Responsible parenting and leadership are a start. In between reaching for the sky (Toy Story rocks).

Screw the darkness. I prefer the lightness of Pop.

Friday, April 3, 2009

A Brief Tale of Blue Genes

It's time once again for Fatherhood Friday. Fatherhood Friday is hip place at Dad-Blogs.com for dads and moms to share stories, ideas, photos and movies with one topic in mind – fatherhood.

***

It’s four in the morning and as I lay in bed tossing and turning over a million different things, one of those being that someday Bea will ask me what happened with my father.

Not the man I call Dad today but the man I share genes with, my birth father. She’ll come across something I’ve written, an old photograph, and then she’ll ask questions about him, why I don’t talk about him, where he lives now, what happened to him, to us.

She’ll ask and I’ll tell her a brief tale of blue genes.

***

The last time I saw my birth father I was 13 years old, my sister 11. It was visitation day; I don’t remember what time of the year together. I only know it wasn’t hot or cold. He came to our front door dressed in a faded flannel shirt and blue jeans. He might have worn a cowboy hat. I’m not exactly sure, but I see it on his head. He held a grocery bag full of dirty carrots pulled from his garden.

Eternity. My sister stood slightly behind me, one hand on my shirt. I don’t remember what I said, if anything.

Then he said, “So, you don’t want to see me anymore?”

I nodded slowly. My sister pulled on my shirt. I must have said something to prompt his question, but I was too scared to even think.

He pushed his cowboy hat back, set the bag of carrots down and said:

“Goodbye kids.”

And then he left. I haven’t seen or heard from him since.

***

My childhood memories of my father aren’t pleasant. He drank a lot. Smoked a lot. Beat my mother a lot. Fooled around with other women a lot. Ignored my sister and I a lot.

Although he never touched us, we feared his violence; my sister and I would hide in my room while he ranted, boozed and abused my mother. Twelve years my mother lived that hell, nine of it with us in tow.

I raged quietly, impotent, nothing I could do to stop it. I only had the fantasy of heroic intervention – the skinny, asthmatic, bookworm, introverted nine-year-old boy beating his dad to a pulp.

There were less than a handful of quintessential father-son moments: the building of my tree house, the actual building I only recall through photographs; the watching him build his alcohol-powered planes, constructed with balsa wood, tissue paper and the paint sealer called dope; the day I took my training wheels off my sweet purple bike with the banana seat and he pushed me up and down the street.

There were also the fleeting moments of forgiveness when he’d apologize to us all and say he would change, but never did. Alcoholism became the disease that justified the abuse.

Even after we left him, he did have visitation rights for a few years and those were almost as unbearable as living with him. Those visits always felt forced, as if he were doing someone he didn’t like a favor of watching us for a few hours, sometimes for the night. We had nothing to talk about, nothing to share, nothing in common.

Except for blue genes.

***

(The following segment is from a previous post last year titled Daddy K takes the long road home)

The road to fatherhood began abysmally for me – from abusive biological father, to abusive first step-father, to self-abusive anxiety-ridden depressive teenager (me), to self-abusive anxiety-ridden depressive young adult (again, yours truly), to self-abusive anxiety-ridden depressive angry resentful deceptive longed to be liked poor excuse for a contradictive man and husband (marriage #1), to brooding on the brink of finally mastering control of my life with a pre-Mama A saying stand up and get it together or get out.

Stand up and get it together. Get off the ground. Let go the legacy of anger and fear. Have hope. Have faith.

(No worries, I've always had a good heart, there were good times along the way, and I had good father I'll talk about in one of my next postings).

Which is why The Road by Cormac McCarthy had such a profound effect on me last year when we listened to the audio book during our Southwest trip (and I just found out it's going to be a move this year). It was one of those defining moments that filled our hearts with choice.

WARNING - For those of you who haven't read it and plan to, do not read on because I've got a spoiler coming.

The Road is a post-apocalyptic story of a father and young son trying to survive a horrific world gone mad while traveling on a road to the coast, a road of hope. Sadly when they reach the coast and can't find any civilized civilization to speak of, hope is all but lost. The father is very ill and dies, leaving the boy alone.

Then, out of the darkness, a man offers his help to the boy. The man tells the boy he needs to come with them, because they can help him. The boy is resistant; he doesn't want to leave his dead father and he's unsure of the man's motives.

"Are you one of the good guys?" The boy asks.

"Yes, I'm one of the good guys," the man answers.

The boy takes his hand and they walk off.

Stand up and get it together. Get off the ground. Let go the legacy of anger and fear. Have hope. Have faith.

Be one of the good guys.

***

Three decades have gone by. A week ago I learned my birth father has lung cancer. He’s in treatment but his prognosis isn’t good.

Apathy, contrasted with my ghostly childhood memories, filled me with a contradictory sense of inaction and empathy.

It’s a surreal feeling – not really caring or motivated to do anything but understanding the shadow world you share with your father – the blue genes.

Unconditional forgiveness portends remorseful reciprocity. In other words, you have to own it and own up to it in order to find redemption and solace with those you’ve wronged.

My birth father didn’t do that with me, and although I didn’t have to do that with him, my conditional forgiveness was given.

That was enough for me to heal and live my life and finally become the father he never was.

Jesus washed the feet of his betrayers, but I will not wash the feet of my father.

He should make peace with his.

Bea may never understand why I feel this way, but if we bring her up her as well as we plan on doing, then that’s not such a bad thing after all.

Maybe tonight I'll sleep better.

12 comments:

  1. Once past is always a good catalyst for change and self improvement. Although I have not been through your situations whatsoever I can understand that difficulties it must being you. But I think similar to you, my only goal at this point is to be a good husband and father.

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  2. Hard read here. I have some experience that compares to your relationship (or non-relationship) with your birth father.
    But it makes us more aware...doesn't it? on how to be a good parent to our children. We learn by example of what to be and what not to be.

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  3. Powerful post, thank you for sharing this. Your daughter is a lucky little girl.

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  4. So pOwerful...and SO similar to my own...although a Step Father. I completely agree...our daughter will never have to deal with such.

    Kudos!

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  5. I worry about having to explain the same situation to my daughter...but I'm thankful it will just be a story to her and not first-hand experience of that man.

    I hope that someday Bea will be able to look back on your blog posts and be proud of all that her dad experienced and triumphed over. :)

    Happy FF!

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  6. it's good that you are standing up and owning it, not letting these things own you.

    i remember my mom & dad fighting,b ut he never stuck her. he did throw things though. so i cannot fully understand what you have went through as a child. you have come out of it knowing what to do to be a good father.

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  7. I've had to face a hard decision recently regarding my husband's drug abuse. Thankfully, he's a year sober now (just this past weekend, actually) and was never physically abusive although the verbal and mental abuse was pretty hard to handle. We've consistently made forward progress and as a family we are growing closer each and every day.

    Right now we've just been telling the kids that Daddy's working really hard at getting better. They get excited about his new chips. I know one day we will have to tell them the whole story. It is not something I look forward to but in a way I hope they are able to take away the positives and acknowledge the immense strength and dedication recovery requires.

    Warmest,
    Lauren

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  8. I have no words. I will take Pj's - Powerful. I am glad you survived and hope that you are also able to heal.

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  9. I'm sure that there are so many conflicting feelings. It's only natural. I'm proud of you for breaking the cycle and committing yourself to being such a good dad :-D

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  10. Thank you all for your comments.

    Lauren,the fact that your husband is taking responsibility, wants to get better and wants to keep his family together is a testament to his inner strength. I hope he keeps getting those chips.

    I was a smoker for 20 years and that alone is a nasty addiction. You can only choose to not partake; you cannot choose otherwise.

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  11. A powerful story and I can't imagine it was easy to write. Thank you for sharing... it provides us all with encouragement that conquering comes from within but we still need those who love us to catalyze that power.

    You know what a "bad father" is and it serves as a perfect example of what not to be for Bea. She's a lucky girl to have a daddy who is always thinking about all the things he needs to do to be a good daddy, and show the ghost of what once was that it will not control you.

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  12. I am just getting around to reading the FF posts and I am so glad I saw yours. Thanks for your honesty. Alcoholism is a family disease and I have first hand experience with it myself. I hope you are able to find peace and continue to raise a wonderful daughter despite the damage done to you. I too loved "The Road'. It was a very powerful book.

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