Thursday, August 27, 2015

An Open Letter to My Dad

Dear Dad,

I know we aren't related.  Mom told me when I was about 13.  She also told me you would lose your mind if anyone ever mentioned that fact again, so I was sworn to secrecy.  You're the only person from whom I still keep this secret.  As much as Mom worked to keep us apart, our lack of relationship isn't her fault.  You have a history of throwing tantrums and misdirecting your rage, and I've always known it's better not to upset you, or even be in the room when someone else does.

Do you remember when I won that writing contest in elementary school with my essay about how my greatest wish was for you to be able to walk again?  You might already be aware that the original topic of my essay had been my wish to visit Walt Disney World and that Mom convinced me I'd do better to write a tear-jerker.  She bet me $20 I would win if I wrote about your paralysis, and I did.  It wasn't true though.  We were safer with you in a wheelchair.  We could outrun you and hide in places you couldn't reach in that ridiculous hoard.  Even in the chair you could throw things and hit hard, and the idea of what you could do if you could run and climb was terrifying.  Dante would be dead.

One of the best memories of my childhood was of you sitting in the doorway of my room, smiling at my gradeschool aged self while I showed you things and prattled on about I don't remember what.  I was so excited to have the attention.  You didn't cut me off or scream at me or tell me I talk too much like Mom and Dante did.  I stopped myself when I realized what I was doing and apologized for dominating the conversation, and you said it was okay.  You weren't swearing, and I wasn't crying.  It was great.

It took me a long time to realize I'd really only gotten your attention when talking about things that interest you.  It started when I had the baby and couldn't focus on you so much anymore.  I don't know if that's why you stopped paying attention to me -- because I wanted to talk about my daughter and the things going on in my life rather than TV shows I'd never seen -- but that's when I noticed it.  I thought she would interest you because she was your granddaughter, but her novelty wore off quickly.

I had a newborn baby when my husband became permanently physically disabled, and you only asked me for favors.  I didn't ask you for money or help, but a little empathy, even just the recognition that I was going through something hard, would have meant something.  All you could talk about was your own poor health and your own imagined money problems.  My husband was suddenly on disability from work, he could barely help me with our new baby, and our all-too-necessary medical insurance was contingent upon him adapting and keeping his job.  You didn't seem to care at all.  You didn't ask about him.  You didn't ask about me.  You didn't ask about your only grandchild.  You asked me to order you guitars off eBay. 

I don't know why you refused to tell your mother about the baby.  I know she wasn't Grandma's first great-grandchild, but I thought she'd at least be pleased with the news.  You said you didn't know how to contact her.  She's been in a nursing home for years, where your brother has kept her.  You're in contact with him.  Surely she wouldn't be that hard to locate.  Does Grandma know we aren't related?  Is it about that?  Why couldn't you just lie to me and say, "She says 'congrats.'"

I don't understand why you don't care about me or my daughter.  I know you and I aren't flesh and blood, but surely 30 years of pretending we are counts for something.  Would you love me more if you could see yourself in me?  Would it matter at all?  I don't know what's wrong with you.  Mom is a lunatic, and I can understand and relate to her in ways I can't even imagine with you.  Having three parents who don't give a shit about me really messes with a person's head.  I'm the common denominator in all three of those relationships, so it's hard not to assume I'm the problem.

But then I remember I have friends.  Close friends, long-term friends, who I trust and who trust me.  I don't have a history of tumultuous relationships except with you guys.  You're the ones who don't have friends.  I don't think I'm the problem here, but I don't know what the problem is.  Other people love me.  People who have no legal ties or obligations to me love me and stay in touch with me.  Why don't you?  I've never seen you have a close relationship with anyone else either.  What is wrong with you?

This is why I don't write to you or call you anymore.  It cost me energy, and I got nothing in return.  I just feel exhausted when we talk.  I don't feel like that with other people, just you and Mom.

Sometimes I wish an opening would arise for me to tell you I know we're not related.  Like you asking for bone marrow or one of my organs, though that would require your health to worsen and I do not want that.  But I wish there were an opening so I could say it and it could be out in the open and it wouldn't just be me being vindictive.  I have no good reason to bring it up right now.  And I imagine you'd be upset.  I've been on the receiving end of your misdirected anger enough times.  Something as little as crying alone in my room as a small child could bring out your rage.  And I know when a woman tells her dad he's not her biological father, she's supposed to tell him she loves him and he is all the father she'll ever want, and it's simply not true.  You weren't the world's worst father, but you weren't very nice.  You still aren't.  I love you and Mom and wish you all the best, but I want nothing more to do with you.  I love you the way I love strangers.  I love you the way I love my enemies.  I don't love you like family or friends.  I can't.  I can't trust you or be honest with you, and I've been afraid of you both for as long as I can remember.

But I want you to know it's not because we're not related.  I've known that for a long time, long before I helped you divorce Mom, long before I salvaged your finances, long before I invited you to live in my home.  It's not because we're not related.  It's because of how you are.

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