Sunday, June 16, 2013
It has been said that if you have even one great parent, it's like winning the lottery. Well, I won Powerball, then, with my mother. But my father? That's where I got gypped. And I have resented it and been angry about it my whole life. So, when Father's Day comes around, I really don't feel that I can participate in the whole dad-lovefest thing. You see, I will never love my father, or even like him. Our story makes the movie This Boy's Life, to which it has eerie corollaries, look like, well, kid's stuff.
I decided this weekend, after a lot of self-deliberation, about putting this story out there for anyone to read but felt it was necessary to finally come out of the closet with this ugly skeleton and maybe bring about a sense of release for myself.
My father, after whom I am first, last and middle named, never wanted children. He told my mother as much. Nonetheless, my Mom suffered two children who died during delivery and a miscarriage before my birth. And had my brother, Robert, 7 years later.
After they married, Dad re-enlisted with the Navy, voluntarily and with little notice to my mother, after briefly working for the gas company in Paterson, NJ. My parents put a down payment on a two-story house on 59 Highland Street in that city. He went back into the Navy to be able to put himself through college. While he had, literally, a genius i.q., he was also a juvenile delinquent who frequently got into disciplinary mishaps, so his grades through high school were not the best despite his intelligence.
Once back in the Navy, he stopped supporting us for the rest of his life. My Mother no longer received expected checks from him. She put up with him because she was part of an Irish Roman-Catholic family. My grandmother, who came to live with us along with my grandfather (mother's parents), would tell Mom, firmly yet sweetly: "You made your bed, girl, and now have no choice other than to sleep in it." Divorce was not an option.
After the Navy, my Dad had a career with the Merchant Marines. Rarely home, never corresponding, never calling to talk to us, never sending a red cent. I hated his visits to home, however. Always drunk, always violently physically abusive to my Mother. I watched on helplessly. As in This Boy's Life, it was the 1960s, and this was still an acceptable dirty, little secret in certain homes across America.
When my Father was on leave, he'd wake up with his hangover, pour himself another beer and sprawl across the floor, spreading out the New York Times. He'd rest his chin in his hands as he read with bleary eyes. I'd snuggle next to him and imitate his posture. He'd push me away from him as if I were a nuisance; as if I were a dog.
There are pictures of my dad and I together from the time I was a pre-schooler and he was still living at home. We're smiling. In the backyard, on rides at Palisades Amusement Park. Photos from the '50s that I consider merely his photo-ops today. (Unfortunately, I couldn't find any this morning to post.)
At a party one evening, my father got drunk in front of everyone and started getting rough with my mother in public. He'd crossed the line. As he went to punch my mother, my grandmother jumped between them. The blow landed on her face and she was knocked out cold. My Mom's three brothers immediately jumped on my Father and gave him the bloody beating he deserved. The cops were called; my Dad was taken away in handcuffs and jailed briefly.
But it was us, the victims, who suffered socially after that night. We were a neighborhood scandal, of course. My friends asking me for juicy details; their parents treating us like pariahs; like trash. We bore the shame of his behavior and he was back on a boat, still the deadbeat dad as we fended for ourselves.
When I was 11, Dad was back on a visit. He was so drunk that night, my Mom told him to leave her alone and go sleep on the couch. He came into my bed, crying, cuddling me, stroking my hair. Of course, this woke me up. Then he pulled my pajama bottoms down and began performing analingus. Well, I may not have known anything about sex at the time, but I instinctively knew this wasn't something Daddy should be doing.
I got out of bed, woke my Mom up and told her, "Daddy's in my bed and he's acting weird." Alerted, she hugged me and whispered, "What did he do to you?" When I explained (of course I didn't know the word "analingus"), she jumped out of bed, went into my bedroom and told my Dad to get out of the house immediately. When he refused, she took the butcher's knife to him. This was the first time she went on the offensive; the first time she displayed her own empowerment in a situation with him.
"Either get out or I'm going to jail for murder!" He called a cab and slept at his mother's. Roman Catholic or not, my Mom immediately filed for divorce. She tearfully begged the judge, "If possible, your honor, I'd prefer not to have my son as a witness. For God's sake, he's just an innocent 11-year-old boy! He's been through enough."
The judge granted her wishes and, ultimately, her divorce. The official grounds for divorce were primarily based on my father's adultery and physical abuse. A restraining order was in effect regarding his ever coming back to our house. My Mother told me that nobody can ever know this story and to put it out of my head. But it hasn't left my head and, at this point in my life, I feel I have to let this out of my mind and "closet."
Still, scars run deep. My distrust of men, for example. Or my brother believing Dad left us because he was born. I've shared my story from the family closet to make him understand what really occurred.
When I helped him to a cab later, before he closed the door, he threw what I'd given him, at the bar, into the gutter. They were copies of published film reviews I'd written at the time. I guess I was still hoping I could make him proud of me. After all that, he was still my Dad. But I did go home to my lover immediately afterward and cried my eyes out on his chest. I never saw my Father again for the rest of his life.