I’ve always been somewhat ambivalent of Father’s Day. Maybe jealous in a way. All the cards, all the ads, all the discussions center around how great everyone’s father was. How he gave great advice, how giving of his time he was, and all sorts of other fatherly wonderfulness.
My father? Well, a story my aunt used to tell me was my father was taking care of me as a baby and she stopped in and found me crawling around with a full diaper, my ass flaming red with diaper rash. He just couldn’t be bothered.
There was a time when I was very young where my stomach was very sensitive (basically I was lactose intolerant, gluten intolerant, starch intolerant, intolerant intolerant), and nearly the only thing I could eat that didn’t react negatively was Jello. My dad and his brother thought it would be funny if they gave me some — well, let me take this time to explain that we had some old German relatives still alive at this time and at get-togethers they would bring some of those Old World German dishes to pass. I don’t recall what the dish was called, sült or sülze or something. Basically, it was some kind of jellied meat dish; the meat, often the parts nobody eats anyway, was boiled until it all coagulated into a horrifying greyish gelatin, then it was served chilled in a casserole dish. So my dad and his asshole brother thought it would be a hoot to give me some of that toxic meat mixture and tell me it was Jello.
To this day, some fifty years later, I still do not eat Jello.
Other fun things my dad did, if I had the hiccups, he’d tell me to hold my breath, then he’d help me hold my breath by placing his hand over my nose and mouth until I was struggling in a panic as he slowly suffocated me. The really scary part was I think he enjoyed doing it.
I could go on and on and on about the things he did, or the cruel things he said (explaining why I never go barefoot in public), that have left a lasting impression upon me and made me into the quirky, psychologically scarred individual I am today.
I don’t really recall him doing anything with me, either. I don’t think we ever played catch. When I was about seven or so, he had his own mid-life crisis, realizing he had no skills or future, so he went back to school. At night. I can’t criticize him for wanting to better himself, but he did it at our expense. He was never home. He was always either at school or the library and when he was home he acted like we were bothering him.
The last twenty years of his life, I think I saw him twice, despite the fact that he lived downtown. He came to my wedding and once he called after my first son was born, but the conversation changed from congratulating me on fatherhood to all about him. The other time we saw him was when he was in the hospital. We stopped in to visit. It was the only time he ever saw his grandchildren.
He passed away several years later, in 2007, never getting to know his grandchildren, leaving a lot of feelings between us unresolved. His wish was to be cremated, so I don’t even have a grave site to visit.
I guess the reason why he was that way was because he had felt abandoned by his own father. Maybe he felt that was how fathers were. Aloof, distant, cruel. I don’t know.
I do know that I don’t want to be that way with my own children. So if my father taught me anything useful during my lifetime, it was how NOT to be a dad.
Thanks for that, dad. May you rest in peace.