JILTED SUPERSTAR: Part 11
"A DAD'S ABANDON" (Part 11 of 21)
During childhood, my mother never acknowldeged her ex-husband, my dad, as having actually been my father; instead in our conversations he was simply "John".
Mom left John when I was about three.
In effect, so did I since I had little say in the matter. According to her, we briefly "fled" to Hawaii from our San Francisco apartment after he opened her head up with a bag of silver dollars, which supposedly, I witnessed though I do not consciously recall. Drugs, alcohol, womanizing, and violence: throughout my adolescence these were the portraits of my father that my mother would occasionally pepper into our conversations.
As a boy growing into young adulthood, I often wondered what the difference was between John and Gary, or any of the men she dated. Negative reinforcement was what validated her as a person. Sadly, mom was so entrenched and accepting of living within an unhealthy cycle of violence that it was the only form of relationship she knew.
I have few childhood memories of my father but one comes to mind: a telephone call. I was about six, or seven. I don't remember what was said or even how long we spoke. I only remember my mother handing me the receiver and saying "It's John."
After our telephone conversation ended, mom just stared at me with reticence.
Ultimately, I remained out of all contact with John until 1994, at the age of twenty-six; just after having married and a few weeks prior to my entering the United States Air Force. The night my dad and I finally met, we'd decided upon an Italian restaurant up in San Francisco as neutral meeting-ground.
I knew little about him. Along with a few indisputable facts were a great many dark family rumors which preceded. That night - our initial adult meeting - we ended up addressing one another not as father to son, but rather man to man. In between whiskey shots, we each acknowledged the other as having become a solitary, independent person amidst our years of separation. However, I did not need a friend, nor did I need a drinking partner; I needed a father.
Today, we attempt to be close, but our attempts are seasoned with more shortcomings than successes, more caution than embrace. Sometimes it's as if our reunion that rainy San Francisco evening never really happened. Initially, he made the token, expected, overtures at maintaining contact but for the next few years I didn't reciprocate much.
Sadly, it's taken my mom's death to inspire in either of us a real attempt at effective dialogue. Ha! My parents! Divorced over thirty years and they still crucified one another as though they'd signed the divorce papers only yesterday.
The morning following our initial meeting up in San Francisco, and once the hangover subsided, I awoke to find myself alone in thought and overwhelmed by disappointment.
Over the decade following our initial face-off in 1994, my dad has written hundreds of letters and post cards to me. However, I have not much reciprocated. Sometimes, I don't see the point; it became apparent early on that he is absolutely impervious to hearing anything other than his own spoken or written word. I am not at all bitter. In fact, I am exceedingly apathetic on the issue. It merely is what it is. As such, I recognize that although linked through bloodline lineage and family genetics, he and I are each our own complete person.
As much as he attempts to masquerade that he's carefree I suspect that my father is intensely miserable; riddled with the guilt of having never fulfilled any parental obligations. Regardless of how he camouflages his sadness, my dad is far too frightened and emotionally ill equipped to take ownership of his own past failures. His insecurities and denial of his own paternal shortcomings cause him to indulge in a sort of faux reality where expensive toys and assorted placebos seek to numb his embarrassment and pain.
More than anything else, those very fears motivate me today. I steer to break the cycle of insecurity in which my own upbringing was forged. As I reason, the cycle must be broken so that whenever my son respectively gazes from a window, he is positive that the sun that shines, is indeed intended to shine upon him.
Nobody is born an asshole. If, as children we are raised to only see storm clouds, then thus begins our life's conditioning into ‘assholedom.' Yes, being an asshole is essentially a learned, conscious decision made by people who are just too afraid to be happy. My father, simply put, is too afraid to be happy, and thus, he is indeed an asshole.
No, there is no greater failure than that of being a failed parent; a truly a failed parent. But, although he is an asshole, I am learning in adulthood to love my dad.
Personal traumas are usually the most effective catalysts in any human being's developmental growth. In fact, little else tests the reserve of an individual's mental health moreso than death. Laying to rest a beloved relative is always a stoic deed; those who claim otherwise are little more than hollow machines, predisposed to loneliness. If logic dictates this to be true, then emotional stability and good-old-fashioned sanity certainly are prerequisites to attaining any sort of ‘enlightenment'!
My mother's death was actually the chrysalis for my own reconstitution of self, although I wouldn't identify this until long after she passed when tears the dried and the smiles returned.
In the year following mom's death realized that I had some serious amends to make. The problem was that not only did I lack self-respect, but additionally I didn't much like myself either. I accepted that I'd wronged quite a few people, but how could I make amends with those I had hurt in my past when I did not even like me? I was an ironic parody; like a financial advisor who'd twice filed bankruptcy; or a marriage counselor divorced four times. Where was my credibility when up until then I looked so very, very bad on paper? Make amends? With what tools was I able, certified or prepared to properly confront my past and to make amends to those who were hurt in my aimless drifting? How was I to get way up here from all the way out there?
Whereas in my past I placed blame for my failures everywhere other than with me, I gradually became aware that in loss there can be equally as much gain, and that even from failure can much satisfaction stem. In undertaking a strict drama diet I soon held myself accountable; not only by relishing occasional accomplishments, but additionally by respecting life's defeats. In owning my past mistakes, through humility and through penitence, I learned to undertake, to embrace, the reconstitution of me.
Whenever I horribly screw something up in a relationship (to include horribly screwing up the very relationship itself.) I now reflect in hindsight upon how my decisions, my personal actions, seemed to make such good sense at the time. Isn't it fascinating that even blatantly bad decisions always seem like such good decisions at the time they are being made? In admitting this, I sometimes wonder if I ever have had a true relationship at all, or instead, as is my suspicion, I've merely migrated from situation to situation masquerading and lying to those naïve enough to trust in me. Today, when I reflect upon those in my past whom I might have wounded, a melancholy smile is all I can offer. Not because I am callused, but because a smile really is good medicine.
And looking back, I need all of the medicine I can get.
So, today is that new day which I anticipated before falling asleep last night; and, conversely, tomorrow holds what I simply do not know. If this is such a relatively simple statement to make then why did it take me years to appreciate? Because, in youth I lived solely for me; no body else mattered. In fact, there was nobody else. I grew up not knowing closeness, thus as an adult I discovered that I had no compassion to give.
When my son was six I asked him who his favorite super hero was.
"What's a super hero?" He asked inquisitively.
"A super hero is someone who can do great things... Somebody who is really great and who is sorta like the Best-of-the-Best." I answered.
But, before I could cite examples of caped crime fighters or super flying men, my son grabbed and hugged me tightly.
"You are, daddy." He whispered.
How humbling it is when an innocent child reminds a desensitized adult that, regardless of past successes or failures, even a desensitized adult has a tremendous amount of compassion to give. As brief as our conversation was, it has remained with me and will continue to be one of my fondest parenting memories. And, I can not retell it without tears welling in my eyes. Clearly, life does not come with any sort of an instruction manual, however schooling alone does not make us wise; sometimes our greatest successes come about through trial and error.
With the absence of any such instructional guide, it is only the wisdom of growing into adulthood which adequately teaches parents how to effectively set boundaries. Even the most dysfunctional parents will agree that structure teaches children acceptable limitations. So, we parents employ limits, craft expectations and set the rules that ultimately terrorize our kids.
At the end of the day the thought of being the same mediocre parent to my son that my own parents were to me makes me want to vomit. Regardless of the fact that my son believes I am a super hero, it is only by living an accountable life that I can set a decent example for him. In as much, all I really desire is to not repeat my own past errs.
After all, the past is the past and it can not be undone.
The ‘insanity' of parents being overly dramatic concerning the welfare of their children makes a lot of sense, actually; we can't help it, we're just nuts that way. Plain and simple, what makes parents so completely nuts is fear, for fear is indeed an odd motivational tool for any truly successful parent. As a dad, I fear daily for the well being of my son but, as I maneuver through parenthood, it is the power of fear that I come to respect.
Today, in heart and prayers I put first my artfully beautiful son (artful as though airbrushed by God to surreal perfection into the lives he touches.) I'm proud of that, for as a child no daddy was around to do the same for me. Growing up I waited an entire childhood for the opportunity to be a son to a dad, yet such an opportunity never ever came. Through adolescence I chased an unrealized vision that someday there would be a father there for me; but any such father never ever came.
Truly, a dad's abandonment is an empty and lonely vision in the eyes of a child.
/ / / / END OF PART ELEVEN / / / /
© 2007 - R. MARTIN BASSO
NEXT INSTALLMENT COMING SOON:
Part 12 - The Visions In My Head Troubled Me