A few of my readers are asthmatic like I am, and would relate to this well. But to those of you who are not, try and remember the last time you really had a bad chest cold: preferably the kind you had to take antibiotics for. You know how sometimes the mucous (which my friend Brad unpleasantly, yet accurately, calls "lung butter") comes up in such huge volumes, the only way to get rid of it is to spit it out? Like you can't do the "snort and swallow" anymore, but you discretely spit it out in a tissue, pretending to blow your nose, or maybe "hock a loogie" on the ground if you're from a cheaper finishing school.
That's exactly why I post about my dad in my blog.
Sometimes memories and angst about him boil up, and the attempts to diminish it normally are not good enough. When I started this online diary, I didn't want it to be "my dad was an asshole, pity me!" but over the years, many readers feel about my dad the same way they feel about Osama Bin Laden: if they ever meet the son of a bitch, they are probably going to kill him. Recently, I spoke to someone who isn't even an adult yet, has never met my dad, and she expressed interest in traveling with me and my son to San Diego someday to tell my dad exactly what she thinks of him. I might take her up on this offer, possibly in a moment of weakness like right now. Better judgment actually restricts some of the stuff I post about him, because some of his random abuse was so over the top and freakish, I don't think anyone would believe me.
In all honesty, despite all kinds of complaints, my father has stayed out of my life since I left the house on September 11th, 1987 (yeah, I know). I don't want to think he is sitting on his lanai, looking over Mission Bay, sighing into a glass of $40 Chianti, and saying, "Thank goodness I screwed that kid up. Good job all around. To you, Arvid," and toasting himself to the setting sun. No, I think in all honesty, he never thinks about me. I know for a fact he has told people he doesn't have any children, although I reserve the faint hope he meant "Nicole and I," when someone asked him that question. But I pretty much believe he looks at his 29 year marriage to my mother and my legacy the same way most of us look at who we sat at lunch with in junior high, "That was a long time ago, I don't recall what really happened, and it doesn't really matter these days."
After years talking with people about him (who knew him at various stages of his life), and the fact he never showed up or even acknowledged his own mother's death with the same callousness as he dealt with my mother, I have come to a sort of peaceful junction of my life where I can say, "my father was a sociopath, and there was nothing I could have done to make him love or care about me." A sort of peaceful reassurance, from my own gut, that calms me down and stops taking it personally. And given *everything* I did as a child back then, both good and bad (and I was no angel, believe you me), his disappointment in me wouldn't have been any different had I been a straight-A perfect Aryan boy. In fact, had I been that, I am sure it would have made my life worse.
As I get older, I have tried to understand a little about what "being messed up" means. When I was told I was dyslexic at age 8, and what that meant, the reading teacher I had said, "It doesn't mean anything is wrong with you. You just have a different way of looking at things. We're going to help you adapt to how others look at things." She approached it as not a handicap, and didn't seek to eradicate my dyslexia, just help me understand the rest of the world. And that philosophy lay dormant for a very long while until I was 20 or so. One of the things this has blossomed into is that we're all different for a reason. People used to ask me, "How do you come up with such creative and different ideas?" Dyslexia, folks. Dyslexia is not just "I read things backwards with jumbled up letters," dyslexia is a an entire wiring of the brain. You have it for life. It affect all sorts of things, and dyslexia for each person is different. I also firmly believe dyslexia on my father's side is the root for most of the "insanity." But like any philosophy, it tends to contradict day-to-day living. So you work around it. You don't eliminate it, you don't shame it, or hide it. It is you. Love it. And then adapt to others. I am proudly dyslexic, because it really helps write comedy, the very art of "self-healing contradiction." So I started to look at all my "problems" the same way: there's some ulterior survival benefit to it.
Still working on my dyspraxia. There's some reason I have it. Perhaps in physical combat, it makes me unpredictable. It may surprise no one I am hesitant to test this theory, but I have learned being a little crazy gives you a leg up on mental combat, so maybe...
Anyway, when I look at my childhood with my dad, I also try and understand how the things I did really saved my ass. I will not lie to you: the survival method of being depressed, suicidal, and full of self-loathing damaged me in ways that haunt me every day. Mental paths that I forged where I collapsed in self-pity and cried at any source of conflict still plague me with unhelpful periods of panic and general neuroses in some of the most simple of tasks, like learning how to drive. My dad was cruel. I say with no exaggeration that had I "stood up for myself," he would have murdered me. Not in that metaphorical sense, but more of at literal, "He would have taken my life with no remorse." He would have ended my life as efficiently as one might stamp on a bug crawling across their kitchen floor. I would imagine, given some close calls I had, it would have been a beating that didn't stop. Or just at one point, he would have calculated his options while sitting alone in his den and later killed me in my sleep with a neutral look on his face like one has when taking out the trash, perhaps adding a contented sigh of release when he was done. I think the only thing that stopped him was I was always under that borderline of his rage and the complications of explaining my death to others (or hiding the body). He enjoyed my suicidal thoughts. He encouraged them, and mocked them like a challenge.
I spent time with him after my mother died, and he acted like someone who had to fix a broken window after a storm. "Well, lets get this mess cleaned up." He argued with the funeral director about having to pay for a coffin and urn for cremation, claiming they weren't necessary for a bunch of ashes. At one point the funeral director said, "We could put her in a box like they do for homeless people," as an unsubtle hint to his callousness, and my father immediately latched onto that. So my mother's "urn" was a white plastic box (with simulated marble), that cost I think $109. Cheapest in their catalog. It was displayed at the wake, and I never saw it again. My father said he was going to scatter the ashes on the Chesapeake so that "little crabs may eat her remains" in a sort of "cycle of life" symbolism, but when I asked him about it years later, he forgot he said that, and I had to remind him. "Oh yeah, I can't recall what we did with those. I guess we did that, sure." I used to be angry he was so callous, but I can now understand his motive. Like the Klingons say, "Dispose of the corpse like you would for any empty shell." My mother's body was without connection or purpose: it was a mess he had to get rid of, and didn't want to pay a lot to do so. Sadly, I am sentimental. I have several boxes of ashes for past pets. I even have old computers I hang onto because of their service and memories. I am sure this kind of emotional investment in the past is confusing and silly to him. Why visit his mother's funeral? Why even acknowledge it? She gave birth to him, acted as a faulty mother during his upbringing which he had to fix, and her purpose was done. Besides, funerals have people who expect you to be upset, and that's just a waste of time.
Anyone here remember the oven range they grew up with as a kid? Would it upset you to know it was destroyed years ago? If someone called you from your home town and said, "That Avocado-colored oven was in a scrap heap for a long time, and we're gonna use it for parts and melt down the rest. You wanna fly back here, and say your final goodbyes?" I doubt most of you would. It's the same thing to him, I think.
Knowing this has helped me disconnect from his view of me. Most of the time now, I just think of him as broken beyond repair, and he was broken before I came onto the scene, and would have continued to be broken whether I was born or not. I am not completely comfortable with writing him off like that, because it seems too convenient. And it hasn't been a panacea, as this morning reminded me when I remembered yet another childhood trauma that he inflicted, or the hurt that comes from never having your father's love or approval. There are still isolated pockets of rage that sometimes erupt, but they are less and less every year as the numbness of old scar tissue helps deaden the pain.
The memory? It came up recently while I was discussing with someone about parents who force their kids to do all these extra activities (soccer, band, karate, etc) at the expense of their childhood. I was in theater for a while, and a memory of my father walking out on my performance. I asked him about it later, and he said, "You were boring." Ouch.