Father Figures

May 4, 2017

Before I knew that water and music were two of my favorite things, my dad knew it.

And he made sure I had as much of both as possible.

He would take us to this little lake in the middle of nowhere. Trying to keep up with his giant strides down a gravel driveway, through a path canopied in trees and we would sit on the dock and fish for sunfish. Squealing with delight at the tiny things made of scales and rainbows gasped for air on the dock until my dad set them free to be caught another day. He baited our hooks until it was time to teach us how. He let me bring a snail home and keep it in a Skippy peanut butter jar with holes in the lid. I probably named it Joey, I named everything Joey. I loved sitting on that dock, it was so decrepit but it floated in a soothing way, the wood always held the warmth of the sun shimmering on the lake’s surface like diamonds, the water so clear you could watch the fish nibble at the worms.

Worms we had dug up in his garden. My dad always planted the best gardens. We helped, walking behind him dropping seeds into the well tilled soil. Making mounds for zucchini and cucumbers, picking fat, green, horned caterpillars off the tomato plants once they had grown. Watching the seeds we held in our tiny hands spring to life. We didn’t plant the corn, it had a pink coating to keep the deer away and it was poison, he planted the corn himself. I still don’t plant corn in my gardens, I don’t want to hurt the deer.

We would drive to the lake some weekends, the lake which was to become mine. We had to cross a footbridge and there was a rock shaped like a turtle under it. He let me believe for years that it really was a turtle and humored my ideas of rescuing it before it drowned and my fascination that it was always there when we were, like it was waiting for us.

Imaginary turtles. My sister’s imaginary friend. Me not liking getting syrup on my eggs or yolk on my pancakes so my sunny side up Sunday breakfast always arrived at the table on two plates. A luxury really. Squasha (the imaginary friend) had a place setting for a while too.

Putting up the old musty canvas tent with a thousand pole pieces and strings so we could sleep outside. Then fussing because it killed a patch of his perfect lawn. But he did it anyways. I always sleep better outside.

Him buying me a tape deck and copying albums I liked to cassette because I needed music to sleep inside. Still do.

Sitting with me for hours on end going over times tables till I cried because my brain didn’t work that way. I still can’t do them the way normal people can, but I am better.

I really do have the best dad. He had no sons so we stacked the wood with him, went to baseball games and tug-o-war when we had to move away for the summer.

I think kids take for granted how much our fathers bend and almost break trying to keep us shielded from the world while still letting us explore it and preparing us to go out in it. He had that perfect balance of supporting and letting us figure out how to do things on our own. Infinite patience.

Then there are those who didn’t have good fathers, or fathers at all. My son is one, his father took no interest, spent no time. He “didn’t want kids anyways’” (direct quote). He was never around, there was hours and days of therapy too ease my child’s mind. Lengthy discussions about how some people are just in different places in their life, that he was MY decision and the best one I ever made. We made it. I raised my son to not believe that father was a synonym for god, even though it is to me. And as deities do, my dad stepped up and made up for everything lacking.

But what happens when a man fathers a child that he doesn’t want and he sticks around, sorta. Fair weather fathers are worse than fair weather friends by far. Friends are a choice. They can be dismissed when they no longer bring us joy. Parents we are stuck with. Biological imperatives being what they are. “I love you as much as I am genetically obligated to and not one drop more.”

What if they don’t know love at all? Are not capable of it is what I mean.

Emancipation is an option but it is a hard thing to give up on the one person who isn’t supposed to give up on you. It isn’t simply cutting a thread, its hacking through flesh and bone and sinew with a butter knife. Because they never taught you what a good knife was, how to care for it or use it. Not a good life either. They didn’t know.

Their children become puppets. Strings yanking this way and that or worse, slumped over and tangled because the puppeteer had better things to do.

I’ve seen these gruff, rough manly men lend their DNA to artists and the pain in the boy’s eyes knowing he is never going to match up to some ideal that was born at the same time as he, the second the doctor said ‘it’s a boy!’. Artists are the lucky ones, they have an outlet for their pain. Some of the fathers even come around to a new definition of pride.

And it goes the other way too. Useless narcissistic men with no talent or masculinity in them at all somehow being blessed with warrior sons. Where nature is stronger than nurture and these poor boys have raw power and no guidance. It becomes a scenario like the war boys in Max Mad Fury Road. These boys with their own talent and merit worshipping a false idol that sits on high with his harem and gives them no thought other than “what can they do for me with the half-life they’ve been given?”

Or worse. Jealousy. Misplaced angst and anger over a life badly spent. Blame the kids. Everything woulda been fine if your mother kept her legs closed. Sons that are twice the man they could ever hope to be with their whole life ahead of them. The only examples given are what not to do. That leaves a lot of room for error, self-doubt and self-loathing. The sins of the father visited on the sons.

So what can be done?

Separation of the church of dad and that state of mind.

The realization that not all fathers are holy, sometimes they just ghost.

“Maybe he had never forgotten, or never that little boys grow up remembering every blow and word of scorn, that they grow up wanting to eat their fathers alive.” Stephen King, Rage

To me living well is the best revenge, I have years of practice with narcissistic men.

Silence and distance are the answer. But I am my father’s daughter and he taught me well.

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