Unshelved by Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum
comic strip overdue media

Friday, August 20, 2010

Today marks a milestone in my own life, too

44 years ago, my parents got married.

I'm not sure that was the best thing, and I can say that without any fear of 'well, if they hadn't, I wouldn't be here.' I was already on the way at the time. My parents had just turned 19--my father the day before. It was the late 60s. Abortion was not yet legal, and I can't imagine my mother aborting a foetus anyway, given what she's said over the years. Her own parents took the news remarkably well, and they offered to bring her home and help raise the child. My father's mother pushed for the marriage, and she won out. My mother wore an off-white dress, and the two of them look very young and very nervous in the pictures. I think my father always felt trapped and somewhat bitter over having a family to take care of; because I was on the way and he suddenly had a wife, he enlisted in the US Air Force and spent the next six years in and out of Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.

The marriage almost fell apart two years in, but my mother wouldn't divorce him long distance. Of course, he just did what he wanted; he boasted to my aunt--my mother's sister--of the women he'd bedded both overseas and in the US, and my mother once found letters sent to him by a Thai woman he'd been involved with. I've always wondered if I had any siblings.

It lasted until I was fifteen, when he took my mom for a ride to ask for a divorce after moving us two states away from our home and while we were in the motel waiting to settle into our new one. I guess he thought he'd have his cake and eat it too, since he was already living with a woman, but my mother moved me up to Kentucky to live with her parents instead. I can still remember my father telling me that I didn't need him anymore, that I was old enough. Well, in truth, I'd probably have gotten along better being raised by my mom and grandparents (who'd had a good hand in my early years. I actually thought of my grandfather as a strong father figure in my life more so than my dad, whom I thought of as the person who yelled at me when I cried, had no patience for me, wrested my third-grade science project away from me and did it, and then was upset it only got third place, and was annoyed when my IQ came back two points higher than his. He never really had time for me (well, neither did my mother, really, but we at least had more time together than my father and I)).

Over the next few years I tried to maintain some relationship with my father, but it crumbled in 1993 (I was 26) when my grandmother died and he lied to me about something to do with the finances, saying that the insurance money due me was actually part of the estate and that he needed it for funeral expenses. If he'd just asked me to help, that would be one thing. But he lied to me about it in order to manipulate me into giving him the money. This was at a time when 1) I was a graduate student, eating every other day because I was barely making my rent and utilities, living in a rat-infested house, and 2) he was an electrical engineer who had a big house on a small farm and had moved to Minnesota for an extra $30,000 a year. I'm not saying he wasn't strapped for money--there are lots of people that live beyond their means, and maybe his company that he worked for was not doing so well or something. But his name had also been on my grandmother's accounts when she sold a 180-acre farm, etc., just months before. I can believe her cancer took a lot of the money. But he was supposed to have a policy he was beneficiary to as well for $10,000, and I honestly can't believe that things were so bad (without some mismanagement or greed somewhere) that he felt he had to lie to me to get $5,000. When I told him I wasn't giving him the money, he hung up on me and we haven't talked since--no attempt to explain on his part, he just reacted like an angry child and there you go.

That was the last straw. I guess my grandmother was the only thing really holding us together at that point. About two weeks later I filed papers to change my name, and broke connexions with his surname entirely, going through a bit of 'reinvention' symbolically to match the one I was going through after my divorce.

Family are complicated. I don't consider my father family any more. He's some theoretical person raising horses in another state and probably being a good old boy to boot. My best friend is closer to me than a brother. He's the only person, I think, who's ever really loved me unconditionally, and that says a lot. My actual family have gotten very small--my mother, my grandmother mainly, although there are aunts, uncles, and cousins in other states. There's no one on my father's side--I'm an only child of an only child, and most of the ones I knew have died out. I know more about my father's family than my mother's genealogy-wise, but not in real life. And because I haven't had a truly dependable car since that time, I haven't been back to Owenton (the home of that side of the family) to check on graves or otherwise see how it's changed) since.

Anyway, I've had a lot of time to push my dad to the background in my thoughts. I never think of him at Father's Day (I'm hard pressed to even remember it's in June), but the feelings and thoughts come back in August, because his birthday and their wedding anniversary are right next to one another. But I don't think I'd like things to be different between us, at least as we both are. I wish I'd had a father I could really love, have great memories of, that sort of thing. But that never happened. For years everyone told me I was a daddy's girl and I bought into some fantasy of my father as I wished him to be. That got trampled that day in 1993, and it's been dust for years. All in all, I think I'm better without a father, at least if the person isn't going to be the things a father should be. My dad once said that neither he nor my mother should have had children; I have to agree--they weren't prepared for it, and they didn't do a great job, since I had to virtually raise myself. So he knows he sucked as a father. I wonder if he ever thinks about that day? No doubt he has a totally different perspective. I think we tend to look at things in a way that we come out looking like the one in the right, no matter what the truth is, anyway, don't you?

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