As I sit here to write this, I’m trying to come to terms with the death of my father. My sister and I laid him to rest yesterday on the 8th of June of 2018, putting him into the wall with my mom. To say we weren’t close, would be an understatement.
It was different with my mom. I was, and always will be at heart, a mamma’s boy. I’m fine with that. I gave her eulogy, talking about how loud she was. She laughed loudly, she spoke loudly and she loved loudly. From her, I got my sense of decency, my belief that if someone is hurting, you should reach out and help. Kindness mattered to her.
If I were to eulogize my father, how would that go?
My father taught me a lot as well. I was a lazy, good for nothing. I was dumb, I’d never support a family. I was worthless and weak. I was a bad son, and I’d never make a good father or man. Lessons learned very early.
Dad never raised a hand to me, although that fear always seemed to be there. We often walked on eggshells around him, avoiding contact when we could. He wasn’t interested really in our lives, just what he perceived as our failures. When he was in a good mood, he could be goofy, but when he wasn’t, you were in for it. The lectures, the scolding, the belittling. The insults that he believed was his place to deliver as our father.
I’m not going to go into one story after another to illustrate the things he said and did that reinforced every bad thing I ever thought about myself, but they chipped away at my soul. I’d spend my nights thinking about how I was going to amount to nothing. It seemed inevitable. When I was in high school, things got really bad. I had long ago given up, thinking that I was so dumb that there was no use trying. One weekend, I was alone with him. He got into one of his legendary bad moods, and I found myself at the end of my rope. That Monday my friends decided they didn’t like the things coming out of me. I was dragged to the school counselor who I’d worked with on a project recently. I’d written a small play on suicide. I’d also written a short story on the on taking your own life, a poem called Darkness, and even a song titled No Songs of Tomorrow. I hadn’t yet written any letters of goodbye, but I knew who they’d go to. And I had a plan in place.
They called my mom into school. We spoke, we cried, and I was promised that it would be okay. We went home and my mother told my father. He proceeded to yell both at me and about me. “This has nothing to do with the fact that he’s a lazy son of a bitch who’s good for nothing.” My mom countered that it had everything to do with the fact that he always told me that all the time. Dad disagreed. I sat there, in stunned silence for… I’m not really sure how long. My mom got up and left the table. My sister retreated to her room. Was that it? Was it over? My father stood in the kitchen doing something, not looking at me. Eventually, I left. I went to my room. I didn’t come out for a while.
Nobody checked to see if I could hurt myself. (I had pills stashed away.) Nobody spoke about my wanting to kill myself again. There was no counseling, no asking how I was doing. The entire incident was to be forgotten, as if it never happened.
To this day, I don’t know why I didn’t take my own life. Fear? Shame? I thought about it for a long time. It would finally be my way of showing him how he’d made me feel about myself. Just swallow a bunch of pills, go to sleep and never wake up. I was already so tired. I don’t think I’ll ever really know why I didn’t do it. Maybe because for a time I was convinced that killing myself wouldn’t really matter to anyone if I was gone.
Today, it’s different. I’ve worked the same job for twenty-two years. If you ask, my coworkers and managers would tell me I do it well. (I disagree, but my guess is that’s still my father talking.) I’ve managed to achieve my dream of becoming a published author. It came soon after my mom passed, and my father was not interested. It was, in his words, no big deal. Most importantly, I have my own family. I’ve been married to a wonderful wife who loves and supports me for over two decades now. She’s the one who believed in me enough, inspired me, and pushed me to write. If I wanted it, I needed to make it happen. No excuses, no BS. She taught me I could, and I did. I have two beautiful daughters who are doing amazing in college, both on the dean’s list. We all say I love you to each other, and those words having meaning. My wife and I have three incredible kids that although aren’t ours, they really are. They came to us a couple of years ago. I told dad, but he never really cared and I’m sure he didn’t pay enough attention to even remember they existed in our lives.
Over the years, this man cut out nearly all of the family from our lives. Somehow, he’d perceive an insult, some disrespect, and they were dead to him. He demanded respect, but never gave it. It was his place to tell you what was wrong with you, and your place to thank him for it.
He refused to talk to his own mother on her death bed. The same with his brother. For years, I’d had no contact with any family on that side, because, at least according to him, they were no good. That’s changed, and I wish I could get the years back to have these wonderful people in my life.
A year ago, he called to tell me how bad of a son I was. I tried to placate him, to avoid the discussion. Then I did something I had never done before. I stood up for myself. It didn’t go well, and I was shaking by the time I got off the phone. My wife and kids told me they were proud of me. I felt ashamed.
For the last year, I didn’t call him. He had my number. Since I moved out of his house, he’d never called to say hello, check on the kids, or wish any of us happy birthday. He’d called my home less than a handful of times. Each time he did, it was to spew his vitriol at me. The first time he ever dialed my number was in 2010, a few months before my mother died of lung cancer. She was bedridden, in pain and he’d gotten so angry he was throwing things, screaming at me over the phone that if I didn’t come get her, he was going to murder her. I live four hours away. The police were called and my mom moved in with my sister for a few days before going back to dad. I’d sworn then, I was through with him, but I tried to put it behind me at my mom’s funeral. I was told it’s what my mother would have wanted.
I battled guilt, shame and a growing despair and understanding that I wasn’t whole. It’s exhausting to think everything you do is substandard, and to fully believe you bring nothing into the world. My wife pushed me to start therapy and I began to explore what I would be told was abuse growing up.
But he never hit me. He never let me starve. He was a good provider.
He did make me feel worthless.
He slowly isolated us from both sides of the family, until my mom couldn’t talk to anyone.
It was a rule, never speak about what happened in the home. It was private.
We spent most days wondering what sort of mood he’d be in. Walking on eggshells.
The explosions of rage came, and when they were over, we pretended they never existed.
On Friday, I walked into that room where my father was laid out. There was nobody there. He’d alienated his entire family. My aunts and uncles were dead to him. He’d made it clear before he died that I was too.
I needed to see him, to make it real. I couldn’t get more than three feet into the room. I had to leave. I couldn’t breathe. I’m 47 years old, and a big guy. My father was dead, and I was panicking. Once again, I felt worthless and weak.
But I survived. I didn’t give into that darkness, and my family who love me fills me with light and joy.
I may always fight those demons. The words “I’m sorry” flow out of me all the time when I’ve done nothing wrong. I second, and even third guess myself. I always think I’m in trouble, no matter what. Maybe after reading this, you’ll feel I’m weak and pathetic. I certainly do.
But someday, maybe I won’t.
Even now, I question what I’m writing. Am I being too sensitive. Am I being fair to him? Was I just a horrible son?
I have no answers. Now that he’s gone, can I put to rest my issues? It’s not that simple. It is a battle to be waged, but the important thing is to fight.
Most people who know me would see a happy person. I laugh, I joke. I’m that guy. The one defined by my sense of humor, that makes you laugh, and smiles most of the time.
But I’m also this guy. The one who hesitates. Who asks everyone to validate his feelings, he decisions, his existence. I get lost in my stories because I don’t want to think about what I am inside. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been, yet I’m still convinced I’m weak.
But I know I’d be missed if I were gone, so I can say I’m not going anywhere.
Healing is a journey, and I’m traveling that road. I may get lost, but I’ve got family that love me to help guide me on my way.
Why am I writing it? In part, because I’m a writer. I tell stories and this one is mine. It’s therapeutic to put it into words.
But storytellers write not just because there’s a story to be told, but because maybe there’s someone out there that needs to hear it. Maybe there’s someone out there, lost and afraid. Thinking they’re worthless, and that nobody would care if you’re gone.
I thought that way once. I was wrong. So are you. Reach out. Talk to someone. Don’t numb your pain, embrace it. And when you’re able to, release it.
Most importantly, lead with kindness in your life. You never know what demons someone is facing. You never go wrong showing kindness. And start with yourself.