Things About My Father
This post is personal. Since I never write stuff like that, I thought I'd hide it, unless you push the button.
He gave up on his first marriage when his first daughter was 10 years old.
He disavowed his second child entirely, who grew up without a father or any material support.
I can't say I am unhappy he gave up on his second marriage, since that was to my mother, and I'm sure I was unhappy at the course of the marriage, all the fighting, and I wanted him out of the house. The divorce papers, signed on my 15th birthday (my sister was 13 at the time), I considered the best birthday present I got that year.
Nazi-esque racism. Hitler believed that the Jews were subhumans, untermenschen, my father believes the same thing about Arabs, that they can all be killed without any more consideration than you would give a dog. I'm not saying there aren't plenty of Arabs who deserve to be in jail for what they do, or try to do, but killing them turns them into martyrs, which is part of their goals.
Typical anti-black racism. He believes the end of colonial rule in Africa was a bad thing. In large part, non-African powers still control a lot of what is important in Africa, and some of the fighting there, while horrific, is hardly out of order with, say, 14th and 15th century Italy, when even the Popes pitched into the horror show, or the 30 or 100 years wars.
In the tragedy of King Lear, the King tells each of his daughters that he will give them their inheritance if they tell him they love him. One daughter refuses. In my house, my sister and I were each told we could get out of the (quite average) local public school system and go to a private boarding school, if we told him we loved him. My sister said the words, I did not. My sister went to boarding school, I did not. King Lear is a Shakespearean tragedy, which means it turns out badly for everyone.
If I try to look back, I can recall about three "lessons" my father gave me concerning women, a class of humans he would not credit with meaningful equality. The most pointed one was the sentence "Let me teach you about women, they will try to get their hooks into you." One one occasion he set me up on a date, his maid's daughter. She was a nice enough person, but my father criticized me for not walking her to the door, which would have been a show of fake romanticism. Friends can make it to the door by themselves. I believe his regular flirtations with waitresses we had were more a function of his own weakness and insecurity than an honest effort to say "Son, this is how its done." It was inappropriate, either way.
As for life, I can't remember him teaching me a damn thing. His most common sayings were along the lines of "Stick with me kid, and you'll be the only one in the bread line with your own toaster." He did, however, in the dark of night, on a lengthy drive, explain calculus to me when I was about nine years old. The explanation was sufficient to give me the gist of the idea of how to use squares to get the area under a curve. That did help.
When my father was upset with me, he'd come into my room at night, sit in the dark, and talk at me. I was petrified, scared, and, in retrospect, fairly well horrified. I was distinctly inclined to reject anything he said just because of the mode of presentation.
His mother, on her deathbed, had three nurses taking care of her in shifts. I recall watching my father flirt with one of them while she was feeding my grandmother by holding a cup for her with a straw in it. The straw was poking my grandmother in the back of the throat, causing her discomfort, due to the my father's distraction. He dated this woman for a while. His later married one of the other nurses.
I once dated a girl who had a short haircut. We were in my father's apartment, a place we found what we thought was some privacy. Apparently, during one of these encounters, my father's maid saw us. She thought the short-haired person was a boy. She told my father that I was gay. My father believed that for a long time, never mentioning it to me. He's has little to no respect for homosexuals. Maybe he still believes I'm gay. What's odd is that his brother hired that maid, unaware of what went on, and so, many years later, I would run into her. Maybe she works there, even now.
My father believed I was a heroin addict for a while, too. Again, who knows, maybe he still does. I don't know why he believed this. Certainly the only needles that have ever entered my body were in the hands of licensed medical professionals, assuming that one community health center worker from a rural area treating me for a case of poison oak covering half my body was in some way licensed.
I treasured some books I had in college, purchased with empty pages, which I drew and wrote in. He found them, rifled through them, and threw them out. I can't get those times back, I can't get any of it back, and it was one of the most inventive periods of my life. It is probably this I dislike most about the man, for stealing this labor of love from me.
He likes history and science fiction stories, which is fine. He made me write him a book report on Napoleon, which I greatly resented at the time, and, if I recall correctly, provided no feedback on the finished product. Teachin g me what, again?
My father was a sort of born-again Jew. His parents were not religious, so he had to invent traditions where he had none. The annual eight day gift giving (which, for us children, was mostly gift-receiving) involved us standing with our backs to our parents, holding our hands behind our backs, and they would put the gifts in our hands. It didn't strike me as too odd at the time, but maybe it was actually pretty weird.
I wish I could just forget the man ever existed. I am not jealous of my half-brother, who grew up without a father around, who could only guess at the reasons, but he seems fairly well-adjusted.
One night, home from college at a friend's house, the step-father and mother, son and daughter, were sitting around the table laughing. In the thousands of dinners my family had together, there was never that much gaiety.
He knew all the words (it seemed) to the songs Ivan Kabubal Kabir, the Ballad of Sam McGee, and the Fox and the Goose. On long car drives, he would sing them. My sister and I loved that.