Fair warning, y’all. This post is a downer, and it’s brutally honest. Not everyone will like my candor, but I’m not one for sugarcoating things. I don’t suggest reading this if you’re not in the mood for negativity. The featured photo is of me and my dad in my maternal grandfather’s garden in Buena Vista, Virginia.
Good morning, folks. It looks like our part of Germany is finally emerging from the recent deep freeze. Unfortunately, I have an unpleasant reminder of the super icy conditions we had yesterday. I had gone out to the backyard to clean up any deposits left by Arran and Noyzi, as Bill was trying to chip the ice on his car and the driveway. Thanks to some melting and refreezing of the ice and snow, the road in front of our house was a sheet of ice. And, sure enough, I slipped and fell on my ass. Fortunately, I was wearing my soon to be retired parka, which somewhat cushioned the blow to my left buttcheek. It’s a bit sore this morning, which is too bad, because my right hip has been hurting since last week, when I repeatedly had to get out of bed to take care of Arran in the wee hours of the morning. I think I’ve got some tendonitis in my hip.
Nevertheless, it’s a new day, and we’ve got stuff to do… like cleaning the toilets, washing the sheets, and writing a new blog post. I was having a touch of writer’s block today, mainly because I don’t feel too much like ranting about the news. Lots of people are already doing that, probably better than I ever could. So, I decided to see what WordPress suggested that I write about today. And, as you can see, they picked a doozy of a topic!
I’ve already written a lot about my father in this blog, who passed away during the traumatic summer of 2014. Seriously, that summer sucked so much! Bill retired from the Army on June 30th, and we spent several anxious months wondering what would be happening next. We lived in a rental house near San Antonio, Texas that we didn’t like, which had a lease operated by a property management company that we’d tried very hard to avoid. They took over managing the lease two weeks after we moved in, and I soon found out that they totally lived up to their terrible reviews on Google (although at least we didn’t have to sue them). As the fateful last day approached, we worried about transitioning into the next phase. Meanwhile, my dad, who was 81 years old and suffered from Lewy Body Dementia, suddenly got very sick and landed in the hospital for emergency gallbladder surgery. He recovered from the surgery itself, but was unable to recover from the anesthesia. That surgery turned out to be his exit from a terrible disease that had completely stripped him of his dignity.
I remember getting the messages from my sisters letting me know that our dad was ill. As we rode in the car toward San Antonio to meet one of Bill’s former colleagues, I recall saying to Bill, “Oh shit. This could be the end.” I meant it was likely my dad was about to pass. While I wasn’t that upset about the prospect of losing my father, I did think the timing of it was most unfortunate and inconvenient. However, in retrospect, I realize that it was actually a good thing that he passed when he did, because we ended up moving to Germany less than a month after he died. And that was when we met our psycho former landlady, who proceeded to be extremely annoying and very toxic for the four years we lived in her property. I won’t get into that, though… that’s a topic for another day. 😉
So… about my dad. We had a complicated relationship. As I get to know younger daughter more, I find myself empathizing with her a lot. My dad wasn’t a narcissist, like Ex is. He was, however, a pretty severe alcoholic. He had PTSD brought on by his time in the Air Force and tours in Vietnam. He was abused by his father, and rarely spoke about “Pappy” unless he was drunk. I didn’t know Pappy, because he died when I was two years old. What I do know about him was that he was also an alcoholic, and when he drank, he was very mean and sometimes violent. I heard about some incidents from my uncles that make me wonder if maybe alcohol made my grandfather a different person. My granny told me that Pappy was a really good man and very kind, but when he drank, he became the opposite. Again, my dad didn’t speak of his father very often, but I do remember him telling me one time that his father pulled a gun on him. My dad, at least, never did that. He never owned weapons.
I do have some good memories of my dad. I think he was, at his core, a very good person. He loved music with a passion. He was creative, and had a good sense of fun. He loved a good adrenaline rush, and had a daredevil streak. When he was in his 50s, he learned to hang glide. He loved roller coasters, white water rafting, biking, and jumping off steep cliffs into mountain water holes. He could be caring when he wanted to be. But he and I seemed to have a personality clash from the get go.
Some of my earliest and most vivid memories of my dad involve screaming and tears. I would get into trouble and he would yell at me or deliver a painful spanking. I remember that spankings were his go to punishment, at least when it came to disciplining me. And they usually came without warning, or any cooling off periods. I don’t remember my dad ever talking to me about the things I did wrong. My mom would often side with my dad, although there were a few exceptions. For instance, the time I got paddled in school in front of my entire class of fellow fourth graders, my dad had wanted to deliver another physical punishment. My mom stopped him, and said it was wrong for the teacher to paddle me, especially in front of my peers. But she didn’t go down to the school and raise hell, which is what I would have done if I had been a mom in that situation.
Whenever there were any problems involving me, my dad would often take the opposing side. He almost always blamed me when things went wrong, with a few exceptions. He didn’t protect me– not from the neighborhood pervert, not from bullies at school or church, and not from his own alcoholic rages. In fact, I seemed to be a gigantic pain in his ass. I remember him getting super mad at me for some reason and raging to my mom, “I’m SICK of her!” And another time, he looked at me and snapped, “You are an ARROGANT person.” He would touch my back and say things like, “You have some fat you need to lose.” Or he’d grab my head and comb my hair, none too gently, complaining that it looked bad. He called me names, too. One time, he called me a hog. Another time, he called me retarded. He frequently referred to me as fat, crazy, or unlikely to ever make more than minimum wage. And he would make me do things like give him back massages, which was rather inappropriate. Looking back on it, I think sometimes he came to me for affection, when my mom was freezing him out. Especially when I was a young child. It was never a sexual thing, though. In fact, my dad was very conservative about sex, at least around me.
My dad loved to sing and many people enjoyed his efforts. I was not one of his admirers. When I started singing, too, he would compete with me. When I decided to take voice lessons as a means of easing my depression, he got wind of it and decided to take lessons from the very same teacher. He would deliberately pick fights with me, and disrespect my property. When I was in Armenia, he went through my CD collection, got it all completely mixed up, and lost a few of my favorites. When I confronted him about it, he got all pathetic and shitty. He didn’t respect me. I was just a product of his loins. 😉
Later, when I married Bill, it was clear that he liked Bill more than me. He wanted to see and talk to Bill, but would ignore me or get my name wrong. When Bill was deployed to Iraq, my dad called me– one of the few times he ever did that– and lectured me about being unemployed. He felt I should be working while Bill was gone, even though we would be moving in a matter of months. I told him my employment status was none of his business, which seemed to take him aback.
One time, we did my parents a favor by driving them to my sister’s graduation. It way May 2003, and I was 30 years old. While we were watching the commencement exercises, some woman was sitting near us and had a problem with us talking. The ceremony was in a gymnasium, and there were people screaming, cheering, ringing cowbells, etc. For some reason, the woman said something to my parents, and my dad turned and bellowed at me that I was “disturbing” people. I was absolutely mortified and humiliated; he spoke to me like I was six years old. I got up and stormed out of the gym, so angry that I told Bill I wanted to leave right that moment. It would have meant taking a train home, since we’d driven my parents’ car. Bill was trying to get me to calm down and change my mind. This happened during our “broke” years, and we didn’t have money to spare for train tickets. My mom tried to sweep the incident under the rug. I ended up being passive aggressive, by ordering several cocktails during our celebratory lunch. Oh, it also happened to be Mother’s Day, so when the restaurant gave me a potted impatiens flower, my dad loudly pointed out that I’m not a mother. I was a stepmother, though. At the time, Bill was still able to talk to his kids.
And then there were the times when my dad was violent with me. He hit me in the face more than once, and one time throttled me after I rightfully called him an asshole. The last time he ever physically struck me, I was almost 21 years old. He hit me in the face and bruised my arm. I told him if he ever laid a finger on me again, I would call the police and have him arrested. That, of course, enraged him. But he knew I meant what I said, and the next time the impulse came to strike me, I asked him if he remembered what I’d told him the last time. In spite of his love of libations, he did remember and backed off.
I remember a lot of fights and arguments with my dad. I remember times when I would get so upset that I’d hyperventilate. My mom would hand me a bag and they’d keep fighting with me, criticizing me for everything from my appearance to my laugh, which my dad hated. I remember going to school with swollen eyelids from crying, and sitting out in the cold at the barn where I boarded my horse, because I didn’t want to go home and deal with him after a fight.
I don’t think my sisters had the same experiences with our dad that I had. I do remember there were some pretty epic fights involving the two middle sisters, but when they were growing up, he was often away on military missions. I, on the other hand, came around when he was at the end of his military career. He started his own business when I was eight years old, and ran it out of our house. So he and my mom were always around when I was growing up, and I grew up like an only child. My sisters were significantly older than I was. Consequently, when he died, they were sadder than I was. I’ll be honest… although I am grateful for the good things my dad did for me, and I realize that he’s certainly not the worst parent there ever was, the truth is, he really traumatized me. And when he passed away, it was kind of a relief for me. I’ve also noticed that in the years since my dad’s death, my mom has become a much nicer and happier person.
My dad was a well liked person in our community. He was a well loved member of our family, too. When he died, a lot of people came to pay respects. I sang at his memorial. No one asked me to speak. They wanted me to sing. There was probably a reason for that. A religious song written by someone else would be more appropriate than anything I might say about my dad. On the other hand, it’s kind of funny that I sang at his memorial. I don’t think my dad was proud of my musical gifts. I think he was jealous of them. I don’t remember him telling me that he thought I had any talent for music. Instead, he would usually criticize me, even as he’d ask me to sing duets with him at church.
I grew up wondering if there was something really wrong with me. I had a hard time relating to other people. To this day, I’m pretty weird and people don’t seem to know what to make of me. But as I’ve gotten older, and become part of Bill’s life, I now see that there was a place for me. I do have a purpose. Because maybe my life would have been easier growing up if I had been more of a people pleaser… but being a people pleaser and marrying Bill would have been disastrous. I needed to survive my dad, because learning how to deal with him made me prepared for dealing with Ex. And I think it’s given me a lot of empathy for younger daughter, who is “nicer” and “kinder” than I am, yet still very resilient and emotionally intelligent. She knows her mother is abusive. She has impressive boundaries. But it still really hurts to have to enforce them against a parent. I can relate. I had to do the same thing with my dad. I wasn’t as resourceful as she’s been, though. She’s a very strong person, with a kind, forgiving, heart. I, on the other hand, have a very long memory, and seem to hold onto anger more than she does.
A few years ago, I had a revelation about my dad. I realized that he was very much a product of his upbringing. My Uncle Ed, who passed away earlier this year, was a lot like my dad in so many ways. They even looked alike when they were elderly men. Ed was younger than my dad was, but they both went to the same college– Virginia Military Institute– and they were both Air Force veterans. Like my dad, Ed was an alcoholic. He could be a lot of fun when he wanted to be. There was a really awesome, fun loving, hilarious, adventurous side to him. But he was also racist, and a proponent of MAGA… a total Trump devotee. Ed used to send me political emails, most of which I ignored. One time, I responded negatively to one he sent about how “great” Trump and Pence were. He sent a totally vile drunken screed to me that brought back awful memories of my dad when he was at his very worst. He called me a “liberal nut job” and spewed all kinds of hatred at me. Unable to tolerate that kind of abuse anymore, I told Ed to fuck off, and warned him to leave me alone before I delivered him a verbal ass kicking. Those were the last words I ever said to him before he died. I’m not sorry about it, either. But it was at that point that I realized that my dad and Ed, when they were going off on these abusive tears, they were basically vomiting up things they heard from their own father. I’ll be honest. It makes me glad I don’t have children to pass this baggage to. Because it’s pretty awful.
I’ve always loved my family, but for so many years I had a distorted view of them. I never realized just how fucked up it was, or how it affected me on so many levels. It took getting out of that environment to realize what I couldn’t see when I was growing up. And now, I’d just as soon stay away, which is what makes living in Germany so perfect for us. I don’t miss that traumatic shit at all. So, when younger daughter talks about her mother, and how the prospect of having to talk to Ex gives her nightmares, I completely understand. She just wants to have a healthy, loving, relationship with her family. But doing that is impossible when you have to deal with someone who is incapable of being mentally healthy… and can’t or won’t address their demons, take responsibility for their part in conflicts, and do what they can to be loving to people who are supposed to be their closest allies in life.
Whew… this post turned out to be a lot heavier and longer than I expected it to be.
Anyway… it may not seem like it, but I truly do believe my dad tried his best. I do think he loved me, in spite of the way he behaved sometimes (which wasn’t all the time). He did have a genuinely kind side to him, and he was always there when I was growing up. He was a good provider, and as responsible as he could have been, given his issues with alcohol addiction. I think most of his problems stemmed from being abused by his father, spending time in a war zone, and being addicted to booze. Ex, like my dad, was also abused, but instead of becoming an alcoholic, she became a narcissist and probably a borderline. Dealing with people who are damaged is very difficult. Maybe if I could have stayed a cute little girl, like I am in the featured photo, we wouldn’t have parted company on such sad terms. And again, I do have some good memories of him. But I sure am glad I married someone who only shares the military and the first name “Bill” with my dad (and actually, my dad’s name was Charles… he just went by “Bill” because my Aunt Jeanne started calling him that and it stuck).