Written for Advanced Non-Fiction Workshop
|For a little over half my life as I was growing up my dad was emotionally absent. My parents married at ages 19 and 21 with a baby, me, on the way. My mom was just out of high school and my dad had dropped out at 18. My parents had no idea how to raise a baby, but they loved each other and had my best interest at heart. My mom went to SFA while my dad worked as much as he could while still allowing his wild side a tiny bit of freedom.
If I had to guess, I’d say my dad emotionally disappeared around the time my mom accepted her new job at Baylor and we moved to Waco once my dad found work there too. That was around the sixth grade for me. Being that my dad didn’t have much of an education back then, the one thing he did have was his work ethic. So he worked 9 hours a day, 6 days a week.
During these years I tried so hard to get close to my dad. I remember around age 14 my dad came home with a dirt bike and told me he was going to teach me how to ride. My dirt bike was a trade he had made with a guy in exchange for some car stereo work. It was appropriately named “Little Smokey” because of some minor leak my dad couldn’t sniff out to repair. Unfortunately no matter how hard my dad tried, I never did learn to down shift.
My dad is a big car guy. I remember when my dad bought his race car, a 1979 Ford Mustang chassis, which ended up being named “The Turd.” We were supposed to build it together, but instead of inviting me to help; he’d just disappear into the garage to tinker. I did get to go to a few drag races to help video or take pictures, but that’s about the extent of my assistance.
Considering how hard I tried to be close with my dad, I could never figure out why he kept being so distant. He later admitted that part of the problem was that his friends told him he was going to turn me into a tomboy. This wasn’t actually a rational fear considering I was already a tomboy without much help from him. From an early age I ended up wearing boy clothes because I couldn’t find girl clothes to fit my chubby body. I was always ready to stand up to the boys in school; I’d play in the dirt if all other forms of entertainment failed.
But not all my earlier memories of my dad are negative. I remember when my dad was working nights at K-Mart in Lufkin. I would already be asleep when he came home, but I can still remember the two occasions I woke up to a sweet surprise. The first was a small Alladin toy, which I secretly always kept all these years in a relatively easy to locate spot. A few months ago while I was in the process of moving I found it and slipped it into my purse so I could keep it close. The second occasion was Valentine’s morning one year. I woke up to SweetTart conversation hearts, which became my favorite, and a small toy I can no longer remember. I do remember that it always made me feel very special that he was still thinking of me even when I wasn’t able to see him.
I was a bit wild after I got out of high school. This included drinking and smoking weed. I remember one funny story from when my sister was living with us. Holly, and sometimes myself, would stay up all night on the Internet, but as retribution my parents would hide the keyboard and or mouse from us until they got home. Well since that days treasure hunt was no fault of my own, I enlisted Holly to split up and search the house. As I was searching my dad’s dresser in his closet, I came to drawer number three, which is where I found a small black 35mm film canister with a black lit on it. I knew exactly what was in it considering the package of ZigZag’s laying inches away. So later that night as my mom worked on the computer, I came in, as smugly as I possibly could be, and announced “you can’t get mad at me for doing what you’re doing too!” Stunned and confused she asked me what exactly I was referring to. At that point I really didn’t know how to respond and fumbled the fact that I’d found pot in my dad’s dresser. Which then ended in my dad getting an old fashioned Southern “ass chewin.’”
In the following days I got confirmation that my dad in fact had smoked plenty of weed over the years, but that what I’d found in his drawer was a couple of years old and wasn’t even smokeable. This helped explain some aspects of my dad’s absent behaviors. My dad ended up swearing that it had been a while since he had smoked and went on to insist that when he did smoke it was only on weekends while both my mom and I were away.
It wasn’t until my half-sister came into the picture and then abruptly ruined herself in our eyes that my dad and I started to become closer. It started with a heartfelt letter I wrote to him. I was about 18 years old, and I no longer remember anything I said in the letter, but I know he got my message loud and clear that I wanted a relationship with him that he was no longer allowed to be absent anymore.
Sadly my dad is so much harder to shop for than my mom on holidays. But truthfully I am much closer to my mom. I could find dozens of gifts to buy for her for any given occasion, it’s more a matter of narrowing it down to a few of the best choices. My dad on the other hand always wants things that are way out of my price range. But I’m starting to feel bad if I just end up pawning a $50 gift card off on him so that I can just let him decide on something he actually wants.
I sometimes fear that I really don’t have a relationship with my dad. Do I even know him? I really couldn’t tell you what his dreams or goals are. I couldn’t tell you if he has some sort of bucket list, is there anything he is aching to do before he dies In 2009 my dad announced at random in the middle of Lake Proctor while him, myself, and two of my friends were out with our boat, that he has this sort of fear he will die early, and swore that men in his family all die prematurely. He also brought up a medical condition that continues to plague his family that I too suffer from and never knew about it being possibly genetic, which is sporadic back pain, sometimes even debilitating. It times like that that I realize my dad and I do have a lot in common.
My dad and I actually have a lot in common. When I was in second grade I was officially diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder which spawned my dad’s diagnosis. We immediately both began taking medication. Doctor’s insist that as you age your ADD get “better.” Unfortunately this is not remotely true for my dad and I, nor his undiagnosed mother. My mom still gets insanely frustrated with my dad getting excessively distracted and a tad aloof. The problem with my dad’s ADD is he often feels like he doesn’t actually need his last doseage of the day. My dad can’t see how distracted he gets, but yet everyone around him can see it clearly.
I admit that I do forget to check my oil in a timely manner, or that I’ll accidentally let my power steering fluid get too low to the point it starts making noises. But I do listen to my dad and I do get around to checking my oil, and putting power steering fluid in. I call him freaking out why my car won’t start, and when he can’t figure out, as I last resort I finally check the oil and put more in and magically my car starts after a few attempts.
It’s been said that my parents have to have a “perfect” marriage; else they wouldn’t have lasted for 28 years. Truthfully I don’t believe there is such a thing as a perfect marriage. My parents have fought, hard; they’ve put each other down both intentionally and unintentionally. But then at the end of the day they love each other and honestly complement each other well. Where my dad is strong my mom sometimes lacks and vice versa. But it’s not just my parents that complement each other, I compliment my dad and my mom in very different aspects. Being that my dad is a pretty simple man and not as great with words as my mom, I sometimes find myself “translating” between my parents when they’re speaking to each other on two different intellects and I find myself in this middle ground that ends up being able to bridge them together.
My dad doesn’t verbalize his feelings and emotions very well, but in his own ways he will do little things to show his love. For example, sometimes he’ll disappear to go wash my mom’s car, or fill it with gas.
I sometimes find myself quoting knowledge I’ve picked up from my dad, but I never consciously am aware of it until it pops up in my face. Around the time I was moving across town this May into a new apartment, a friend came over to meet my parents who were there to help me move. She came over and we sat around talking, enjoying some wine she’d brought over. Somehow we got on the topic of fish, and my friend pointed out that I’d told her catfish were “trash” fish, and that crappie were much better, which is what my dad always fishes for. I could see my dad smile with pride when she brought this up, and I announced “see I do listen.”
Another occurrence came just last week when I was reading a peer’s story from my fiction piece. There were multiple discrepancies in her mentions to a mother deer, and a fawn. I remembered from listening to my dad that traditional adult deer lose their spots as they get older, and this writer called the doe a “white spotted mother.” I felt the need to scribble a note that if she was referring to traditional deer she was inaccurate, but that if she was referring to an Axis deer, they do keep their spots for their entire lives. Also she made hints that the fawn was being hunted, which is also inaccurate because they are too young to be hunted because their meat isn’t developed nor do they produce a decent rack to display. All of this I’d learned from my dad.
I truly love my dad, and I don’t really foresee our relationship changing much any time soon. It’s sort of fine where it is. Whereas my mom and I are close almost like best friends and we text each other like best friends would, my dad and I on the other hand communicate more as parent and child. I text him mainly for information on things I know he has more knowledge about. Regardless of where our relationship does go from here, I really only see it growing closer than ever growing apart. We’ve had our rough years, and we’ve grown and learned from them.