Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A Family Member I Dislike: Thirty Day Writing Challenge Day 23

I've tried not to look ahead too far for this writing challenge. I don't know why - I guess I just thought it would be fun to be surprised each day. I have mixed feelings about today's post. I'm glad it didn't sneak up on me, but then again, I've been thinking about (and yes, somewhat dreading) it for days now.

There have been a few pretty personal topics in this challenge - but that's part of the challenge. That and the writing a post every single day. I'm on board. Hell, I'm about ready to jump into another challenge when this one is done. I think this is a good exercise. I hated the fears post. I'm certain I've said that, but it was worth a second mention. That was the first time I'd actually written the snake story down. Maybe that was good for me ... maybe it wasn't, but regardless, it was a challenge, and that's what this is all about.

This post ... well, this one is going to be about my dad. He's gotten a lot of my attention and taken up a lot of room in my head since this challenge began three weeks ago. I'll be honest with you, that really kinda pisses me off. To be fair, he never actually leaves. He's there all the time. He's more reliable in my head than he ever was in real life ... but he's been a lot louder, more persistent lately. I wish he'd just pipe down already.

My dad has been gone now for more than fifteen years. I wasn't there when he died. We were estranged for seven years before the first heart attack put him in the hospital and the second one killed him, but I'm not sure any of that matters when it comes to being family. He's my dad. He'll always be my dad. There are some things that just are.

I haven't looked into my dad's face for more than twenty years ... but I see him each and every time I look in the mirror. His eyes were hazel - more of a dark brown - and mine are blue/gray, but the shape is the same; enormous and round. I got my long eyelashes from him as well. He used to tell me they were so long that I had dinosaurs living on them. See? That's what I do. I cling to every single good thing, no matter how small. That's me ... a true optimist at heart. He told me more times than I could count how unattractive I was while I was growing up ... but in reality, I look a lot like him.

My dad was an addict. He was addicted to alcohol and he was addicted to drugs. He could fully commit to those things. Family life? Not so much. After he passed away, my mom sent me an article that had been written (by a friend, no doubt) who wrote for the Denver Post. This journalist listed off a whole lot of great attributes he claimed my father had. I was tempted to call this guy up and have a little chat with him, let him know that he'd probably make millions as a fantasy writer.

My father was twenty-three when I was born. He and my mom had an on again, off again kind of relationship, and it surprised me later when I heard he'd shown up at all after my birth. I was named Jennifer because he didn't like the name my mother had chosen. I've always resented my name. One reason was that every other little girl born around the same time was given the name - but mostly because my dad chose it for me.

My parents tied the knot when I was eighteen months old, and then were divorced, after an incredibly rocky marriage, when I was five. For the next eleven years, I watched him struggle with addiction, all the while thinking that it was the drugs and alcohol that made him the destructive, angry, mean, loud person that he was. My dad didn't talk. You didn't have a conversation with him - or at least I didn't. He yelled. I looked down at my hands and tried not to cry - crying made him angry - and he yelled. He could throw an insult like no other, and cut me to the quick without even trying.

When I was twelve or thirteen, my mom pulled me out of school for a week during the winter time so that I could go up to Estes Park and take part in a family counseling session at a recovery program he was in. It was a rough week. I did a lot of bonding - but not with my dad. I had a lot in common with the other family members in attendance, but, even though it was in a controlled environment, I was terrified. I couldn't tell him what I thought or felt about our relationship. He was calmer there, further encouraging the mindset that the substances he abused were the cause of his demonstrative personality. But the program didn't stick. He was drinking and using again not long after he came home. It wasn't the first time the idea of abstinence refused to take hold ... and it wouldn't be the last.

There were times I couldn't take it anymore; times when the physical and emotional abuse got to be too much and I'd separate myself from him. I remember being at a friend's house one afternoon. She lived a couple doors down from me, and I saw my dad's red van drive down the street. I panicked and ran and hid on her stairs. He'd come to make up with me. There were never any apologies. He'd laugh and joke and tease me about not being able to handle my 'mean old man'. His words. It was always me who couldn't handle things. He was never at fault. I was always too sensitive. It was one of the many negative qualities he found in my personality. I didn't go to my house that afternoon while he was there, but eventually I went to seek him out. He was my dad. I was a child. I always felt like he deserved another chance ... and I gave him many, many chances.

After several attempts, he finally got sober when I was sixteen. Over the next five years, I realized that it wasn't the alcohol or the drugs that made my dad the way he was. Slowly, (and reluctantly) I came to the conclusion that my dad was just an asshole. That's a hard thing to resolve in your head and in your heart at any age, but I know that with all certainty now.

The day I found out that my father had passed away, I was a mess of emotions. My family, kind as they are, wanted to be there for me, but they had no idea what to do. My aunt sent me a card. She stated that however I was feeling was the right way for me to feel. It sounds simplistic, but seeing those words written out that way made all my mixed up emotions suddenly seem okay for me. I was sad ... I'd given up. There had never been a resolution to our incredibly screwed up relationship in large part because I couldn't take the abuse any longer. Maybe if I'd worked harder, things would have been resolved. Then there was anger. I hate to admit this, but I was angry that he'd gone and died. I was punishing him. I had pushed him out of my life because he didn't deserve me, and he bailed on that punishment by dying. Screwed up? Yes. Wrong? I don't know. I guess the truth is, I don't care how others see it, or how others feel about it. Like I stated before - some things just are. They can't be changed.

I loved my dad. If I hadn't, none of what we went through would have meant anything, or been as difficult as it was. I loved him ... but I've never liked him very much. I don't suppose I ever will.