June 21, 2015

Daddy's Girl

Grammy, Grampy, Uncle John, Uncle Dick, Aunt Ginger, and my dad in 1950

I love my father, despite the unspeakable horrors he allowed to happen to me and my sister as kids.

I love my father, and I think he loved me, once.

He was loving early in my life, but also could be incredibly scary. He'd yank me out of bed to confront me about some crime my mother had accused me of after he got home from his second job. He'd snatch me out of a church pew and drag me back into the vestibule to wag his finger at me and tell me to calm down during mass, because I'd been fidgeting – or, more likely, bouncing my leg up and down, a nervous tic I still have today. He never considered that something might be causing that anxiety in me at such a young age. He just knew I needed to be disciplined.

Church became so distressing that I started fainting there, so much so that my parents had me tested for epilepsy. After two different EEGs and several visits to a neurologist, Dr. Marasigan determined that the fainting (and convulsions) were just a stress reaction.

Despite the fact that my father would tell my mother and sister, "Sandi's not bad – she's just misunderstood," he would still subject me to some pretty severe punishments. I can't imagine what I could've done that was so horrible as to earn a raw wooden board with my name carved in it, used for spanking and stored in the ceiling beams of the basement. It stared down at me from up there as a threat, perhaps an intended deterrent. But I never really understood what I'd done wrong anyway, so there was no way I could change my behavior to avoid the splintery paddle on my bare bum.

It was also in the basement that my father said to me, many years later, "Don't make me choose between you and your mother. Because I have to choose your mother." After all, he'd already chosen my mother once; he hadn't chosen me, exactly. My mother's pregnancy with me had come as a surprise, only six months after she'd given birth to my older sister. But it never felt like I had been a pleasant surprise; it always felt like I had been a mistake.

And my father, the good Catholic that he was, used to say that he would take as many children as God would give him – that is, until God gave him me. After that, he was done. He'd had enough.

I'm not sure what kind of kid my dad wanted, or thought he would be given, but I guess it wasn't me.

Regardless, he tried to be a good father. To him, that meant being a good provider. He worked two jobs my entire life, stopping at home in between for a quick half hour dinner. His only day off was Sunday. He worked late Friday nights. He mowed the lawn and shoveled the sidewalk and kept the car running and did my mother's chores, which often involved getting a bucket full of soapy water. He was so indentured by my mother that he tried to joke his way through it, often saying "Yes massa" in a totally racist blackface slave impersonation.

My father's Catholicism is probably what kept him with my mother. After all, he'd chosen to share the sacrament of marriage with my mother, and he took that seriously. No matter how crazy she acted, or sick she became – no matter how much she lashed out at him or at God, and then came crawling all over him, begging for his affection – he wasn't going to break the covenant.

But for some reason, he had no covenant with the child who shared his genetic material. There was no promise made to the spawn of his procreation. And he wouldn't – or couldn't – protect me from the woman he'd chosen to be my mother, who turned out to be erratic, volatile, violent, and incredibly mentally ill.

In August of 1994, right before my sophomore year in college, my father sat me down – again in the basement – and said, "I think you should find somewhere else to sleep...for Thanksgiving, Christmas, summers..." It didn't come as a surprise, after he'd disowned me two summers in a row, saying things like "The daughter I once knew is dead." To be honest, it was a blessing. I'd been looking for a way out of that house for at least a decade. But symbolically, it was devastating.

My dad visited me in college a couple of times, but only while my sister was still there too, a year ahead of me. My senior year, after she'd graduated, my parents refused to come to Parents' Weekend, even though I was performing the lead role in a play. They almost didn't come to my college graduation. I didn't know until that morning whether they'd be there or not.

My father never visited me in New York City. I don't think it ever occurred to him to. I always kept a mental list of places where I'd like to take him, but I never had the chance.

And now, eight years after our last phone call on his birthday, today on Father's Day, I feel so terribly fatherless. I don't even know if he knows that I live in California now.

Over the years, I've tried attaching myself to my friends' fathers, but nobody's really been able to become my dad. And at nearly 40 years old, I still need a dad.

Both my father's brothers have passed, and I am now without uncles, too (not really knowing any of my mother's brothers, and not really wanting to have anything to do with her side of the family). I can only assume that my treasured godfather has passed, though I don't really know and don't know how I would find out. He was an innocent bystander in this whole thing with my parents, but unfortunately got caught in the crossfire. And I wonder who'll walk me down the aisle if I ever get married.

My father gave me away a long time ago.

I know that at this age, many of my friends (and now, my cousins) struggle on this day because they've lost their fathers, who were taken from this life too soon. I've lost my father too, but he's still out there, and he is – by choice – childless. He turned his back on both of his daughters. And he'll live out his remaining years all alone with the woman who always wanted him all to herself.

Related Posts:
A Father's Day Dedication
Carrying on a Legacy

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