This is what I wrote on Father’s Day, and what I spared you so as not to ruin your holiday. Well, the holiday is over.
It’s Father’s Day and my father is dead. He is dead 7 years now, and I don’t know what to do on this holiday. I usually count all my birthdays he’s missed: He never saw me at 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, and now 50. I wonder what he would think of his daughter as a 50-year old?
Although he died at age 75, I often remember him in his 50s. Sometimes I remember him as an older man dying in his 70s, but for the most part, I remember him in middle age. Now I’m in middle age.
He and I never had an easy time together. Until I became an adult and learned how to manage his moods, we fought. I learned to manage at age 28. It went like this:
“Dad, can I borrow $2,500 for the summer? I need time to look for a job.”
“That’s all you want me for is my money?” Already his nostrils are flaring, as they do in fits of anger. He has a big hawk nose, thin lips, and surprisingly sensitive brown eyes.
“I don’t recall ever asking you for money.” It’s 1990, and I’ve just finished graduate school, a useless degree in English and fiction writing, which I suck at. “I just need a loan for the summer so I can pay some bills and have time to look for a good job.”
“You never talk to me, you don’t care about me, you don’t love me,” his voice is rising in decibels and tears are popping from his eyes, “You only fucking sit here with me when you need money.”
At 28, I am old enough to know there is no reasoning with him. I can’t say again to him: I’ve never asked you for money. Emotionally, he’s gone to some disassociated emotional place where he mixing me up with my mother. It’s my mother who has requested money all these years: alimony, child support, from the divorce decree, money he rarely sent. This is the first time I’ve ever asked for a dollar. He can’t rationally comprehend anything I say to him once the nostrils flair and those tears begin to drain down his face. So, I give up.
“Okay, forget it.” But the flood dam has been released, and I am stuck in his car, a new car. My father is a pioneer in car leasing and I’ve never seen him in a car that was not new. He keeps them for three or four weeks until he leases them and then he has another new car, big-ass vehicles like Lincoln Continentals, Ford Crown Victoria’s, Mercedes. My father is a successful entrepreneur. As a dad, not so much. The air is leathery smelling and the upholstery spotless. Dad is also a neat freak.
“You said, ‘Fuck you’ to me when you were 15!”
“I probably did, I said ‘fuck you’ to everyone when I was 15.”
“You never loved me.” At this point he is sobbing and shaking. I start to worry he might have a heart attack. He is in his late 50s. His body is as out of control as his emotions. I sit straight up in the passenger seat, knowing I can’t leave until he feels better, until he becomes a grown-up again, a grown man who has a license to drive and can see through the windshield without tears blocking his view. I don’t know how I’ll find a good job with no money to pay my bills while I search, but at the moment, none of that matters.
“When you were 10, you didn’t want to see me!” He continues to wail and shake. As a child, I feared these emotional tantrums. But today, at age 28, I realize I’m no longer afraid. In fact, as angry as he makes me, I now feel sad for the first time – for him. What a sad and miserable bastard he is. The poor guy, seriously, he’s out of control and always has been.
“When I was 10?” What the hell, I’m thinking, I’m 28 now, do we need to go back and dredge up 18 year old memories from when I was a child.
“I don’t’ think the things that I said and did when I was a kid and a teenager are relevant now.” Here I am trying to be rational. I start over. “I don’t deny I said those things although honestly, all these years later, I don’t remember saying them. So, I’m sorry.”
At the words “I’m sorry,” he wipes his tears out of his eyes and blows his nose. He calms down. He changes the subject.
“You’ll find a job. You’re a smart kid.”
A week later in the mail, I get a coupon book with the words, written in all capital letters in blue ink: SEE IF YOU CAN HANDLE THIS!”
What he means by “THIS” is $2,500 in debt. Although I paid my way through graduate school, my father, the car finance wizard, managed to delay my car loan with one of the banks with which he has a relationship. He has now sent me the coupon book to pay off the car, for which I owe (ironically) exactly the amount I wanted to borrow from him. Instead of helping me by loaning me $2,500, he has put me in the hole another $2,500.
When I open the envelope and find that coupon book, I’m actually not surprised, although I am disappointed. I thought he’d paid off the car while I was at school. I’d thought that was a gift to me and even, perhaps, a justification for his tantrum the other day. But he had done some creative financing to delay the due date on the loan until I was out of school. He did what he was good at. So I’m not surprised, and yet I have a moment of sorrow.
Today is Father’s Day and I miss him. You may be wondering why I would miss a man like this. I often wonder myself. Not the worst man in the world by any means, but obviously, not Dad of the Year. There are stories for me to mine that will eventually explain what about him was loveable amidst such unlovable shit as this.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad, I know you’re in Heaven because Fran got you a free pass. And because really, you weren’t evil. You were something else I’ve yet to define.