First, let me just say that writing this is not easy. I have literally sat on this finished post since March. It’s December. I was too scared to hit publish. I can’t explain why. But I know I’ve held so much of this in for so long, and I know that getting it out there helps me. So.
I wrote the first post in the series last year. You can read it here. It’s kind of the introduction to this post, so I do recommend it.
Dad’s birthday was last week, and it fucked me up more than I would ever admit to anyone. For days. I looked for every excuse as to why I was moody – but really it was a downward spiral effect from trying to bottle up the emotions I was feeling. I was upset and trying not to be, so my mind wasn’t on doing my day to day stuff so I let caring for myself take a back burner and boom – I was an emotional mess. Most of the time I’m okay, but around his birthday and the anniversary of his death, I’m not. We’re going on five years since he passed, and in my opinion I should be okay. Being strong is what I do. This shouldn’t still be an issue. I can’t ignore that it is, though.
My dad was my rock, my protector, my voice of reason. He was my common sense in a crazy world, and my laughter when shit got too serious. He was the weather man and news anchor because his daughter was too busy to keep up on shit like current events and weather reports. He was the calm in the storm, he bailed me out uncounted times from a million different problems, and the only person who could look at me and know my thoughts. The only person who has ever walked the earth that truly understood me and loved me for exactly who I was – which is to say even the parts that aren’t exactly loveable.
My childhood was rough, having two parents with addictions. Dad was the better parent at managing it of the two, but still I know it was a daily battle between responsibility and addiction for him. He managed to pull it off somehow, and raised us to be good, responsible people. I’m not really writing this to drag up all of that past. He and I talked about all of the bullshit of my childhood once after I was an adult and I forgave him for it. I had that opportunity to talk it over with him and I’m at peace with it. To set the story though you should know that once upon a time my dad was a heavy drug addict. He was able to kick everything but alcohol, marijuana and cigarettes. And even the marijuana and alcohol he took breaks from.
When dad got custody of Aaron and me, he was clean. He was running a couple of businesses and working full time in a factory. When he wasn’t using, he was a workaholic. He was ex-military, raised in a southern household, and had old fashioned ways. Children should be seen and not heard, you eat what’s put in front of you, etc. He was also very adamant about schooling. He was diligent about helping us with homework and especially concentrated on reading and writing. I recall him picking words out of a dictionary for me to learn, making me look it up myself and writing out the definition of it and using it in a sentence and all of that jazz. A rule I will never forget – “If you can’t spell it, don’t say it.” Even up until his passing he would randomly interrupt me in the middle of me relating a story from my day and say, “Spell that.” If I used a particularly large word.
“Dad. I’m 30 years old.” I would remind him.
“That doesn’t mean you know how to spell it,” he would respond. And I would dutifully spell out the word in question and continue on with the conversation. So if you particularly enjoy my writing you can just go on and thank him. Without his diligence I probably wouldn’t be as good at this art of word weaving as I am.
He’s also the one who pushed me to read, and fed my thirst for new material. He introduced me to the world of Stephen King at age 12 during an ice storm – I was bored and had read every book I owned. He picked a short story out of Night Shift and had me read it, and then discussed it with me afterwards to be sure I fully understood the story and to make sure it wasn’t too adult for me. By that time I was reading at a college level according to state testing, and soon I was reading every King book dad owned. I looked forward to our discussions as much as I did the reading. Soon I began to write – short stories and song lyrics and poems. I also wrote for the school newspaper. Do you know he saved every single one of the school newspapers when I was on the staff? I managed to become copy editor my junior year and he showed off that first paper with my name under the ‘Copy Editor’ title to anyone who walked in the house. Nothing made me feel more important than his pride in me. I knew then I wanted to take my gift and share it with as many people as I could. If my dad was impressed, I must be pretty damn good at it was my thought.
I admired my dad immensely, when he was at his best. He always smelled of Black Suede cologne, always clean shaven. His hair was always back in a pony tail with a hat on his head, slim and tall with this proud stance that is rare to find in most people. He exuded confidence, and was well liked by anyone he crossed paths with. He was well spoken, and it was a rare thing for anyone to disagree with him. There was a deep well of pride in him that made it impossible for anyone to question his motives and honesty. Often times he reminded me of a great cat. . . Looking at one you can admire its beauty and grace but also know that in one fluid movement it can end your life. Dad was like that. You could see that beneath his well spoken and respectful way there was a strength and ruthlessness that you just shouldn’t fuck with.
But being my father’s daughter, I was the one that fucked with him the most, pushing him to his limits and testing his patience. He gave me the gift of words, and I used them against him. To argue and complain, to try and get the best of him. I can’t tell you how many times he jumped up from his seat on the couch, fists clenched, ready to knock me out because of something that came out of my mouth. Naturally red complected and high blood pressure to boot, he looked ready to blow like a volcano. And almost always he would very slowly sit down and quietly tell me to get out of his face. And most times I knew I had pushed him a little too far and would stomp off to my room. Not without talking shit under my breath and slamming the door though. . . Ah, how I’m alive to tell you these things is a wonder. The thing was, I knew my dad would never hurt me. I trusted that no matter what I said, he would never lay a hand on me. I can count on one hand how many times my dad had to physically punish me.
The time that sticks out most in my mind must have occured when I was very young – perhaps 7 or 8 years old. Aaron and I had been fighting, hitting each other and otherwise bickering. We were outside and thought that our actions were unwitnessed, but dad had the mythical eyes in the back of his head and called us into the house.
“You guys want to hit each other? Okay. Go ahead.” We stood in front of him, looking baffled. “Turn and face each other,” he said, and we did. “Amber, go on and hit your brother.” I was pissed, and being as young as I was I didn’t see where this was going. Taking the opportunity to hit my brother seemingly without repercussions, I slapped his arm. “Good. Aaron, hit Amber.” Aaron being the more contentious sibling, looked at me uncertainly. I stared at him defiantly, and something about the look on my face drove him to strike back. “Good. Amber, your turn. But hit him harder.” Dad didn’t have to tell me twice. I did as he requested. “Aaron, now hit her harder.” Now Aaron was getting angry and also didn’t have to be told twice.
Dad had us go back and forth several more times, until we both were holding back tears and refused to continue. He then proceeded to beat our asses and advised us to remember this particular exercise in the future if we wanted to fight. We also got a nice long lecture about how someday all we would have is each other and we should appreciate and love the other.
Does it seem harsh? I know that shit like this is extremely frowned upon in this day and age. But let me tell you what. . . Aaron and I never physically fought ever again. Ever. Dads lesson stuck, regardless of the new age shit of no spanking and physical repercussions. I’ve never done it with my own kids, but I think it’s due more to their age difference than anything. Because if they were close in age and size, I probably wouldn’t hesitate if the situation was bad enough to warrant it.
After that, I can’t remember dad spanking us ever. There wasn’t a need to. He would look at us and we’d straighten up. Other than my mouth, we minded. He operated with words more than anything, explaining our bad behavior to us and showing us how to act rather than just punishing us. We got grounded, we had a wall I was very well acquainted with. . . There were no free corners in our first home with dad, but there was an open wall by the bathroom and there I stood on many occasions, staring at a nail in the wood right at my eye level. Usually I got to stare at the nail if my mouth got out of control. Groundings were reserved for messy bedrooms and questionable grades. Or if the wall didn’t quiet my ever running mouth.
This was how the first few years went after dad got custody of us. They were good years, despite dad working a lot. It was quiet compared to the life we had lead with mom. We were taught responsibility with chores and expectations about our behavior but otherwise we were allowed to be kids for the first time ever. He ran a landscaping business and provided lawn care for the more wealthy members of the community. Occasionally he would bring us with him, having us pick up sticks in the yards ahead of him while he mowed, allowing us to play while he finished up. There were fishing trips with family on holidays and visits to his workshop where he refinished antiques for people. I knew that he used to drink like mom, and he showed me his sobriety coins every time he achieved a new milestone. My step mother explained stuff to me about alcoholism, showing me the serenity prayer and trying to help me cope with what I had been through with mom.
But then things changed.
Then dad started drinking again, and my peaceful life went out the window.
I met a new side to my dad, and while not all of who that man was was bad, he wasn’t all good, either. He was the same in that our studies and chores came first, he still instilled respect and hard work in us. He still raised us I guess is what I want to say. In that regard he was different than mom because he could multitask partying and being a parent. But there were still times when I questioned his ability to raise us, when I knew that life would be better for us without that case of beer in the fridge.
I’ll close this part here to keep from taking up too much of your time. Thank you for your patience while I tell you my journey.