Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Open Letter - to my Father, now over 2 years deceased

Dear Dad,

It's hard to believe that two years have passed since I got the phone call that changed my perspective on everything.  I was sitting in Mom's condo, just over a year since my own divorce was finalized, waiting for the final details on the purchase of my own place, when a strange number popped up on my caller ID, and I answered it.  It was a cousin I barely knew, who had found me on Facebook just a couple of months earlier, calling me because mine was the only number she *could* call, as mine was the only U.S. number.  And her news was that you had, suddenly, passed away.  Of a heart attack.  Which could have been prevented had the maintenance been kept up on your pacemaker.

My head was a flood of thoughts - how many years could you have lived if you'd bothered to keep up with the recommended maintenance?  How many years could you have lived without needing a pacemaker if you'd decided to take care of yourself instead of self-medicating through alcohol all through your younger years?  How many years did you live as a Dry Drunk - blocking out the conflict you had previously numbed with beer, without addressing the issues underneath?

And probably the hardest question for me... were any of these questions worth the relief I felt at knowing that, from that day on, I would never have to face receiving THAT phone call.  Not the phone call that says, "I'm sorry, your father has passed on," - no, the phone call that says, "I'm your father, and I want to be part of your life."

I don't know, even now, how I would handle that call.  And you've been in the grave over 2 years now.  I know, I was the only one of your biological children at the grave site - which is not to detract from my sisters in any way, but all three of them lived overseas, and the funeral was scheduled within hours of your passing, which meant that I - as the only one of us who still lived not only in the U.S., but within reasonable driving distance of his funeral - was obligated to make an appearance.  Especially since my employer was more than reasonable in allowing me time off to make the trip... But I'm still conflicted.  To this day, my sisters hold you in higher regard than I do.  Their picture of you is different than mine.

The twins remember you as this charismatic Other Daddy - the man who was there for them during their years of teenage rebellion, who allowed them to be Who They Were without judgement.  You weren't there for the long hard awkward years that they were rebelling against - you got the benefit of being The Escape Pod from their mum and dad.  With your younger wife and even younger family, you were the picture of liberal living in the early 80's.

Cat, your eldest, my sister, managed to mend her fences with you in the years after her first round of children were grown.  There were many areas of philosophy in which you disagreed, but she was able to bond with you as an adult.

Me... well, I carried decades of resentment with me to that gravesite.  My memories of Daddy are largely beer-stained, and tainted with years of self-medication for bipolar disorder, OCD, and hoarding.  None of which were treated when the Fit Hit The Shan, after my mother filed for divorce and told you to leave.  From what I can discern, you decided that alcohol was the root of your problems, both with me and Mom.  Which is admirable in its own right.  But it fails to address the issues of OCD, rage, and hoarding that existed long after sobriety was established.  From what I understand, you were sober until the day you died - or at least working The Program.  And you handled your sobriety almost as obsessively as your desire to gather and own Things.  To this day, I am convinced that your alcoholism was just a coping mechanism for other, deeper-seeded problems that you never even acknowledged existed, let alone sought treatment for.

But hey... I might be projecting.  What do I know?

I remember a Dad who spent most of his days drunk.  Who was so proud of the fact that he had functioned so long before the wheels finally fell off the bus, that he thought he was due accolades for holding it together that long.

I remember a Dad who resented being called out on his B.S.  And who called my mother a User for finding a way to make sure that his court-ordered child support payments came out of his retirement funds automatically.  Those payments kept me and my mother alive and off welfare through my high school graduation.

And I remember a Dad who talked a good game about helping me pay for college, but who contributed a grand total of $250 toward the cause, despite being court-ordered to help with that as well.  I left my first year of college further in debt than I wanted to consider, thinking Dad would help me foot the bill.  And it didn't happen.

So... yeah... when I got to my third year of college, having paid off the debt from my first year and spending a year in community college mending the damage to my GPA... It only made sense that I would decide that all I wanted for my 21st birthday was a divorce from my Dad... And that was the year that my name changed legally to that of my mother.

And somewhere in there, I decided that - no matter what - I would not repeat your mistakes.  I may not be able to commit that the person that I love when I'm 18 will be the same person I love when I'm 38 -- and really, WHO CAN?? -- but I would make damned sure that neither of us would be putting children through the pains of divorce.  I promised myself that I would never inflict on a child the burden of single motherhood.  And I would never do that to myself.

As a result, I'm almost 40 years old.  I live alone, save for two cats.  I've had one husband, but no children.  And I don't plan on having children of my own, even though my sisters have all had babies - and some of their children have had children.  I have become the crazy cat-lady aunt.  I'm not proud of it... but I'm glad that I haven't inflicted my crazy on another child.  In that regard, I have done my children a favor you could never do for yours.  OK, you gave me the gift of life.  But really - what is that life worth?  I'm alone.  I'm only useful to my friends as long as I am entertaining.  So far, that hasn't run out.  But who know how long that will hold?  In 30 years, I won't be nearly as bouncy and flexible as I am now.  And I won't have kids to begrudgingly memorialize my existence.

So... here's to you, Dad.  Despite all your faults, you saw the rules of The Game, and you played them well.  There will be people who are bound to you by blood who will never forget you.  And there are generations that will remember you fondly.  Me, I stood my ground.  I decided not to inflict your pain on anyone else.  So yeah - when my great-nieces and great-nephews are singing praise to your memory, I will be that random Facebook friend that they wonder why they added...

Fair?  No.  But that's the way it is.  I don't have to like the game to realize that it's rigged, and the only way to walk away with dignity is not to play.