My dad is a handsome man. He played the cop that got slapped by Zsa Zsa in the Sizzler commercial from the 80’s. Sometimes while he is rambling on, I imagine I am constructing a steel spine and staple-gunning it to his back and ripping off his metaphorical frilly pink tutu and give him a good injection of testosterone with a needle fit for a T-Rex.
We have somehow managed to become pals in recent years. Although they’ve been apart for almost 30 years, my mom wound her strings so deeply into the fabric of his being that even his handwriting looks like a cheap imitation of my mom’s “cosmic swirls” and everything he paints whether it’s a horse, a pirate, or a boat looks like her. For many years, she made him keep a notebook of all his thoughts while away from her during the day, which she would analyze when he got home from a long day working in the city. She would scream at him based on her interpretations until long after even the devil retired for the evening. He used to get so angry at my mom, but instead of speaking up for himself, he would bite huge chunks out of his arms.
He told me once about a terrifying recurring dream he has been plagued with for many years. He is in total darkness on a pier. A huge figure is coming towards him, similar in figure to the Michelin man. He knows it is going to absorb him, and he must choose between that and jumping off the pier into the black ocean. “Can’t you see that is exactly what happened to you?” I asked. My dad, the psychologist… speechless.
I remember him coming over when I was really little like a handyman, to fix the house, yard, and pool. He was not allowed to interact with me. It was a strange experience hearing continually that he was plotting to kill us, and then seeing him with a chainsaw in the backyard. Even when she would leave, he adhered to the law… as much as I would let him. I was supposed to be afraid and full of hate, but I was fascinated by him. I think to this day it is why I have a tendency to poke at people who are unfriendly or mean. I just want them to crack open and see that there is another way entirely. It is still my way after all these years of saying “Come play with me”.
By the time I was 8, he had already endured almost 20 yrs of her and decided he had enough. Since he didn’t get to see me, he didn’t see the logic in paying child support. Maybe because the animal you left your daughter with was being consumed by mental disease and drug addiction? That was not how his logic worked, I guess. He says he can’t explain it, it but it made sense at the time. My dad, the psychologist.
He tells me stories sometimes, which I always sit eagerly through like a pathetic dog waiting for a milkbone because it is starts off as a comfort to feel like I have a history and a connection to a family. I am waiting to feel some normalcy but I should know by now, the stories are always things more like about how in her early 20s, my mom would stay in bed all day and how many pets they had to give away because she couldn’t even put seed in a bird’s bowl. This is the person he left me with, and I admit it has been hard to get past that and enjoy a burger sitting across from this man. I asked him to explain this to me once. Specifically how he found it perfectly fine to leave a helpless human in the care of someone incapable of dumping birdseed into a bowl once a week. He said he didn’t really have an explanation, but would think about it and get back to me. That was December 2008.
Sometimes I picture my dad’s head mounted on my little wall of personal triumphs. It is one of the biggest, as the beast of his effect on my life was one of the hardest to slay. It used to be that I would completely shut down and be reeling mentally sometimes for months after spending time with him. Sometimes I would realize months later what had happened that upset me so much. I had no control over the depths to which I would fall in the meantime. I am running a totally different operating system now. When he says something painful or just fucking inappropriate, I recognize it instantly; I stop and deal with it in the moment. I don’t waste a second wondering if I really should be upset, planning out how I am going to react and making sure it’s the best way possible. Who gives a fuck, my priority in these situations is taking care of me. I blow up if I have to; no way am I carrying that shit around with me… because I am intimately aware of the toxic effects of holding it in. It took a long time to get to this point, but because I now have the ability to take care of myself in this manner, I no longer fear him. I am no longer at his mercy… He no longer has the power to knock me off course. We no longer sit there lightheartedly laughing about my mom not being able to take care of a hamster. Ha ha ha… found such good homes for all the pets she couldn’t take care of. Ha ha ha… ok, nice to see you, ha ha ha let me go want to die for the next 8 months… not sure why… Ha ha ha… must be something wrong with me.
The story I have the most trouble getting past is the story of my birth. When my mom went into labor, my dad put her in the car and went back in the house and called the doctor/ hospital and told them it was false labor. Then he took her to the hospital, and the doctor wasn’t there and they weren’t ready for her. I started coming out in the waiting room, and they pushed on the top of my head accidentally resulting in a large hematoma.
All of my life, my mother told me I probably had brain damage from this, and I was lucky it was only that, as most babies die from hematomas. Growing up thinking you are brain damaged and also living in an alternate reality from your mom, and as a result of your mom, living in an alternate reality from the rest of the world, definitely presents its challenges. Perhaps this is why I don’t relate to Norman Rockwell.
When I got older and became reacquainted with my dad, I asked him about this whole story, mainly assuming it had been another one of my mother’s delusions. But he said that unfortunately it was “Not untrue”. My stomach dropped straight into the depths of some kind of internal Marianas Trench, to think that this was actually how my experience on this beautiful earth began. “I can only explain it as I just had some sort of a reaction. I thought maybe if I cancelled the whole thing, you would just go away.” I wish there was a special font to denote, I swear on my life those were the exact words used.
My dad, the psychologist. And so we sit in cafes sometimes, having a burger and a beer. I listen to his stories about his softball games and his little dog that he didn’t expect to have feelings for yet actually feels a certain type of love for. Yet in the background of my mind there is always this static. If I listen closely it is one word echoing over and over: “Cancelled.”