My sister summed it up best.
“I haven’t seen him in so long, he’s already been dead to me,” she said, or something like it. You get the point.
I was watching a video on YouTube about the new Anbernic RG351M when it paused itself. Then my phone rang. I could see it was my sister from the image that appeared on the display. I knew at that moment that she was calling me to tell me dad had died. She had texted me the day before letting me know that he was in hospice at home.
This was a marked change from years past. When my older sister died in the early 2000’s, I learned two weeks later, by letter from my father. Years later, when my mother had moved back to Southern California from Knoxville and would subsequently die of dementia, I was told about that a week late. When I figured out that my father had a degenerative brain disease and was likely going to die from it, I figured the same would happen when he did.
You see, our step-mother has been keeping us away from our father. Why, I couldn’t tell you. My sister and I agree that they likely planned it together, but I’d need more information before I were to make an educated judgement. There are loopholes in some of the timing elements that I’ll need to look into.
This, however, should illustrate the issue. I’m not sad my father has passed. No, I’m more concerned about the apparent shady behavior of our step-mother. Like my sister said, it’s like he’s been dead, but it’s taken everyone else a few years to figure out.
We expected it.
Like I knew that seeing my sister on my caller ID meant that he had passed. Like knowing my mother’s dementia would lead to her eventual death. This got me reflecting on familial relationships.
In a letter I wrote to our step-mother over Christmas, I likened our family to a diaspora of micro families that don’t frequently interact with each other, and when we do, it’s all through a veneer of casual, apathetic complacency. Happy enough with things to not be concerned about anything in particular. Pleasantries passed about like business cards.
This is no way for a family to act, so I’ve decided that I’m going to reconnect with my sister and her family and our terminally acidic brother. And maybe even our estranged brother-in-law, our older sister’s widow. My sister has already agreed, which makes me endlessly happy, but I have yet to speak to either of my brothers. I believe they will be saltier to deal with, but I shall make the effort.
I have lots of issues to deal with, personally, within my family, and among my distributed family, that I think it’s far better to at least work on positive communications with your family, despite the hard pasts. It’s so much better to work together as a team, leveraging our strengths and forgiving the weaknesses in ourselves and others, to achieve a goal. But it seems so very hard to muster the courage to work with some people. I’ll remind you of this, though:
We’ve all got our demons.
We could compare scars all day long, but in the end our pains our ours alone and we can neither share nor compare them with others. These burdens are ours to bear, but that doesn’t mean we can’t work together to share the load across many shoulders.
It’s never an easy row to hoe, change. Think of the metaphor. Dirt. On the top, it’s old and crusty and drained of nutrients. Underneath, however, the sustenance-rich, moist, life-giving soil has been spending years growing on the food of the past, and is now getting churned into the crusty, old topsoil, blending the two into an amalgam of old and new, each fighting for prominence. The old, running out of resources, desperately clutching at authority for validation, to keep mattering.
But they do matter. They need to move into teaching roles to feed the new soil being readied for the next tilling, and so on, and so forth… As each season fades into glorious reds and oranges before falling to the ground to feed the soil that feeds the tree that feeds so many, making room for the new leaves to stretch out and reach for the Sun.
My father fought for that ideal in Apartheid South Africa alongside Bishop Desmond Tutu. He fought for the souls of human beings to be recognized as such, in a society where racial segregation and hatred had become indoctrinated into law. With the help of many others, my father did his part to bring about freedom in South Africa.
You’d think that kind of deep human empathy would translate to a loving home life, but you’d be wrong. It wasn’t ripped from the pages of a horror anthology. It was my otherization because I was adopted. Likewise, it was dad focusing on my fuckups more than he focused on his blood children’s authentic issues.
He wasn’t a dad as much as he was an event.
But I’m not here to denigrate my father. I know that he loved us all, and we loved him. When I asked to go to Disneyland for my birthday every year, we went. I wasn’t abused, at least not in obvious ways. I was, however, sent off to boarding schools, anything to keep my away from home and out of anyone’s hair. At the age of nine, after truly learning that I was adopted from my mother, that growing sense of abandonment continued to swell inside me.
The sense compounded after, upon evaluating my life at the nexus of my eighteenth birthday, I counted that I had been sent to no less than nine different schools since kindergarten. There’s no question I was a difficult child. I won’t apologize for that. Those were times past that I can no longer rectify directly. That work must be done retroactively.
But it’s still hard knowing that, as a child, you had appointments to meet with your father in his office.
There’s an emotional distancing to that. It sticks with me, that I dealt with dad’s secretary almost as much as I did him directly. But there’s something that hurts far more, and it didn’t have to happen this way. Choices were made, and we have to abide by them for now, but I make no guarantees that I won’t go after them in the near future. What is it that I’m talking about?
That my step-mother wouldn’t let me see my father before he died.
That, I’ll never forgive. Or forget.
In the meantime, however, I think I’ll get to writing that which I should have been writing for a very long time.