Writing The Wrongs Of My Father
He stood there. In the kitchen. Their kitchen. And in that moment, like light illuminating a dark room, I came aware. Clear that I was a stranger. A stranger witnessing moments so foreign, and interactions so unknown, but something out of movies and TV, I understood and recognized all too well. The kitchen smelled of baked goods and fresh vanilla ice cream. He was baking these loaf cakes. I watched him from the living room. Their living room. The open concept kitchen gave access to him. Access I never quite had growing up, but life made it so that at 22 years old, trauma would reassure me that it’s been a companion all along, deep seeded in the bedrock of my being, waiting for this moment to rear its ugly head, and abdicate me from my throne and claim supremacy. I sat there on the lazy boy opposite the couch and love seat. I must’ve been sitting in his chair. It was my first time in this house. Their house. Escaping doubt, I knew I was sitting in his chair. The man of the house’s chair. I sat there, intrigued and perplexed by what I was witnessing. The warm aroma of cakes conquered air space and filled the living room, dancing above our heads. I watched how my siblings, scattered across the room, some laughing while playing board games, others in deep conversation, and I, sitting in his chair, became enveloped in the security blanket of love the aroma produced...in their living room. I mean, I had a living room too, back home in Valley Stream, but this living room was, different. I turned back to the kitchen. I watched him gleefully spring loaf after loaf from the oven, standing there like a proud lion, established and dominant over his pack as he proclaimed, “alright guys, what flavor of ice cream are you having with your cake”?
In that moment, my heart raged with beating like drums of war as my mind came to revelations that sickened me with simultaneous sadness and unrelenting pride. Don’t get me wrong. I was all in it at first, the laughter and joy of communing with my other siblings. We stood an army of twelve. This must’ve been our second or third interaction, I can’t quite resolve the timing of it all, but I was drunk off of our reunions and opportunities to build relationship. And the aroma fueled my intoxication. But as with all drunkenness, one is often stricken with a moment of clarity. And the clarity of what I was experiencing and feeling rocked the foundation of all that I believed myself to be: someone who grew up unblemished by the sins of his father. But this moment, revealed how red with his sins I was, how dirtied and muddied my path had been as a result of his own. Trauma was now crowned king of my person, and I felt all of its wrath.
This moment, with my siblings and my father did produce happiness. I was happy being in their presence, communing with them and building memories, yet couldn’t help but feel shrunken and small. The shame that came upon me to realize how he was their father. And whether or not he was a good father, was neither here nor there. He lived in this house. They, my siblings, the three who lived here with him, got to see him everyday. And even if they didn’t, the unspoken security that came with knowing he would be there, at arm’s reach, or that he would return home, is stabilizing. I despised him in that moment. In a sort of sick and jealous way, I asked myself: Why them? Why now? What’s changed? Should I applaud you for sticking around to raise, support, nurture, love, teach, and provide security for the final three? Even if time and experience taught you and you grew a better man, there were nine lives in your wake, during your growth process that you created, and left. What of their upbringing, support, nurturing, love, teaching, and security? I sat there immobilized. Wanting to ask you these questions, but you simply asked me what flavor of ice cream I wanted with my cake. And it’s also impolite to answer a question with a question, so I looked at you, and realized how much I cared to not hurt your feelings or cause you sadness. I figured you must feel embarrassed enough and regretful enough, and that these cakes and ice creams were your way of trying to be there for us all, all twelve, a seemingly impossible task. You couldn’t possibly raise us all right? So, I ate these words, to spare your feelings. And I resolved in that moment, “it is what it is”.
But how do I get out of this? The shame and sadness warred against a surging pride and self-love. Which will rise victorious? I had only but a moment to decide, before I had to give my answer to what flavor of ice cream I wanted. Time seemed to enter another dimension, because this war raged on for what felt like an eternity. Then pride reminded me of my mother. My mother raised me strong, independent, self-assured. Above all these things though, she raised me Christian. As if armoring me with the Word, Love, and Promises of a Heavenly Father would fill the void of the earthly one, cover his inability to father me, and my (full-blooded? main?) siblings. It worked. Or was working up until this very moment, when what I realized I needed, an invisible deity couldn’t provide. And this is where I stop. Because even at 29, I haven’t quite addressed all the parts of my experience that need healing. I just know, in that living room at 22, I was witnessing something that I didn’t know I wanted to be my normal, should’ve been my day to day, but it wasn’t. And I guess that’s okay. Above all, I am thankful for that moment because it exposed to me that I did have some type of trauma not having the old man around to raise me. I spent all my youth and young-adulthood proclaiming how his absence affected me not. But indeed there are levels of hurt here that I got to see glimpses of. I thought of this moment many times over the last seven years. Traveling over 400 miles north to battle demons I didn’t even know plagued me, who would’ve thought. I can’t right the wrongs of my father, I can only write them. Write them and hope that I can overcome them. But this is how this memory ends. I opened my mouth, and I asked for chocolate ice cream.