I’ve been trying to write about my dad for a while but haven’t been able. I know how close you have to allow yourself to get to the past to conjure up the heart to write, and the ask of my heart was just too big. Years ago I learned that in order to survive, my heart would have to neatly pack the plethora of feelings for my dad deep inside and not call upon them.
My dad died last year. I got a text telling me so. Initially, I couldn’t conjure up anything beyond shock; not sadness, love nor even the remorse of a lost relationship. My feelings remained latent for such a long period after, I became a little scared that I might be a sociopath. This feeling was accentuated by the fact that there appeared to be near silence from my friends, only a handful reached out. After ten years at my school, only two colleagues dropped sad face emojis on my Facebook. Another friend had a stepfather who had died within the same week and she wrote a beautiful eulogy for him, describing what an incredible influence he had been in her life. Many, including myself, sent condolences. It was then that I realized that people only want to send condolences for happy relationships, not failed, as if my apathy toward my father made people uncomfortable. I suppose that’s right as it made me uncomfortable as well. All and all, it was a pretty difficult time. I have sat with the thought that I might be a sociopath for a year and then realized that the apathy I felt toward my dad’s death was real and I that had already mourned the loss years ago. His physical death was only the last step of the process.
It was my dad’s habit to connect with me in between his marriages, knowing that I was always fully interested in a relationship. Once, during my years in high school, my dad and his fourth wife had broken up. He called my aunt and uncle and asked if he could fly me to Texas to live with him. I was so torn. I was finally in a stable setting with a family that really loved me and cared for me and I was doing well in school. For some reason he demanded that a decision be made within 24 hours. My aunt and uncle described how much they loved me and how much I meant to their family and I broke their hearts by telling them I wanted to leave and go live with my dad. When we called him back the next day to let him know, he had already changed his mind. I suspect he had sobered up. I remember how he had died to me that day. These were the tears that were absent from his funeral. Because this was the loss of only his fourth marriage, he repeated the same pattern for the others to come, but by then I had hardened my heart and lost complete interest.
The episode at his funeral was like a really bad sitcom. It was crystal clear that I am the product of two addicts as all I really wanted to do was take a shitload of drugs and/or drink. I deferred, for the most part, but my heart was feeling pretty raw and exposed. The boundary between the dimensions felt incredibly thin that day and could feel my dad’s presence.
My dad’s new family was kind and warm but they are Pentecostals and believe that my dad had just moved onto a large mansion in the sky. His wife, bless her heart because she is such a sweet lady, shared that she had a vision of my dad sitting at a long banquet table in a mansion with her first husband. It took me a minute to realize what she had said to me and then I started laughing. I didn’t mean to, it was just so strange. I also thought, if her first husband is there then it’s likely that my dad’s second and fifth, Mel and Donna are also there. That also made me laugh.
The service was confusing. My dad adopted a son a few years back, the grandson of his sixth wife. Their marriage was short lived but long enough to adopt this kid when his mother got sent to prison. I’d heard about him but was perplexed when his name showed up on the list of children. Jerry, Kelli, Jason and Anthony. I turned to Jason and joked, “Who’s Anthony?” He was Dad’s evidence to show that he didn’t run away from things- this preteen grandson of his sixth wife whom he knew for three years, Anthony from Pennsylvania.
Someone got up and talked about my dad driving up into the sky on his red Harley. The red Harley was from his youth, they added, “When Al ran with bikers.” Jason and I caught each others eye and I knew we were thinking the same thing, Dad never ran with bikers, nor had he ever owned a Harley. Another person got up and talked about what a Godly man my dad was and how they were praying for his children who had yet to know Jesus. Fuck this, I thought, how is this service about me? Plus, for all intents and purposes, I’m a church going Methodist you motherfuckers. In the pew, his wife shared with me how he was lucky he was to have finally found someone who “knew how to do marriage” with my mother, his first wife, sitting on my other side. And all I could think about was the pit in my stomach as I tried to locate the bar in the church. There was none.
It had always been clear that Dad was unhappy with his life and was always running from something. After the service I realized that he was running from himself, the person he had become. He moved to this new community to recreate himself where he was a hero and was lucky to have escaped the clenches of his shitty family. He was a pious, red Harley driving, attentive father of Anthony who knew how to keep a family together. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
I was exhausted as we left the church and headed to the airport. I noticed that Phoenix is tan orange, like all of Phoenix- the ground, the mountains and the houses. Miles and miles of tan orange.
My hope is that now I can put his death behind me and write. I want to write about how much I used to love my dad.