Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Letter

Amongst my inner-circle, it's well-known that I don't speak to my father. Best I can recall, I believe it's been over twenty years since we had a substantive conversation. I think I was eight. And when he popped up around fourteen I was already an expert in surgically cutting out people who had the potential to hurt me. So I locked myself in the bathroom when he showed up at my grandmother's house. And never spoke to him again. Just in case you weren't sure I could hold a grudge.

This doesn't count a few awkward interactions over the past ten years where we'd run into each other at family events every other year or so. At about eighteen we saw each other at my older sister's wedding (different moms, same dad). I recall he didn't actually recognize me. I have more or less shut myself off to this part of my life. In my world, parents are often more of a hassle than a comfort. About a year and a half ago he sent me a letter (thanks, grandma, for passing on the address by the way). Ironic that he lives within driving distance now that I'm in NJ. I let it sit in a pile unopened for at least six months. I eventually skimmed it and threw it back in a pile.

My time off has led me to try to clean out some areas of my life that are crowding me. I've always been wary of going down this dad path. "Phobic" is the word my therapist used to describe it. Awesome. So, I sat down recently and re-read the letter. Then I proceeded to dissect it and comment to myself on paper. I'm thinking of using some sort of it in a novel I've started writing, so it's written in the third-person below. I don't really anticipate doing anything with it; it's more for therapeutic purposes. There's something empowering about taking your most screwed up life events and writing the ending any way you want it.  Anyway, enjoy more of my sordid story! My next post will be my letter back. Hasta, sabbaticaljo

The Letter
She got another letter in the mail.  She placed in the pile with a recent birthday card and note that was attached to a Christmas present.  A gift basket full of Ghirardelli chocolates.  As if that would make up for 25 years lost.  She read the words, wondering what he looked like as he was writing it.  Wondering what he looked like when she was a child.  A teenager.  A younger woman.

I’ve been considering writing this for a long time.  When father’s day passed this year I was especially taken back to your childhood (at least the part I was a part of).

It seemed strange to her that Father’s day would take him back?  What about her birthday?  She guessed at least 20 of them had passed since they’d had a meaningful conversation.  To the extent one can have a meaningful conversation with an eight year old.

I have so many regrets about that time in my life.  It’s at least interesting that’s your age now.  The part I always go back to was you locking yourself in mom’s bathroom and refusing to come out.  To this day I don’t know why.  Do you?

This had, in fact, been a topic of conversation amongst her various therapists over the years.  Why did she lock herself in the bathroom?  Was it the surprise of seeing him at the door after six years?  Was it him violating the security she enjoyed at her Grandmother’s house for those precious weeks each year?  The collective wisdom of three therapists from three states in four years advised her that by the tender age of fourteen she’d already learned to shut people out completely.  A skill keenly developed in the presence of her mother and step-father at home.

It’s long ago and hard to remember.  But I know you were coming to our home sometimes to visit.  I don’t have a clue how you felt about me or D.  Did I do something to upset you?  Was the whole thing just too much?  Was it D?

He’s actually blaming the girlfriend?

Once again it was so long ago and you’ve done so well that it’s really not necessary to revisit this stuff…

Sounds like a good plan.

…but if you have some insight or thought about it I’d be glad to hear them. I know that when you were born I held you in my arms and you spent the first few days of your life sleeping on my chest.

That was 1979.  A few things have happened since then.

Your mom was serious about having you at home and after taking classes we had mid-wives and you were born in the living room of a funky little house in CA.  We had after talked about bonding and it’s always tugged at my heart that if you did bond with me in those first few days how has it affected you not having that person in your life for the rest of your life.  It has to have had some effect.

Her therapists tended to agreed.

I’m pretty sure you’ve had to watch out for yourself your whole life.  I’m also sure that my mom has been the most consistent person in your life.

Her grandmother.  Her Savior and sanity.

Guess what, that goes for me too.  I just didn’t appreciate it the way I should have.  Some of us take longer to learn the most obvious of life’s lessons.  I know that I have no right to be proud of you.  It takes more than blood to be a father.

At least we can agree on that.

I know that I’ve never been there for you.  And that’s disturbing.  I also know that life has a way of not delivering what’s expected and absolutely delivering what’s not.  I know for a fact that I’ve not done right by you and that I’ll regret for the rest of my life.  It’s impossible to go back but it’s possible to improve, do better, love better.  I suppose this letter will do more for me than you but I hope that you accept it for what it is.  I truly love and respect you.  I hope the best for you and your family. 
She prepares for the finale. The coup de grâce. The final straw.
I hope you find someone who you can trust and have faith in.

Insightful given the circumstances. "I'm literally doing everything I can."

1 comment:

  1. Sabbatical Jo,
    I’m another person who is trying to be a writer. This is a change of life-style for me, and I’ve discovered something interesting: if I want to know enough about life to write well, I have to face unpleasantnesses and awkwardnesses that my previous life allowed me to politely avoid. I start conversations with people I would have preferred to ignore. I try to steel myself to ask questions that feel too impertinent to ask.
    The reason for this is that I want information. Information about life, and not just my life.
    There’s a point to what I’m saying, and I suspect you already know what it is: go talk to your father. Not because he’s your father. Not because he deserves a rapprochement of any kind. Just because you’re a writer. You should have this experience, to see what it feels like, and to see what you learn.
    - tobyr21, the Precision Blogger