I was at my therapist a while ago, and, looking over my file, he said, “You had a really difficult childhood.” This was not a question.
I probably laughed or at least shrugged and screwed up my like face like, “I gueeeeeesssss?”
Before then, I didn’t think of it as hard. We had a nice apartment and enough food and new clothes. My mom and dad, much to my sister and my chagrin, were not divorced. Only once was I ever turned down a birthday wish, and that was for a cat, a dream deferred because of my father’s mysteriously convenient “asthma,” the kind that only affected him when he was fielding pet requests from his second born or about to be drafted to go to Vietnam. Later, I was allowed to own a Chihuahua that I’d paid for with my babysitting money. The dog was large and gangly and missing hair in great patches, with a temperament that rivaled my father’s own during any prize fight featuring Sugar Ray Leonard. The breeder explained these issues away by saying that the dog had been over bred to maintain its unique blue color, but we knew that the truth was closer to this: the dog had been born to one of the uglier chihuahuas and some kind of ugly terrier, and possibly Cerberus.
My dad never put hands on us; it was more psychological than that. For instance, it took me a long time to be able to read a magazine in any house, even my own, without assuming that a man was going to pop out from somewhere, possibly a closet or trapdoor, to yell at me for “sitting around.” For him, there was always something else to be done, or fixed, or gotten rid of. He detested clutter. Every Saturday morning, from about four to 18, We awoke to the loud, varied records he was playing. Like, The Bee Gees and Disco Duck, or Joe Tex’s Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman). Or Just really weird shit. My sister tells a story from when before I was born of my maternal grandparents visiting and my six foot four stoic, Irish grandfather sitting smoking on our living room sofa as my dad subjected him to the soundtrack of the film Hair in French with the volume turned up to 11. Anyway, my dad would play his weird music and do a sad, strange, rhyme-less dance and fucking dust as though his life depended upon it. And I would eventually stumble from bed in my Strawberry Shortcake or Garfield nightgown and try to get to the bathroom unnoticed- always a failure, as, no matter how loud or obscure the music, my father would always have the awareness to spin on me and say- not good morning, not how did you sleep?- A PLACE FOR EVERYTHING AND EVERYTHING IN ITS PLACE.
Had he been the caretaker at the Overlook Hotel, I’ve no doubt I’d walk into his study at one point to find a manuscript filled with A PLACE FOR EVERYTHING AND EVERYTHING IN ITS PLACE typed again and again before he started chasing me through a hedge maze with a croquet mallet. I must add, though, as ugly and shocking as that scenario might be, it pales in comparison to the Christmas when my mother accidentally sat on his Rollie Fingers baseball card, creasing one corner ever so slightly, because at least if he or I had died, I wouldn’t have had to hear him going on and on about how my mother’s careless ass had ruined my chances to attend Harvard.
And, speaking of big, fat women with whom he didn’t care to bump (no more,) my father can be very closely linked to my eating disorder of thirty plus years, by which of course I mean, my father is to blame for my eating disorder of thirty plus years. Despite his faux equality platitudes about how women were stronger and smarter than men (uttered, I believe, as foreshadowing that he planned on doing nothing of use for the rest of his life outside of getting angry at the news or selecting american flag t-shirts suggesting that “assholes” “try and burn this,”) he never laid eyes on a woman in real life or on television for whom he didn’t have some kind of criticism, from the mild (“terrible legs,”) to the cruel, (“Did you see that cashier? Eating all the profits, looks like,”) to racist (“Look at senorita over there. Too many burritos.”) To a woman he fancied- generally white, blonde and large breasted- he would “take her,” as though that’s what she’d been waiting for her entire career, to be taken by a self hating Mexican shipping clerk in his mid to late forties who only attended church to pray that the Dallas Cowboys would win playoff games.
So, yes, he was a bad dad, so much so that whenever he used to pull some horrible shit, my mother, now nearly four years gone, would shake her head and say to my sister and I, almost wistfully, “now, there’s a man who should have never had children,” as though she were witnessing his antics as a stranger on the subway and not a woman who had chosen to have two children with him, two children who were us. I don’t know if I’m a good step/mom, but I know that I love them, and that I say I’m sorry when I screw up, that I still teem with my father’s sad, angry blood everyday, and that I am trying to do better.