Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Loose Tie that Binds

My Dad died recently. My Dad didn't like me very much, but it wasn't personal. He was not a big fan of the human race.

The whole family was subject to his wrath. His anger, violence, and insults were commonplace, but it was his consistent lack of interest in any of his children that perplexed me the most. When I was nineteen years old, I called home to tell my mom I was going to the movies after work with some friends. He said in a calm angry voice, "Nobody gives a fuck what you do." and hung up. I stood there stunned and just stared for a few minutes. I already felt this was true, but the verbal slap in the face left me breathless.

It would have been smart to realize he was just an angry man and I called at a bad time, but there was too much truth in that statement. It served as a lubricant on the downward slide of my self-destructive spiral. It became my mantra and I would actually repeat it to myself "No body gives a fuck what you do" as I was sticking needles in my arms to get high. It's a lot easier to justify sticking needles in your arm if no one gives a fuck.

When I started living a different kind of life, I made a gallant effort to get to know the man who never wanted to know me. I would go visit my parents and sit on the patio with him and try to engage him in conversation. I figured that it was my fault, that I was guilty of doing the same thing I accused him of, which was not showing an interest. I also believed that my dad might have some good stories if I dug deeply. He grew up in the deep south, he went to prison when he was 17, he drove a truck all over the country. Surely he must have a tale to tell?

But I never got one. It became frustrating to learn that my dad only had a few simple stories that he repeated over and over. It really frustrated me that he lacked curiosity about not just me, but life in general. I eventually gave up and realized he just lacks passion. I was baffled that I came from the same gene pool. And he never stopped being capable of saying really mean and hurtful things at random, or revealing his lack of interest by not knowing what my major was when I was in my fourth year of putting myself through college.

I gave up on ever having a close relationship with my dad, but given my drug history, I figured I at least owed him the decency of showing my face so he could see that I was healthy, happy, and didn't need any money. When I became a mom, I gifted him with a beautiful grandson. For some reason, my Dad liked little kids until they are about 7 or 8. He got a lot of joy out of watching my son play with toy trucks and I was happy to provide entertainment for him. But in some ways, this baffled me even more. As I became a mom, the idea that someone could not be completely enamored with their own child made him even less understandable.

About ten years ago, I was visiting my parents and my dad picked up a book I left on the coffee table. "Do you see that?" I asked my sister, "Dad is reading my book." He kept reading and I kept watching. My dad was not a reader, I never saw him read a book while I was growing up. He was a guy who liked watching westerns "Let's see if we can get someone getting killed" was his favorite saying while turning channels. He had no hobbies, he had not interests, except maybe drinking and surviving.

I thought about the book he had picked up. It was called "The Tie That Binds" by Kent Haruf. I would never have the audacity to buy my dad a book, but if forced to, this was a good choice. The language was straightforward, but it was a beautifully told story set in a small town with great character development. My dad read it quickly and when I asked him about it he said, "I enjoyed it."

Of course I answered, "Well if you like that book, I know another one you would like." And thus began the pattern of me sending my dad books. My mom was still our main means of communication and she would always tell me how much he loved the books I sent, how he went straight from the mail box to the recliner, and read them very quickly. Yet he never had any words about the books and this didn't surprise me. Eventually he began to ask me for books and I would either say "Yes, I have a good one for you" or "No, haven't come across one lately."

My mom tried to get in on this new reading passion and started buying western novels at garage sales, but my dad never got into them and my mom couldn't understand why. I explained "Mom, I'm not just buying Dad books, I read them first. I usually read about 3 or 4 books a month, so that is at least 36 books a year, and of those 36 books, there are usually 4 or 5 that I know Dad would like."

One time my mom told me I failed, that I sent my dad a book he thought was really weird and I said "Mom! That book wasn't meant for Dad! I sent that book to Paulette!" (My niece who was living with them at the time.) I said "Tell Dad to put that book down, I would never send him a book like that."

We all knew Dad was dying and one of my sisters really put him on the spot for some type of "closure," but I knew that was too much to ask. What he did do the last time I saw him was say this, in a room full of people across the room with tears in his eyes; "Well Donna, you seem happy. I've always loved you and if I got mad at you, it didn't last."

And that was it.

When he died I asked my mom if I could have all the books back and she agreed. That is my inheritance, our legacy, the physical evidence of our relationship. I don't have a single hand written card, letter, photo, special memento, nothing except about twenty really good books that I knew my dad would like.