When I was somewhere in my mid-twenties, my dad invited me up to his place for a weekend. We had managed to forge a positive relationship in my adulthood after many tumultuous years while I was growing up. At this point, he lived with his second wife in a house up in the mountains near the coast of Central California. I had been up to visit before, but this time it would be different: his wife would be gone for the weekend, and I would be going up alone, without my husband. It would be the very first time in all my life that I would spend an extended period of time alone with my dad, with nobody else acting as
buffers. I was thrilled and anxious; all my life I had craved a close relationship with my dad, and for most of my life that was made impossible by my parents’ divorce and ongoing melodrama, and his alcoholism and penchant for violence towards my mother and me and my brothers. What would we talk about? What would we do for two whole days? Would it be weird and awkward?
As it turned out, we had a grand time, the two of us. I flew up, and he picked me up at the airport and drove me back to his house in the woods. We spent the weekend eating food home-cooked by him (he loved to cook and was wonderful at it), watching old Laurel and Hardy movies, smoking in the house (not allowed by his wife), even drinking together. My clearest memory of that weekend, though, is of my dad teaching me how to shoot a gun. He always had guns – for as long as I could remember. That weekend he decided he was going to show me how to shoot. So he took a paper grocery bag and drew a target on it with black Sharpie, and hung it on the fence in the paddock. At the other end of the paddock – several dozen yards away – we stood, fortified by alcohol. He put a pistol into my hands and explained the mechanics of it to me, and then showed me how to shoot it. It was thrilling and terrifying. I can still remember the force of the recoil, and my ears rang for days afterward. We stood out there shooting for quite a while, and
somewhere, I still have that hand-drawn target on a paper bag, riddled with bullet holes, each of which he initialed with his or my initials, depending on whose bullet hole it was.
A couple years ago, my mother attempted to reestablish contact with me. When I rejected her advances, she sent me a scathing letter – 6 pages of single-spaced typed vitriol, recounting every perceived crime I’ve ever committed from birth on. In the letter, she also told me that any belief on my part that my dad and I had had any semblance of a positive relationship in my adulthood was a mistaken belief because, she said, it is impossible to have a healthy relationship with an alcoholic. I don’t know why a mother would feel the need to try to rob her child of positive, loving feelings.
It’s true that he remained a drinking alcoholic until his death, and it’s probably true that over the years since his death, my memories of him have attained a certain sheen that might not be completely reflective of reality; we do tend to glorify those whom we love and lose. All I know is that at some point, my dad changed. He continued to wrestle with his demons until he died, he continued to drink, but he seemed to reach a state of reflection. He looked back on his transgressions as a father to me and my brothers as we were growing up, and he realized that he fucked up, and he was full of remorse over it. And he was sorry without ever demanding that I also be sorry (which is what my mother has done). In my adulthood, he was kind to me, he encouraged me, he was supportive. He seemed to be able to see me as a person in my own right, a person with value, a person deserving of respect.
My dad’s been gone fourteen years today. I miss him more than ever. I can hardly imagine what he would think of my life as it is now – all these kids! I wish they all could have known him.