June 15, 2008

Father's Day

It's complicated, my dad and me.

You see, he left my mother for my step-mother when I was two. I have no memory of seeimg my mother and father in the same room, let alone speaking to one another. One of my earliest memories of my father is a visit to their new home where my brother and I broke out in chicken pox. I remember apple juice. I found out later that at the same time my mother got chicken pox too and had quite the rough go of it. Did anyone give her apple juice?

When I was around five or so, my older brother left the home my younger brother and I shared with our mother to go live with dad and my step-mom. I found myself jealous of his move. After all, at Dad's house there were no babysitters watching me while mom went off to work or out on a date. Dolly was there to care for us, and she provided meals and a dependable presence. She never spanked us. But...Mama...I mean...how could my brother leave Mama? She whose bedroom, and most especially, her bed pillow pulled me in with the scent of her maternity that to this day touches something quite primal in me. (And mine does the same for my daughter). How does one turn from this?

Well, my mother tells me that there was effort made on my father's side to "win" my brother over, and when she began to see the same script starting to play out in my life, she made a decision to leave California and settle us in Hawaii. That was January 1964.

After safely ensconsing us at a Filipino family's home in Kalihi, my mother had to return to the mainland to fight my father in court for custody. Obviously, she gained custody of her two remaining children, but those are the only details I know. Did my father, as was often common in those days, try to portray my mother as unfit? I don't know. I do know that my mother has carried her unforgiveness to this day in ways that for a long time to me seemed illogical. These days I've become much more understanding.

I spent my youth living with a real mother who showed me love, anger, irrationality at times, and who also did her best to provide a good, full, and sometimes uncoventional life for my brother and me. She wasn't perfect, but she loved us with the same depth and fierceness that I discovered at my own child's birth. Growing up I had only had my imagination to hang on to about my father, so I developed quite a fantasy. I was his only daughter among five children. I must be special, you see. It's just that he's far away, and he's busy, and if he could, he'd come get me, or come see me, or ... I won't even into how that affected most of my love relationships, but you can guess.

You see, I never once got a card or letter from him in all the years I was growing up. Child support checks were dutifully sent, but my step-mother was "in charge" of making sure birthday and Christmas gifts were bought, wrapped, and mailed. She sent all the minor holiday cards too. I loved, and still do, my step-mother. She is a good woman, just as my mother is.

Through my growing-up I made all sorts of efforts to get my dad to acknowledge my achievements. It never seemed to come. I'd send him report cards and stuff, and I'd hear back from Dolly, but not him.

Don't get me wrong. My dad is no villain either. He's had his own demons, mainly from an alcoholic father of whom I've only heard my father speak once and it was to refer -to the hell of his childhood. With that as his father model, what could he possibly learn about what being a good dad looked like?

Still, in my adult years I continued to reach out to my father and we've been able to develop a decent relationship. When we shared, finally, our father-daughter dance at Sweetie's and my nuptials to Sinatra's "The Second Time Around" it was a deeply emotional moment that neither of us will forget.

We've explored a bit of our history, or lack thereof, but I still don't know what really makes my dad tick. What really excites him? Saddens him? Leaves him cold? I don't know.

He has a lot of hurt inside, and I've never gotten to talk to him about that either. Maybe it would be too hard for him, I don't know. But someday, soon I hope, I'd like to try. I'd like to sit down with my dad and sift through our mutual and individual histories and just acknowledge it.

Unacknowledged pain is toxic and a mind-killer.

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