It’s been exactly three weeks since I arrived in Chengdu. Feels longer—but in a good way, not bad at all. When I think of all I have learned, all I can now accomplish on my own, and how much I have acclimated, it feels much longer. I was thinking about all that last night and felt surprised when I looked at the calendar to realize I had just finished my third weekend. I was even more surprised when my sister texted me that my Dad had died a few hours previously. That was around 3pm yesterday, Sunday in Chengdu. He died a bit before 11pm CST Texas time, on Saturday. (Click “read more”)
I LOVED my Daddy when I was little, he could do no wrong. My parents divorced by the time I was 5, and my mother spent the next 13 years doing her best to get me to hate my Dad as much as she did. She had valid reasons, but after years, all the hate did was poison her and ruin our relationship. For reasons that need their own blog post, my Dad lost custody (he was an every-other-weekend-fun-Dad by the time I was 7 anyway) and I didn’t see him again until I was 18 and had left (literally run away from) the toxic physical and mental abuse I endured within the walls of my Mother’s house. My Mother had kept most of the letters my Dad and his family wrote to me, so I pretty much didn’t hear from him for 11 years, and tried with all my might not to drink in the resentment spewed at me and force-fed to me all those years.
But as an adult, I began to see my Father’s failings. Through decades of therapy, emotional healing and maturity, and forgiveness, I have finally come to realize that both my parents did the best with what they knew. They were crappy parents because they had crappy abusive upbringings themselves. They either didn’t have the luxury of therapy, or were too far gone themselves to get therapy, or they had so much blame and denial that they didn’t think they needed therapy, or their life was just too hard for them to dissect and look at clearly. I freely admit that without years of therapy and self-work and self-esteem rebuilding, I would have ended up as miserable and abusive as both of them are—were. One day, yes, I’ll write the autobiography and you’ll be amazed at how far I’ve come and you’ll be surprised that I’m even alive. My life is a miracle. My emotional resilience and ability to love and nurture is a miracle. I thank all the gods for all the work I did to be the opposite of both my parents.
And as an adult, I grew to like my Father less and less. He was verbally abusive and critical to his wife, me, my half-sisters... when I really began to see it and receive it myself, it was hard to be around him. Especially the past few years, when I was having so many personal struggles of my own, I certainly did not need criticism and personal rejection—I needed support, love, and nurturance. We all need that from our families, right? I’ve learned to give it to myself and get it from my friends. The upside is that my Dad’s family has always been loving and supportive and kind to me, even though I didn’t—and still don’t—get to see them much.
I have to say, I didn’t LIKE my Dad very much, and that dislike grew over the last few years. When I was unemployed for a year in Austin, dead-broke, living with a gf, and really down in the dumps, I got told I was “always so negative”. See what I mean? The strange part was, he would acknowledge his shortcomings but then do nothing about them. He admitted to being mean to Okhee and Tiffany, my step-Mom and half-sister. He admitted to being physically and verbally abusive with all three of his wives, and much more that I wish I didn’t know. But he refused to take steps to change, sometimes stating he didn’t need to change. Aargh. It’s one thing to be effed up; it’s another to be effed up, know it, and refuse to get help or change. That is one personality trait I cannot abide in ANYONE. Be a jerk, but if you KNOW you are a jerk and hurt other people, but refuse to change, you are shit in my mind. (That comment is more directed to a few people with which I have had relationships.)
With the comment “I didn’t like my Dad very much” put out there for the world, why then, do I grieve and cry? I cry for the Daddy I had when I was little, who loved me and showed me that love. Who never once hit me in anger or otherwise. I cry for the Daddy that showed me and taught me so many amazing things in life (take apart circuit boards and how to play Chess and pool). I grieve the good memories I have of my Dad and all the adventures he took me on, like walking miles on railroad tracks to find treasures of spikes, spelunking, roller coaster rides, hiking and camping all over Texas, and the good times we had when I was in Austin and we got reacquainted as adults after so many decades. When we first started knowing each other again, I think he was on his best behavior and not showing me his “bad side”. But I saw it clearly when we were all together, him, me, Okhee, and my sisters.
I have a lot to be grateful for in regard to my Dad. I inherited many, many, many of his qualities — proof of nature over nurture, since he was not part fully part of my upbringing from age 5 to age 18. I wander the globe, so adventurous; I am highly inquisitive and intelligent; I’ve got Dad’s blonde hair and blue eyes (Mom had blues too, but Irish-red hair); physically, I resemble him ( and my grandma—very much); I am extremely creative; and I love nature. That’s all I’ve got right now.
I can find gratitude in the grief. I can sift out fond memories from the pollutants. I hope to find forgiveness in the future. Above all, I grieve that I don’t have a family — not a close family I mean. Both my parents have been —and the ones that still live are—toxic, so I stay away from my Mom and Step-Dad. My Step-Mom has been so beaten down by my Dad that she just became accustomed to the maltreatment; complaining but never doing anything to change it. Ironically, both of my step-parents, while having their own deep co-dependent issues, and not protecting me from the abusive blood-parent, were nicer to me than each of my biological parents. OkHee still is the kindest to me of all my parents. My brother is a ranger and alcoholic, so while I love him and my sister-and-law and my niece, I have to stay away because it is just like watching my upbringing repeat itself. He was raised by my Mom and Step-Dad, so who can blame him for being so effed up. He’s what I was and would be without introspection and evolution. Thank all the gods again that I have grown and changed and become the best version of myself, instead of a hateful, angry, resentful misanthrope. So while I have loving, distant relations of my Father’s, I don’t really have family that is close to me, that is loving, nourishing, and supporting. I don’t have anyone except my friends to call upon when I fall or need help (and let me tell you, that circle is quite tiny, but I am grateful for them). I am not really part of my Dad’s family because we were estranged for too long. I am not my Step-Mother’s child.
With my Dad gone, I am an orphan. And that’s what I grieve. I grieve my childhood. I grieve having had a terrible upbringing and having no connection with my parents and being prevented having connection with the family that didscare for me. I feel estranged and alone. It is grossly magnified here in my flat in China: no family and no friends are here except my “new” friends (who are extremely caring and helpful and supportive, but we have not known each other long enough to establish an authentic friendship that will last beyond my time here—although I know this will change with some of them over the course of the next few years).
I feel so alone now. It is not a new feeling. Both the feeling and the knowledge pulls out flowing and steady tears. I am grieving for loss. I am grieving for all of my losses. I am grieving for the crater in my heart carved by the loving family I never experienced. Never will experience. I am grieving that I have no loving companion to hold me and offer me comfort while I cry. I am grieving that my only solace is crying on my couch, drinking a glass of wine and eating some choco and numbing myself with a movie or a trip to Ikea to avoid the pain in my chest. I am grieving that I don’t miss my Dad, but that I miss the idea of my Dad and the memory of my Dad when I was 5, 7, 10 years old.
Well, I figured out why I am crying now.
And now that I have poured all of this pain out, I will go to Ikea. I will sit at a table and have a meal on my own. Maybe sit at a coffee shop. I’ll try not to cry too much when I’m out in public. I’ll look at all the little children I pass, walking with their parents, and I’ll hope to all the gods that those parents are loving and kind to those kids, while ignoring the fact that my hope is futile for some, maybe many.
Dad, I hope you have a better life next time. I’ll work on forgiving your shortcomings and remembering the fun times we had together. I’m glad that I closed my last email to you with: “I love you”. I hope you are somewhere at Enchanted Rock, breaking the rules by riding your bike all around the Rock, and enjoying sunny skies, fair winds, and a fast ride. I love you, Daddy.