Friday, June 19, 2009

Happy Father's Day

"What's your daddy's name?"

"I don't have a daddy."

"Did he die?"

"No, I just don't have one."

"Well, if he didn't die then you must have one. Everyone does."

"Well, I don't."

I had this conversation a few times when I was a kid. Not many, mind you. I was never teased or ostracized or anything old-fashioned like that. But every once in a while someone would ask.

Of course everyone does have a father, mine's name was Tom. He was a liar and a drunk and my mom left him when I was just a few months old, because it was best for me. But she never stopped loving him. She missed him. She never dated anyone else while I was growing up. Maybe because she didn't want me getting attached to someone who might not stick around, maybe because she was afraid of getting hurt, maybe because she simply wasn't interested in male companionship. Whatever the reason, she raised me alone and she did a damn fine job. I never wanted a father, never felt I lacked for anything, never blamed him for leaving. I was perfectly happy in my place at the center of the universe with all of my mom's attention focused squarely on me.

Every Sunday my aunts would bring my cousins over to our place and we would play together while the grown-up ladies chatted and played cards. I didn't have any uncles. My cousins were not the ones who asked my daddy's name. Not all of them knew their own. Fathers were an obscure concept. A little frightening, as the unknown always is. And nothing of any real importance anyway. Sure, some people had them, but they certainly weren't necessary. Children belonged to their mothers and it was as simple as that.

When I was eleven my mom started seeing Tom again. I was not supportive. As I said before, I never blamed him for leaving, but boy was I ever pissed with him for coming back. I resented the intrusion. I was a spoiled brat and I hated the thought of sharing my mom's affection with anyone, whether he happened to be my father or not. I barely spoke to him. I stormed off to my room to sulk when he visited. She was happy when it was just the two of us right? Why did he have to come and ruin everything! I hated the sound of his big stupid booming laugh coming up the stairs.

Then he got sick. My mom started spending most of her time at the hospital with him and I was alone a lot. Finally I consented to go see him.

He was more than half delirious and in his more coherent moments he declared he was going to die that night. He wanted a priest. Luckily, hospitals have some of those handy and someone went to fetch one. While we waited I stared at this stranger who was my father. He was shrunken and emaciated, with waxy skin drooping from his wrinkled face. He kept pushing his oxygen mask up onto his forehead, so his fingers were turning purple, yellow and green. He asked my mom to pick him up and shake him. He said he'd be just fine if she would just lift him up and give him a good shake to get everything back in it's proper place. She told him she couldn't. He was too heavy. I thought she was probably wrong about that. She asked me to help her move him instead. She told me to grab the corners of the little sheet he was laying on and we'd slide him up in the bed a bit. I took hold of my side and we started to lift, but as we moved him his blanket started to slip and I could see that his gown was all rucked up around his waist and his bony hip underneath and part of a bedsore and oh my god I did NOT want to see him naked and holy crap he's so light and...I let go and ran out of the room and down the hall to the bathroom. When I came back the priest (minister? padre? whatever, it was a woman with a bible) was there. She asked if I was his granddaughter and I said nothing. My mom choked out that I was his daughter. The woman asked if I was remembering all the good times I'd had with my dad and I continued to say nothing. This time Tom answered for me. "She certainly is not." The man had only the barest grasp of reality at that point, but one thing he was aware of was that I hated him. His eyes rolled around the room and he jammed a finger up his nose to get at the pesky dry itch. Then he reached out to me. "I think he wants to hold your hand" my mom explained, as I stood there dumbly. Are you serious? Did you not just see him picking his nose? I managed to overcome my raging brattishness and took his hand. It was an odd sensation. The skin was hard, calloused and cold, but it felt like warm liquid inside. Like a leather water balloon, half full and squashy. The fingertips were green from lack of oxygen. I was surprised that the overall impression was one of life. It was the first and only time I remember ever holding my father's hand.

"Adam, please call me, or come to my house or something as soon as you get this message, no matter what time it is..."

"What's going on? are you OK?"

"I went to the hospital today and got a test...Adam, it was positive."

"...Well...that makes things...interesting."


Shit. Why did I freak out and tell him? Why couldn't I just keep my damn mouth shut and get an abortion or break up with him and then put it up for adoption. It's none of his business anyway right? This is MY life, not his! Stupid, stupid, stupid!

"Look, I just want you to know that I'm not expecting anything OK? I mean, you can be involved if you want to, but I don't want you to feel obligated or anything. Like, I'm fine on my own, OK?"

"What are you talking about? Of course I'm involved!"

"If that's what you want, fine. But just don't, you know, feel like you have to stay with ME or anything, you know, if you don't really want me..."

"Do you want me to leave?"

"Let's just see how things go, and see what happens."

I finished my senior year of high school and found a prom dress that accommodated my 6 month belly. Adam went to school in Toronto and drove back so visit me every weekend. While my friends prepared for university, I spent the summer renovating the tiny, run-down apartment we would live in. It was the loneliest summer of my life. Adam moved in at the beginning of September, when his course was over, and we had 2 weeks to get accustomed to each other before we became parents.

Despite having tried to push him away, I soon realized how glad I was that he hadn't accepted the offer. I couldn't have done it by myself. I know there are women out there who rock the single mom thing, but I'm not one of them. During those first few crazy months of adjustment, reassessment, sleep deprivation, depression and anxiety, Adam's presence probably saved Skylar's life and my own as well. I was a mess. My self-centered upbringing had left me totally unprepared to dedicate my life to someone else. I was resentful and bitter towards my baby for stealing my freedom. Instead of bonding with her I grew more and more distant. I began to hate breastfeeding her. I would spend her feeding sessions crying and fighting back the nausea that filled me as this big pink parasite sucked me dry. She would cry for what seemed like hours every evening and images started flashing in my head of just how easy it would be to make the screaming STOP. The worst part is that it wasn't any sense of love or decency that prevented me from doing it. It was just a small, bored voice in the back of my mind that told me not to bother, because I'd just end up in jail and I still wouldn't be free. To this day I still feel sick when I think about what might have happened if the screaming had gone on just a bit longer, or louder, and drowned out that voice. I used to think mother's who claimed post-partum depression made them kill their babies were lying monsters, but now I just feel sorry for them. If it wasn't for Adam I might have been one of them. But he was there. He was there pacing the floor for hours on end with an inconsolable baby on his shoulder while I hid uselessly in another room. He was there rubbing my back and telling me it was OK while Skylar nursed. He was there wearing a snuggli and carrying the baby for miles while we explored the countryside together, growing calm and happy with the physical exertion and fresh air. He was there making meals when I couldn't be bothered. He was there holding me at night while I cried myself out, thinking about what an awful, worthless person I was, making me believe that maybe there was someone in the world who wanted me anyway.

I got better. I fell in love with my baby and came to appreciate it all the more because it hadn't come naturally. Time and experience made me a better person, and while I can still be selfish and impatient, I have learned how to put others first. Adam taught me that. It still surprises me that I learned to love a man. I'm still pleasantly shocked every time he holds me in his arms and I realize that I feel completely safe and comfortable and right.

Over the next six years we grew into a real family, as opposed to a couple of scared kids and a baby unfortunate enough to be stuck with them. As a father and a partner Adam has surpassed all of my expectations. He is kind and compassionate, patient and playful, strong and intelligent. He carries the girls on his shoulders, submits to playing Barbies and dress-up. He can be trusted to care for them when I'm not around. He puts up with my shit, whereas I would long ago have punched myself in the mouth. He snuggles. He sees the humor in day to day life. He believes in magic. He packs school lunches and changes cloth diapers. He makes sacrifices for the three of us. Most of all, he loves. He just radiates love unabashedly all around him, towards his daughters, and for some reason I'll never understand, towards me as well.

I just wanted to say that I appreciate it.

Thank you for being you. Thank you for teaching me what fathers can be. Thank you for sticking out the hard times and adding to the good times. Thank you for loving us.
We love you too.

Happy Father's Day.