Saturday, September 02, 2006

Happy Father's Day

Today is Father's Day in Australia, and I would like to wish all you fathers out there a very happy day.

I would like to wish my own father a happy Father's Day, but I don't know where he is. I know that he is in trouble somewhere in Asia - as per usual.

Now, my father has some fine qualities. He is clever, he is funny, he is warm, and he used to get so excited during family celebrations that he was like another kid. He could be great fun to be around. But unfortunately, his fine qualities are completely outweighed by his bad qualities.

You know that line about how fun it is when dad is like another kid? Well, its not that fun when its true. Not for us. And not for my mother, either.

The qualities that truly handicapped my dad as a father were his inability to buckle down and work at anything for any length of time, his chronic irresponsibility and his deep belief that if anything bad happened, it was someone else's fault. He was a very frustrated man, mainly because he was very bright but unable to apply himself and stick to anything. This meant that he was always in jobs that were way below his abilities and that he found utterly boring and pointless. A boring job and the demands of two children were too much for him. He would drink out of frustration and boredom, and he was a very nasty drunk.

I can't tell you how horrible it is to be a kid when you have a parent who is totally irresponsible. Because you have no power to confront him, no power to make him be the adult and no power to leave the situation. You are just at his mercy.

When I was little, the problems were comparatively minor. For instance, he would forget he had brought me with him to the shopping centre. One minute, I'd be toddling by his side, chatting away, and the next, he had wandered off. He would get distracted by, say, a record shop, and forget me. He would head for home without me. I would circle round and round the shopping centre, searching frantically for him, crying hysterically, for hours. Meanwhile, he would be chilling out at home, listening to his new record.

But of course, events like these just reflected a mindset that later caused much bigger problems. I still love my dad. I don't know why, but I do. But whenever I think of him, I can't help thinking of things like:

All sitting at the dinner table, trying to breathe silently, because dad was on the rampage, he had his "mad eyes", and the slightest sound could set him off.

The way he would rage around, frightening everyone, and if you went to call for help, he would pull the phone out of the wall, breaking the cable so that you couldn't call, kicking out hard at the chair you had been sitting on. It is truly terrifying to be a child in a house where an adult is out of control, because an adult is HUGE. Its like being trapped in a room with an angry giant.

The way he told me the problems in the marriage were my fault.

The way he threw things at me when he was in a bad mood.

The way I came to understand that I would never be safe with him, either emotionally or physically, because even the smallest problem or obstacle was too much for him and, when the chips were down, he would always put himself first. That he was a man so weak that, not only could he not protect me from anything else, he couldn't even protect me from himself.

The time my mother left for two weeks and he virtually disappeared, on a perpetual party. I was ten years old, and left to shop and cook for my sister and I alone. I remember wanting him to give me a lift home with the shopping because the shop was near his workplace and he had the car, but he wasn't there. I carried it all home on the bus. I still remember staggering under the weight of all those bags. I still remember the shame of people staring as a bag burst and the potatoes went rolling down the aisle.

The relief I felt when he broke his arm so badly on one of his rampages that he couldn't straighten it any more or do anything too challenging with it. I realized that I could out-run him, and that he couldn't really hit me easily. It made me less afraid.

The day he got extremely drunk and angry and started firing a rifle in the house. And when I called a friend to come and get me, he demanded to drive me wherever I was going, and said that if I didn't want him to, then I didn't love him.

The day he told my sister that she deserved to have been raped.

How, when he finally left, I was partly relieved and partly inconsolable. It was easier without him. But his leaving proved to me what I had always suspected: he didn't love me. And I wasn't interesting enough or lovable enough to be worth hanging around for. I had always wanted his love, I had tried to please him, and now even the possibility of that was gone.

He went overseas and, although he promised almost every year to come back for visits, I didn't see him again from the time I was sixteen until I was thirty. He spent that time travelling around Asia, getting women pregnant and abandoning them and the children. And contacting us mainly when he had gotten into trouble and needed help - usually money and someone to negotiate with the Australian Embassy because his chaotic life and bad behaviour had landed him in jail over there. Again.

When people ask me about my childhood, I often don't know what to say. I wasn't beaten (aside from some pretty heavy "discipline" with the buckle end of his belt). I wasn't really abused, in the sense of "serious" abuse. A friend of mine's father sexually abused her and her four sisters and, compared to him, my father was a saint. But I felt neglected, I felt frightened, I never felt safe, and I felt unloved and finally abandoned.

I believe my father has an undiagnosed mental illness of some kind. He told me once, in a moment of rare honesty, that sometimes he saw things, and heard things, that weren't there. That sometimes he believed that people were against him, were persecuting him, when they really weren't. But the next time I mentioned that conversation, he denied it had ever happened. And its hard to tell how much of his behaviour is due to his illness, and how much of it is due to being a chronically irresponsible and self-indulgent shit.

For myself, I developed a belief that I admit is not completely rational or fair: that fathers are not very relevant unless they are good fathers. If your own father is such a liability, such a chronic source of disruption and sadness and fear, then its hard to believe that some children aren't better off without their fathers. And a number of my friends have also had "bad" fathers - abusers, drunks, violent men. Or just "hopeless" fathers - who can't take any responsibility, are no help at all, and when they finally leave can't even bring themselves to pay child support. Or even just fathers they are not close to. Fathers who are distant. Fathers they just can't communicate with and don't understand. Fathers who probably love their children, but don't know how to show it.

To this day, the most baffling thing to me about men is the relationship so many of them have to their own children. I know that there are bad mothers, too. But they just seem so much more rare. Bad fathering, or even just inadequate fathering, seems so common. What is wrong with them? I just don't get it.

And I get angry. I want to say to these bad fathers: Fucking the mother of your children doesn't make you a real father. A tiny piece of DNA is not enough of a contribution. If that is all you are willing to throw in, please, just don't do it. When I see those little neglected children in public sometimes, the ones who clearly haven't had a bath or seen a hairbrush or a toothbrush or clean clothes in a long time, who have that pale and neglected and unloved look, who are toddling hopelessly after their drug addicted parents, I want to swoop them up and take them home with me. But I don't do any of those things, because that would be acting like a maniac.

And, you know, I also see good fathers. Fathers who love their children so devotedly and tenderly. Who tell their children how beautiful they are and how much they love them. Who care for and protect their children. Who are patient and kind with them. Who make sacrifices for them. Fathers who bring tears to your eyes with the reminder of what a wonderful thing a good man, and a good father, can be.

Fathers like my partner.

During the pregnancy, my partner seemed somewhat distant from me and our baby. I worried about the sperm donor issue, and whether it would bother him and interfere with his bonding with our baby, despite his assurances that the biological link wasn't that important to him. And I was so excited to be pregnant, and yet so apprehensive, that I kept looking for him to share the experience with me. And its not really that he didn't. But he is a very low key person generally, not very excitable, and he was like that about the pregnancy, too. He thought it was wierd that I poured over those "your fetus this week" development sites, and over pictures of developing babies in the womb. He didn't get all excited about every aspect of the pregnancy like I did. He couldn't get worked up about it unless there was an actual task for him to do. So, I was a bit concerned.

But from the moment our boy was born, once the baby was actually in front of him and there were things to do, things that needed to be done, he was utterly different. He sang to him, he played with him, he showed our baby in every possible way how much he loved him.

We call my partner The Dude, partly because of his love of bowling and of the movie The Big Lebowski, and our baby the Little Dude. The Big Dude and the Little Dude are such a team. They are together all the time, just playing and hanging out. The sight of the Big Dude and the Little Dude together is my favourite sight in all the world.

But more importantly, my partner is totally responsible. He doesn't just play with our baby and do the fun stuff. He doesn't just give him his bath and a story and think he's done his bit. He also does the nappy changes, the bottles and the night shift. I can leave our baby with my partner with complete trust that he will look after him as well, or better, as I would myself. Nothing is too much to ask, where our baby is concerned.

Seeing what an excellent father my partner is definitely makes me love him more. Our boy has brought out both his fun side and his responsible, stoical, protective side. My partner can play like a child, but he can work and protect and nurture like a man.

My boy is very lucky to have such a great dad.

And I am very lucky. It heals something within me, some wound my father left me, to know that my partner is such a great father to my boy. Like a link has been broken. Like a curse has been lifted.

Happy Father's Day, Dude.


Blogger C-Marie said...

I couldn't help but have tears rolling down my face with this post. It hit very close to home in my own childhood.
Hugs to you...

5:41 AM  
Blogger Mu Ling said...

A brave and beautiful post. I think I understand, more than ever, why you stay with your partner despite everything.

It takes courage to believe that you can give your child something better than the childhood you yourself had, and it takes courage to make that better childhood happen. Well done.

3:39 PM  
Blogger Rob said...

A comparison between 2 very different fathers. I know Emily that this took an awful lot out of you to write this blog entry but that you felt that you had to put down into words that were within yourself all these past years. Very touching and I enjoyed reading it very much since you know, I too am a dad. Happy Father's Day to you.

4:20 AM  
Blogger oldbear said...

HI Emily, thank you for tking the time and effort to share with us such deep and moving feelings and memories.

I verry sorry a nice Lady like you had to go through the bad parts, and am VERY happy that your hubby is such a good daddy.

May all of you have a great week!

7:16 AM  
Blogger Emily said...

Thanks, all.

C-Marie - Thank you. I could feel your tears when I read your comment. I guess that stuff never really leaves you, does it? It must make the situation with your daughter particularly hard to bear.

Mu Ling - You are right about the courage. And that I think I have plenty of reason to stay.

Rob - Yes, my posts are way too long generally, and this was the worst of all, in that respect. But I just felt like I had to get all that off my chest, even if no one ever read it. Sometimes there is just something you need to say, and so few places you can safely say it. A few days on from writing it all, I can say that I feel better, now. More released from it than for a long time.

I would love to hear more about your kids. How old are they?

OldBear - I guess lots of nice people go through these things. Hopefully we can bring something good out of them. Even if its just appreciating what we have now.

3:02 PM  
Blogger FTN said...

There are so many aspects of this post to comment on... What do I say...

It made me both very sad, and at the same time, strangely protective of my own children to hear about your father. I'm amazed that someone could just forget about you, or leave you home alone for long periods of time like that. I want to scoop up my own children and tell them how loved they are. All of the things you wrote about your father made me very sad for you and the childhood you missed out on. I'm sorry.

I see so many children as well that just seem to be a result of sex. Not something that is wanted or cherished, or even PARENTED. Just there to yell at. And, anymore, I seldom see fathers at all. A majority of children don't seem to have a father, and some of the mothers they are left with don't seem to be doing a very good job of parenting either (although I do understand how difficult it can be for a single parent).

I think the importance of being a good father is definitely underestimated in society.

And by the way, I LOVE The Big Lebowski. I went to LebowskiFest here in the US last year, it was great.

6:38 AM  
Anonymous jen said...

I'm so happy for you. You deserve to have the Big Dude and the Little Dude :) I wish you and your family happiness always. Our lives are constantly filled with horrid circumstances that we can't control but yet, its good to know that in the end, it will all turn out well. take care :)

7:42 AM  

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