body and soul. Know there are people who are thinking of you and sending good healing thoughts your way.

hugs and kisses,


Maddy said...

I bet he doesn't look as good as you do in the red Mickie Mouse outfit though!

Sheri said...

That is so sad. I had a troubled relationship with my dad, growing up too, but for some reason, once my Mom died, we suddenly became closer and now seem to understand one another. I am sorry you never got to have any sense of closer.

Both the novels I am working on are about troubled father/daughter relationships...

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