The memory of my father is a puzzle I try to solve nearly every day, but today, of course, he is even more on my mind. Over and over, I lay out the pieces, the conversations and silences, over all the years and phases. I draw my conclusions, as best I can, but always there is something that doesn’t fit.
Was he the charming comedian of my youngest childhood? The Dad my siblings and I placed at the center of our world as he entertained with silly stories and laughter?
Was he the brilliant rocket scientist who helped write programs for the first ever computers and preferred to be left alone in his room?
Or was he the judgmental father I disappointed with my poor math skills and teenage rebellion, who punished me with silence and biting assessments of what the future would hold?
I could go on and on with this contradictory list of him as a man, and as my father. He’s gone now, but for me the conversation continues.
In therapy, I tell the stories of our life together as a family. Can it answer why? Is there a clue in the dynamics of these relationships long over, but still being acted out? I can’t ever present him accurately, though. I make him sound cruel when he was fair. Make him sound indifferent when I know he loved me. I admired him so. He was the smartest man I’ve ever known, and the best one, too. Moral and good. Maybe that’s why it hurt to feel his disapproval. But even that is only a perception I carry. It may have been true to some extent, but certainly doesn’t tell the whole story.
My father never pretended anything. He didn’t lie or cheat or drink. You could ask him a question, and he would tell you the answer. Even if he didn’t know what it was. He would figure it out, or make up something that was just as good as the real answer. He said I was beautiful and that it wasn’t easy to be a beautiful woman. He told me if I had worked as hard as he’d seen me work (at music) at any other profession, I’d be head of the company by now. He told me to go back to school. He said I could do anything I set my mind to do. He told me I was no Barbra Streisand. Said his favorite singers were Streisand, Celine Dion, and Eva Cassidy. He walked out of the room sometimes while I was talking. He listened to my songs and didn’t say a word after. He answered the phone when I called and immediately said: “Let me get your mother.” He told me if I didn’t build anything, I wouldn’t have anything. He wrote me a poem once, for my 6th grade graduation, that began: Her skirts so short/Her hair so long/Her parents always in the wrong… He said what I didn’t need was more animals.
It still hurts to think of him. I’m still angry at him, still want to please him. I’m still wounded by him and still don’t know why. I thought if I could be a good daughter when he was dying of cancer last year it might change something, heal us or something. It didn’t but I’m still thankful I was able to do that. Because I feel he did everything for me, and all he wanted in exchange was for me to be a little more like him. But I never could manage it.