It’s amazing how easily a child’s mind can be molded by words.
Though I am 59 years into this life and I’ve forgotten some things over time and some memories have become cloudy, I have for some reason been able to remember most of the things my father said to me. I idolized my dad even though he was incredibly abusive. I’m not sure how that worked in my young mind.
My father was a very angry man and carried a great amount of resentment about his childhood. He was bitter and hateful, and there were not many tender moments, so when those occasions arose, I made them the fodder for my quest to make him a more loving and less angry man.
I looked up to my dad even though I feared him. I wanted to be strong like him. I wanted to laugh like him – he had such a beautiful laugh. I wanted people to respect me like he was respected (though I had no idea then people did not respect him, they feared him).
As much as the things my father said to me hurt deeply, I took them in stride and I used them as tools to become a better person. All of the admonishments he threw at me were merely points I felt I had to work on to be validated and valued by him. That actually never happened. The validation.
The final straw for me was a the age of 42 when I graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Tampa with my Bachelors Degree in Creative Writing. He did not come to my graduation. He did not acknowledge my accomplishment. I went to his house the next night in full regalia, speech in hand and recreated graduation in his living room. I had gold cords and medals to show my milestones of higher education and I showed them to him with such pride. His response when all was said and done was: “What are you going to do with a degree in writing? You can get a job in writing. Why didn’t you go for something useful? Oh, well, I can make a shadow box to put all of this ‘stuff’ in and you can hang it on the wall like I do my Army medals. It’s something, right?”
I knew that was the end for us. That was the final validation I sought from him. That was in 2002. We have been estranged since then (with the exception of him calling me to tell me my stepmother had died of brain cancer).
I still have great moments of weakness when I want to call my dad and tell him about new life accomplishments in the hopes that before he dies, he will find it in his heart to praise me. I suppose there are some things that stay with us for a lifetime.