Strange thing to wish for, eh?
But I do. I wish my father was reprehensible. Some kind of monster, big or small. The kind of guy you would expect to leave his family—to leave his wife for his pregnant mistress and ten years later, to tell his daughter she isn’t allowed to see her sisters again. That’s the kind of thing a drug junkie, pathological liar, conman criminal and/or violent psycho might be expected to do. I could understand that. I could wrap my brain around it. It would make sense, however much my childhood didn’t make sense. People would make sense.
My father is not a drug junkie, pathological liar, conman criminal, violent psycho. He’s a professional from Poughkeepsie who watches football on Sundays and pays his taxes on time. He likes The West Wing and a cold Budweiser. He makes the occasional joke and laughs when things are funny. He has pizza nights with my sisters and their mother and he genuinely enjoys his family time, although there is the normal amount of inter-family bickering, as to be expected. He’s boring. Dreadfully, terribly, monstrously dull.
I tell my mother I don’t understand what she saw in him. She’s a free spirit, eccentric with her head always in the clouds. Wickedly smart, in an unexpected way. Interesting and a great conversationalist, if you have an open mind and a healthy sense of curiosity The kind of woman who quit her steady job to write a rock opera musical—for Jesus. And still thinks that wasn’t an outlandish decision.
She explains it to me. He was her rock. Her normalcy. Her calm. He was the guy who could sit with her cousins and have a beer while she was off chasing pipedreams and gambles. When she came home with a million thoughts interweaving through her brain, he would suggest take-out Chinese. He took her hiking and let her wander off to stare at some interesting rock formation while he dutifully followed behind. And he loved her. He was normal and he loved her. She found comfort from her own busy mind in that.
I was born ten years into their fairly happy, stable marriage. I know it’s not my fault they divorced, yadda yadda. I don’t blame myself or carry any deep seeded sentiments of self-loathing. But, I am aware that the existence of a child between them created some problems. Nothing to do with me—I was busy goo goo gaga-ing and figuring out diapers.
My mother tells me she wanted to be my caretaker. She wanted to nurse me to health when I was sick and rub my back when I was sad. She wanted that to be her role, only. He wanted to be my caretaker too. He would turn to her when she was comforting me and ask for a turn. And in my mother’s quiet but determined way, she would respond, “No.” His role was to comfort her, and hers to comfort me. That was the hierarchy in my mother’s world.
How do I reconcile that? The man who left my mother for a woman fifteen years younger; the man who raised me half my life and then dropped off the planet; the man who now wants to be friends again—that man is the kind of man who wanted to hold his child when she was sick. That man reminds me on our first phone call after ten years of the various nicknames he gave me when I was younger. The nicknames I loved.
What can I possibly think of men now? My mother taught me to stay away from drug junkies, pathological liars, conman criminals and violent psychos. Those are the ones that will hurt you.
My father isn’t a drug junkie, pathological liar, conman criminal or violent psycho. He’s an easy-going old Jewish man from New York who definitely stops for pedestrians in the crosswalk. He’s the kind of man your mom approves of, because he’s nice and he loves you. He’s the kind of man everyone thinks is safe. But he wasn’t and now what am I to think?
I wish to god my father were a drug junkie, pathological liar, conman criminal, violent psycho or at least a loser of some kind. That would make sense, at least.