Fathers’ Day: Get His Story

img161Nearly thirty years ago, nearly half my lifetime ago, my father died of lymphoma. I was twenty-nine years old and dumb as a post, emotionally, at least.

But I thought I was all grown up. I was about to graduate engineering school and go to work in the corporate world. I didn’t know just how dumb I was. I wasn’t yet mature enough to know, to realize how people can influence our views with a word here, a word there. How people can instill their own hate and anger, their own bitterness into us just by repeating their catalogue of fear, day after day. I was raised to believe my father was a sorry, good-for-nothing man. And for a long time, I accepted it as truth. But as I grew older, I started to doubt it. Even before he died, I started to doubt it, but I wasn’t strong enough to act on it back then. Now I know. I finally recognized the truth for what it was. I was conned.

I allowed myself to be conned.

My father was a gentle person, an uneducated farmer kind of guy. But he was smart. I got my math genes from him. He was also wise enough to know that hard work means everything. That being generous and kind is far more important than being smart or right. He loved animals. And he loved me and my brother. More than I realized, until it was too late.

Some of my fondest memories are of treehouses and fishing, of following behind him as he rounded up the cows for milking, of walks through the woods looking for Christmas trees. Of him showing me just how beautiful bell peppers get when they ripen to red and purple.

I regret not getting to know my father better. I’m sorry I didn’t talk to him more. I’m sorry I didn’t learn more about him, his life.

I’m sorry I was so stupid.

Don’t waste the time you have. Trust your instinct about people. And talk to your father… your mother, your brother or sister. Whoever. Take pictures. Record their stories.

Maybe you’ll look back and think it was a total waste of time. But I bet you won’t.

Do it. While you still have time.



Things My Mother Taught Me

In June, I’ll be attending the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, and they’re having a pre-conference contest for Mothers’ Day. In 500 words, or less, write a story titled Things My Mother Taught Me. I wish I could have written a happy, flowery, my-mother-was-the-greatest story, but I couldn’t.

scan003My mother taught me a lot of things. I still have phobias from some of them. But she also forced me to be self reliant. I know I can survive. Year ago, before she died, I forgave my mother because I know she didn’t mean to be the way she was, but that doesn’t change history. And it didn’t change her. Only me.

The following is my contest entry. I doubt I’ll win because most people buy into the fallacy that all mothers are good people.

They’re not.

~ o ~

I tell people that I was born 35-years old, that I have been an adult for as long as I can remember, but that’s not true. I was young once.

Maybe it was childish immaturity, or maybe I never put it all together until that day when I was eleven. My mother had just pulled a batch of biscuits from the oven, and just as if it were something she said every day, just so matter-of-factly, she said the words. I have to love your brother more because your father loves you more. She said I was her second choice of her two children.

It didn’t really matter why. I stopped hearing long before the because. I stood paralyzed, not realizing tears were running down my face until I felt them seep between my lips, until I tasted that saline flavored shame. Sometimes, even now, I tear up when I smell biscuits baking.

For the next three decades, I tried to earn my mother’s love, but none of my efforts were good enough. If you get all “A”s … If you work your way through college … If you get an important job… If you pay my rent every month… If, if, if. If I was just good enough. I was so desperate for her love that I would do anything for her, give anything to her. I would have let her take my last breath.

“I need $3000 to have my teeth fixed,” she said one night, her voice shrill over the phone lines between Atlanta and Seattle. Like we had a bad connection.

I had just moved to Seattle, and what with moving expenses, higher rent, and a car payment for the first time in ten years, groceries were sometimes optional. Besides her teeth weren’t the issue. She wanted money, and I was her personal ATM. Not handing it over made me a disappointment, a terrible daughter. At her knee I had learned the weight of that disappointment, had been indoctrinated into the cult of the narcissistic parent. Had been programmed until the synapses in my brain automatically translated her need into love.

I need translated into I care about you.

I want became look how much I love you.

I don’t want to be a burden meant you’re being a problem.

None of it was true, but I chose to believe it, at least then.

“I don’t have it,” I said.

A hurtful silence came from the other end of the line, making me wait so my heart could voice a thousand self-incriminations. I knew that if I were a good daughter, I’d have $3000 just waiting for her to need it.

“I always knew you were worthless,” she said, slamming her phone down.

She had said it so many times before, too many to count, but for some reason, that day as the severed connection whined in my ears, I realized I wasn’t worthless. I am not worthless.

I am good enough. Good enough. For me.