Sunday, February 8, 2009

When Ties That Bind Are Broken

Do you have anyone that makes you uncomfortable around them?  Someone to whom you have no idea what to say?

I do: my father and my step-mother.

I haven’t made it a secret, but I also do not know if I’ve ever said on this blog that I do not have much of a relationship with my father. 

My parents divorced when I was 4.  He was a presence in my life, but not actively.  I saw him on the appointed weekends when I was young.  Usually we would just go to his apartment and watch movies, go to the pool or he’d have friends over.  If we saw him during the week, it was if he was in the area and we’d go to dinner.

During the summer, for a few years, we went on road trips.  I hated it.

My father was never one to be verbal.  He’s ex-marine and a retired cop.  That should be enough of an explanation about his communication abilities. 

He has a crazy, quirky and dark sense of humor.  I get that from him.  He is also a good writer and can communicate exceptionally well in writing, I also get that from him, though he doesn’t communicate in writing often.  He is quiet in person, except for making jokes, making fun of people and being outright silly.  He was never afraid to make an ass of himself to get a laugh.

I never knew what to say to him, just like he never knew what to say to me.  I take that back.  I knew what to say to him until I was about 12.  Prior to that, I just said whatever without thought.  I learned with time that certain things I said brought remarks and reactions that hurt me deeply, so after a while, I just learned to be silent in general.  Perhaps he had the same experience and that is why he is quiet so often.
I chose not to see him when I was about 15.  I had had enough.  The very fragile thread of a relationship we had was snipped by me.  He thinks that my feelings and choices are my mother’s doing.  That she spoke so poorly of him, I formed my opinion around that.

Completely untrue.  In fact, the opposite is true.  My mom never said a bad word about him, though she really had every right to.  My mother scolded me for talking badly about him until she realized it was no use.  His behavior caused me to form such opinions.  Though he thinks me incapable of forming my own opinions, I am perfectly capable and have always had a mind of my own.

After that thread was snipped, I did not communicate with him really until I graduated High School. 

Prior to this, my dad had married my step-mother.  They married the same year my mom and step-dad married, but she was relatively new to us at the time of their marriage.  He had been through a large segment of the female population over the age of 21 in the Chicagoland area (during and after his marriage to my mother), so I had expected other women to be my step-mother and there were some I would have welcomed.  This one was a surprise.

I didn’t know my step-mother well, but when I had the opportunity to know her at 19, she showed me her true colors.  I will not get into that story now, maybe another day, but the setting is picturesque Ireland in March with 2 challenging characters (ie my dad and step-mother), my sister and I.

I have more of a relationship with him at this time, but it exists mainly through email with the exception of my nephew’s birthday in February and my niece’s birthday in May.  We only really talk about television shows.  Beyond that, there is nothing to say.

I put him out of my mind the rest of the year.  Even more than him, I forget about her. 

My dad was at my nephew’s party today.  I think we said about two sentences to each other.  I don’t know what to say to him.  I can see the discomfort in him too.  My step-mother came later (they do everything separately which, I think, is why they are still married).  I was polite and all, but again, after a few sentences, I have no idea what to talk to her about. 

There was a time that I was angry with them both for separate reasons.  I’m not angry, I learned a long time ago that holding onto anger doesn’t do anything but hurt me.  I admit I am not good at forgiveness and even worse at forgetting.  While the anger is not there, the pain and sadness is.  The damage done by my father is irreversible at this point and I don’t know how to forgive him for that.  I try to think that he did the best he could at that time, but it’s hard to forgive. 

My step-mother, on the other hand, is just irritating and phony.  She acts nice, but she rubs everyone the wrong way. 

The reasons for the discomfort and for not knowing what to say to them is different.

For him, it’s because he has hurt me in more ways than anyone could ever understand.  It’s hard to face someone that has caused so much pain.  In a lot of ways, when I am around him, I feel like that little girl that never could get her daddy’s approval.  The little girl that learned to build walls and put on a front of strength, attitude and act as if she is made of bullet-proof glass.  (It is very difficult for me to allow myself to be vulnerable, which is part of why I like blogging with a bit of anonymity.)

For her, it’s a touch of the kind of nervousness one feels around a psycho during a full moon.  Afraid to say or do the wrong thing because they might snap and break your neck.  Another is sheer indifference. 

For both, one reason is expectation.  For decades I have talked about how little use I have for either of them, how I have no desire to have any relationship with them.  I’ve talked a good game, mostly what I felt at the time.  If I do speak to them, I get comments from family like, “do you have a fever?” 

It makes these things very uncomfortable.

It also makes me sad, but no one would know.  I have an excellent poker face.

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