The Opposite

The longer that I am a father, the more annoyed I get at my own father, who passed away 16 years ago. I mean, this isn’t the hardest task in existence. You don’t have to be everything for your kids, you really just need to be there when it matters and maybe show a little concern for their feelings rather than your own in some tough times.

My dad just wasn’t there. Instead, when my parents divorced when I was 11, he just piled up mountains of self pity on himself and moaned for years about his children being taken away from him, as if the loss of his comfort and security is what mattered in the situation, not the emotional well-being of my sister, my brother and me. He never lived within 500 miles of us after the divorce and saw us, at best, during holidays and vacations. Phone calls or letters from him were few and far between.

He also played into a toxic triad with my mom, putting me in the middle of their lifelong war for ultimate affection that began before the divorce, where they discussed who I would end up with. It never occurred to either of them that having a strong, loving relationship with both parents would be in my best interest, as would be possibly splitting time between the two of them. No, I was more useful to them as a pawn and would used that way for life, and if winning that battle meant unloading every piece of opposition information about the other starting at a very young age, so be it.

My father evolved into the anti-role model of my life. I would get annoyed at how easily my father would quit at any task, so I’ve developed a refusal to give up that has suited me well to big efforts like running long distances or reading Finnegans Wake. He took terrible care of himself and had his first heart attack at 49. I haven’t smoked in my life or eaten red meat in 27 years, and probably exercise more in an average month than he did in his life.

My dad was easily frustrated by my special needs brother David — the way he would sometimes throw up in high anxiety situations and would hold conversations that seemed to be only about the surface elements of anything. I’ve been determined, probably in reaction, to never be impatient with David, to try to see the world through his eyes when I’m with him.

If my father was meandering and lost, I’ve done my best to be focused and directed. If he would talk endlessly about big ideas that he had that he would never take step one to achieve, I’ve filled my life with big challenges probably no one but me cares about, and see them through to the end just to prove to myself that I’m not him.

It annoys me a bit that I’ve adopted this stance because it demonstrates a lot of influence of my mother’s voice. In that regard, I need to say that I don’t judge my dad as a bad person. I enjoyed his company and had an easier rapport with him than almost anyone in my life. I can still mourn his death and wish that he had lived long enough to see his grandsons. I still love baseball because of his influence and would love to watch a game with him right now.

But I feel the need to be brutally honest — he was a flawed person (and in some very toxic ways that I won’t address here, because they didn’t affect me personally) but I can still see how others in different relationships could have different opinions about him. I am commenting here only as his son. And the blunt reality is, as a father, he sucked.

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