New Mama Musings

Sunday, October 14, 2007

My Dad

My father has Alzheimer's. He was diagnosed in the spring of 2005 and my mother told us about a month after Henry was born.

I've wanted to post an entry about this for a long time, but it's not an easy thing to write about. My dad was not a good father, and watching him slowly slipping away has made me look at him with a critical eye.

When I think of him several words come to mind, none of them flattering: Controlling. Reclusive. Belittling. Bitter. Insecure. Angry. Petty. Unhappy.

I lived in fear of him growing up as I never knew when he would fly into a rage. He was often verbally abusive and sometimes physically so. To him, my sisters and I were nothing and had no say, no voice, no opinions. We were lucky to live in his house and eat his food and wear the clothes he paid for.

I look at Henry now and think how we scrimped to buy an organic mattress for his bed, how I researched to find out the cause of his skin rashes, how I have to restrain myself from buying him more toys, and I wonder how a parent could begrudge their children having more than they had as a child.

Because I know my dad had a difficult childhood, lacking in both financial security and nurturing. His own father died when he was young. The only memory he had of my grandfather was of him getting into a physical altercation with a neighbor and drawing blood. And his mother used to beat him with a broomstick when he wet the bed, something he did until he was quite old.

I know all about the cycle of violence and abuse, but I've broken it and it's difficult for me to understand how my dad could not.

My dad had a few interests, including gardening -- such as it was. Every year he grew tomato and pepper plants in garden beds against the back of the house. But he staked the beds off and wrapped a string around them, a reminder that we were not to touch them.

I think of this when Henry and I water our garden and pick green beans for him to eat. I want him to be a part of the things I enjoy. How could my dad not have wanted that, too?

Mostly, though, my dad watched a lot of TV, and I watched with him: Star Trek. Hill Street Blues. M*A*S*H. Cheers. The A-Team. Remington Steele. Night Court.

I wasted my childhood in television and fear, because of my father.

And now he's wasting away, unable to find the bathroom in his own house. Not remembering the day he married my mother. Not knowing how to put on a shirt. Unable to even watch TV -- the damn thing he paid more attention to than his own children.

And he doesn't know who I am anymore.

Ironically in his forgetfulness he's become the kind of person I would have wished him to be: kind, appreciative, thoughtful. So now I want to say to him, "I am your daughter and you were a horrible father. You terrified and belittled me. How could you treat your own child that way?"

But he's old and frail and what would be the point? He doesn't have the answers anymore, if he ever did.


  • This post really made me cry.

    "I know all about the cycle of violence and abuse, but I've broken it and it's difficult for me to understand how my dad could not."

    This is something I've thought about so many times. I love M so much, there were simply no options except to figure out how to do it better. Did my parents not love me that much? And if so, why not?

    "Ironically in his forgetfulness he's become the kind of person I would have wanted him to be: kind, appreciative, thoughtful."

    I can't help but wonder if forgetting his childhood, and all the abuse ... if that is what made this transformation possible.

    I think our childhoods had certain similarities. I feel rage that my parents did what they did, but I know it can't be changed. This brings on such intense sadness, and I can feel that in your post. There is no going back. There is no doing it over. There is no happy childhood for us. The pictures make it even worse ... to see yourself, so young and vulnerable and afraid. I wish I could reach into my childhood pictures and gather myself into my arms, smooth my hair, and tell myself that it will be okay.

    All we have is the here and now. We are doing the only thing that we can - we are making it better for our children. And if you want my honest opinion, in the process, we are making it better for ourselves.

    I'm sorry your father is ill. I'm sorry you will never have resolution, closure ... answers. I'm sorry for you, and I'm sorry for me, too. Much love.

    By Anonymous gearhead mama, at 5:03 PM  

  • The photos, along with your memories, are haunting.
    I agree with S on her comment above, "there is no going back, no happy childhood". However, perhaps in paretting your children with loving intention as you do, you will somehow hold that child within you too - that sad, fearful child - and find renewal. Perhaps peace will come to you.
    I am sad for you. And your Father. For that relationship that could've been forged. And I also have to believe that of course he loved you, and deep down probably wanted the world for you. But his little boy inside was probably still hurt, still fearful. And for that little boy to grow up and take care of another was maybe just too much. Too BIG for his heart. Maybe he was so scared of failing? Either way, you became a wise and kind mother. And because of that, you've made the whole world a better place.
    Thank you for having the courage to share this.
    Peace to each of you.

    By Anonymous Leigh, at 8:33 PM  

  • This post also made me cry. A lot of what you said cut to the core. My father was severely mentally and physically abused and in my own childhood was distant, harsh and always inappropriate. I agree with the lack of understanding about how a person could be that way. I just wanted to say that what you wrote was touching and brave.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:19 AM  

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