Tonight, I find myself sitting here, laughing to myself about nothing. It’s not really nothing. It’s something, just nothing noteworthy. And not laughing in a haha way. Almost in a nervous break kind of way. It’s worth noting however, I have not had a nervous breakdown. Yet. I’m merely laughing at things in my own life that only I would find funny. Like that every time things are going exceptionally smoothly in one area of my life, another area blows up and leaks fluid all over the place. Actually, my radiator hose exploded and leaked coolant all over the hood of my car. How apropos?
I mean, it was my fault. About a dozen people who have been in my car over the past few months complained that they’ve smelled antifreeze. Normally, a person might take note of that. Normally a person might take note of the fact that they themselves have smelled antifreeze every damned time they started their car. But like the smell of stale cigarettes or pet dander, I guess a person just gets used to it. So instead of taking note of the subtle, sweet smell emanating from the AC vent, I just let it go. And then my car was telling me, “Low Coolant”. At that point, a person would surely do something about it. Ha. I respond to explosion. And so I received. White smoke, a stronger smell, and gauges I’d never seen lit, all telling me, “Pull the fuck over”. And now I listened. I park, cautiously open the hood, and watch as the remainder of coolant in the tank shoots into my face, as if to say, “Told you so, fucker!”. A four inch tear in my radiator hose and antifreeze everywhere but in its tank.
Now someone who knows something about cars will tell you, it’s an easy fix, no problem. And it was. But it required enlisting some help. Help from someone I hesitate asking for anything these days. My father. Living under the man’s roof these days is seemingly too much to ask. Great, daddy issues. It’s not like that. I have my issues, but I’m not the only one who does. And it wasn’t always this way. Not to get sentimental, but when I look at him, I try to look at what once was, not what is. But who he is now is hard to ignore; Empty, resentful, purposeless. And towards him, I feel pity and hate, a longing for who he was, and a desire to move on.
When I was a kid, my dad was a hero. He was the guy who would keep me home from school to build tracks for my Thomas trains or construct LEGO cities. He was the guy who would have a catch or shoot a puck around whenever I wanted. He was safety, he was fun. He put a guitar in my hand and taught me my first chords. He would help with my homework. He was a dad. But he was also a kid. Not in an age sense — he was 26 when they had me — but in a mind sense. So here was this man-child teetering between parent and friend. When we were kids — I have two younger siblings — this was great. We had it easy when it came to parenting, which of course made it harder for my mom.
Eventually, as biology will tell you, kids get older. Somewhere along the way, we grew up. But our dad didn’t. Our needs with him changed progressively from playing with LEGOs to needing a ride to a friends house to having to pay for an SAT Test or college application. As the oldest, I was the test child; higher expectations, more rules, and an abyss of uncertainty for my parents. While my mom had half a clue, my dad did not. As a kid himself, he was a rebel from when his own parents divorced. He wasn’t smart in a school way, which isn’t to say that he is dumb by any means. But his later childhood gave him zero sense of how to relate on any level to the three of us who were school smart, and had college ambitions. For each of us, he disappeared from our lives when school really started to matter. Physically he was present, but mentally and supportively, he was absent. In some ways, I have a hard time faulting him for this. In others, I feel it was his obligation to try.
Like many fathers, my dad has seen fit to lament about how hard he had it when he was a kid. He had to fight and work for all that he had. And while I don’t doubt this, I know him. I know that when he was a kid and teenager, he fought his mother and step-father on everything. He too idealized his father — and still does. He probably had it as tough as he says, but he probably also had a fault in his own trouble. Where my dad differs from many fathers, is that his lamentation isn’t playful or joking. It comes across and has always come across as resentment towards who we are and what we have. Most parents work hard so that their kids can have a better life. My mother is this way, my father is not.
My dad worked for twenty-seven years for the railroad. He endured scorching summers, brutal winters, and dozens of tropical storms and hurricanes during his tenure, constantly exposed to all of what mother nature had to offer. I do not envy him. He did what he needed to to support his family. But I do not pity him either. He did what he needed to do to support his lifestyle as well. As a hobbyist and materialistic person, my dad has always made purchases to make him happy, whether we had the money or not. More often than not, he payed for these things with credit. Computers, musical equipment, jet-skis and a boat, etc.. There is nothing wrong with having a hobby. There is nothing wrong with spending money. But there is something wrong with putting your family in debt at the expense of your happiness. Coupled with expensive family vacations, bills added up, reaching a tipping point at a time that mattered most.
My parents always expected us to go to college. I was a solid B+, often A student. I had the grades and scores to go to all six schools that I applied to. I was in honors classes and Advanced Placement classes through most of my high school years. The college process was new and exciting to me. Seeing what schools my friends would apply to, and which ones we would visit, and fall in love with, would make you forget you were in high school, if only for short moments. And as acceptance letters would pour in, we were happy for each other, and ourselves. We made it. And our parents were happy.
For me, I was torn between a state school that several of my friends were going to, or were in the area of, and a notable school from another state. But as we visited these schools, a reality hit; how are we going to pay for this? The excitement from applying and visiting faded quickly. On one trip, it became clear that I would be staying home for school. Growing up in a middle class town, most of my friends parents had saved a little bit of money for their kids to go to school, enough for a semester or two, leaving them having to co-sign loans for their kids. I knew I had neither.
My friends went away, and I stayed home. I looked for the positives; home cooked meals, the ability to work and save money, less loans I’d have to take out. I settled on the thought. That’s not to say I wasn’t disappointed. But I took it in stride, increased my hours at work, and started college. But it didn’t sit right with me. Right off the bat, I was paying for my father’s mistakes. And while my mother apologized — and still does despite my pleas for her to stop — I’ve never heard two words from my father on it. But at that rate, I can’t pretend that I’ve ever heard those words in a meaningful way from him. Or any meaningful words at all.
Like I said earlier, my dad was great when we were kids. A heroic plaything that would always say yes to a catch or a game on the Sega Genesis. But somewhere between adolescence and college, that man faded. The man who complained about money, and what we were and weren’t doing right, and who was selfish in every action he took emerged. And lately he is the man who can’t wait to get out of dodge. For years, my siblings and I have been made to feel like a burden, the one thing holding him back from moving to Florida to live out his days. My youngest sibling, who is home the most and still in high school has felt the worst of this. And where my plans were changed because of a lack of planning, her’s are under pressure to coincide with his.
I also noted that he is mentally absent from both ours and our mother’s lives. There is little day-to-day recollection of what we are doing, when we are working, what classes we are taking, etc.. Over the past few years, we have lost some friends and family that have affected us in various ways. A few years ago, our grandfather passed, my mother’s father. He was sick for half a year, and went painfully. Despite a strained relationship, my mom loved her father and needed support. The same went for my siblings and I. My grandpa was one of my favorite people. Everyone knew this. When he passed, my mom was left to deal with the days to come seemingly alone. Absent, my dad gave few empty words. Again, when her grandmother passed this year, he was here in body, but not support. One of my best friends passed last month, and I received nothing more than a by-the-way “I’m sorry”.
My father was never the type of person you could talk to, but you don’t realize this when you are younger. But you don’t think about it either. You kind of just throw your kid problems on your parents and they try their best to console you. As a teenager, I learned early that I couldn’t talk to him. He was preoccupied with his debt to be of any real support. My mother realized this too. She has tried to be both mother and father.
Where my father has been absent, my mother has been present tenfold. She has unwaveringly supported everything that we do, has been involved in every facet of our lives, sometimes to a fault. She has been a mother, a friend, a provider, and when necessary, a parent. She has always had our interests in mind, and our needs taken care of. And looking back, I appreciate where she had to stand in, playing all roles. She still does. But it takes it’s toll. You get the feeling that she has four kids, not three and a husband. She has always done our best to shelter us from problems they’ve had, where my dad would make them public knowledge. I could continue about my mother, but it has nothing to do with the way I feel towards my dad.
An outsider would say, a momma’s boy with daddy issues. But I’m old enough to see the full picture. My dad will deny everything I’ve said outright, because that too is in his nature. And he may resent me for it, the way I resent him for making me feel this way. I don’t want to. I want my dad back. I want to go back and feel what I felt when I was a kid. But I don’t need that anymore. I don’t really need anything from him anymore. But my siblings do. Then need two parents. They need a person they can talk to about life, and what they need. All I need is a reason to talk to him. And right now even that is a struggle. Unless I need to change out a hose.