Monday, June 16, 2008

I'm sorry, Dad.

Father's Day and all that shit, yadda yadda.

Today (or rather, yesterday, technically) I went to go see my dad, something I rarely do.

I always feel a bit of dread whenever I have to pay a visit to anyone from that side of the family, because I'm not close to them at all. Whenever I spend time with my father or grandmother, it always feels a somewhat awkward. I often don't know what to say and I sometimes struggle to make conversation. I am my father's only child, so I don't have any siblings to go with me to visit him. And, he lives alone, now that my grandmother is in a nursing home.

So anyway. I was dropped off at his house today, and when I arrived I felt guilty immediately because I showed up later than I said I would. He'd had a few beers and was a little tipsy and that made me a bit nervous, but we started chatting about whatever and I tried to just keep the mood lighthearted. But staying cheerful is difficult, because whenever I see him, or even simply talk to him on the phone, all I sense in him is this tired, sad, beaten man. Today was no exception.

I try not to think about it too much, and the way I deal with it is by avoiding contact with him.

I don't hate or dislike him, of course, I just don't know how to deal with it. We aren't open and communicative with each other; not the way I am with my mother's side of the family. So I don't really feel comfortable talking about feelings with him.

During my visit today, we chatted about general things as we walked around the backyard. He showed me some of the gardening he's done lately, etc, etc... Just sort of small talk, really; the kind of conversation you could have with someone you'd just met or didn't know well. It was a bit boring, but nothing unbearable.

At some point in our conversation, he asked me if I was still without a car, which I confirmed, and I said that since I was getting rides to work and didn't go much of anywhere else anyway, I wasn't in any rush to get a new one; I'd take my time and save up.

To my total surprise, he offered to give me his old white car, an '88 LeBaron, which has been sitting in his driveway for years. I didn't think it even ran anymore, but he takes care of his cars pretty well, and he said with a new battery, it should be in decent shape. It'll be good enough for me to get to work and back, and to run errands, and all that, anyway. I accepted, of course. It's very similar to my first car, an '85 LeBaron (which I loved), and it will be a bit surreal for me to own it; I have memories of riding around with him in that car when I was still just a kid.

The rest of my visit with him was about the same as all the other times I've spent with him in the past few years; we bitched about work, talked about our cats, talked about my grandmother, and that's about it. Around 7:30, my roommate came to pick me up; I had asked her to bring the cake I had made from cake class because I wanted to show him and give him a piece of it. He had a piece of cake and the three of us shot the shit for a little while longer and then my roommate & I left.

It had been a pretty decent time, but I was relieved to get out of there.

In the past few years I have come to realize that the isolation I feel from other people, the tendency to be reclusive, the hopelessness, the deep and sometimes inexplicable sadness, the bitterness, the sense of feeling broken... all that, I inherited from my father. And every time I visit him, it becomes more and more apparent. And it makes me really, really sad to see it in him because I am helpless to really do anything about it. For him, or for me.

It was 2 in the morning and I went downstairs to make myself a bagel and I thought about how my father offered me the car and suddenly everything just hit me and I started crying and have continued to off and on since then, and it's 3:40 now.

When I was little and my parents were divorced, I was so young (just a baby, really) that it didn't have any emotional impact on me. I saw my father regularly, at least once a week; and my mom and dad were civil to each other so I don't have any bad memories of it. My dad was fun and funny, and I had great times with him as a kid, but I never really connected with him on a deeper level the way I did with my mom or brothers or even my stepdad. My father just isn't that kind of person. It's not his fault, of course; it's just the way he was raised.

As I got older, and busy with my own life, I saw him less and less. Most of the time I was, and am, too preoccupied to think about it much, but there are times I acutely miss being that little kid from so many years ago, and I miss the younger, cheerier man he was then. Maybe we weren't emotionally close, but my time spent with him was happy. Now, it's just usually depressing and I have to suppress the feeling of muffled yet overwhelming hopelessness whenever I see him.

I don't want to watch him age and become more and more bitter and sad and used up and alone. Not only because he is my father and I care about him, but also because I don't want to become like he has, either (although I am already more than partway up that path).

If I were feeling this way about my mother, I could call her up or visit her and talk to her about it and cry with her and it would be okay. The sadness would subside and I'd get over it.

But I can't do that with my father. He and I both sit alone behind closed doors on opposite sides of a chasm that is infinite. I know we love each other, but we will never, ever share a deep connection in this life and there's nothing I can do to change that. I can never return to the days of being that carefree child in the passenger seat of his car and that's just the way it is.

And I usually don't think too much about that, but tonight it has consumed me with guilt and grief.

My father as a child