There is something unique about being denied by one’s father that cannot quite be expressed. It cuts differently than other pain. Or, maybe it’s not the cut itself. Maybe it’s the emptiness, the tangible void of a such a thing missing, that’s left after the cut.
I mentioned in yesterday’s post that I’ve recently been to see my father after not having any contact in five years.
On April 24, I was led to Philadelphia, Mississippi, to find a particular Choctaw medicine man. I didn’t miss the fact that he just happened to be within 20 minutes of where my father lives. I stared at the google map in front of me, raised my right eyebrow and said something like, “Fuck. Me.”
On May 29, as I drove away from Helena, MT, to the ‘M’ state that is low on my list of likability, I wondered what the heck I was walking into. The medicine man bit? That’s easy. Dead Indians say, “Go there. Go to that person.” Stupidly simple.
The issue of the father-funk? Not so simple. This goes back 46 years.
I’m really not quite sure what I was born into when I slipped out of that 98.6 degree warm spot over four decades ago. I’ve been told that I was planned and wanted. That wanting changed somewhere along the current time line. My mother attempted to kill us both (information shared by my father about ten years ago during one of my own dances with suicide) before I was born, then spent 17.5 years attempting to complete the process physically, mentally and emotionally. There was a void of some type I dropped into when i drop of that womb, a chasmic disconnect that has never been bridged.
In previous conversations over the course of twenty or so years, with my father about the child abuse my brother and I endured, he fully admitted to not seeing any of it–except for the two times he intervened. One I don’t recall. As a youngster I apparently was getting a beating because in doing my first load of laundry ever, a red sock got into the whites and turned things pink. According to my dad, he told my mother her expectations were a little too high for my first time actually washing the clothes. He then added that I did it again and it must have been purposefully so he didn’t intervene. I don’t recall either event but I’ve since ruined a load of my own laundry as an adult doing the exact same thing without that purpose. The second time he intervened, I was 17.5, just finishing high school and he stopped my mother from slamming my head into the linoleum covered concrete dining room floor.
My mother left bruises and scars across our bodies. Always visible. Those that remain in our mind, of course, are not despite the fact that the patterns they left are repeated and re-patterned into another generation. The visible ones, though, were as silently treated as unnoticeable as the invisible. Denied and obscured by fear.
When I finally worked up the courage to confront my father, I did so on his territory. In fact, I walked up to him while he was on his tractor bushhogging. I walked and waited for him to stop. He did and with a puzzled look on his face said, “Well, who might you be?” So far removed from me that he couldn’t even recognize the one who said, “You used to call me your daughter. I’m Ingrid.” “I didn’t even recognize you.” That alone spoke more than the words themselves can convey.
You know, it took me three tries to work up the nerve to speak with him. The first time I arrived, I saw his truck in the driveway and fled. The second time, I pulled on my grown-girl drawers and he wasn’t there. The third time was not-quite-the charm but also not quite what I’d rehearsed in my head or imagined in my heart as I drove those 2000 miles between Helena and hella-humid.
I couldn’t find much of a voice in that visit but I did manage to eke out a ‘So, what happened?” I wanted to know why he didn’t show up the autumn of 2010 when he was supposed to, why phone calls and emails trying to connect with him them went unreturned. He didn’t remember the first and then said he didn’t know how to access his voicemail and never responded to emails. So, I reminded him of a phone call we had in March 2012, the last time there was any communication. I’d initiated contact because a friend had killed himself and I, frankly, wanted my dad. As a 44 year-old, I wanted my dad to reassure me that I and the world were okay. In the brief, seven-minute conversation, my father asked me if I was making a living and said some other things that let me know that I was not okay and, to me, in that moment, the world certainly was not. Howie had decided he was just done and apparently so had my father.
So, two weeks ago, I just asked him what happened. What was it that caused him to walk away from me. He responded this way: “Ingrid, there was an aspect of you that showed itself early on…” And, although the following quote isn’t verbatim because it has been a little over ten days, this is the gist:
You had been home from the hospital for a few weeks. And I had you in my lap and was trying to feed you. I noticed that when I tried to put your hands on the bottle, you wouldn’t hold it. You’d use your hands to grab mine and put them back on the bottle. So I knew then that you were one who was going to think other people were responsible for you. I decided there was a way to fix that so I picked you up and put you on the floor with the bottle next to you and decided that if you wanted that bottle, you’d get it yourself.”
One of the first interactions I had with my father, as a weeks-old infant, created the judgment, the yard stick that he chose to measure me by as I moved into adulthood. It allowed, for him, the space to say, “I’m not responsible” and in that one motion of placing me on the floor, he created the separation and emotional disconnect that allowed him not to see me as who or how I was, the abuse laid upon me as I grew up, laid upon me as an adult when my brother attacked me in 2007 (“Well, you know, you like the drama.” I wonder if he shared that same notion with my sister-in-law when he’d chuckle and say, “It tickles me to see him take the piss out of her.” ), and certainly kept him from seeing me as I was transforming into this way of being in 2010.
When I swallowed my pain and vomit at this comment, I asked him to skip ahead forty some-odd years and explain what that had to do with him saying good-bye and never hello again. To which he responded, “I don’t really recall. I only knew that I couldn’t go where you were going.” He couldn’t offer up more other than, “I didn’t see how you could make a living as a healer” and a weak, “I didn’t know how I could help.” Each of these comments were peppered throughout the two days I ended up staying with him.
Another layer of complexity was added when my father shared that he’d driven through the village of Flint Hill, VA, soon after he’d broken with me. He was apparently wondering about my welfare in some fashion and heard a disembodied voice say, “Don’t worry. We’ll keep her safe.” And after that, he didn’t worry–or wonder–again.. When I asked, “Did you ever wonder why they would tell you that?” “No. The why isn’t and wasn’t important.”
I left that first evening with that in my head and on my heart. Said and unsaid was “you were not and are not important for me to wonder about” but ‘so precious to me’.
But I went back. I went back because behind my tight throat and nausea was something that needed to be said. It wasn’t what I’d rehearsed and it didn’t come tumbling out of my mouth until we’d been in the truck for hours together. What provided the impetus for me to speak was him telling a story about that included: “And so I asked the Beloveds to not forget me.”
When we got back to his place, I began like this:
Let me state at the start that, despite my desire for you to believe me, that you not fall back into the ‘Ingrid just loves the drama’, what I’m about to say doesn’t require your belief. It is and I am whether you believe or not. I asked you yesterday if you were curious as to why they, these disembodied voices heard in the heart, would tell you I was being watched over. You replied that you weren’t. I think you actually should be. You should know that what was evolving into this way of being when you chose to remove yourself from my life, to abandon me again, was my becoming one of those Beloveds. I am one of them and I am here again as your daughter and as something much more. I am a woman who happens to be the steward for a holy energies that have re-assumed the position both as and within me. I am them and we live and breathe and move as one. When you chose to place an infant on the floor because you thought she should be taught responsibility and used that as the lens through which you viewed me for over 40 years, was the thing that also taught me to not ask for help, to be ashamed for seeking help and to suffer in silence, to suffer to the point of suicide because it was unacceptable and I was unworthy of assistance, because I was supposed to be solely responsible. Speerachul types who learned their interviewing techniques from Oprah occasionally ask something like: “So you don’t have any regrets, right?” expecting me to tow the expected response line. And my response is invariably, “I regret that I did not come into this from a place of love.” Your abandonment of me as an infant, repeatedly as a child in terms of choosing not to see how your children were being harmed, and as an adult were repeated confirmations of my irresponsibility and unworthiness of assistance. Can you imagine being brought into this magnificence I bring and am now with the support of at least one family member. Someone who, when I was told “Why can’t you just be a productive member of society?” after I’d cured osteosarcoma would remind me that being in service is just that. I can. I can imagine what it would be like to be believed and supported, to accept that as I struggled in a community that could not accept me, I was held close by someone of my own. I can imagine how I would be now.
My father tearfully apologized in what I believed was a sincere manner and said, “I will try not to ever hurt you again in that way. I will try my best to never abandon you again.”
And I stayed. I don’t know why I stayed, really. There wasn’t much expectation of a renewed relationship because estrangement does, well, strange things. There’s no ordinariness to return to in this thing, either. I watched rather impassively as the phone rang one evening and out of his mouth came, “If it’s your mother don’t say a word.” Because she could not know that I’d chosen to see my father or that he’d chosen to see me. Not much more need be said when those few words say so much.
And then, two days after sharing time, space and stories with each other, during which he let it be known that he actually believed me, he said, “Make sure you don’t write about this because there are people here who read what you write and then tell your mother. You might imagine that you’re not a popular person around here.”
My father asked me to participate in his silencing of me, his disappearing me from his life except in the shadow of secret.
The day before, when I discussed the challenges of being a steward for these energies I am, these Beloveds, and bringing our message forward again, my father said, ‘it seems the only way to do this, is to be absolutely, always open and honest’.
The dichotomy presented in that moment between us clarified so much for me.
My relegation to a continued secret as truth sayer of the family and as bringer of Other truths. Although precious, only in the quiet of no one else knowing. It’s a pattern that began long ago and is repeated through others and may have begun long before my father and I met.
When I drove away, I knew that he knew not what he’d done. He still can’t see me. I also knew that, this time, I’m the one making the choice to walk away. I’ve come to accept that the painful nature of that emptiness will lessen and that I can no longer participate in the silencing of myself–no matter how much I want my father.
Forgiveness is instantaneous. Grief will lessen and morph into peace.
And through it all, we weave.