An Odd Grief

Yesterday I found out that my father died.

All I feel is a mixture of numbness, a relief, and a very quiet sadness about what a pitiful life his was.

I don’t have any fond memories of him. I’m trying to be fair to his memory, but – my life with him was limited by the fact that he was mostly an absentee who made violent interludes into my life at his own convenience. He was an alcoholic, he was violent, he was racist, and he dedicated more of his life to finding his next stash of narcotics than to providing for those who would have depended on him had they ever been foolish enough to do so. I’m bitter at him for so much and I feel myself processing this odd grief for his life and death that I’m not properly certain how to define. I hate him, but I pity too that his life was influenced and molded by his own father who was a special sort of terror in his own right.

Writing this is – well it’s going to be shittier than my normal shit. My childhood is a dark canvas with few distinct but very vivid memories interspersed throughout. There are bits that I wonder if they aren’t fabrications of my younger mind – I wouldn’t know. The fear I had of my father made him seem like a monster to me, I wouldn’t be surprised if my imagination painted his actions more egregious than they were – I don’t know. What I don’t remember is, I believe, a result of dissociation.

(This post is not for everyone. This is a trigger warning for violence)

Recounting fuzzy memories

My mother married my father twice, she met him at her workplace and had a brief affair with him, left her then husband and then had me.  Sometime after that they divorced, she remarried again, and then divorced that husband 9 months later and married my father again. It was always confusing to me to keep up with her marriages, but the important bit is that theirs was born of an affair and was frequented by affairs.  She had two children from the previous marriage and he had one.  None involved have left uninjured from his presence, but their stories aren’t mine to tell.

Polaroids

Age: Don’t recall 8-10ish?

I found the polaroids mom used to prove that she was beaten by him. They were hidden in her little cedar keepsake box. She kept a little purse of collectible coins in there, and I liked to sneak in and look at those when she was at work. She used it as evidence to the Sheriff’s.  Best as I can recall, this has something to do with one of his stints in the county jail.

Wal-Mart

Age: 3-5ish?

My sister was frequently required to drive my dad around when he was drunk, well before she had a license.

One night she was driving him to go get a bottle of something and I was sitting in his lap.  (she would have been about 13-15)

She recalls this story much better than I.

She ran into the local Walmart, she told him she needed to make a phone call or…something.

She called the police on him and had him arrested that night so that we could have a peaceful night at home.

I’m not sure what for, but…probably for some beating or something.

I remember being scared and confused and crying.

I remember thinking, as I grew older, that I had never seen bravery like that in anyone in my life.

Renovation

Age: 9mo-1 year

My sister tells the story of one beating my mother received that resulted in the entire living room wall falling in on my bed as she protected me.

I bought the same house I grew up in, the same house this event occurred in.

It’s the only wall made of sheetrock in our home.

There are a few scars left on these walls from him.

Screwdriver

Age: prior to my birth

He always beat women, aside from the many times he had fights with his brother – beating women was what he did. He got drunk, he beat women.

I don’t know the situation around this – but at some point before I was born or just after he was beating his own sister, punching her in the face and kicking her – brutally. (I’ve seen these pictures of her pre-op and…i don’t know how he wasn’t charged with attempted murder)

My cousin, who would have been 3-4 years old at the time had to jump on him and stab him repeatedly with a screwdriver to make it stop, to save his own mother’s life.

He’s been a terror.

To every life he’s ever touched.

Seen and not heard

He believed that children were to be seen and not heard. He was his father.

He believed that never should you coddle a crying baby or child. You let them cry, if they cry too long you hit them.

I’ve been told that I was made to stop crying a number of times. I don’t know.

I do remember hearing all my life, “if you don’t stop crying, I’ll give you something to cry about”

Those who know me, know how little control I have over my tears.

He got so angry at my tears.

Accidents

Age: 6 or 7

I was playing with a toy car in the living room – he was playing too. This was during a relatively calm period.

He asked me to give him the car, so I threw it at him – but I threw it too hard, and it hit him in the lip.

I saw the look on his face, but I don’t remember what happened after.

The letter B

Age: 8/9

In the third grade I received my first B on a report card.

I just want to acknowledge here that living in a violent home is hell on one’s ability to function in a learning environment.

I was riding the bus to my grandmother’s that day. His mom’s. He was living there or had remarried or something – so this is after the second divorce I guess?

On that bus ride, her’s was the very last stop. The ride was over an hour and half.

I stared at that B and played in my head how I’d talk him out of beating me for an hour and a half.

He beat me angrily. He beat me again for crying. He used a belt and he didn’t seem to ever stop.

He didn’t even let me get inside. He met me outside, he walked me around the side of my grandmother’s trailer…and he just wailed.

Escape

Children have a tendency to overhear bits of conversations that adults have and fill in the missing pieces with their best understanding. I think I did a lot of that as a child.  One of the recurring themes of my childhood was that of escape.  My aunt and uncle on my mother’s side lived in  Rome, GA and later in Cedar Bluff, AL – and during the frequent events in which my mom and I needed to escape him that’s where we would go.

For some reason one of the associations I had with my father was with a bar in Macon, GA called Whiskey River – I don’t know if maybe he went there at times and came back home ready to fight, or if maybe it was just the word whiskey that scared me, but I recall being terrified as we passed that place on the way to escape to my Aunt’s.

In 91 or 92 we moved to Rome for a short time while mom tried to start her life over. We couldn’t sell our house so we had to move back.

Hank

I used to be afraid of Hank Williams, Jr – because he looked (to me, my mother disagrees) just like my dad.

For some reason Whiskey River and Hank Williams, Jr had an association together when I was a kid? I dunno – that’s probably stupid. I was really young.

Rehab

He went to a lot of rehab.

The most successful stint was in my pre or early teen years – it was a Christian based organization (similar to Teen Challenge) which he attended for about a month before becoming the President’s right hand man. He was terribly charming when he was sober. I have few memories of him being charming, but I do remember how people just – liked him, trusted him even….

He had either been married for a few years prior to going into this, or got married shortly after to wife #4 (I count mom twice)

He stayed sober for 4-5 years. I visited he and his wife every other weekend.

Pills

(intentionally obfuscating some facts here)

In order to cover up some crimes that occurred, I recall watching him destroy thousands and thousands (4-5 gallon zip lock bags full) of narcotics at a family member’s home of wife #4. (this was prior to rehab – which I think was court ordered) He burned them in a 50 gallon barrel.

I never understood why he was at the pharmacists so much, but he was apparently distributing a lot of pills and had always had a knack for them himself.

Car Door

Age: 12ish

Wife #4 was nearly killed when he got drunk one night (prior to rehab) and repeatedly slammed her head in the car door.

WHY THE FUCK IS IT REQUIRED THAT A VICTIM PRESS CHARGES AGAINST A CRIMINAL ACTOR.

He served no time for that.

Relapse

After rehab he became a …kinda normal person. Families perplex me, I don’t understand normalcy. I realized this when I met my wife and experienced hers.

You have to remember that this man had been abusing his body with so much alcohol and narcotics his entire life (one time he tested with a BAC of .38 if I recall correctly – while still awake, I think he was even driving!) that he had created for himself a pretty serious dependency. He was always a hair’s breadth away from relapse.

He always had a misogynistic view of the world, even though he never brought any real income into the families he had (which seems to be the backbone of a lot of misogyny – breadwinning and providing security?) At least he wasn’t hitting anyone.

One day we went fishing at the river near his apartment (Section 9 housing) and a friend of his came along too. His friend packed a cooler of beer.

He resisted most of the day, but a few hours in, he made me hand him a beer.

That turned into about 30.

I didn’t see him again for about 2 years and another wife.

I don’t remember a lot about wife #5 other than maybe she wasn’t actually married to him because #4 never finalized the divorce…and she was a Jehovah’s Witness and he didn’t tolerate that very well.

Senior Year

I didn’t see or hear from him except once or twice from 15-18. (this is my best estimation of those ages).

One day I came home from school, I was getting ready to graduate and trying to figure out what to do with my life – I got off the bus (we couldn’t afford a car for me, so I used the bus), and he was sitting in my living room.

MY living room. In MY home. The place that I now felt safe.

He was talking with my mother.

He moved in that day. They were getting back together and I just needed to deal with it.

This didn’t last long, a few months. It was tense. He wasn’t drinking, he was just surfing through his previous wives to find which of them would give him a home to live in as he owned nothing and had earned nothing his entire life. He was charming when he was sober, but – I guess not charming enough to stay forever.  He eventually moved in with wife #1 after he left our house.

He immediately positioned himself as the runner of the household though. He didn’t pay any of the bills of course, he didn’t contribute to anything.

I resisted his orders, I told him no. I told him he had no right to tell me what to do.  Eventually he left. I don’t know why, I’m glad he did.

I never have felt like I could trust my mother since then. We were close prior to that.

Fragility

About 8 years ago I got a call from wife #1, whom he was living with. He’s drinking again, he’s doing pills again. He’s on enough xanax to sleep a horse.

He wants to get clean but they don’t have the resources to do it.

He’s a goddamned mess when I make my way over there.

I acquire power of attorney over him over the next couple of weeks and I submit him to an inpatient treatment facility housed in a local nursing home (less than a mile from my house)

I inform him that, under no circumstances, will he be given another opportunity to clean up using my emotional labor and energy.

This is my policy on any addict in my life.

I don’t do it twice. I can’t.

He lasts in there for two weeks – he calls me and tells me the nurses are poisoning him.

I tell him he’s full of shit,  because he is.

he begs me to remove him from the facility.

I do.

I have not spoken to him since.

– – –

Occasionally I have received calls from some hospital or nursing home, or more recently, hospice unit – to ask me something. I tell them not to bother me.
I tell them I don’t care.
I tell them.

I tell them to let him die.

They tell me it won’t be long.

One time they tell me, “He’s escaped the hospital and is walking home – it’s an hour and a half away by car”
I say, “well…let him walk”

11 months ago I sign the papers to have him cremated because “any day now.”
Never underestimate the ability of shit to stick to the bottom of your shoe.

I hate him for making me feel this way about another person.

Hate isn’t natural for me. I’m not cold.

But I’ve forced myself to not feel anything about him until now.

Odd Grief

I’m stuck here, feeling bitter and angry about a childhood I hardly remember because I know a few things about my life could be different if he’d been different. I think he could have been too, or he could have just – not procreated.

A good father in my life could have helped me avoid a child predator when I was 10.

A good father in my life could have helped me avoid the pitfalls of a fundamentalist faith, which I retreated to in order to replace him.

A good father in my life could have provided a stable income for me, safety and comfort for my mother – so she could have worked normal hours  (rather than, at times, 3 jobs). I may have been able to go to college.

I’m less angry about who he was than who he could have been, and what a waste he was.

And yet, I know that this Saturday there will be people who he nearly killed years ago talking fondly about him.

and I’m angry about those lies they’ll tell.

and I’m so goddamned angry at these tears.

 

  • Thank you, for sharing your story. I knew bits and pieces of it. I’m so happy that you turned out the way you have, in spite of the lack of a good father. “I’m less angry about who he was than who he could have been” sums it up perfectly.

  • Jenn

    I grew up in Eastman. My father was a violent alcoholic that beat my mother without mercy. We were poor and had few options to improve our lives. I don’t have many memories of my childhood, and even fewer good ones. A friend of mine (that also had a shitty father) and I always talk about mourning the potential of having a good father. I find that is always what hurts most, and unfortunately for me, has never gotten easier over the years since my parents’ deaths. I’ve made peace with what was, but it’s so much harder to make peace with what could have been. I also find that this mixture of guilt (it’s the best word I’ve been able to find to define the crushing feelings I have associated with my parents and childhood) and sadness finds me at the oddest moments…sometimes my happy moments…moments I would want to share my joy with kind, supportive parents….

    Thank you for sharing your story. You never know who your words will touch and give courage to. I don’t tell my story. I learned early to keep my secrets buried as deeply as possible (from the world and from myself). I’ve always been afraid to go digging for fear of what I may unearth. The memories I have tell me all I need to remember.

    I know that you and I don’t really know each other, but I know that you are a kind person doing important work in a community that needs kind people. I hope you find your peace. I hope you find closure. I hope you are no longer haunted by your father.

  • Amy

    I’m so sorry, Matt. No child should ever have to see any of that. As someone who’s worked with dual diagnosis patients. ( addiction and mental illness ) it sounds like he was definitely psychotic. You’ll probably never know if that was drug induced or if he had a psychotic disorder. My guess would be both. Especially with your memory of him thinking nurses were poisoning him. I used to have to take a sip of patients drinks in front of them to prove they were safe.

    Anyway not giving him an excuse. There is no excuse for being a monster. My fiancé also has had to cut a toxic mother out of his life. I’ve seen how hard it is. And how hurt and hate are such conflicting emotions.

    I would honestly suggest therapy for your trauma. Nothing else helps trauma. You probably have some ptsd from all of this if not worse.

    I’m sorry for all you had to go through. If you need to talk let me know. I know more about psychotic men, addiction, and mental illness than anyone should have to