messygorgeous (messygorgeous) wrote,

LJIdol 10: Topic 1: I Need the Struggle to Feel Alive

My daddy always told me I liked to do things the hard way. He'd say I didn't "listen" to him, which meant I didn't obey. Didn't do things the way he insisted was right, didn't believe what he believed.

And why would I? The man was a greaser and a bruiser back in the 60's. Too hardheaded to bend to the authority at school, he dropped out halfway through 8th grade and never went back. The world would be enough of an education for him.

My daddy was smart but not dedicated to anything. Not to the Army, where he got a "less than honorable" discharge for going AWOL, not to my mother, who he let support us his entire life while he "explored his options" for 40 years or so, not even to God. He was fond of saying "God and I have this agreement. I won't get in the God business and God won't get into my business."

And he certainly wasn't dedicated to my brother and I. My dad stayed gone six days a week. He left early and stayed late at work, at a mini-storage place one of his friends owned, hanging with the boys, drinking cheap beer in cans from the mini-fridge and flirting with the skanks that wandered in looking for help moving their wood veneer bedroom suites into their unit after they divorced Jimmy or Bubba or Ray and were "staying with their mama" for a while. He was at his best with the boys, intensely social and gregarious and more than a touch sexist.

I'd catch a glimpse of him in the morning, when he stuck his head in to make sure I got up to catch the bus, and then he'd slide in each night just in time for dinner. When asked about his day, he'd give the same response, a tight "Just another day in mini storage" and, glowering, tuck into his dinner.

Then Sunday would come, and he was home all day. This was his cut the grass day, his paint the deck day, his "Stop nagging me, Shirley," bark and snap at the family day. I hated Sundays.

When I was young, I'd eat lunch in a blur and run outside, head to the woods where he couldn't find me to pick on me or bitch. Where I wouldn't have to see the disappointment on my brother's face when my dad turned him down for a game of catch so he could sit like a slug on the couch, eating Bugles and watching cable. Couldn't feel the tension radiating from my mom as she stood making dinner with her back to him at the stove in the kitchen.

When I was older, I worked weekends, let my employers know I'd be available for shifts on Sundays and avoided the house all together.

But I couldn't get out of Sunday dinner. My mama insisted we all eat together each Sunday and, if you love your mama, you don't deny her this. She always made a great meal and we'd gather around the table for a quick blessing, the passing of the food, chew...chew...chew, and then my father would start with the "intoning of wisdom." Loudly, insistent with his message.

We lived in Georgia and, although the man wasn't Southern by birth, he was the biggest bigot I've ever met. If you weren't white, straight and Christian you could take your brown ass back to whatever 3rd world hole you came from and stop taking our tax dollars, raping our daughters and taking our jobs. The gays were out to turn us all into homos and the Muslims wanted to kill us and take over America, the greatest country in the world! Sunday was his opportunity to play head of the household, point out our personal faults and inscribe his worldview on his impressionable children, a captive audience. Thanks dad.

What an ass. What an ignorant, hateful, hard-hearted ass. That's about all I got from those dinners. I'm sure it bites his butt when he looks at me, a public librarian who holds dear the rights and freedoms of everyone in my community, who loves underdogs and immigrants and refugees and gays. Who emails him Snopes articles when he forwards undocumented hate speech to me and 100 of his closest friends.

But...he's still my dad. After all that, still my father. My father who took one Sunday to teach me how to ride a jet ski on the lake - exhilarating. My father who always told me we were survivors, that the world was tough, but I was tougher, a mantra that has sustained me through some truly hard times. My father who may not have always liked me, but who grudgingly respected my stubborn nature - told my mom not to "break my spirit." Saw it for what it was - a strength that would carry me when I was away from home, a determination that reflected his own. A father who, for all his faults, truly believed I could do whatever I put my mind to and made me believe it too.

My dad is in his 70's now. Diabetic, obese. He is also 90 percent deaf. He sits silently in a room full of people, a serene expression as he just watches everyone, reads lips, removed from the conversation.

There's a meanness in me that whispers that it's poetic justice that he's finally been muzzled, that a lifetime of bad karma led him to this lonely place.

Still, it breaks a daughter's heart, when I call him on his birthday, that my daddy can no longer hear me say "I love you."
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