Ed. Note: This is a Father’s Day post only in name only. There will be no praising my father or talking about how great he is or how I wish I could hug him right now. In other words, this is not a Father’s Day post at all.
I did not send my father a card today. I did not call him. I did not acknowledge him in any way. I was going to last night (after I napped from midnight until four in the morning), but when I sat at my computer to send him an e-card, I just couldn’t do it. Something inside me rebelled (again!), and I ended up not doing anything.
I thought my mom would comment today, but she didn’t. Frankly, she’s probably scared to bring it up because of my mention in the epic letter to her of “family dysfunctions, especially when the four of us get together” as a reason that she saw me as so unhappy. And, to be honest, I have no idea if my father even realizes it’s Father’s Day without her around to remind him.
Normally, I ignore Father’s Day. I ignore all the treacly commercials talking about how wonderful fathers are. I ignore all the Happy Father Day wishes on FB or whatever, and I go merrily about my way. Sure, I either feel icky because I grudgingly sent my father an e-card or guilty because I didn’t, but other than that, the day didn’t really register in my mind one way or the other. I am not married, and I don’t have kids, so I don’t have to grapple with Father’s Day for that reason. I don’t even have a partner who considers himself a dad to my cats (by the way, I do not consider them my kids, though other people, including my mom, call them that), so there isn’t that bit of fun to deal with, either.
In other words, I have no reason to pay any attention to Father’s Day. However, for some reason, it is chafing me this year. I don’t know what it is, but every time I read something telling me how great fathers are, it irritates the fuck out of me.
I am not going to go into the details of why I find my father less than great (plumb the archives if you don’t know and are curious). I think, though, that it’s another way for me to feel alienated in this culture. Let me explain. And, yes, I’m going to take the long way round to get there, so deal with it. On Balloon Juice, one of the never-ending fights are between the progressives and the so-called centrists over whether Obama is a god or a soulless, corporate sell-out. There doesn’t seem to be a middle, which is too bad because I am on neither end.
Anyway, the progressives like to say that Obama hasn’t thrown any sops to the base. I have heard this often in the past year and a half. Obama has sold out ‘the base’. The more I hear about the base, the more I realize what most progressives mean by ‘the base’ is middle-class white people. Blacks’ support of Obama is consistently high. But, they are not the base, apparently. And, I gotta say, most of the queer folks calling Obama a do-nothing on queer issues are middle-class white men–many of whom have racial/gender/class issues of their own. I probably will expand more on this is another entry, but for now, I just brought it up because it allows me to say what my reply was to all the people saying they were the base of the Democratic Party: I am not the base. I have never been the base. I never expect to be the base.
It’s the same with Father’s Day. I don’t expect to have a father who acts like a father, but I don’t need it rubbed in my face that I am don’t have one. In general, I am not down with holidays–including my birthday. They all seem so artificial to me, but none more so than Father’s Day (and, to be fair, Mother’s Day. And Valentine’s Day).
This year, I am bitter. I am bitter that I had a childhood pretty much wrecked by him and his issues. I am bitter that I made the choice to be severely depressed for fifteen years rather than face up to the family dysfunction and tear down the illusion. I am bitter that my relationship with my father warped me in such a way that all my romantic relationships since have not been in my best interest. And, I am bitter that he broke me so thoroughly, I’m only beginning to sort out the pieces in my thirty-ninth year on earth.
All that fucking bullshit I went through, feeling that it was all my fault. For what reason, I didn’t know, but it didn’t matter. Everything wrong in this world was my fault. Any time I read about a child dying, I would think, “Why wasn’t that me? It should have been me, rather than an innocent child.” I should be dead. That was my mantra for thirty years of my life. It still is on my worst days.
On this day, when we venerate fathers, I have an empty, painful spot in my heart. I have no veneration for my father in his personal life. As I have said before, I can respect the tireless work he’s done to make Taiwan independent and the work he’s done to help out the environment and economy of Taiwan. I can admire that in his position as president of the Taiwanese Institute of Economic Research, he has put in policies that are truly progressive for women. Currently, he is also an economic advisor to the Vice President of Taiwan. He has done amazing work in his professional life. People adore him. They think he’s charming and funny and sooooo good-looking. My boss at the county, an African American who only likes African-American men said to me after meeting him (with a twinkle in her eye), “Your dad is SO handsome!”
I was used to hearing that lilt when women talked about my father. He has that charisma that makes him so damn appealing. Even when I wasn’t sure about the details of my childhood, any talk of him in that manner made me grimace. At the very best, he was an absentee father who had no clue how to relate with children. At the very worst, he violated me in the most basic way possible. For a time, I hated him with all my heart. I never said it out loud, but it was true. I felt a white-hot anger any time I thought of him, immediately followed by intense shame, guilt, fear, and revulsion.
This was interspersed with the depression. I thought if I let out the feelings I had for my father, I would scorch the earth with my anger or spontaneously self-combust. I was afraid of my anger because it consumed me any time I let even the smallest bit escape. I have a terrible temper, and I have tried all my life to keep a lid on it. I don’t know how to properly express anger, so I hold it in as it builds and builds and builds until it explodes all over the place.
It doesn’t help that it was verboten to show ANY anger in my family–unless it was my father doing the displaying, of course.
So. I have stated that I no longer hate my father and I am not angry at him any longer. The former is true, but the latter? Not so much so, especially right now. I don’t fear him any longer, at least not physically, because he is old and frail. However, his power never came from his size nor his strength–it came from his rage and the strength of his convictions. See, he was always so sure that he had been wronged and that he was the paragon of virtue. In some cases, he was right. He was discriminated against at his work place, which is one reason he went back to live in Taiwan.
In other ways, he was wrong. He used to never call to say when he would be home after work. Many times, he didn’t come home before midnight. If my mom would ask where he’d been, he’d flip. He didn’t think he needed to account for his actions to her–or, apparently, to my brother and me. To this day, my mom cannot call him at work or he gets angry at her.
This is what my father taught me: He taught me how to lie. In small ways as well as big ones. As to the former, he once yelled at me for telling one set of friends that he was playing tennis with the other because that, apparently, was telling the first set of friends that they were not important enough to be invited to play tennis. I was supposed to just say that he wasn’t available. I didn’t see the big deal about saying he was playing tennis, but I soon learned to hold my tongue about anything he did.
He taught me that my needs and wants did not matter. When I was a child, he would often order me to put on a sweater because he felt cold. We used to argue about it. Even now, he thinks just because he demanded I put on a sweater, I should have jumped to it without question. It didn’t matter if I was hot or cold–it only mattered that he was.
He taught me that the man is the head of the household, and everyone else should bow and scrape to him. Whatever he wanted/needed/desired, he simply took. Or, he took for granted that someone else would get it for him. His moods were utmost important, and the rest of us were just bit players on his stage.
He taught me that a man didn’t have to treat his wife with respect. To be fair, he and my mother collaborated to teach me that. He treated her like shit, and she put up with it. She continues to put up with it, though she has insisted he’s gotten better. As a tandem, he taught me that a woman should be whatever her man wants her to be. Before I ever dated, he told me the way to get a boyfriend was to raise my voice an octave (I get called ‘sir’ on the phone all the time), allow a guy to beat me in a sport, and let a guy fix something for me. To my credit, I told him if that’s what it took to get a boyfriend, I didn’t want one.
He taught me that I, as an individual person, was of no interest to him. He brought me a French doll from Taiwan when I was thirteen or fourteen, despite the fact that I never played with dolls, and I was too fucking old, even if I did. Plus, he never went to any of my recitals or performances or readings or anything like that. He did go to both my graduations, but he wasn’t interested in either of them.
I have no idea what my father thinks of anything for real. I mean, I know he’s pro-independence for Taiwan, pro-green environmentally, and anti-KMT. I know he loves his privacy and that he needs the constant reflection of other people in order for him not to disappear, but I have no idea if, say, he likes the way an apple tastes. Actually, he doesn’t like food at all. I know that much. He has little interest in trying new foods. He travels all around the world to give speeches, and he approaches each lavish dinner with all the enthusiasm of a man eating snot for his last meal.
He is empty inside, and he taught me that there is no there there. There is no core of him–nothing that makes him substantial. He is so invested in what others think of him in part because he has no idea what to think of himself. He can’t remember much of his childhood. I doubt he can remember much of my childhood (his response to me telling him my belief he abused me–“I don’t remember that happening. You would think I would remembered if it happened.”) . I doubt he remembers what happened six months ago. He is curiously blank, and I have never known if there really was a man inside the mask.
For so many years, my father has dominated my life. So much of whom I am (or was) is based on reaction to him. In other words, I learned my lessons well. I learned how to tiptoe around people, gauging their every emotion in order to not upset them. I learned how to lie without blinking an eye. I learned how to hide the real me for fear that she would be used and abused. I learned that love was just another four-letter word, and a dangerous one at that.
I thought I had made my peace with all that; I really did. However, this year, as I am in the midst of unlearning all the shit he taught me, I am not happy to be reminded of the father I was supposed to have. I hate feeling like I’m a shit for not being grateful to my father for whatever it is I’m supposed to be grateful to him for. This falls in line with the forgiveness bit that also irritated the fuck out of me. Today, I feel obligated to feel something for my father that I do not. I do not love my father. I do not even like my father. I have no warm feelings for him. I would not choose to spend time with him. In fact, I would choose NOT to spend time with him. I care more about my therapist than I do my father, and that’s a really, really sad thing.
And yet, just as with the forgiveness thing, I cannot talk about this in a casual way. When my Taiji classmate talks about family and how my family must be so proud of me for graduating the solo form, I can’t give the real reason I’m on the outs with my father. When those women talked about forgiving their parents for the shitty things their parents did in their (the women’s) childhoods, I can’t bust out my own story about my father and why I refuse to forgive him because it’s a real party mood killer.
And on this day, I cannot send the card I really want to send. There is no, “Happy Father’s Day, thanks for fucking me up (literally) when I was a child.” I avoided the topic with my mother, and every time a Father’s Day commercial came on the TV or the Twins announcers started blathering about Father’s Day this or that, I held my breath, hoping that she wouldn’t bring it up, either.
In a way, it’s like Valentine’s Day. For the most part, I can ignore VD. Some years, though, it’s just a painful reminder to me that I don’t have someone who loves me in that way. I have never had anyone who loved me in that way, and I seriously doubt that I ever will (no matter how much I may want it). There is a line from a favorite movie of mine called Charlotte Sometimes that pretty much sums up how I feel in this matter (and this is how I remember it, which means it’s probably nothing like the real thing): I’m the woman men take home to fuck–not to have as a girlfriend. That sums up what I feel is my role in romantic relationships. Yes, I know the day itself is made-up and arbitrary and a way to make heterosexual men feel guilty if they don’t buy their girlfriend/partner/SO/wife something really nice, but once in awhile, it just hurts.
It’s the same way with Father’s Day this year. I know that most families have their dysfunctions and that nobody has a perfect father. However, I also know that many people have good fathers or great fathers–something I don’t. Over at BJ, someone posted a video showing what a great father Obama is, and it made me hurt inside. The way he looks at his girls with such love…I never had that. When he dances with them or hugs them or places a hand on their heads, you can feel the love he has for them (and, by the way, the way he looks at Michelle makes me envious as well). All these stories about great fathers and missing one’s father and so on just hammer me in the gut because I have a father, and yet, I don’t. Like I said, I had thought I had made my peace with it, but obviously, not completely.
I think the problem is that this is the time I’m unlearning all the things my father has taught me. I’m putting away childish things in hopes of being able to stand on my own two feet as an adult. He did a lot of damage to me when I was a child, and sometimes, I despair of ever fixing it all. My friend, whabs, wrote a post today wondering if she was permanently broken. I wrote a reply saying that she was not and that each step she has taken (and she’s taken leaps in the last year) has proven that she is no longer broken.
Wise words, right? Yes. And I meant every one of them. To her. To me? Not so much. The more I fix myself right now, the more I am aware of that needs to be fixed. So, while I’m mourning the loss of so many years and all the coping mechanisms I had to develop that are no longer necessary, I am also starting to feel just a bit angry. It’s not the seething rage of “I’m gonna burn down the motherfucking world” that I used to feel when I thought of my father. It’s just a steady raw burning anger, more in the realms of, “What that fucker did wasn’t right.” And, while it scares me to feel the anger, it also is welcome. See, it means that I don’t have to reel out of control with the fury of a thousand burning fires. I can feed the flames of half a dozen burning candles, nurturing my self-worth along the way.
The lessons my father taught me were not right. No child should have to feel that her essence, her soul, her basic personhood is worthless, inconsequential, or downright wrong. No child should have to roll up her real self into a tiny ball and hide it for safe keeping for decades. No child should be told over and over again that her wants, needs, and desires did not matter. No child should ever have to deal with being broken in half, almost literally.
So, on this Father’s Day, I have to acknowledge the importance of my father in shaping who I was. Was, being the operative word. Most of my personality, traits, and being today is a direct reflection of living with my father as my father. In addition to giving me many of his positive traits (creative abilities, acting abilities, charisma, people skills, writing skills), he molded the worst of me as well. Like a predator, he sensed my weaknesses and used them against me until I no longer had any confidence in myself.
When I saw him in Taiwan, I instantly reverted into old patterns, thoughts, and behaviors. Regular readers of my blog know that I was deeply suicidal at that point. And, with my mom here, my thoughts of suicide have increased in the last month, I must admit. It’s not because of her, though. We are actually forging a much better professional relationship (more on that in a separate entry). It’s because of her obsequious nature towards my father and how much he still dominates her, even though he is halfway around the world.
And, he still dominates me when she is here. I can feel his presence when she talks of him so glowingly. When she rewrites history to fit her own narrative, I can feel the pressure closing in around my throat, my heart, and my gut. As much as I have freed myself from him over the past few years, he still has an unhealthy amount of sway over me–much of it through my mother.
I am struggling to emerge from my fifteen-year depression, and I feel so damn fragile right now. I am tearing up as I am typing this post because it hurts so fucking much. There are forces inside of me propelling me down the road less taken in a take-no-prisoners kind of way. The demons, as is their wont, are screaming twice as loudly as they sense they are losing control. Everything is up in the air, and I am feeling much turmoil lately. Today has just been another reminder of how much I’ve lost and what I will never have.