I have spent six years attempting to write something about my father.
Twelve different “Chapter Ones” of a memoir. Three pages of a screenplay here, two pages there. Hundreds of attempts at an “article” just like this…I decided that would do, as long as I could get it published in the New Yorker, because hey, that’s his favorite magazine. He would have to see things through my eyes if they put it into print. If not, it would at least stick it to him, real good.
But why? Why this incessant need to divulge my deepest emotions in such a public way. Grief is the mother of all artistic creation, isn’t it? Maybe that explains the intense desire to put these feelings to “paper” all of these years. Too bad I’m not actually an artist. Maybe I want to help other people going through the same thing to not feel so alone? To remind them it’s ok. It’s ok to feel guilty about the effects of just compartmentalizing emotions this intense, instead of just going to therapy like a reasonable person. Perhaps that’s why I wrote this, but I’ll admit that feels slightly too altruistic for me. In all honesty, the most likely rationale is that at this point my estrangement from my father has consumed so much of me, that I just need a place to put it. I need it out of me. If that process begins with publishing an obscure Medium article with six views, five of which are from my mother, then fuck it. Print is dead anyway, right?
So, my dad turned 73 this week, and I didn’t speak to him.
I wanted to call, but I didn’t. Maybe an email instead, I thought. Those tend to be less confrontational. Yet, for some reason, I resisted. Sure, I could write something devoid of any true emotion or authenticity, but that’s not me. I’ve never been the biggest fan of surface talk. Especially with the people I love. Don’t get me wrong, I do it like everyone else, but I’d far prefer to talk to the stranger next to me about the life events that led them to quit their job and spend three months seeking spiritual enlightenment in Cambodia than talk about I don’t know, their jeans and where they got them. So yeah, I didn’t send my dad an email, and I didn’t call him.
What is really left to say at this point?
For those who haven’t shared a bottle of wine with me in the last half-decade (I think there may be a few of you left out there), my father and I have been estranged for a little over six years now. So odd, that word, “estranged.” I mean, it literally has the word strange in it. Quite frankly, I still struggle to describing our relationship like this. Most of the time it still doesn’t feel real, that we’re at this impasse — that the term is applicable to us. Yet, here we are.
The catalyst in getting us here was our own Series of Unfortunate Events that ultimately landed him in France with well, a new family — and my mother in the hospital after her first stroke at 65…and trust me when I say, those are some poorly written cliff notes on that anthology of disasters. As a result, the divide not only geographically widened, but emotionally as well. As we sit here today…still estranged. I’ll admit, the 8-year-old in me keeps waiting for the “oh shit, I really didn’t handle this as optimally as I should have and I really want to find a way to make it better,” phone call — but the reality is more like old lady Rose’s monologue at the beginning of the Titanic, we just “wait to die, wait to live, wait for an absolution that would never come.” In other words, our reconciliation has been a sinking fucking ship from the onset.
At this point, we’ve been having the same “argument” for well, about six years. I’ll spare you the gory details, but I’ve really boiled it down to this: My dad now believes the world is flat, and there is no evidence I can present that is going to change that. What I mean by this is that I believe the ways in which he has “wronged” us are as objectively factual as the Earth being round. Yet, after many years of disagreeing, I have accepted that he is never going to agree, facts be damned. He thinks the world is flat, I know the world is round — and so our world turns. I get angry and say shitty stuff. He gets angry and says even shittier stuff. We go through periods of time without speaking because of it, and then we start the cycle all over again because let’s face it, we still love each other a lot — and just can’t seem to let the other one go. It’s like the world’s most sadistic merry-go-round.
For example, here’s one of the first conversations we had in quite some time a few months ago:
“How about that Celtics Game.”
“Yeah Dad, it was a good one”
“So when are you coming back home”
“I can’t travel to the states as frequently Alex, I’m getting old and it doesn’t make financial sense to do it that often anymore.”
“Roger that. So what else is going on?”
“Well, I’m going to India in two weeks.”
Ah, there it is. A few years ago that last line would have caused a battle to make the likes of Jon Snow shit his knickers. Or evolved into a conversation that sent me into such a dark emotional spiral that I wouldn’t leave my bed for 24 hours. Now, there is just disappointment, a lot of “yeahs,” and above all — the intense desire to get off the phone as fast as humanly fucking possible to avoid both of those aforementioned scenarios. When you have over six years of damage to repair with only three father/daughter therapy sessions in the books, those waters become quite hard to navigate — so eventually, you just stop swimming all together.
Now, in the wake of my 30th birthday, I’ve decided it’s time to just…float.
What is that famous quote?
Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
Welp, that pretty much sums up the emotional toll this super-healthy dynamic has taken on both of us.
My dad and I were so incredibly close. He was my soccer coach, my Hebrew Teacher, and my Math Tutor at one point in time (though the jury is still out if this was out of love or because he’s quite possibly the cheapest man I’ve ever met). We did all the quintessential father/daughter stuff together. He taught me how to ride a bike, showed me how to drive a stick shift, and edited each + every one of my horrifically long college essays. The list goes on…and on…and on…truly. Also, due to some other extraneous circumstances going on at the time, we really leaned on one another, more than we probably should have. So now, on the cusp of my impending decrepitude — I’m going to try to relax, and just be grateful.
God, I was so incredibly lucky to have a dad like that for 24 years. I don’t think most kids get that, ever. And I know for a fact that most children don’t get to sit by a fireplace and light a j with their pops to talk about politics, the human condition, and argue over whether Murphy vs. Rock vs. Chappelle had the all-time greatest stand up special. All over the backdrop of a Lightnin’ Hopkins album on Sunday night at age 18. I was really, really lucky.
I got over two decades with my version of the best dad around.
He was the foundation of our family, and man, my family kicked ass (and may I add, still does). So now, with only a few days left until I turn 30, I’m really, really going to try and give it up. Just like that. Because hey, it’s that simple right?
All the anger. The turmoil. The constant, nagging feeling of impending doom. Not just because it’s causing me to simultaneously grow gray hair and make my skin look like I’m a pre-pubescent tween with a BTS obsession. But, because I’m just tired of being so angry at him all the time. So much of the good in me is my father. My political views. My resolute belief in equality. My desire to see the world, the good and the bad of it. My wit. The guttural joy I feel when I listen to blues and soul music. My bizarre distaste for Ben Stiller — even though I enjoy 99.9% of the movies he has been in (but hey, my dad hated him, so I decided at a young age I did too.) My sense of humor. Good god did that man make me laugh. So much of me comes from Terry/Tito/Poppa Hyman. So, this older and wiser me is going to try and focus on appreciating that. I will fail, many many times, but no one ever accomplished anything great without a few epic failures along the way.
So, in honor of this birthday, Dad — I’m extending a life preserver. I hope we’re able to meet in the middle somewhere, even if it’s the Atlantic.