Happy Father's Day, You B*stard

I've never been able to forgive my father for this residue he left on my life.

Posted Jun 21, 2020 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan

© A. Rosenhaft
My brother and my father
Source: © A. Rosenhaft

On Mother’s Day, all I can think about is my mother. On Father’s Day, my thoughts go mainly to my brother and what an awesome dad he is to my 12-year-old niece.

It took me years of hard work in therapy and many tears to only partially come to terms with the legacy my father left. That’s the best I can do.

In the several years before his death in 2013, when he was declining both physically and cognitively, my brother, Daniel, and I were sharing caretaking duties. For the first several years he lived in Queens, NY, in the apartment in which we grew up. I was working about 15 minutes away, so I’d call him and get a list of grocery items, pick them up, and go over to his apartment to put them away.

“Why did you get me this sh*t cake?”  

“You got me chocolate ice cream. I want strawberry.”

“These are the wrong f*cking cookies.”

Our father had turned into a recluse who had stopped going out. He didn’t even take the garbage out to the chute in the hallway of the building. The Adult Protective Services worker who I called wanted to know who was going to sweep up the dead roaches. She finally arranged for workers to come to the apartment in hazmat suits and fumigate it.

Daniel finally arranged for him to move to a studio apartment in Stamford, CT, near his office. He didn’t need much room, Daniel reasoned, since all he did was lie in bed all day and watch television. And a studio would be easier to keep clean.

Daniel didn’t realize now that our father was closer to him, he’d be the one our father called more often. “It’s like taking care of another child,” he said, for by now he had a toddler of his own.

We grabbed dinner together one night when I took over the grocery shopping to give Daniel a break. We looked at each other and Daniel finally voiced the question on which both of us had been ruminating for months.

“Why doesn’t he just die already and leave us alone?”

I close my eyes and I see my father and me sitting face-to-face over the coffee table in our living room in Queens. There’s a polished chessboard on the table. Pieces are scattered around the board as we are in the midst of a game. I’m sitting cross-legged on the floor and he is comfortably poised on our butter-colored crushed-velvet sofa with a glass of Johnnie Walker Red in one hand. It’s my turn to make a move and I’m pretending to study the board, but what I’m really doing is stalling because it doesn’t matter. He takes a long sip of his drink and sighs. He’s getting impatient. Reaching my hand out towards the board, I pick up a rook and set it down on an empty square.

Staring hard at the board, then at me, he leans forward and puts sets his drink down on the table with a loud smack.

“Thimk,” he says, as he shakes his head at me, purposely mangling the word think.

His intent is to let me know it was a bad move. Every move is a bad move. I can’t make a good move. I can’t please him regardless of how hard I try. I ask him to play every Sunday because I know he expects it of me. But it always ends up in the same way.

The adult in me can’t let that go. Thimk. Like a car alarm going off in the middle of the night, that doesn’t shut off.  

Fathers are the first relationships a girl has with a man. They set the stage. In an article titled “7 Things a Daughter Needs from Her Father,” published on the website All Pro Dad, the author writes: “A father is the first man in a girl’s life that she will intimately know. Her father sets the standard for all other men in her life, and a positive role model will help her choose a good husband in the future.”

I’ve never had a boyfriend, never married. I was terrified of my father even though he never laid a hand on me. I was not sexually or physically abused. But his verbal and emotional abuse rendered me unable to make myself emotionally vulnerable to men. Because vulnerability goes hand-in-hand with intimacy, I’m unable to allow myself that pleasure. I’ve had sex. I don’t particularly like it because I'm petrified.

I told my psychiatrist and therapist, Dr. L., I was afraid to be in a relationship because I was fearful of being consumed and fearful I’d consume him. She remarked that sounded a lot like food. She commented I continue to deny myself two of the greatest pleasures in life; food and sex.

When I was starving myself, I wore my skeleton like a suit of armor. Stay away from me, it screamed. What man would want to make love to skin and bones? For 25 years, every time I gained enough weight to be attractive, I’d panic and start starving again.

My father was an emotional cripple. He left me unable to access the intimate and vulnerable aspects of my psyche. That’s part of the reason I attempted suicide after he died. I spent my life running after him, trying to please him so he’d give me the key, the answer to the puzzle. When he died, that answer disappeared with him. 

Where does that leave me? In therapy, I was able to realize he did the best he could with what he had. He wasn’t a monster; he just never should have had children. But he did have my brother and me, and I have a hard time forgiving him for leaving me with a chasm in my heart.