Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Healing

Ever since I found out I was having a baby I've been looking at announcements. You know, those little cards you send out that tell everyone the baby's name and how much it weighs and all that fascinating stuff no one but you cares about? I've been thinking about it a lot, partly because I love to make this kind of stuff and so I was on the look out for a simple classic design that I could steal and copy (Martha came to the rescue yet again) and partly because I can't decide whether or not to send an announcement to my father.

I haven't spoken to my father in a really long time. It's not something I talk about a lot here but I think it's safe to say that we are estranged. Sometimes he sends me random birthday cards or I hear things about him through the grapevine but I have not seen him or heard his voice since he called to tell me that my grandmother died about five years ago. Unless someone else has told him, he doesn't know that someday soon he will be a grandfather for the first time.

It is hard for me to go back and remember every detail of how my dad and I ended up where we are today, because that isn't really how it worked for me. It wasn't one particular wrong. It was more of a gradual reawakening process. It wasn't the day I found out that he had sent my sister away and wouldn't tell anyone where she was, it wasn't like that was the day that I stopped speaking to him. It wasn't hearing his lawyers refer to me as my sisters "biological sibling" or to my mom as my sisters "biological mother" and it wasn't the day he drove me to the airport and told me right before he dropped me off at the curb that I couldn't have a relationship with him if I ever talked about him with my mother. It wasn't when he told my mentally retarded sister she must refuse to see her own brother and sister and mother after we finally found out where she was, and it wasn't the day that I discovered that he told whatever lies he had to and had my sister sterilized after obtaining consent from her that he knew damn well she wasn't qualified to give. It wasn't any of those moments. Although it's safe to say they didn't help.

For me the moments when I really decided it was just better to not have my father in my life are the small moments, and a lot of these are moments I have come to view all the more clearly because of Mr. E, as my childhood is viewed up against the sheer magic of his normal childhood. I might be standing in the kitchen and I might say out loud "you know, I had to cook dinner for my whole family every night starting at the age of ten after my dad sat us down and told us that childhood was a scam perpretated by the liberal media and we weren't going to get away with it anymore" and in the retelling of that to someone who never experienced anything like it I can tell how bad it really is. Or I remember how I would feel sick to my stomach every time I had to call him from college and how I had to work to steer the conversation away from thousands of dangerous topics to avoid being yelled at. Or how I cringed whenever a black person came on tv because I knew it would set my father off, or how I hid my copy of Catcher in the Rye at my mom's house and only read it when I was there. Or I remember the letter I wrote him pouring out my very soul with all its hurts when I was still trying to mend all these broken fences after we had found my sister and how he never wrote back, and instead had my stepmother reply to me and how in that same letter she told me I owed her money for my plane ticket home from the Christmas before. I remember the time I had to ask my father to take me the emergency room for a urinary tract infection and as we were leaving and I was almost done dying of shame at having to talk about girl stuff with my father he starting complaining about how because of the $50 it cost to take me to the emergency room he couldn't get new shoes for work. I remember the disgust in his voice and the look on his face as he would turn to me and say "You are just like your mother", and believe me when I say that it was not a compliment coming from him.

I went to Catholic school for 12 years and you learn a shit ton about forgiveness in catholic school. It's safe to say that when it comes to a textbook definition of forgiveness, well, I know what it is. Forgiveness means letting go. It means trusting yourself enough to know that you can take it if someone wrongs you again. Although it doesn't have to mean letting the person who wronged you back into your life, even though you pardon them for their sins against you. And in a week when the families of girls shot at gunpoint attended the funeral of the man who shot them, I think we could all stand to give forgiveness another look. So it is hard for me to say, in the face of such grace, that there is a part of me that can't let go, that believes that sins against the innocent may sometimes in fact be unforgivable sins, and that to sterilize a mentally retarded child coerced with lies has always been, for me, what I thought was unforgivable.

But my father had his reasons for doing what he did. I think lying to my sister and sterilizing her was shameful and wrong but I understand why, in his mixed up head, he did it. So actually when I am being brutally honest with myself I think the real thing I cannot forgive is not my sister's sterilization but the fact that once upon a time my father loved me very very much, and then one day somehow did not anymore. The juxtaposition between those two things is like a stone in my heart. Sometimes I see my life, literally, in split screen, and I see a small version of myself, innocent, sunlit, laughing with my dad as I try to twirl my chunky sister around the living room, and then in that same instant I hear my stepmother's voice on my answering machine, filling the cold room, saying "Annie does not live here anymore and we will not tell you where she is" and try as I might I just can't reconcile those two moments, and for me the fact that my father could live those bright moments of my childhood along side me and then later do the things he did to me - that is perhaps what I cannot even grasp, cannot even wrap my head around. I have no explanation. I don't know what happened to his heart. And if I can't even understand it, I don't know if I can forgive it.

So instead the person I am working on forgiving right now is me. Because it took me a long long time to acknowledge that I am happier because my father is not in my life. It has been hard to admit that the exhale I feel all the time because he is gone is one of relief. I wish my father was not the person that he is, but I am not sad that the person that he is is not in my life. And that does not make me a bad person. It just makes me someone who finally said "enough". And so I will say it right here for the record. My dad is not a good person, not a sane person, not a stable person, and my life is easier and better because the person he is is not in it - and that is ok.

It's important to know that I would never allow my father to harm a child of mine in any way. I would never leave him alone with my kids, I wouldn't ever allow him to say something I don't agree with in front of them. If there is a ever a reconciliation it will be all on my own terms, because while I was never very good at protecting myself from him, I would protect my children from him with every fiber of my being. I would never allow them to be exposed to the same bullshit that went on when I was kid. So the issue is not whether or not to let my father into my child's life. I honestly doubt he even has the capacity to put himself there, regardless of whether the invitation were extended, which it will not be. The issue is also not whether or not he deserves to be a grandfather, or whether or not he deserves to know the name and birthdate and length and weight of his grandson. Let me be perfectly clear when I say that no, he does not. He does not deserve any of that. Not in any way.

But still, I would like him to know. Despite all else, all that has happened. I would like him to know that he has a grandson. New life is a profound thing. Maybe, deep down, this picture of a child, his grandson, sent through all the boundaries of remove and distance and silence, and all that has gone before, maybe this glimpse of what love can really do will serve as a reminder of new life, of forgiveness in the face of unforgivable sins. Who knows? Perhaps a few simple words (name, date, weight, length) may hold enough power to heal just a tiny corner of my father's empty heart.

2 comments:

pq said...

I'm estranged from my dad too. Actually, two days ago was the 4 year anniversary of the day he left telling us he was going on a business trip to North Carolina and never came back. Which I found out in a letter he sent me. Not even express mail either.

He never really hurt me like your dad did, but he's definitely got his issues and when it comes down to it, I just don't trust the man. I saw him for the first time in years at his sister, my aunt's, funeral in June. Weird doesn't begin to describe it. Even though he's made overtures to try and heal the relationship, I'm not really interested. Like I said, I don't trust him and his moods can be very fickle. He wants to fix things on HIS terms, not mine. If I were ever to get married I don't know if I'd invite him to the wedding and even if I did there would be NO giving away the bride.

So yeah, I totally hear what you're saying here and I think whatever you decide is justified.

LME said...

PN, I cut my father out of my life two years ago this January and I wish I had done it years ago. He was abusive to me and my sister, emotionally and sexually. I struggled for so many years with the fallout from my childhood. When confronted, he did nothing but blame us and continue to try to lie and manipulate.

I personally think that certain men can't deal with their little girls becoming women.

You will know when the time is right if you want to send an announcement or not.