Sometimes, because of all the events that have happened with my mom, I forget to remember my dad. Which is a shame because he’s probably the most genuinely good person I know. I’ve heard it said that daughters look for men like their fathers. I really hope that’s true. It used to kind of freak me out a little, I’m not sure why but it did; the idea that I’d be with someone like him.
When you’re little, it’s so easy to see the faults in a person, especially family. When you get older, I suppose the only thing you really try to overcome is that stupid voice in your head that gets judgmental and cynical, the one that tells you what you should and shouldn’t do based on even sillier reasons, ideas you develop about someone when they’re based on nothing but fiction.
I’ve had this anxious voice in my head telling me who I should be and what I should do for most of my conscious adult life and the strange part is my dad is nothing like that. I have no idea where that voice came from. I’d like to say it’s my mom’s fault, but I really don’t know if I can blame that part on her. He’s the only one who’s never hurt me. He’s kind of dork sometimes but as the years go by, I’ve come to cherish that about him. His heart is so kind, so understanding, so sweet.
When I was around five, I stole money from the man who cleaned our fish tank. My mom wasn’t looking and I’m not sure why I did it but the minute I was alone with the stack of twenties on the table, I grabbed a few and stuffed them between the couch cushions. When the man counted his money and asked my mom why she’d shorted him, she was probably so embarrassed she gave him a fat tip to compensate. I don’t know how much money I took or why I did it but I do know that my mom was furious. Her lips curled up in a snarl when I finally fessed up and told her, they turned white around the edges like they did the time I told her I hated her for throwing away all my toys.
She did that periodically, decide we had too many dolls and throw them all away in giant white trash bags, calling my sister and me spoiled brats for manipulating my dad into buying us things.
Manipulate was one of the first “big” words I learned. “Don’t manipulate your sister” “don’t manipulate your dad” “don’t try to manipulate me”. To this day, I still have a problem with manipulation. I can twist any story to make myself the victim, I can use every excuse in the book, I can even look someone in the eye when I do it. Because I was always taught that lying by omission wasn’t actually lying. So I learned how to fluff and snip out the parts I liked or didn’t like. I could just learn to laugh at jokes I didn’t understand so I wouldn’t have to feel stupid asking questions.
When she dropped me off at my dad’s house later, he picked me up and asked me why I was crying. I had to tell him what I did and express my shame. The only thing he said was “don’t worry honey, you don’t ever have to steal. I’d rather just give you money than have you feel like you’d need to steal”.
I think that’s when it started. When it occurred to me that my dad was a softie and I could go around twisting the truth. If I could logically reason out to him why I didn’t deserve to be grounded for yelling at my sister, he’d acknowledge it and let me off the hook. His only exception was violence. You kick your sister, you’re dead and there’s absolutely no way of getting out of it.
So I learned to give the world’s worst guilt trips. I learned how to say the meanest possible things I could think of to make you wish you were wrong. I learned how to snarl just like my mother and I want to say it’s genetic, that snarl, but really I think I never forgot how small it made me feel to see my mother’s lips curl in such a way, to see the blood drain from the edges as her eyes turned into slits and all I wanted to do was curl up in my closet and forget I was alive.
And yet, all my dad was trying to do was get me to use my words. What a shame the things I did with that lesson.
I learned cruelty all by myself.
Willfully inflicting it on everyone around me because I was angry. Slashing my father’s heart when it suited my fancy. Vomiting up derision just because I could.
And for all the things I wish I could have done differently in my life, I am grateful I can see the malice in that part of me, that cold bitch that lives deep in there somewhere. And I think it’s because of the warmth and innocence in my father’s face that I’ve come to detest that nasty side. I think it’s because of his kindness that I fight everyday to be a better, nicer person.
To this day, I don’t think you’ll find me go a day without smiling. It took me a long time to embrace that teaching but it’s taken me quite a long way.