The first time I returned to my father’s house wasn’t a happy homecoming, not one of joyful reunion; the prodigal daughter returning only slightly battered by her adventures but welcome nonetheless. This is not to say my father wasn’t happy to see me, he simply didn’t know what to make of me; I disrupted the rhythm he and my brother had established and I was not easy. No, I did not fit into the domestic tranquility they had established without my mother.
There was a silence between us an abyss of unspoken anger and hurt. Occasionally that dark silence would erupt, molten heat flow between us rife with all that would remain unsaid. My father was angered by what he saw as my rebellious nature; he was infuriated by what seemed to him my failure to be bowed by my circumstance, my great failure. He truly had no idea just how tipped over I was, how often I could be found curled into myself begging for relief, my pain beating like a tattoo on the walls of my chest so loudly I often couldn’t hear my own heart beating.
I took back my old room, the walls folded in on me and memories battered me. Memories from before my run and memories of my years away. Memories I could not tell that no one, especially my father, wanted to hear. Memories that screamed in my head and battered my heart. My brother was not happy at my arrival; this didn’t make my homecoming easier. My insertion back into my family home was full of angst, fury even. I was seeking safe harbor, my father was looking for the daughter he never had but thought he remembered as if in a dream. We were both so wrong and both furious at the other for our disappointment.
When my brother was 17 and I was 20, I had been home less than a year my father had three heart attacks. He was just 51 years old and had never taken particularly good care of himself. He had been single for five years by this time and had found he enjoyed life without the harridan that was my mother. He had known for quite some time that his heart was bad; he did nothing to correct the problem. This led to a triple bi-pass and a significant change in his life-style. It wasn’t enough. My father was hardheaded; he thought he could outsmart his own body and his family history. He continued to work, play and not take particularly good care of himself for another ten years. His health suffered and this led to another series of heart attacks and another bi-pass surgery.
While my dad was a brilliant man in many ways, he was emotionally stunted. He had a far easier time bailing me out of my ‘difficulties’, the things I did to force his attention than simply listening to why I did them. Don’t
misunderstand me, there was not a single time after my return to the fold my father wasn’t there for me, not once my dad didn’t open his wallet if I needed help. I paid for those failures though, paid in rancor and ferocity. Paid also in knowing I couldn’t be enough, couldn’t ever be ‘good enough’. These feelings would engender in me such jealousy of the relationship he had with my brother, the easy camaraderie and friendship it would taint my relationship with both my brother and my father for many years to come making it difficult for us to come together and finally find peace.
Ultimately it wasn’t he and I that found the necessary building blocks to make peace, perhaps alone we would have never found our way back to each other. After my father’s second round with heart surgery he finally determined he would live. He retired from the work he loved after 30 years. He took up new hobbies and new interests, including unbeknownst even to him a love interest. I think by then he had already begun to find his heart back home in Texas, though it would be a while longer before he or any of the rest of us realized just how much of his heart he had truly found.
By the time my father had his second open heart surgery I had been through the stage of trying to distract his attention through my wild child antics. It did of course work, but not in a way that made sense. I did far more harm to myself with nothing really gained but his anger and disdain. Ultimately I married once in haste and with deep regret two years later divorced. I had finally married the man I would remain married to for fourteen years, the father of my two sons and the ex-husband of my favorite wife-in-law.
My brother in the meantime joined the Army making my father ‘proud’, words I heard with regularity but not directed at me.
I sought my father, his attention but mostly his approval, constantly, but could not tell him what was wrong. Maybe if he had asked, maybe if I thought he could sit to hear the truth I would have told. But I could never tell him, he asked me once why I did the things I did;
Because I hate myself
He shook his head and walked away. He never asked why. Maybe if he had I could have told him.
For a little while I stopped outwardly trying to gain his approval, but inside I was always the little girl that wanted to be Daddy’s girl. I wanted him to love me and to like me. The problem was I simply didn’t like me enough to tell him what had been done, I wanted him to be angry but I wouldn’t tell him so he could comfort me. I wanted him to guess rather than know. I was so ashamed I couldn’t tell and so I was angry that he didn’t protect me and instead bought my silence. That was always what it felt like; he bailed me out because that was all he had for me.
My father missed my graduation, it crushed me but I never told him.
My father missed my son’s wedding, this also hurt my feelings but I told him this one by then our relationship had changed.
I have tried to write the story of my father and I as a trilogy and found it to be far too complex, perhaps because it has an ending that includes a reconciliation