Father’s Day is upon us, and I just wanted to take this opportunity to wish ALL the dad’s out there, ESPECIALLY my brother Harrison, a very Happy Father’s Day. This is actually a big weekend for him… Saturday is his birthday, Sunday is Father’s Day and Monday is his and my sister-in-law’s anniversary. Growing up, we had a very contentious relationship, but today, he is someone I truly respect and admire. Watching him with his kids is such an amazing thing to see, and I’m so proud of the man he’s become. I can only aspire to be half the dad he is when I become a parent.
Being that this weekend is Father’s Day, this week, I wanted to touch on a subject I rarely speak about publicly… my own father.
I have always had a very odd relationship with the term “family,” and as I sit and think about it, I realize that a lot of that stems from my own upbringing. You see, I grew up the oldest of four children, and in a gorgeous home with two parents, nice cars, nice clothing, a housekeeper, private schooling and anything else I ever wanted. I know what you’re thinking… Oh yeah, you had it real rough. From the outside, I guess it does look pretty great. But on the inside, it really was another story.
I had a very tumultuous relationship with my father, and growing up, he always made me feel inferior to my brothers, mostly because I was not an athlete like he or they were. Instead, I was an honors student, and wanted to go to college and see the world past the community we lived in. He also had to deal with the fact that I was a “sensitive and different” boy… AKA GAY, which was frowned upon in the community I grew up in. And if that wasn’t enough, did I mention that my dad was also an addict, and a mean one at that? So needless to say, we never quite meshed.
Time was not kind to my father, as his addiction took over his everyday, and ruined his marriage, businesses, and eventually took his life. We spoke and saw each other, at most, a handful of times after I left for college, and they were never pleasant. The last conversation I ever had with him seems like just yesterday. I can remember the diner we ate at, what each of us wore, what we ordered and the entire conversation. We were talking about his health (he needed a liver transplant), and the topic of his childhood came up. He explained to me that his father was not nice to him growing up, and favored his older brother. He also let me know that because I was the oldest, he resented me, and wished I had never been born. Soon after, he asked if I would donate part of my liver to him. That was the last vocal conversation we ever had.
The next time I saw him was when he was in the hospital after an overdose. I honestly had no feelings for him by that time, and couldn’t even bring myself to shed a tear (ironically I am crying now). I felt I needed to be there for my siblings, and be strong for them, because they loved him, and they were sad. They were losing their dad, I wasn’t. After all, this is the man who told me to my face that he never wanted me.
After a few weeks, we were told there wasn’t any more they could do, and it was time to say good-bye. As I stood by his bed that last time, a lot went through my head. I wanted to know if that last snort, or whatever he did, was worth it because he would die not knowing any of his grandkids or see his kids as grown-ups. That he never knew me as a person, or ever would. I never got an apology for the way he treated me growing up. I wanted to tell him how much I hated him, and how happy I was that he was dying. That I thought it was such a waste of a life, and how pathetic his end was.
But then I really thought about it, and it hit me: his end WAS pathetic, but it was HIS end. HE chose to go out that way. He was battling his own demons in life, and that was how HE chose to deal with it… in anger, and in a self-inflicting way, and through addiction. It spoke about HIM as a person, and in the end, it wasn’t really about me anymore. I was just the vessel he chose to take it out on. HE was the problem… NOT ME. And when the time came to walk out of that room for the last time, I just looked at him and said I forgive you.
And by forgiving him, I forgave that little boy that wasn’t good enough, and not an athlete, and such a disappointment to his dad. I was just a child, and a parent’s job is to protect their child from the world, not to make them feel like they never were wanted or belonged. And in that moment, I made peace with not just him, but myself as well.
Don’t get me wrong, I still have a hard time letting new people in without fear of them taking advantage of or hurting or rejecting me, especially people who claim they see me as “family.” I know it comes from my relationship with my dad. Unfortunately, most people don’t know or want to know that, so they just write me off as being negative or standoffish. It’s an issue I struggle with on a daily basis. But I also know that I am the one that controls that, not someone else. And the reality is, that by pushing people away, I am in turn letting my father creep back into my head. I can’t allow the past dictate my future. It’s a process I’m still learning.
One final note… His funeral was actually quite interesting. As I mentioned, I am the oldest of FOUR children. Well, when the Rabbi gave his eulogy, he paid his respects to my grandmother, aunts and uncles, my mom and his THREE kids… me not included. But that’s another story for another time.