I wouldn't normally even bother with this day, except that I am a father. My daughter and I had a luncheon, along with my wife, who is my daughter's stepmother. She is living with her boyfriend, who is a lot like me and nothing like me at the same time. I love my daughter and we have what I feel to be a pretty good relationship. I thank my father for this.
So the title would seem incongruous, because my relationship with my daughter is, in oh so many ways, because of my father. Except that the only reason my father is the progenitor of my great relationship is because of how awful he was as a parent, as a father and as a person.
I have maintained that you can learn good things even from a bad parent. You can learn just as much about what you don't like in order to do good as you can from having examples of good behavior. I know, because I did.
Now let me be clear. I love my dad. I love him just like the kicked dog that keeps -- for some inexplicable reason -- coming back to its master, fawning over the tidbits of attention given just prior to the next kick, cuff or blow.
A child seeks a relationship and validation from its parents. If it is missing from either parent, there comes a point where the child will do what it must to gain that parent's attention. If doing good things merits complete ignorance of the child, the child will escalate, seeking ever greater upset in order to gain that attention.
A child thrives on good, positive enforcement and feedback. But feedback is more important than just positive feedback. So, in absence of positive enforcement, any normal child will then seek any attention, even if it results in negative enforcement. It still validates their presence, and they still get attention. A child will seek negative attention over no attention at all, generally.
My dad was such a child. Over the years, from being a toddler, a young boy, a youth, a teen, a young man and on up to the adult I am today I have learned a bit more about my dad. This process of learning more about my father is like the accretion of layers of sediment in the ocean bottom. As each layer is compressed by the layers above, it solidifies and becomes more stable, while the upper layers still in the process of deposition, can be stirred, mixed and distorted by the ripples of underwater currents.
My father is the second of two boys from his father. His older brother was his mother's favorite boy. To the point where my grandmother literally discarded my father at the age of eight. He was sent to live with his grandparents. My father wasn't abused in the same way he abused his children, but in some ways it was much worse.
Cast away to grandparents he barely knew, poor Arkansas dirt farmers and Native Americans both to boot, he was suddenly turned into a Half Breed kid with his Injun grandparents. Already angry by the favoritism his brother recieved and now feelings of being abandoned by his own mother on top of that, it is understandable that my father would have issues.
My great grandfather was 100% Chickamauga Cherokee. My great grandmother was half Seminole and half Mescalero Apache. While that didn't really make my dad a "half-breed" he was a quarter Native American from three different tribes. My great grandparents, in their early days of the late 1880's were Americanized, in that their parents decided to stay off the reservation and make a go of it as dirt farmers in their native area of Arkansas.
I can only imagine the scorn, contempt and disdain their fellow Arkansans treated my great grandparents -- and their "half-breed" grandson. My grandmother, herself half Native American, but looking about as white as they come, gave them every bit as much of that as she could, flat out denying her heritage in favor of "fitting in" to turn of the 20th Century Arkansas.
My dad's tale from these early and abusive beginnings cannot possibly be covered in any detail for you to get a clear picture. I can imagine, from the tales he told me, when he was too drunk to dissemble, too lost in his cups and sorrow to lie, what a hellish childhood my father had. Helping my great grandfather to run a still at the age of eight. Leaving home and running away at thirteen, trekking across the country, heading west, until he met my mother in Fresno, California.
There is such a tapestry of anguish, anger, loss and hardening that it should make any sane person cry out in sorrow at the human suffering and loss that makes a person into a real sorry excuse for a human being. Do your best, though, to imagine that his humanity wasn't completely wiped out of him -- just nearly so. I promise, whatever that is in your mind, it's probably a bit worse.
My father had a choice, though, as we all do, to do his best to learn that the pain, the suffering and the abuse he recieved was something to learn not to do to others, instead of returning it tenfold on others. My father, in his own way, built up a self-defense mechanism that turned him into a remorseless, mostly heartless and totally self-absorbed person. I can understand that on a personal as well as a detached and academic level. I understand it, yet cannot condone it, for he has absolutely no desire -- nor did he ever express any -- to be a better person.
My abuse at the hands of a hard drinking, mostly lawless man who's idea of self-esteem was to knock over anyone else that seemed like they were feeling good, was probably not as bad as what he recieved. It wasn't because he didn't try hard enough, though. Mostly because, once he joined the navy, he was gone more often than he was home. His absence became the buffer that most likely allowed my older brothers, my younger sister, my mother and myself to still be alive to this day.
The last time I spoke to my father was in 2001. I called to ask him for some financial help when I was going through a very bitter divorce and child custody battle with my daughter's mother. A woman who, in many ways, was a very close match to my father in her selfish and distorted view of the world. It's pretty true that many children marry the parent they are most wishing to have had a better relationship with. Must be some sort of odd magnetism of desire to "bond" or connect with someone who most closely resembles the person you wished you had a better relationship with. I digress.
My phone call went like this, with no reason for it at all:
Ring. Ring. Ring. "What?"
"Dad? Hey, dad, I was calling you because I --"
"Well you can just call your brother or someone else for anything. I hate every fucking body." Click.
I haven't spoken to him since. It was pretty much the last straw of dealing with a venal, selfish and self-important man who once told me:
"I done a lot of things. Some of them were pretty bad. I done things that hurt people and I done things, because that's what I wanted to do at the time. I done things I thought were right at the time and later I found out some of them were wrong to do. But if I had the chance to go back, knowing what I know, and do it all over again -- I wouldn't change a thing."
So when that line went dead, so did our relationship. I had been trying really hard to figure this guy out since my mid twenties, while writing my dad letters, sending them to the jail where he'd been sentenced to twenty five years for crossing state lines with a stolen car, three unregistered guns, $40,000.00 worth of cocaine and $25,000.00 in cash and carrying at least three stolen credit cards on his person. He'd been in jail since 1980 as I was in my fourth semester in Community College.
People say, "You can't run away from your problems." I believe that's true. I never ran away from my problems. There was no reason to continue to live with someone else's problems, either-- even if they donated half of your genetic material. I chose to do what my father could not -- attempt to become a better person than those that mistreated me.
I learned abuse at my father's hands and swore, even as a child, rubbing my stinging ass and crying in my bedroom, "If I ever grow up and have a kid, I'm never going to this to them." I learned that my father wasn't interested in the truth as an objective thing, but only as a validation of what he thought was true. I decided that I had to value the objective truth as much as possible and question my views, my beliefs and my facts so that I didn't sink into the morass of merely seeking self-validation over reason.
I didn't stop myself from spanking my daughter when I was mad, frustrated or simply at my wit's end. I still had my own issues and though I failed on occasion to avoid doing to my daughter what my father did to me, I never gave up on her -- or myself. I took the time to apologize for my improper behavior, while at the same time explaining the importance of being honest with me, even if it meant she might get into some trouble.
So every Father's Day, I look forward to more time with my daughter. I don't bother even trying to call my dad -- I think, in all objective honesty, that ball's in his court. Then again, if he had a chance to make things right and that meant he'd have to apologize or adjust his behaviors to include having a sense of remorse, he wouldn't do it. He'd already told me. So I am not holding my breath, holding out hope or expecting anything from him -- ever.
I will not mourn his passing. The world will be rid of one more small time, though hardened, criminal who epitomizes the concept of evil as the embodiment of being utterly selfish and uncaring of others. If he ever calls, I will listen to what he has to say and be civil. I doubt that anything like that will ever occur.
I tell you all this not to 'hash out' any of my issues for you or all the world to see. I tell you all this to show you that I do understand how my father came to be the way he is. I tell you this to illustrate to you that you have a choice. No matter how bad things are, the moment you only start thinking that you are the only person that matters and that, because you had a hard time of it, it entitles you to be a complete and total shit to everyone, including your own children -- you have chosen to exit the bonds of society that generally makes even some of the most difficult people capable of showing compassion without looking for an angle.
My dad is such a person. Watch out, he won't care if he screws you over and while he's doing it, he may be pretending to be your best buddy. I know, because he did it to every member of his own family.
In my case, his total self absorbtion allowed me to see what being an awful person is -- and created in me the resolve to not choose that path, no matter how bad things got. I cannot thank my dad for being such a horrible role model that I could only reel back in repellent disgust. That was my choice.
And, in an objective sense, I can thank my dad for being such a bad excuse for a human being that I had a clear example of what NOT to do and how NOT to be, that allowed me to have such a good relationship with my daughter. A relationship he cannot have with her, with me, or with any other members of his family, because he chose only himself.
So I do thank him, but I cannot possibly wish him a Happy Father's Day -- he wouldn't know happiness if it came up to him and smashed him in the face with a crowbar.