It is amazing the power nothing can have.
The fact that my father was absent was one of the most profound influences on my life. I cannot stress how wounding this is. And it is permanent. The best you can do is accept it and consciously refrain from giving it power. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes it goes silent long enough that you let down your guard. Then it comes roaring back, triggered by something that seems insignificant.
My memories of my father fit in the space under one fingernail. None of them offer comfort. While my siblings have the luxury to remember good times to balance out our father’s shortcomings, I have a big gaping hole of n o t h i n g. He abandoned me at birth. After I met him — even after offering him a clean slate. Then he died of a heart attack. All I have is rejection and indifference.
Absence can be physical. It can be emotional. The lack of engagement is key. If you don’t think this is a problem worthy of your concern, let me give you some perspective:
My stepfather was 24 when he married my mother, 12 years his senior. He was immature, with no idea how to connect to me. He abused drugs and alcohol. Eventually he was diagnosed as bi-polar.
My best friend’s alcoholic father used to leave him in the truck with nothing but a car repair manual while he went into the casino for hours. He shot himself in the chest, dying on the living room floor. His teenaged daughter was the first to find him.
My ex-wife’s father is an alcoholic that also beat her mother. His father abandoned him.
My mother’s father was an alcoholic, abandoning her to a foster family after her alcoholic mother walked out the door, never to return.
My mother’s brother abused drugs and alcohol and ended up homeless and riding the trains from Reno to South America. She suspected he committed suicide after I excitedly told her I had watched a sheeted and decapitated body being loaded into a coroner’s van by the train tracks just outside the trailer park where we lived. After they left, I went to where the body was found on the tracks. Bits of bloody gore and hair marked the spot. I was six. We never saw him again.
It is easier to count the friends that didn’t have absent fathers. It’s easier to count the people I know who didn’t suffer from substance abuse, or physical and emotional abuse, or child molestation.
We are not “moving on to bigger and better things.” We are not letting go. We have not stopped reliving the past.
We are failing.
So when my sister dug into a recent Facebook post of mine about the memoir I’m writing, it irked me.
“But at what point does one stop reliving their past in both their minds and words?” she said. “At what point does one learn, accept and move on to bigger and better things? It’s a lesson I learned years ago. I could let my shitty past, one that was created for me by choices others had made and the other part of which I created. Life is about learning and living. If I sat around thinking of all the shitty shit shit I’d be in a padded cell! Just my thoughts.”
My mind burned all day thinking about it.
I had said I refuse to hide my pain and experience. Because nothing changes in a world that refuses to accept its participation and, therefore, support of human pain and suffering.
I know my sister loves me. The feeling is mutual. But I am sick of people choosing judgment to escape uncomfortable situations. It’s the reactionary easy road. Criticism of others is often a reflection of our own insecurities. The stronger the reaction, the stronger the insecurity. And family is supposed to be a haven from such things. For many people, family is the opposite — it’s land mines and denial. It’s abuse and neglect, a cesspool of dysfunction. I consider myself lucky. My family is, on the whole, cool beans.
When confronted with an uncomfortable situation or disturbing behavior, there are two superhighways that most of us (yes, me too) go screaming down:
Internalization: involves the integration of attitudes, values, standards and opinions of others into one’s own identity or sense of self.
Both are normal psychological reactions. But add in denial and dysfunction, and well … Hello, hot mess. There is a horn-o-plenty of denial and dysfunction in the world, so chances are you are in a hot mess — even if you have your head screwed on straight.
AND HOLY HELL, THE WORLD IS TURDUNKEN-STUFFED WITH DYSFUNCTION.
Because the deepest part of each of us is a lost, frightened, confused and wounded child, we invent stories to feel secure and give the worlds we fabricate meaning. It’s the curse we pass on, generation after generation after generation. Each time, growing more vile and destructive.
I am not your fucking piety.
I am not your fucking hope.
I am not your fucking rainbow.
I am your doubt.
I am your fear.
I am your pain.
I am your denial.
I am your rage.
I will not stifle my voice for anyone. In fact, I want you to be uncomfortable. I want to shake you. I want to shake everyone. And the best way to accomplish that is by sharing my experience in a very public way.
I don’t point fingers or attack with blame and shame. I strip naked. I unveil all my weaknesses and secrets. I sing a sad song in a suicidal world that abhors anything that does not make them feel good. Superior. Correct. Righteous. I’m crashing your party of denial.
“But at what point does one stop reliving their past in both their minds and words?”
Shit, I don’t know. It’s different for everyone. But this isn’t really a question. It’s a statement posed as a question. She thinks I should stop. Also, it’s an assumption (projection, perhaps?) that I am reliving my past. I am not. I am revealing it. I’m digging it up and putting it on display like dinosaur bones. I’m waving it like a flag. I’m flaunting it like skinny jeans. Don’t like it? Walk away. I’m not forcing anyone to watch.
“At what point does one learn, accept and move on to bigger and better things?”
Shit, I don’t know. It’s different for everyone. And this is another rhetorical question. She thinks I need to learn, accept and move on. I see this statement as an assumption (projection?) that I haven’t learned or accepted anything. I see life as a continual discovery. And hey, THIS IS MY BIGGER AND BETTER and she’s already dismissed it.
“It’s a lesson I learned years ago. I could let my shitty past [go?], one that was created for me by choices others had made and the other part of which I created.”
Oh, really? For me, certainty is immediately suspect. The only certainty is birth and death. I am certain of almost nothing. I find myself constantly reevaluating my positions. Learning is not an achievement. It is not a destination where you get a trophy, lesson, moral, grade or fancy diploma. At best those are milestones — subject to revision or obsolescence. Sometimes we forget. Sometimes we repeat mistakes. Sometimes the trophy is a bullshit lie. No one is immune.
“Life is about learning and living.”
She perceives that I am stuck, but she won’t say it plainly. She is hiding behind her words. I’ll agree in part on this because I have felt stuck for a long, long time. But now I’m actually DOING something. And she wants to shut me down?
“Just my thoughts.”
Hmm… Well, these are just mine. I think they are much more forgiving.
When I read her comment, I was shocked. I didn’t know what to say. Then I got mad and said a shit-ton because I knew what this was, the same bullshit that assails us from every direction, every day of our lives — breaking us so we willingly accept a life lived on our knees.
More posts followed. We bantered. It wasn’t pretty. And then she really stung me.
“You, my dear brother, have been speaking about the same things for the past 15 years you have been in my life.”
SO FUCKING WHAT.
I think she is afraid of my rage and aching pain. She sees me following through with my dreams by writing my memoir, and she’s afraid of what I’m going to say about Dad. She’s afraid of what I’m going to say about our grandmother, the woman who refused to know me. She is afraid of how that is going to make her feel.
Do you shame a child for being afraid of the dark?
Do you blame a man with a badly healed broken leg for limping?
Do you find it audacious that blood dare pour out of a deep wound?
Two days ago was the fifth anniversary of our father’s death. Maybe it is causing her to reflect on the aching scars that remain.