The visit from my father is over. It was really difficult to get through, but it wasn’t impossible. Until the airport and dropping him off. I will get to that in a minute.
The night I went to get him, he arrived around 11:30. We got home after midnight. We chatted some, and then I went to my computer room to hop online. I had the door mostly closed (but not all the way so the kittehs could come in if they wanted), and I was startled the fuck out when he entered without knocking. He said I didn’t have any food. I said I did. He said there was no milk or bread. I said I don’t drink milk any more because of my dairy allergies, and I did have bread–it just wasn’t made of wheat. He half-laughed and repeated that I didn’t have any food. I repeated that I did. I had just gone shopping that day and had plenty of food. He left.
During the night, I heard him get up around two, go to the kitchen, rattle around the fridge, and then return to bed. When I went to bed at 4:30 a.m., the light was still on in his room.
The next morning, I got up around 8 a.m. He told me he had only two hours of sleep because he’d been so hungry. I said that was too bad. He had an appointment in the morning and came back for lunch. Then he started in on me about something, but fortunately, my brother dropped by. My brother is seen as an adult because he’s married, and, quite frankly, because he’s a man. Even when my father is lecturing my brother, he (my father) doesn’t demean him (my brother). Oh, and my father asked my brother to fix a closet door. My brother said, “You didn’t try to fix it yourself, did you?” He and I exchanged conspiring eyerolls and grins because my father is horrible at fixing things. He also has a magnetic field that kills all electrical things, but that’s another story. It was nice to have that moment with my brother to lighten the mood.
Then, after my brother left, my father took a nap because he was ‘so tired after only getting two hours of sleep because he was so hungry’ before going to his afternoon appointment. Then, we went to my bro’s house and to the Olive Garden for dinner. Wouldn’t be my choice, but the kids aren’t very adventurous in their eating–nor is my SIL, actually. Or my father.
My father mentioned once more that he only got two hours of sleep because he was so hungry. Again, I didn’t say anything.
So, after we return home, my father asks me, “Why didn’t you prepare for my trip? Was it because you didn’t have the money?” I asked what he meant, and he said, “You didn’t have food in the fridge.” I repeated that I had. He said, “You didn’t have milk or bread or kiwis.” I said, “I have bread. I looked for kiwis, but they didn’t have any.” He said, “They did. I got them at Cub.” I said, “I shop at a coop, and they didn’t have any.” He was pouting, and I added, “You could have emailed me ahead of time to tell me what you needed. You could have asked me to run to Cub and get you something. You could have gone yourself.” Cub is open 24/7, and it’s less than a mile from us. My father: “I didn’t have to ask you before.” Me (desperately trying not to lose my temper and failing): “You are a big boy. You can ask for what you need. I am not a mind-reader.
Later, as I thought about it, I realized that, yes, I did have milk in the house before, but that was because I used to drink milk. Once I shed it from my diet, I didn’t buy it any more. Same with bread. I used to eat wheat bread, so I would buy it. The only thing I ever specifically bought for him before a visit were kiwis, and I did look for those at the coop.
The other thing I realized is that my mom does all the grocery shopping in Taiwan. All of it. She does all the housework, too. My father’s secretary does all the chores at the office (including printing out his emails so he can read them), so he’s used to women catering to his every need. It was what he expected from me when I was a kid, and it’s still what he expects from me now. Oh, and he couldn’t believe I didn’t have any oatmeal in the house. Again, I don’t eat it, so I don’t buy it.
That was the first big conflict. The second is a running family issue. My father can’t deal with the cold. And, since he can’t stand the cold, he can’t imagine that anyone else can. So, on the day it was seventy degrees out, he was wearing a long-sleeved shirt and a light jacket. I, on the other hand, was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and light-fabric pants. He took one look at me and said I had to put on something else because it was too cold for what I was wearing. I said it wasn’t too cold, and I had a jacket in the trunk of the car. That was my concession as I drive with the windows down when it’s zero degrees out. He told me that I could not go outside like that, and I was this close to saying, “Fucking watch me.” I didn’t, though. I simply went to the car, and he dropped the subject.
To add insult to injury, my bro was only wearing a short-sleeved shirt as well, and nada from my father. Middle nephew was wearing a t-shirt. Nothing. Niece was wearing a sleeveless shirt, and he asked her if she should wear more than that.
He has done this since I was a child. Back then, he used to say, “I’m cold–put on a sweater.” He cannot comprehend how someone else could feel something different. And, as my faithful readers know, I love the cold. Anything over seventy is not comfortable to me. Sixty is bearable, and under fifty is nice. I prefer sub-zero temps. I do not need a fucking jacket when it’s seventy degrees outside. The only reason I didn’t wear shorts is because I knew we’d be going out to dinner.
The third irritant that stuck out in my mind was actually funny only because it was so fucking stupid. He had an appointment Friday morning. When he came home, he had a gift in his hand. He gave it to me and told me to open it. I looked at him strangely because he doesn’t give gift-wrapped presents. He said it was from his appointment. I asked why I should open it as I started opening it. He said, “Because women like those kind of things.” I said, “What kind of things?” I wasn’t being a contrarian–I really didn’t know what he meant. He said, “Women like this kind of thing. I always bring the gifts I get in Taiwan home to Mom and let her open them.” I was starting to get an inkling of what he meant, but I simply repeated, “What kind of things?” He said, “You know. Women like to receive flowers.” I said, “I don’t.” He said, “Women cry when they hear about a wedding.” I said, “I don’t.” He said, “Women cry when they hear about a baby being born.” I said, “I don’t.” He half-smiled and said, “Well, you’re not a woman.” I finished opening the gift and said, “No, you just have a very narrow idea of what a woman should be like.”
Again, he was half-joking, but not really. He has no clue what to do with a daughter who doesn’t wear makeup or make an effort to dress up all the time and who doesn’t care about gifts and holidays and whatever. In the past, he gave me a French doll when I was twelve and was upset when I wasn’t thrilled (I never played with dolls except to cut off their hair and make them have sex). My father went to a castle/hotel when he was in Banff, Canada, and afterwards, he had to tell me all about it. He said, “They do weddings there. I will pay for it if you want to have your wedding there.” I just looked at him as if he were crazy.
However, the advice he gave to me when I was a teenager before I had my first boyfriend in how to attract a boyfriend pretty much encapsulates his entire thinking on the gender thing: Let a boy help you with something like fixing your car. Let the boy beat you in sports. Raise your voice a few octaves.
That’s it. That was the sum total of what I should do to get a boyfriend. I looked at him and said, “If that’s what it takes to get a boyfriend, then I don’t want one.”
So, Sunday comes. I am relieved because he’s leaving that day. I am in the computer room surfing when he comes in. He says, “Minna, could you come here a second? I want to show you something.”
Now, I will say that my answer was snotty and terse because I don’t trust him. To me, he does this shit to make me jump. So, I said sharply, “What is it?” He said, “It’ll just take a minute. Let me show you.” I said, “No, tell me.” When he did, it was about the loose toilet and how he fixed it. I said I didn’t need to see that, and he left.
Again, I admit that I was snotty and rude to him. It’s partly because I had tried so hard all weekend not to go off on him (and not succeeding) and partly because of the mistrust I have for him. I am not willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. In addition, he did not say one nice thing to me during the whole visit, but only found fault. That is the way our family operates, but it’s wearying, regardless.
Anyway, in the car (he drove), he was silent. I asked if he talked to Mom, and he said, “Yes.” I asked how she was, and he said, “Fine.” I shrugged and tried to relax. About halfway to the airport, it occurred to me that my father was upset with me and that I was supposed to ask why. This is the pattern. He gets upset, gives the silent treatment, and is cajoled out of his mood. Or, he yells. However, I think he knew that if he yelled at me this time, I would yell right back (and I would have) so he went for the silent treatment.
Honestly? I didn’t give a fuck. I was happy, actually, because it meant that I didn’t have to talk to him. As we pulled into the airport, he made as if to park in the parking lot. I said I would just drop him off. Then, to my horror, he started crying. Crying. I have never seen my father cry. Ever. As we pull up to the drop-off area of the airport, he asked in a choked voice, “Why are you treating me this way?” I slammed down emotionally, but I managed to ask, “What way?” He said, “You are treating me so unkindly. Are we enemies?” He pulled out his handkerchief with a trembling hand and pressed it to his eyes. And, even though I didn’t say it to him, my automatic thought was, “No, we are not enemies. I don’t respect you enough to make you my enemy.”
Now, I have to break off here to do something out of the norm for me. I am not going to recount the rest of the confrontation at the airport because it’s too raw for me right now. I may write about it at some point, but I cannot just now.
Suffice to say, by the time I pulled out of the airport, I was reeling. I had been gut-punched, and for five minutes, it was a toss-up whether I would crash the car or not. On purpose, I mean. I felt like a complete shit as I drove. My emotions were totally out-of-kilter, and I was trembling as I drove. I made it home in one piece, hurt myself, and then freaked out some more. Finally, I sent out emails to five friends. Each of them responded in his/her own way, which was exactly what I needed from that person.
Kel was sympathetic and tough. She called him a shithead and warned me not to let him get what he wants (my emotional destruction). She emailed with me throughout the day to keep me grounded. She talked about her day and joked with me. Humor always helps me. Choolie was sympathetic and really had my back. She knows how crazy you can feel when you’re around someone who sees the world in a totally warped way. She reminded me that he was the one in bizarro world (with the help of my mother), not me. I’m a freak–I’m not crazy. Gregory was also firm with me in that he won’t let me bullshit myself. In addition, he has a positive outlook that allows him to see a good outcome, but not in a Pollyanna sort of way. He reminded me that it was over and that my father had to resort to those tactics because he had been losing the fight, as it were. Kiki listened sympathetically and gently reminded me that I was giving my father an awful lot of power. She gave him a slightly more sympathetic portrayal while validating that he had been shitty toward me. She told me to call her the next night if I needed her. Natasha had some pity toward my father while reminding me that I didn’t have to have any pity toward him whatsoever. She emphasized that his issues were not my problem. She asked what I was going to do about minimizing his effect on me, and when were we doing lunch?
From all five, I got love and unwavering support. They are unequivocally in my corner and not shy about expressing their loyalty to me. Thank you all for being there for me. I love each of you very much.
In addition, Alex S., Fawn, and Dan emailed me asking me how the visit went and ee wished me luck in a thread over at BJ. It touches me to know that people are thinking of me and wishing me well.
And, there are other people in my life I could have called upon if need be–including my brother. What I’ve realized from this trip is that my brother is on my side, no matter that we have nothing in common.
The addendum to this is that my father called me today. Apparently, the phone has been off the hook for the past few days (not on purpose. It’s just an old phone and hard to hang up properly). I finally discovered it was off the hook and put it back on. I was expecting my brother to call me so when the phone rang, I answered it. I normally don’t, and I wish I hadn’t. It was my father. Apparently, he had been trying to reach me for the last few days. He even called my brother and made my brother call me (of course, my bro couldn’t get through, either). Anyway, my father was in Montreal for a conference. He asked if I would like to go to Montreal, and he said he wished I were with him. He said the hotel was right in Chinatown, and he knew I would love that. He asked what my favorite foods were, and right before he hung up the phone, he said with a catch in his voice, “I love you very much.” I couldn’t say it back to him–I just couldn’t, so I said, “You, too.” Which is a lie. Then, I hung up the phone and freaked the fuck out.
You see, what I wanted from the trip was to show him a modicum of grace–not for him, but for me. I cannot carry this pain, rage, bitterness, sorrow, and anger around with me any longer. The only way I can get rid of it is by letting go of it. Again, it’s not for his sake, but for mine.
On the phone today, he was trying–he really was. And, I couldn’t give him anything because it just hurt too fucking much. I couldn’t give him a scrap or a crumb or anything, and I know it hurt him. Despite it all, I do not want to hurt him. But, I cannot give him what he wants, and it broke me. It hurt so much that I just cried for fifteen minutes straight. I tried not to hurt myself (yes, it’s a compulsion bordering on addiction), and I held out for as long as I could. I gave in, and it numbed me out enough to function. Barely. I talked with Gregory and Julie tonight (via the internets), and they were able to talk me down somewhat.
Still. I sit here typing this, and my heart hurts. It aches. I don’t want to be like this, and I am afraid that I am running out of time. Not just for me, but for my father. After his visit, I felt that being around him was toxic and that I had to cut all ties. Then, after the heart-wrenching phone call this afternoon, I felt an overwhelming amount of grief because I couldn’t give him anything at all. He’s trying, really trying, and all I can think is, “Not now. I can’t give to you now.”
I feel as if I’m ripping apart the family only to discover that there is nothing there. I mean, there are relationships within the family, of course, but the idea of the Hong family is sheer illusion, and I’m the one doing the destroying.