Saturday, February 13, 2010

My Redemption Plan for My Father

Hello Father,

I have a gift for you.

Before I elaborate, I must apologize if you begin to feel Shanghaied. Becky’s introductory email was so cordial that it might imply a genial spirit, that a joyful reunion might ensue. Sadly, that would be a false hope.

My gift to you is the opportunity to make it up to me, at a great discount to its probable real value.

I have descended into a suicidal depression over the last couple of years, and especially the last couple of weeks. I have historically traced the primary source of my troubles back to incidents that occurred well after you had left my eight-year-old world. However, recent reflections on my earlier memories have shown me some surprising signs. One memory is a particularly good example of why I’ve contacted you.

Somehow, at about age six, I very clearly recall colluding in an obvious lie with my Aunt Betty. Worse, the primary aim of this lie was to convince her husband that I deserved a spanking. Why did I collude? Because for some reason, at age six, as I very clearly recall, I believed that the duty of a well-behaved child is not only to agree with everything adults say, but to be so in tune with the adult’s desires as to assist automatically and skillfully in the facilitation of said desires.

I find this extremely disturbing. I ask myself why a six-year-old boy would believe such a hideous thing. This question has been percolating in my mind for a while.

On what seemed at first to be an unrelated note, I have always had mostly neutral thoughts toward you, once I stripped away the opinions pasted onto me by my mother’s propaganda. I told myself that you had never molested me, and I could recall only one act of violence, a random, impersonal, drunken toss of my tiny, innocent, beautiful body across the room, ending in the back of my head smacking the coffee table. I literally cannot recall any other violence at your hands.

Please note that my liberal definition of violence includes spanking. What I am saying is that I don’t even recall a spanking at your hands. But then I also don’t recall seeing you perpetrate violence or sex crimes against Becky and Lori; you have always been entirely guilt-free relative to them in my mind. But then I was talking with Becky recently and she recounted for me a particularly savage beating at your hands, and the not-really-surprising-by-now sexual molestation. Needless to say, this came as a bit of a shock to me. I began to look more closely at my memories of you. As it turns out, I have perhaps seven, and only one of them involves physical violence (the coffee table incident). One of them involves emotional abuse. Another involves a particularly inept but (as far as I could tell) decently motivated, decently conducted facts-of-life lecture. The others are entirely innocuous.

So I’m left with a conundrum. If I had no other data, I could easily conclude that you must have beaten and molested me, and I must have simply blocked out all the memories. But I do have some other, quite disturbing data. A more obvious datum is that I acquired the nickname “Golden Boy” among my sisters at a fairly young age. I’ve always been disturbed by the stated reason for this epithet: I was allowed to be in the scouts and on the swim team, etc., while my sisters didn’t get such privileges. This is bad enough, but I’m afraid that it might be worse: it might be that my sisters were beaten while I wasn’t.

A subtler but perhaps more telling datum is this particularly gruesome story about you and my three older sisters. I am told that one day you offered ice cream to Donna, Theresa, and Jeanne, in exchange for a spanking. While I have to linger for a moment over the hopefully factual anecdote that Jeanne refused to cry in spite of your rage born of impotence, poetic justice isn’t my point. My point is that you seem to have been planting a certain kind of thinking in your daughters’ minds, along the lines of, “morality is entirely determined by who is bigger and stronger, and children have no rights whatsoever.” Those two messages are clear even to the casual observer of this atrocity.

If I take a close look at the little boy who colluded in a lie with Aunt Betty, it seems clear to me that he has received very similar messages to those imparted by the ice cream crime.

Wait…ruminating on these memories has dragged up another family legend: when you were dissatisfied with my older sisters’ behavior, you would tell them something like, “You’re like animals so you can eat on the floor like animals.” Well, let’s not mince words. Animals. Property. No unique value; interchangeable. Secondary family members. All descriptions of how I’ve always felt about myself. Why have I never made this obvious connection to you?

I conclude that it is not entirely my mother’s fault that I am suddenly having hideous visions that make me cry hysterically until my entire body aches. You seem to be clearly implicated in the destruction of that little boy’s mind.

I need something from you in order to get through this, the worst period of my adult life to date. I need you to get your computer (or your pen) started up again and write. I need you to dig around in your memory and write an account of your life from around the time of my conception until the last time you heard from me, what, 1992 or something. In the same story, write an account of my life as far as you can remember, with a special emphasis on the first six years. And here is perhaps the hardest part. Be honest. I need this. Untruths will ruin it. I need to understand myself so I can get on with my life. You owe this to me. Putting up with me as an out-of-control teenager for a few months is neither a complete nor proper discharge of your paternal duty to me.

If you choose to do this and conscientiously give me everything you possibly can put into this effort, I will forgive you. I don’t mean that I will renew a relationship with you. I mean that I will stop cursing your name. I am not sure what kind of man you are, whether that will carry any weight with you, but unfortunately that’s all I have to offer, besides the reminder of paternal duty. And I think that you’re getting a bargain, to tell the truth.

But now that I think of it, the only reason I’m not asking you for money is that I assume that you have none to spare. Still, I’ve been unemployed for 18 months, and due to debilitating depression unemployable for about four months. And now I’ve been having horrifying visions for the last two weeks that are making me insane. Until recently I blamed my mother for those visions. Now I begin to think that you might have had something to do with them. If you have any money to spare, your child is in need, your child whom you have broken and then dreadfully shortchanged. If you have a lot of money to spare, I’d like to get a degree, something that I’ve heard parents often provide for their children if they have the means.

I have one last nagging thought: if I remember anything about our erstwhile relationship, it’s that you are (or were) inclined to think of me as at fault in some way for not being a “good” son to you. But I have to ask, who taught me how to be a good son? Who taught me anything? As far as I can tell, I always had to take care of myself, figure everything out for myself. So it seems to me that my job was to stay alive, which I executed admirably, given that toxic environment. Further, if you were ever a good father to me, now’s your chance to demonstrate it in writing.

Please get back to Becky to let me know whether you’ll do any of this. I don’t want any emails or contact of any kind, except by Becky as proxy.

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