A wise man once warned me to not put so much faith into my father. He said that one day the man would fall short of my expectations and the impact would be infinitely more damaging to my psyche than it would be to my Dad’s. Being young, stupid, and mind numbingly homesick, I blew this man off and scoffed at the thought. In retrospect, I see a great deal of wisdom in this warning. After all, the man had known me for a few years at that point and had often been a great source of comfort after arguments with my Dad. When Dad’s harsh words cut, it was often to this man I went to lick my wounds. Obviously he knew a little about what he spoke.
This return home has knocked my father squarely from the pedestal I so carefully placed him upon. Of course, it was bound to happen. Before returning home, we spoke to each other for about ten minutes a week. It’s easy to fill in all those other minutes with thoughts, ideas, and hopes of who the other person is. Living together, however, casts a harsh light of reality into the picture. This man that had, over the years, become thoughtful, caring, and always there with a bit of advice, is also still loud, rough, and angry with little time or thought given to how his choice of words may affect another person. Whereas every phone call ended with “I love you. Take care,” I can count on one hand how many times he has said it personally (twice and not once without me saying it first). And, of course, apologies are nonexistent. Instead of viewing it as acting or speaking impulsively, the mindset seems to be “I went with what I had at the time.” Little, if any, thought is given to what else of the story may have been uncovered if he had waited a moment longer or asked a question rather than start mouthing off. My own impulsiveness has taught me nothing if not to check the depth of the pool before diving in. I don’t always remember the lesson but it still scratches through on occasion.
One of the things that I find most annoying is that he still seems to think I’m the teenager that left so many years ago. Yes, parts of that girl are still evident in me. I still love rock music. I rely on my heart more than my head at times. I can be self centered, impulsive, cantankerous, and occasionally have complete disregard for authority figures if I disagree with the situation. I even still prefer a pair of comfortable boots, jeans, and a t-shirt to a twin set most days- and we’ve already covered the tattoos. But why does it have to come as a surprise that eleven years after leaving home I’ve returned with a love of classical music and theater? Why is it a shock that instead of diving into the latest vampire romance that I’d have loved as a teenager, I picked up “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair? It’s insulting that my parents are impressed that I display genuine concern for the feelings of my brother. And it’s downright comical to have my mother confessing using my perfume while I was in Nashville. In so many ways, I feel like I have grown up and yet, I somehow seem to have all my childish impulses amplified since I’ve been here. Whereas I’d have done so many of these things on my own out West, I feel like a child playing dress up here.
I could deal with all that, though, if it weren’t for my father’s regularly alluding to my being a failure. Have I made bad choices? Of course I have. My move out West was impulsive and irrational. I married too young to a person I know was wrong for me. While I will never regret my son, I regret his father and the timing. And, wow, let me tell you: nothing damages the pride like asking your parents for shelter again. But my Dad brings up sins of the distant past. He claimed that I was a screw up since I was a little girl- a little girl! He said he never spoke to me when I was a child because you shouldn’t say such harsh things to children! I was an honor roll kid that played with Breyer horses, begged to be in Girl Scouts, and started work at twelve years old to afford riding lessons! Most importantly, I was a child desperate to feel loved and accepted that would rather have died than live outside that love.
Why did he say this? Because his dog attacked me when I tried to shoo it off the couch, causing nerve damage in my hand that has not healed two months after the fact, and I calmly told him that I would report the dog should it ever attack my son. Let that thought rattle around in your head for a moment: a father called his daughter an eternal fuck up because his dog attacked her and she told him that she feared for her toddler son’s welfare. A grandfather defended his dog rather than realize the possible threat to his fourteen month old grandson that bares his name. I sit on the floor now because my Dad values the dog’s rights to any seat in the house more than his daughter. What is the correct response there? What am I supposed to feel besides scared for my son and worthless in my father’s eyes? Rest assured I watch that dog like a hawk when he is around my son and I’ll report it in a heartbeat if it ever hurts my son regardless of what that does to my relationship with my family.
And, of course there was the Great Tattoo Debacle that resulted in my Dad’s shock that I enjoy wearing flattering dresses and heels when the occasion calls for it. Seriously, Dad, would you like me to chase my son around the house while looking like June Cleaver? Do you honestly think a baker and new mom has the time, money, or inclination to slip into a new dress and pile on the make up to change a diaper?
Or today I was yelled at twice. The first time my son and I ate breakfast, got changed, and went to play on the deck before my folks or the dog emerged from their bedroom- yes, the dog sleeps in their room with them. When the dog came ripping out of the room and barked like mad because I was sweeping the leaves on the deck into a pile for my son to play in, I was yelled at for not putting the dog in the pen before putting my kid on the deck. Does anyone want to take a guess as to what would have happened had I disturbed my parents to put the dog out? Does it matter that most people that don’t like the sound of their dog barking up a storm would actually take the time to train their dog not to bark at silly things like family members on the deck? The second time my son’s sippy cup had fallen on the floor and unscrewed slightly, unbeknownst to me because I was making one of my Dad’s favorite cookies: gingersnaps. It caused a puddle that, again, I was unaware of. As soon as my Dad saw it, he was raving mad about this “huge” puddle that was going to ruin the floors which raises even more questions. A) Do you honestly think someone keenly aware that people slip easily in puddles would allow a puddle to remain in a house with an infant, a father fresh from surgery, a mother with bad knees, and a brother that complains about the most minor of wounds as if they all lead to eminent death? B) Who the Hell puts down flooring in a kitchen and dining room that can’t get wet? Your bad planning is not my fault!
When this is brought up, however, I screw that up, too. If I attempt to explain that being called a sloppy sub-dog purposefully out to ruin everyone’s ears and floors is hurtful politely, I’m condescending. If I yell at him, I’m a child. If I bottle it up inside until I’m slumped over on my bed sobbing and my own son is concerned for me, it’s all okay.
I’m sorry but that’s not all okay. That’s, in fact, very wrong. I am not a “great” person. I have no desire to be. I just want to raise my child correctly in a loving, safe environment. I want a comfortable life, good friends, and a table big enough to hold said friends and the dinners I’ll make for them. I certainly don’t want to be asking why I am not loved. So, in the meantime, I’ll just keep chugging along with my eyes on the future. Before I know it, Elijah and I will be on our own and our contact with my Dad will be on my terms which will remain steady and true: call me when you can conduct yourself appropriately or not at all.