Sunday, October 29, 2006

No Longer Whining, and Finally a Post about my Father

1. So I watched the Sixteen Candles, and it was awesome. Love that Long Duck Dong. Love that muscle-relaxed sister. Love Farmer Ted and his Dipshits.
2. I played some Sims 2 - (with the Pets expansion) the Dogradorias - Sally and ... I forget her husband's name... their dogs Peanut (the Poodle), Bagel (the Labrador), and Noodle (the son of Peanut and Bagel, a Labradoodle), and twins Dashiell and Henry, are all doing fantastically.
3. I got an email from Awesome Mentor who agreed - in spite of being wicked-busy - to write me a letter of rec., and she attached the letter. I generally don't want to know what my recommenders say (I'm totally motivated by thinking that I kind of suck), but reading what she wrote about me really did make me feel great.
4. I watched most of 4o-year-old Virgin, which made me laugh my ass off, even though I don't think it's the greatest movie ever. In fact, I think it's kind of sucky, but parts are hilarious.
5. I finally wrote an email back to my dad. Not my step-dad - my actual dad. I've been promising a post about him, and so I suppose I will do that now.

My relationship with my dad is fucked up. Part of this (most of this) is his fault. He and my mom separated when I was 11. He got married to an Other Woman. (I say "an" because apparently there had been more than one indiscretion on his part during the marriage.) He's been married to her for 20 years this Christmas-time. Basically, from the time of his marriage to her my relationship with him has been... fraught. (At first she did have something to do with this - she was very threatened by me and treated me like shit - but she and I have made our peace. No, I'd never choose her as a friend or anything, but she's not a bad person. She just sucks.) He was not a part of my life during high school, even though there was supposed to be visitation. He did pay child support (though it was really more a gesture than real support). He did not help with my college tuition, nor did he help to support me through grad school. Nevertheless, he's very "proud" of me and likes to take a great deal of credit for my accomplishments (pretty much none of which he deserves).

Now, my father... he's fun. He's a fun dad, good for fun times. When I was a kid, he was great with playing games, being a chaperone on class field trips (and ours was always the "fun car" where he'd let us all scream and be crazy), and just generally being the fun-time dad. When I was in college, when we developed something of a relationship after the high school gap, he was also a good fun-time dad - the kind of dad who would take a 19-year-old Crazy to see Buddy Guy and B.B. King in concert for her birthday like three days after she'd had her wisdom teeth out and was taking percoset for the pain and then buy her beers, which was really fun, I've got to say, even if not exactly smart. He is NOT somebody I can count on in my life. I have not seen him in over two years. Nor have I talked to him.

There was a falling out about four years ago, related to a commitment he'd made to me that he did not honor (because he went to Pittsburgh to see a Steelers-Browns game). The full story isn't really important. The point is that prior to that point, I'd always felt a weird kind of guilt about my shitty relationship with my father. I always felt like our shitty relationship was my fault, that I was not a good daughter to him, and that if I was in some way responsible for how things were with us. NOT that I was responsible for the divorce - I never felt that, for I squarely placed the blame on both of my parents' shoulders - but that I wasn't a "good daughter" to him. When the falling out happened, it forced me to reconcile myself to the fact that he is who he is and that our relationship is not solely my responsibility.

I know my father loves me, and I know that I matter to him. BUT. He is not equipped (for whatever reason) to be a parent to me. And there is absolutely nothing that I can do to make that change. That's what I've grown up to understand. Or if not understand, to accept.

But this isn't only about me and my father. He has two sons with my stepmother. And one of the things that's fucked up is that because my relationship with my father is so fucked up, I can't really have a relationship with them - or not the kind of relationship I'd want to have with them. But so the falling out happened, in the fall of 2002. At Christmas 2003, I sent him (and the family) a card, which I addressed to him, and in the card I enclosed a letter to him, saying that I wanted a relationship but that the ball was in his court (to sum up). He did not respond. Months later, I got an email from my stepmother. She said that she had read the letter and that she had waited for him to do something. He didn't. But my little brother C. talked about me all the time and wanted a relationship with me, and she wondered if I'd email with him. Now, I LOVE C. My other brother, K., I love, but he's kind of stand-off-ish and just isn't that into me. C. and I have had a bond that is entirely unexplainable since he was born, and I was totally excited to have any kind of contact with him. So C. and I email. And I actually see C. and the whole family (including my father) in Summer 2004, though it's weird, because only C. and I have anything to say to one another. (Incidentally, he was born when I was 22, so imagine the madness of him being the only person in that branch of the family with whom I've got a relationship and with whom I can have a decent conversation.) C. and I continue to email, but still, nothing from my father.

Until this fall. I got an email from him. Out of the blue. This initial email was written in the ALL CAPITAL LETTERS OF SHOUTING and was about three sentences long. (Clearly, I realize, I've gotten my writing abilities and talent from my mother. Though I will give him that after I wrote back, he reverted to standard English capitalization.) Anyway, I've got to say, I was really happy to have heard from him. He reached out. I don't know why.

But then I felt some ambivalence. What if I went back to how I felt before? What if I went back to feeling like the "bad daughter" just because we were back in contact? But I wrote back.

Now, I was kind of an asshole in my reply to him. Of course, he didn't know I was an asshole. I was really (on the surface) welcoming to the idea of renewing the relationship. But I also attached my journal article that had just come out. And that was a dick move. Because my father doesn't really have the education to read it and get anything out of it, and I attached it aggressively - "Look at what I did that you can't understand! Look at how dumb you are and look at how you've not supported me!" But then there was also the other message, which was "Be proud of me! Pay attention to me! Look how awesome your daughter is!" (See, the fucked-up-ness of our relationship, while mostly his fault is not entirely his fault.)

But so he responded. He read the article. He mentioned he'd had to look up some of the words in order to figure out what the hell I was talking about. Now, this may not seem like a big deal, but my mother has never read anything I've written. She's responsible and deserves credit for everything I've accomplished, but she at the same time has never made that effort. I do not have any resentment toward her because of that - neither she nor my father have education beyond high school, and I get that what I do is entirely foreign to them and that there's no reason why they'd ever read my work or be interested in it, as they've also not read the books I write about. But the fact that my father made that effort, well, it means something.

Now, one reason my mother doesn't feel she has to read what I write is because I translate all of it into English for her as I'm thinking about it. She knows all about my work; she just doesn't read it. And she knows about every single thing that goes into producing it. My father doesn't have that part of me. I don't do that for him. In order to know me, he has to read the article. And I've set it up that way, I guess. And so has he, maybe. But it was weird, that he did read it. I only realized after the fact that I'd attached it as a challenge to him, a way for him to prove he gave a crap. And he actually did it. I don't know what to think about that. (About the challenge I made or the meeting of it on his part.)

But what was weird about his email was that he said this stuff about me that wasn't at all like me (like about me as a kid). It was part of the "I'm so proud of you" schtick he does, but I felt like he didn't remember who I was. And I didn't know what to make of that. I still don't. Maybe I never will. Maybe I am for him somebody whom I don't recognize. Maybe that's what happens when you aren't really in a person's life. And maybe that's true of him for me, too.

But so tonight I finally wrote back to him (after almost a month, because I've been busy and because I'm a jerk who just let it slide, though I'm not a "bad daughter" - just a jerk). And it felt good. The truth is, I want a relationship with my father. Maybe it won't be the relationship I think that we should have, but I do want to know him and I want him to know me. I want for us to be ok. Maybe someday we will be.

I haven't felt that in a long time. It feels good to feel that - that maybe we will be ok.


BikeProf said...

I sympathize. I have a similarly fraught relationship with both of my parents; they split when I was in my 20s, so it was a very different situation than you faced. Still, though, both seem more like distant strangers to me, and I'm never quite sure how to respond to them. That's good, though, that you feel like you're making some sort of a connection with your dad.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

I hope you guys do end up okay - you sound like you don't have any illusions about him, which is a good thing. I'm lucky enough to have wonderful parents, and I never really realized the difficulty in dealing with shitty parents until I found out that a high school friend of mine had been molested by her father for years (and this is not meant as a comparison to your dad!). I'd known she'd had a strained relationship with her parents, but I didn't know why, and initially when I found this out, I was horrified that she was still even speaking to her dad. But I did realize that no matter what he'd done, he was still her dad, and she couldn't get rid of that even if she wanted to. So I hope that you're able to have a relationship with your dad. (Hope that anecdote wasn't completely random!)

(And as an aside, I looooooove the 40-Year Old Virgin!!)

Addy N. said...

Hi Dr. Crazy- good luck working things out with your dad. I can empathize with your situation on some level, because I have not spoken to my dad in over 7 years. However, in my case it is ENTIRELY his fault, because he is a racist bigot. He "disowned" me when I married someone with darker skin than we have. I often wonder what I would do if he wanted to be in touch, because I would not want to subject my husband to him in the first place. I also feel like why should I want to be in contact with someone who would disown their child over anything? What kind of person does that? Having a daughter with a PhD who has been happily married for over 7 years with a beautiful 7-year-old daughter is not enough for him apparently, so who needs it? Anyway- I often wonder if I will do a "father" blog post sometime- maybe when I reach that 10-year mark on not talking to him... We'll see. Take care & good luck!

Anonymous said...

i'm sorry about the relationship with your dad, and i hope that things get better.
though i'me fine with my dad, with my sister, i have a realtionship where i let her abuse me (verbally and emotionally) but i still hold on in hopes of one day having the raltionship that i want. reading your story really reminded me, though i say that i know it, that the responsibility of a relationship is on both people...
anyway, good luck and take care.

Seeking Solace said...

First, Sixteen Candles is one of my favorite movies! I can quote from it!

Second, I hope things do work out for you and your dad. I have a rocky relationship with my mom. We have never been close and she has done some very hurtful things to me during my childhood. It is only now that we have somehate of a relationship. It's not the mother-daughter relationship I always wanted, but what I learned is that I have to accept her at the place she is now. I can't make her into something she may not be capable of being. So, I try to surround myself with those who can give me those things she can't. I have an awesome mom-in-law who has embraced me as her daughter. It doesn't completely fill the void, but it does help.

Take care and good luck!

Hilaire said...

Hi Dr. Crazy - I hope this is the beginning of a different kind of relationship. One that's realistic, but less heartbreakingly disappointing. Some elements of your story remind me of my mine - my father was more present in my life, but I felt as if I spent a lot of time trying to make him love me. It took me until I was in my mid-twenties to just realize he is who he is, I'm not going to change him. Now that I've recognized that, it's a much less distressing relationship - I think I sort of psychically laid off, and now we are getting closer and closer. Maybe something similar will happen with your dad. I hope so. Take care.

timna said...

Sounds like you're in motion and that this email unwritten was slowing you down.
I tend to keep some shallow relationships around just so I don't ever have to rekindle. But I'm not sure that having them on low is really good overall.

Dr. Crazy said...

Hey all, thanks for your comments. I hope that I did a good job of representing the state of my relationship with my dad. I do feel ok about it now in a way that I didn't for years, which is a good thing. That's not to say that there aren't times that I wish things were different, but I do think that I've worked through a lot of crap related to him over the past four years or so, and I just hope that I don't regress into how things were before. I suppose how I feel is not so much about *him* anymore but about *me* and what I want in my life. In truth, the situation with him is not so horrible as many situations with parents that others have. Our problems come from neglect/distance more than anything else. Also, my mom did play a role in that, and I've talked with her about that, which I think has helped. I really do think that my father has done the best he's known how to do by me. I also think that doesn't excuse his choices, but I can forgive some of those choices now, which I couldn't do in my 20s. Also, I've got to say, I'm motivated to make things as right as they can be with him because I do care about my brothers. I'm not sure how I'd feel if it weren't for them.

That said, I'm *really* lucky for my relationship with my mom and my stepdad, and so it's not like my life's without strong family relationships. I guess I'm worried that I came off like I'm all in pain and things all the time, and that's just not true. I suppose I'm just thoughtful about this stuff lately, and I wanted to write about it here. (And a big part of why I'm thoughtful about it is actually related to thinking about how my parents/family relate (or don't) to who I am as an academic, which really has a lot to do with that student I talked to about the possibility of grad school.)

trillwing said...

{{Dr. Crazy}}

I'm so impressed with this post and what you share in it. Like New Kid, I have fantastic parents, so I can't really imagine how difficult it must be to establish an honest relationship with a parent as an adult. You seem, however, to be doing really well. Keep up the good work, and best of luck with your father.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

Your father sounds a lot like my mother in law -- and I see how it hurts my husband and how he keeps trying to have a relationship with her -- but for them it must be on her terms. It is a good thing that you have put the relationship on your terms...

As an adult you have figured out that you can flourish without him, so adding him back is an optional move -- and your choice. Good job!