People don’t understand why my father and I don’t speak. It’s not easy to explain. I’m not a child of divorce, who grew up without him in the home. He never beat or bullied me. There was no cataclysmic event that tore us apart. My childhood is blessedly free of trauma. We’ve never fallen out. But, from the earliest days of my childhood, this has been the way of things. We don’t communicate directly. Essential information is relayed via my mom or my brother. Exchanging even the most basic of pleasantries just doesn’t happen. We avoid being alone with each other, preferring the comforting buffer of another person.
It’s odd, I know, but it’s always been this way. Though you might expect it to, the silence between us doesn’t make me sad. Sure, it made for some uncomfortable moments during family outings, but it didn’t bother me. A psychoanalyst would have a field day with our situation, I’m sure. But I’ve never really considered the whys and wherefores of our strange relationship. I wouldn’t know where to start.
Perhaps we never gelled because he was just twenty when I was born. Less than a year into a marriage entered too young, he wasn’t ready for the responsibilities, the burdens of fatherhood. He spent his time making music, racing cars, enjoying what remained of his youth. In those early years, his family took a back seat. The real work fell on my mother’s shoulders, and he missed his chance to bond.
Or, perhaps it’s because we’re too alike that we choose not to engage with each other. My mom often says I am my father’s daughter. Both pig-headed, demanding, quick to anger, we’re determined to have things our own way. If we talked, perhaps we’d only fight.
The gulf between us is vast. I’ve had regrets. I’ll admit I wish he’d come to my graduation, walked me down the aisle, things like that. But those moments of wistfulness are fleeting. I’ve never tried to build a bridge. Nor has he. We’ve grown comfortable in our silence, I guess. Neither of us wants to change. To break the pattern of a lifetime would throw our worlds into chaos. Or maybe not. We’ll never know.
Yet, despite all this, I learned from him some of the most important lessons of my life. He taught me about tolerance, to reject racism, sexism, homophobia and more. He showed me the importance of respecting the individual. His belief in a woman’s right to autonomy over her own body, her right to choose, is something he passed on to me just as surely as my very vocal mother did.
Don’t get me wrong. He didn’t sit me down and explain how to deal with the injustices and divisions in society. No, I formed my own ideas from watching him. I observed his outrage over racial prejudice when he decried the bigots on television. He showed me that love is love in his easy acceptance of his gay friends’ marriage. His support for my mother’s aspirations made me see that relationships should be about mutual respect, equality. The rage he displayed over attempts to rob women of their agency demonstrated to me that we have rights that should be protected. My father never took to the streets with a placard, but I understood his position all the same.
Perhaps it’s odd that my father and I never gelled, but it doesn’t really worry me. He taught me things that matter, today even more than yesterday. He showed me what is right and wrong in this world and for that I’m grateful. Perhaps it’s enough. Who knows?
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