Monday, April 23, 2007

Why I'm Like This

Hello. My name is Molly. And my father is an alcoholic.

The fact that my father is a truly toxic human being has been a major factor in my life. You might guess that about me.

When I was five, my father, in the middle of a fight with my mother, called me into the dining room. He gave me a hug and sent me to the kitchen to get him a Kleenex, and when I came back, he was gone.

I can count the number of times we’ve spoken since then on two hands, and the number of times I’ve been in his presence since then on one.

It has taken me a long time to realize that this is a man who I don’t want to know. It is not okay with me that he abandoned me. It is not okay with me when any man makes a conscious decision to let their child grow up without a father, but in particular, the fact that he found it less inconvenient to flee the state of Michigan and change jobs every three or four months for the next thirteen years than to pay child support—I find that offensive in a very profound way.

When I was 18, he gave me this explanation: “It seemed better for you for me to not disrupt your life.”

I find this to be a particularly loathsome piece of bullshit, which I did not call him on at the time, because, like him, I am not interested in personal confrontation between us.

Had he said this, I would have found it infinitely more believable: "It seemed easier to keep my life unencumbered."

It seems wise on my part to avoid anything personal with him at all. Because, as it turns out, he seems to lack the ability to do anything except scar me emotionally in very extensive and harmful ways.

When I was a teenager and fought with my mother, and my mother would declare, “This is exactly what your father would do,” I found that more insulting and hurtful than anything anyone else could possibly say to me, mostly because it was clear that she was saying that I compared in some way to the worst person I knew.

And I have not ever really forgiven her for that. There are other things I haven’t forgiven her for either, but that is the big thing.

When I was 19 years old, for Spring Break I flew out to Colorado to visit my father and his wife. In the Denver airport, we walked right past each other because we did not know each other.

Let me put this into perspective for you: my child, my 22-month-old baby boy, has never been out of my sight for longer than a work day since he was born. If we were in a public place with thirty crying children, I would be able to find him by his cry. I know the sound of his laugh like it’s my own heartbeat. You could blindfold me, and I would know him by his smell. Show me a tightly-cropped picture of just one of his blue eyes or a chubby, dirty fist or his toes, and I would know in an instant that whatever it was, it belonged to him.

My father walked past me, looked straight at my face, and did not know who I was.

I knew then that, no matter what else happened during that trip to Colorado, that he and I would never be more to each other than polite acquaintances, if that.

And throughout the trip, we were indeed polite acquaintances. He and his wife were kind and hospitable, welcoming me into their home, seeing to it that I enjoyed my vacation. But I don’t think that I ever called him “Dad.” I don’t think I ever called him anything.

In the years since then, it has become clear to me that I am not a priority to him. It’s not like I am a low priority. I am not a priority at all. If he thinks of me at all, there is no sign of it. And I am okay with that.

I would just as soon not be thought of by him. His particular brand of toxicity is not one that I would care to expose my child to. I cannot explain to him why his grandfather—who, to the best of my knowledge, is not aware of his existence—is not interested in knowing either of us. I cannot explain to my husband, whose father was the Best Man in our wedding, why I would just as soon not be let down yet again by allowing him back into our life, and therefore did not invite him to—or inform him of—my wedding. Even if he wanted to be let back into our life, I have reached a point where I will not allow him to do more damage. Giving him no power over me, over my emotional life, is the only way I can do that.

And I cannot explain to my father why it is that, on my Spring Break trip to Colorado in 1995, I took pictures with a camera that I knew had no film in it. But it’s because I couldn’t allow myself proof of this time that I was spending with him. Something in me turned off to the experience, and on some level, I know that it was my way of protecting myself from connecting to him. I don’t think I could have connected anyway.

I could not have chosen a more different man with whom to have children. Dan loves Max with every cell of his being, and if anyone ever tried to take Max away from him, I can easily picture Dan tearing them to pieces. This is not a man who would ever be okay with not knowing his boy. I will never have to worry about that.

I don’t blame my father’s drinking for the way he is. Lots of flawed people (is there any other kind?) love their kids; lots of alcoholics give a damn. I have no idea what is broken in him that he is unable to care for his children in any meaningful way. I can’t remember a day in my life with my father when he didn’t drink.

But to be fair, we've never had many days together.

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