My dad came down from his place the other day.
It was good to see him; it’s been a few years. See, our lives have tricked us out of each other up until now and, to be honest, it’s probably too late to change any of that. Oh, you can say it’s never too late for love to save everything, but I’m here to tell you that sometimes it is.
Still, he showed up. Which in and of itself was a minor miracle considering he hemmed and hawed about making the six-hour drive as if he was going to be pedal-biking down a friggin’ glacier to visit us. And, as a testament to our tiny clan of banged-up heathens, we’ve all been having a bit of a beautiful time, regardless.
It would have been hard not to, honestly.
We’re all so much older now than we were. There is a level of comfort and happiness edging it’s way into our days this past week — even though it still feels mostly like we’re a bunch of traumatized whack-jobs sitting around, each of us licking away at one of our open sores and trying to make conversation.
What the hell do we say to each other?
We’re gathered together and that is the thing. Family dynamics are no match for funerals or babies and so I brought the damn goods, you see.
For an old man whose busted life mirrors my own in strange ways lately, there was a kid called Charlie to meet.
All of 7 months now, my son Charlie is a wonderful baby, a sack of endless smiles spilling out the top of a Penn State onesie. His joy is contagious; I think he just might be here on this Earth to spread that around for a long long time. In a world where nothing makes much sense, well, Charlie certainly makes sense to me.
Like any of us (and probably more than most of us) my dad he needs some joy. Even though he may have been one of the worst fathers in the world, and even though I don’t have much to offer him or anybody else these days as a father of three moving towards divorce after a decade of marriage, I do have these kids of mine. My dad’s wife died a year ago this week and without her, he’s lost. But even so, I’d be lying if I told you there is forgiveness in my heart for him. It’s not that easy.
My dad has always been a straight-up freight-train alcoholic and he turned his back on me and my little brother so early on and for so long (we didn’t see or hear from him for almost 27 years). He disappeared when I was about nine years old. I was a chunky, disposable Little Leaguer into baseball cards, fishing, and meatball sandwiches. I was a good kid, I’d say, but looking back now I know damn well that I was always pretty much always a kid hanging out, fingering his one-way ticket, pacing around at the gates of something so big and so sad. Something I probably didn’t deserve, that’s how I see it now.
There’s a certain kind of loneliness that comes with being totally and completely abandoned by a parent and try as I might, it has taken me most of my life up until now to come to terms with that. I will never come to terms with it though. I just won’t. I’m not complaining or making any excuses for the way the hurt drove me down so many wrong lanes, I’m just calling it like I see it.
So, yeah, watching my father hold my son in his arms, the two of them smiling in the yard on a bright autumn afternoon … it seems like a dream.
How is this happening?
Here we all are, against every odd known to mankind, hanging in the early October slashes of sun, smiling at my son, who is sitting there in his Pepe’s arms, just full-on smiling back at us.
Even now, pushing 43, I want to be stronger and tougher than I am. I want to rise up out of the dog crap smear of everyday life and prove myself bigger and better than anyone who has ever known me ever would have guessed I could be.
I act like I’m cool, like I’ve got it together, but it’s probably not that hard to see that I don’t. I’m shaky and broken and a little bit gun shy of the look in everyone’s eyes. I am hurt — and I’ve done my share of hurting, too. Better to admit it to yourself and whoever else could possibly give a damn then, I figure. Better to just confess to the fact that I’m a rather heavily damaged 160 lb. man making my way through the motions, day after day, holding it together for my kids mostly, and for myself whenever I can find a reason.
It sucks to know I missed out on having a dad.
And it sucks to know that he missed out on me because he was drunk and sad and out of control. Because he couldn’t love me enough to remain.
I am now a father of three young kids with a stack of divorce papers sitting there all filled out on my countertop, waiting for me to grow a pair and turn them in. The guilt, the fear, the uncertainty … is extraordinary. Most days my three kids are the only thing that keeps me going, but my dependency on them scares the hell out of me.
I don’t want to mess this up, any of it. I want to give my children the world. But then I look at my dad across the table, I look at myself in the mirror, the two of us sporting the same bags under our eyes, and I collapse inside myself a little bit.
It’s so hard, this living thing. It’s so strange to love and lose. It seems like I’m living someone else’s life, smiling at an exhausted old man who is smiling at the baby in his arms, who is smiling, smiling, smiling at all of us at once.
Image: S. Bielanko Private
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