I never quite detected any real affection from my dad (father #2) when I was a kid and, as detailed in many prior stories, he seemed to be a never ending source of disappointment. I want to believe that he loved me but there’s no concrete proof of that since deeds would be a reliable proof and the only time love was expressed to me directly was when, at the end of an evening visit to his house, he would take my face in his hands and say, “You know I love you, son. You know I love you, don’t you?”
Well, no, not really because at that point in the evening he was inebriated within an inch of passing out and I don’t believe that slurring counts, does it? Not to mention that he was now willing to endanger his child by taking me home in his high-riskmobile. Is that love or expediency?
My mother made many mistakes but I wonder if my dad could technically be held accountable for mistakes when making them would have assumed that he had some cogent parental design in the first place. What I think he did effectively was objectify me. He treated me like ‘a son’, and I mean that in the most clinical way possible. ‘He is my son, therefore I will act as his father’. He probably didn’t think it exactly that way, and he might have even convinced himself that he loved me, but he had no capacity to show it. Consider the following recycled responses to me over the years:
When he was still living with us before the divorce (age 9 and earlier), he refused to discipline me because he told my mother that he didn’t “want to look bad”. Since anyone with half a brain understands that reasonable discipline is an act of love, albeit a difficult one, it was a monumental show of narcissism that forced him to make my discipline all about him.
When I was 13 and beginning to play guitar and sing I’d want to go over to his house and play for him and, for a while, tried doing that but his comments were always removed from my performance; “the song wasn’t very good” or “the Beatles couldn’t hold a candle to the big bands” or “groups these days don’t know how to end a song without fading out”. But none of his blather had anything to do with me. Because he was a skilled musician I would have welcomed his critique in any way, good or bad, but none ever came. It’s a miracle that I knew I was talented because that was never reflected from him.
If I were visiting, about halfway into the beer blitzkrieg he would take my hands and, holding them in his for examination, he would tell me how beautiful they were. “Look at your long fingers and the size of your palms…such beautiful hands”, he’d say, like he were describing a painting. During those times I felt like they were someone else’s hands because his poetry had an odd distance to the boy sitting across the table from him.
When I started playing high school football and running track I was dying to get him to see me in a game or meet but, for the entire time I was there he only attended one event and that was when I got my letter and they requested that fathers be in attendance. He reluctantly went (I could feel that) and afterward at Bob’s Big Boy restaurant, he talked about how my football coach didn’t know how to use me, that with those hands of mine (here we go again) I should be a wide receiver instead of a defensive end. “I’m going to talk to him if I see him.” I was thinking ‘please don’t’ but during a late game lift home from my coach one evening, he mentioned that he’d run into my dad and was lectured on how to use me. I was incredibly embarrassed because I knew how strange and disconnected it must have sounded. Add to the fact that he never even saw me play a down and how would he know if the coach were misusing me or not?
During track season, the father of my teammate, Gary, took to showing up at practices and I’d see them talking over by the stands between runs. Some of the guys would poke fun at Gary for having his dad hanging around so often but I envied him. I could see, even from 50 yards away, that Gary’s father was there because he cared about his son and wanted to be involved in some way.
Many years later, in the mid-seventies after my dad had been dead for a few years, I had a dream about him one night. I rarely have a dream so vivid that I wake up feeling that something transcendental has occurred, but this dream burrowed so deeply into my psyche that I can still recall the sensation even as I write this today.
In the dream, against some sort of Dali-inspired backdrop, he met me and we sat down and he took my hands in his but it was different this time. He looked, not at my hands but into my eyes, with a look of understanding that was completely absent of his usual failings. He was looking at me in a way that spoke directly to me, and yet he never said a single word. We sat there like that, speechless, for what seemed like hours and at the end we stood up and he left and I never dreamt about him again.
That was the only time I knew he loved me.