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I don’t know if it’s the fact that I celebrated a birthday a week ago and my impending death grows ever closer or if my girlfriend being gone and me having the apartment to myself is driving me stir crazy, but I’ve been unable to sleep at night due to persistent thoughts keeping me up. The usual thoughts occur throughout the night: am I horrible at my job, what am I doing with my life, is my girlfriend elaborately catfishing me, why don’t I have a dog yet, could I even care for a living thing? Those latter thoughts usually end with me going to PetCo and staring at fish until a manager kicks me out for being “creepy.”
But one thought, one nagging thought that I’ve lived with since I was 12, prods at me the most. Like a fly that lands on a kid’s face during a UNICEF commercial, I know that it’s there, I know that it’s bothering me, but I can’t seem to just blink and get rid of it. The ever-present cloud of me wondering whether I’m a horrible person for not particularly liking my Dad. It drives me insane. It not only wracks me with guilt and anger, but it brings on a sense of sadness that really feels bottomless sometimes.
It’s a tale as old as time. Dad went to get milk at the grocery store, but never came back. Except in my case, the milk was 21 year old hard bodies and the grocery store was an Eastern European country. While I respect the game and understand that you have to shoot your shot, I was still a kid when he left. Not old enough to feel a sense of true loss, but old enough to feel like an outsider when you see other people interacting with the male figures in their lives. Sure, he came back every now and again to visit. The extent of his Hugh Hefner-esque escapades didn’t really come out up until a few years ago, but during those times when he came home, there was always a sense of sadness and conflict from my other family members that always brought upon some guilt from me whenever I smiled at smelling his cologne in the doorway.
Those visits were usually brief and were filled with some fatherly activity, so I can’t really complain on that front. We went to a few baseball games, got candy at the gas station, and maybe watched some television together. But those visits were never without their oddities, like the time he tried to teach me to ride a bike, but by the time the thought occurred to him that I probably needed to learn, I had already taught myself.
Eventually, weeks became months and months became years and the visits were farther and fewer between. Swim meets were missed, high school graduations passed, and my college move-in was facilitated by a couple of bad-ass women who prove that women are the backbone of America. But even with all of those amazing presences in my life, there’s no real substitute for a male figure in your life. We had a chance to reconcile once when I visited him abroad one summer. The visit soured after a few yelling matches and me punching a wall.
Even after that, we would call every now and again and he would still send money to support us. And truthfully, that’s where the real confusion sets-in. I’ll never be able to hate my Dad, because at the end of the day, he still found it in himself to attempt to support us. A sense of obligation stayed with him for some reason when he could easily have just slipped away into the night like a respectful one-night stand. No, I could never hate him, but I don’t know to what extent I have to like him. I hear horror stories of people losing touch with their Dads and only reconciling after horrible accidents, or worse, deaths and it terrifies me that I’m handling this situation horribly.
At the end of the day, however conflicted I am when it comes to him, I’m not going to get a new Dad. And maybe I owe him one. After all, we’re as shaped by the presences that aren’t in our life as we are by the ones that are present and because of his lack of presence, I now know that I could never bring that kind of conflict upon any family I might have one day. While I know that he’ll never change, I’ve grown into a man that can be hurt, but still empathetic. When we talk on the phone, I always say I love him (even if I don’t), because I could never hurt him out of spite. And that’s where I think I was going with this before you sly dogs caught me monologuing: as frustrating as it is, there’s no textbook for those of us with broken families and strained relationships. But, as we get older and experience our own hardships, it does become easier to recognize others trials. Like those of a newly arrived immigrant from Eastern Europe, who spoke no English, had 2 kids and a wife to support, and just couldn’t handle the pressure and had to return to a place where he felt comfortable. At the end of the day, I have to feel empathy for a man like that. Or who knows, maybe I’m just too fucked up to realize how crazy I sound..