The Last Thing I Ever Said To My Father
With Father’s Day coming this Sunday I’ve been thinking about the relationship I had with my father, and how my kids will think back on the relationship they had with me. This was also part of the impetus behind my post on yelling. I don’t want the prominent memory of my kids’ childhood to be about how miserable they were because there was constant negativity and yelling going on in the house.
Yes, yes, I know a lot of my recent posts have been “next time, on a very special episode…” type posts, but I’m really not that much of a downer – I swear. I’ve just been doing a lot of introspection lately; trying to get a better understanding of who I am as a man, a husband and a father.
I had this post written for a few days and almost shelved it until my friend wrote a post about how the Saturday before Father’s Day should be “Bad Father’s Day“, for those people who survived living with Bad Dad’s and are trying to break the cycle. His post encouraged me to publish mine.
My father was definitely not the best role model. He was, from what I’ve come to understand, a functioning alcoholic.
In my teenage years, it was just my father and I in the house. My older brother had moved out and my younger brother lived with his mother (my ex-stepmother). There would be times where he would be gone for one or two days, or he would come home for a little while, we would grab dinner at McDonald’s or the local Mexican restaurant, and then he would go back out. There would be other times where he would come home drunk and talk to me for hours on end about nonsense. And then there were times when he would come home and yell at me for no reason and accuse me of being on drugs. If I did the slightest thing wrong it would lead to an inquisition of what drugs I was on or accusations of me stealing from him.
Of course I wasn’t drinking or on drugs; I wasn’t stealing from him. I was too afraid of him to do anything like that. Anything that might provoke him.
Now, it wasn’t all bad. Yearly he would take my brothers and I on vacation with our extended family. He would come to musical productions I was in at high school and he would sometimes cart me around to different places before I got my own car. But day-to-day he just wasn’t present. He would spend a lot of his free time at the bar or out playing cards at local poker games, etc…
We had many arguments. There was yelling, arguing and bullying but no physical abuse. Still, I always felt as if there was an uneasy peace in the house. Especially when he was drunk. I wasn’t always sure where things would lead.
Once I got my drivers license I was almost never home. I spent my hours after school either at whichever job I had, or at my girlfriend’s or friends’ houses. I stayed out of the house for as long as I could.
Once I went to college, I rarely saw my dad. There was even one time in my Freshmen year when my father ended up on campus with one of his friends and his friend’s family. He called me to tell me he was there but didn’t visit me. He was too busy walking down the streets at Penn State with the mob of drunks who tried to rip up the goal posts and take them to JoePa’s house.
The two summers between my Freshmen and Junior years were spent at my mother’s house. I would go to my father’s house only to get old clothes or pick up stuff I needed.
After I graduated from college, I moved to Queens, NY and lived with a friend from college. Shortly after moving out there, I went back home for something; I can’t remember what. While I was home my father and I went out for dinner. During our dinner he asked me why I lived with my mother during those two summers in college. I lived with him for my whole life so why didn’t I come and stay with him? Paraphrasing, here’s what I said:
“I’m afraid of you. I have been for a long time. I didn’t want to be around you.”
The pretty much ended our dinner and we both went our separate ways.
Two months later, my older brother would find my father dead in his own bed at age 50. His asthma and other lung problems, along with his lifestyle, had done him in way before his time.
The last thing I said to my father was that I was afraid of him. I wonder how that made him feel. He never tried to speak to me about or address it. We may have had an opportunity to move on from that point. Maybe he would have realized that he drove everyone away; maybe he would have tried to change? Or maybe he didn’t care; I’ll never know.
I don’t want my relationship with my kids to be like that. Like my friend, I’m trying to break the cycle.
Happy Father’s Day to all you father’s out there. Regardless of how good or bad your father was, we can always strive to do better.