My Dad, sister and I
I didn’t really get to know my Dad until after he died.
Didn’t begin to understand him until after he was gone. Don’t know if I exactly regret this, I did at one point, but now I have a cool acceptance that this is just how it worked out. At least I eventually got him.
Have you seen True Detective? If so, the older Cohle character is eerily like my Dad. They differ in that my Dad spoke a lot less, but the mannerisms, the chain smoking Camel Blues, the overall world view was very much my father at the end of his life. That knowledge might help with the mental picture.
My Dad was a quiet guy. He drew maps for my Grandfather’s land surveying company. When he was younger he wanted to be a garbage man, I later learned. He wasn’t ambitious or really interested in anything changing. He liked his routines. He drank his weight in coffee and was always chain smoking his camels. Everyday he wore jeans, a plain colored t shirt with a flannel shirt over it. He didn’t cut his hair, even after he started balding. When I was young, he’d have me braid it for him when we went out.
He loved to read. Science fiction and fantasy novels were piled up everywhere in his house. Loved Dune. Watched Star Trek non-stop. Bet he would have adored Doctor Who if it had ever crossed his radar. My deep love of football and of the Packers comes from him, we watched football together my entire life. After I moved away from Wisconsin, he recorded every single Packers’ game for me. Used to watch NASCAR to root for cars to crash. My musical tastes also come from him. He gave me my first Ani album. He thought Tori Amos was whiny, but also introduced me to her as a teen. He liked folk, blue grass and rock. He loved Nirvana and was crushed when Cobain killed himself. He also really liked Maroon 5, Songs about Jane was the last CD he gave me. I’m listening to it right now.
He and I were actually incredibly similar.
My Dad was also an addict. Cocaine. My Mom left him when I was six, his addiction had become too much and he picked drugs over us. After we left, he started dealing more and more. Eventually he was busted and went to prison. I was nine. His addiction, the people that he had around him and the decisions he made while in that spiral are really the base of a lot of my damage. I talk about this rather openly, but if you’re new to my world, I was sexually abused as a kid. My abuser was his drug buddy/roommate. That’s where my PTSD stems from and why I cannot even with coke.
After my Mom left, we moved in with my Grandmother. The home she had purchased had been in the country, but over the ensuing years Brookfield Wi became a very wealthy area. We were really poor but my classmates were all very rich kids while I was the depressed poor kid whose Dad was in prison. After he got locked up no one was allowed to play with me anymore. I was shunned and ridiculed. Kids are cruel and all that.
To say that I was angry is an understatement. I never forgave him in his lifetime.
Dad didn’t do confrontation. We never spoke of it. Any of it. We never spoke of his addiction, his prison time, my feelings, his feelings, anything. From then on we had a mostly superficial relationship. I spent every other weekend with him until we eventually moved from Wisconsin to Virginia when I was midway through my teens. What little relationships we did have revolved around football, music, the internet. He was my Dad, but we didn’t have a parental relationship. I didn’t let him but he also didn’t try. Angry, angry, angry. I distanced myself from him, his family, the town, everything.
My Sister is almost five years younger than I am, she was too little to remember addict Dad, too little to really remember his prison time. She and he had a completely different relationship. After he got out, Dad cleaned himself up. Got really involved in NA. Threw darts with other recovering addicts. He never stopped smoking pot, but whatever. She opted to live with him for most of her life and they were incredibly close. I resented the fuck out of the fact that he stepped up to the parenting plate for her, but I’m grateful for it. After his death, she’s the one who has been able to give me an actual picture of who he was.
He took in all the wayward teenagers in my sister’s social circle. When her best friend got pregnant at 15 or so, he took them in. Dad was great with little kids, playful and engaged. He took in stray pets, it was always a zoo on the rare occasions that I visited. I moved on and on, occasionally checking in with him as I bounced from Virginia to Dallas in my late teens. Eventually I stopped calling him, letting my Sis relay information about what I was doing and where I was living.
At twenty, my health crashed. Had to leave my life in Dallas to move in with my Mom, who had remarried (again) and was back in Wisconsin as well. The adjustment from being completely free, living thousands of miles from family and with a delightful collection of misfits, magicians and side show freaks to a semi invalid in her Mom’s basement was hard. (Obviously) The culprit was fibromyalgia, but I wouldn’t get that diagnosis for years. At that point I started spending random periods of time at Dad’s house, two hours away. It was a change of scenery, Dad didn’t fuss over me like Mom did, and at least everything was familiar there – even if I did look down my nose at everything and everyone. (Who isn’t a self absorbed asshole in their early twenties though?)
Dad and I had a reconnection of sorts. Someone had filled him in that I was gay, he responded by wordlessly giving me a rainbow blanket he crocheted. (My Mom had taught him before I was born to keep him occupied while recovering from a knee injury and he was a crafty dude.) We never spoke about anything deep, but we developed a friendship. When I started dating a guy, the two of them became good friends and we visited Dad fairly often.
The last picture
Said boyfriend and I started having problems, Dad let me know that one of his cats had just had a litter of kittens. What better way than to drown my sorrows of nothing in my life working than with teeny purring fluff balls? I spent two weeks at his house, covered in kittens and bullshitting with him. Don’t really remember anything from that visit other than one evening sitting on the floor passing kittens back and forth. Boyfriend and I decided we needed to talk in person, so he drove up to pick me up and head back home. Dad walked us out to the car and waved from the back gate as we pulled away.
He died 48 hours later. Heart attack. He was a month shy of turning 54.
My sister was a minor, so I was his next of kin and had to make all the decisions. The most he had ever said about his wishes were to burn him on the woodpile, real helpful Dad. If you’ve watched Buffy, The Body episode is horrifically accurate, though thankfully I didn’t have to find him. He was out surveying with my Grandpa and a few of his brothers, standing on a hill, when he just..fell over. That was that.
After he died, while I was getting his personal business closed, everyone I encountered told me about how he always talked about me. Mauston is a tiny, tiny town. Everyone knows everyone, suddenly everywhere I turned there was someone telling me about how Mike always talked about how proud he was of his girls. I had no idea. That knowledge opened the door for me to find out more, once he was gone my anger started to cool.
Five years after his death I realized I wasn’t angry anymore. Now, ten years later. I’m sad. My sister and I both have small armies of kids that Dad never got to meet. He and Val would have gotten along really well. He’d be amused by the fact my hair is still pink. We’d probably be pretty close if he was still around.
Now that I’ve written all this out, I just want today to be over. I’m not angry any more and I haven’t been for a long time. My Dad was a good guy who made a ton of really shitty choices, but was trying his best. I forgave him years ago. For better and a lot for worse, I am who I am because of him and those choices. Since I’m a real big fan of me, I’m grateful in the end.
Can it be tomorrow already?