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Friday, June 30, 2006

WW Collab : Father Knows Best

june 2006
write about the man (men) who have been important in your life, be they fathers, “surrogate” dads, or just males of the species who have impressed and/or molded you as a person.

Wow.  This was a tough one to even think about.  It’s taken me all month to get around to writing this, especially because I’ve touched on it minimally in other places in my blog.  I get about half an inch in and then have to immediately pull away because it’s just too hard to “go there”.  The subject is so tender for me and so raw.  When my therapist tried to broach the subject, especially in regards to my father, I had to admit, “I don’t really have a father,” and I conclude with, “And I don’t really worry or think about it.” 

That’s a boldface lie.

The thing is, my parents split up when I was eight months old.  After that, my biological father had very little to do with me.  He wasn’t keen on paying child support (and never did, in fact) and was unavailable for any kind of consistent visits.  To be honest, those visits may have been more consistent when I was very tiny (though not according to my mother… can’t tell how much she says is just her side, though) but I know from the ages three and four (when I COULD remember and knew what was going on more) that the visits were sporatic and inconsistent.  The one memory I have of my biodad isn’t a good one.  I have not seen or spoken to him or even received written word of any sort since I was four.  I don’t feel like I’m “missing out” because how can you miss what you never had?  I do feel… rejected.  Abandoned.  Unworthy.  I feel like I wasn’t good or special or important enough for my biodad to want to be a part of my life.  It wasn’t that I wanted him, it’s that I wanted him to want me.

Along the road I’ve done a few Google searches but never managed to find any viable leads.  I didn’t try that that hard, though.  I left his name up on my site in hopes he (or maybe someone in his family) would do a vanity search and wind up here and maybe, just maybe get in touch with me.  My mother has suggested that I should try to find him, but she’s never given me even a hint of where or how to start looking.  In the end, I know that to do so would only be setting myself up for failure.  I want to say, “Why don’t you love me?”  I want to say, “Why did you let some other man adopt me?”  I want to beg, “Please love me. Please accept me.  Please value me for who I am!”  But in the end, none of these questions have answers that could even remotely satisfy me.  My pleading would fall on helpless ears, for who could possibly compensate for three decades of neglect?  There is no fix for this.  The best I could even hope for is an uncomplicated reunion which involved a very brief “catching up” in which he told me what the last 30 years have held for him, and I could reciprocate.  After that, we’d go our separate ways and maybe in another five or ten years we could do the same sort of thing.  Like a high school reunion only perhaps with less emotional investment.

Sad, but true.

So I’ve resigned myself to the fact that my insecurities will never be resolved in regards to my biological father.  I’ve resigned myself to the fact that whatever relationship I never had and never bothered to hope for would pretty much be impossible even if my biodad is still alive and even if he is interested in being in any kind of contact ever again.  I’m not okay with the fact that no one has ever done a Google search for Liberty Ruggles (there I go setting myself up for yet another failure again) and found my site, but I can’t change it so I live with it.  No one’s looking for me.  No one cares.  I am dead to that side of my genetic family.  So be it.

Now, if I were PollyAnna, I’d go into a lovely tale of how wanted and loved I was by my step-father who adopted me when I was four.  I’d talk about how he shaped me and loved me and how I was his little girl from the start.  I’d have memories of bouncing on his knee and of him teaching me algebra.  The sad fact is, that’s not how I remember him from a childhood perspective.  I remember him smoking too much, drinking too much, and ‘stealing’ my mom away from me.  I remember the adoption preceedings.  I remember the judge asking me, “Who is that man sitting next to you?” and I knew the judge wanted me to say, “My dad” or something to that effect.  I gave my mother’s new husband’s full name, including his middle name.  I made it as formal as possible.  In my way, I was rejecting the adoption.  Everyone in the court laughed at the precocious response.  How cute.  They had no idea how far advanced I really was.  Fuckers.  It wasn’t funny.  I wasn’t amused.  I didn’t want this man to be my father and I refused to call him my dad in an official setting.  I knew, even then, that just like promising something to God in a church made it more serious, saying something like that in court would add meaning. 

Up until my dad and mom got together, Mom made me the center of her universe.  Suddenly, her universe centered around this man who was in my opinion, too familiar with me, yet who offered me nothing.  Oh, and then there was this new baby to deal with, too.  I didn’t want a brother.  I didn’t want a family. I wanted my mom.  I wanted things they way they were before, when Mom and her friends would talk to me and hang out with me and include me in their adult conversations because none of them had a clue on how to deal with a kid so it was easier to treat me like a very small adult.  I wanted to have my mom rub my back when I was scared or upset, not send this man, this alleged “dad” in to threaten to spank me with his belt if I didn’t shut up and go to sleep.

If that sounds ungrateful, it’s because it is.  My dad, my real dad, who in fact did choose me, and who in fact did pay for my clothes and food and home and who did take care of me in the ways he knew how, well, he did take care of me, just not in the ways I wish he would have.  I always had a roof over my head.  I always had food.  I always had clothes, regardless of the fact that they were mostly from second hand stores or hammedowns from some other family.  He did what he could.  I don’t think it was his best, but I don’t think it was really bad, either.  He was overly strict with me, moreso than he ever was with his first three kids (who were already grown by the time he married my mom.)  I guess he went easier on them because they came first and he didn’t know any better.  I guess he wanted them to love him.  When, after his divorce, they sided with their mom, well, I guess he figured he should be more strict with me.  I guess he figured that a different approach would teach me repect and I would turn out better than his other kids did or something.  Then, by the time my younger brother and sister came along, he was too lazy to uphold the strictness so he slacked off with all but me.  Or maybe he just always resented that my mom had another kid that wasn’t his.  Or maybe I only imagine that he was more strict with me, like some “poor me” Cinderella story where he was the evil step-father.  Who knows the objective truth?  Subjectively, he was an ass to me most of the time.

And yet.

I learned from him.  I learned not to ask for help with homework, because he’d only frustrate and confuse me more and in the end get really, really angry.

I learned that my mother was more invested in him than in me.

I learned that crying won’t get you anything but a “good sound spanking.” 

I learned that I couldn’t trust my parents.  Just because they said something would happen didn’t mean it would.

I learned that if I ever wanted to have anything in life I would have to get it on my own because it would never be handed to me.

I learned that I could do it on my own, because I had no choice.

I learned that I could verbally battle anyone into a corner and even if I didn’t win, the other person would come away with scars that might never heal.  Ironic, I think it was my dad who helped me first gain the power to use words as weapons.  They were the only defense (or offense) I had, and even my words were technically outlawed toward the end of my stay with my parents.  I think by then they realized they couldn’t win with me.  My words were more powerful than theirs and that was a threat.

There were moments, brief moments where I saw another side of my dad.  He once gave me a stack of books that he thought I’d enjoy.  I didn’t even know my dad could read.  No, seriously.  I thought he was some ignorant backwoods hick, but he brought me this stack of books and said, “I saw you reading Instant ESP by [I think, but I can’t remember the author…] David St.Clair.  Figured you might enjoy these, too.”  They were books on ESP and the occult.  I was enthralled.  My dad had grown up Catholic and followed the faith all through his first marriage.  When the church rejected him for divorcing, he rejected the church.  And that was that, or so I thought.  It never had occurred to me that there could be more to the story or that my dad had explored anything that could have been perceived as “unholy” by the Catholic church.  It was such a huge leap and I was so grateful because, well, it meant my dad and I might actually have some tiny thing in common.  (Curoisity, if nothing else.) After I devoured the stack of books I had hoped to talk to him about them.  He declined.  My dad can chat up a storm with anyone who has ears (and perhaps with those who don’t) but to delve any deeper than the weather or lewd jokes, well, it just wasn’t his style.  I was disappointed, but at least there was hope.

When I graduated from high school, my dad shut down the restaurant for the day.  It was the first time since I’d known my dad that he ever shut down his restaurant for anything.  Even if the power went out, or if there was a blizzard, he kept the restaurant open.  “Your customers have to know they can rely on the posted business hours,” he’d say.  After that, when the world didn’t implode, my dad started closing down the restaurant with more frequency, so maybe it was a good thing for both of us, I don’t know.  Regardless, it made me feel special and important and loved.  Until I heard all the griping and complaints and murmuring about how it had inconvenienced him (and my mom, who I think griped louder than he.)  Still.  It was something.

College was the turning point. He told me I should do whatever it was I thought I wanted to do.  It was the first time in my life he’d ever acknowledged that I was capable enough to handle a situation.  It was the first time he had ever treated me like an adult and more… an equal. Still, I was disappointed.  I wanted help and advice.  Instead, he brushed me off and told me to handle it.  Talk about mixed feelings.  In essence, I said, “I need you.”  What he said (I think) was, “No you don’t, you can deal with this yourself.”  What I heard was, “Too bad, I’m busy.”  As glad as I was to have earned something that resembled respect, I was devastated that when I finally wanted and needed him and reached out, well, I was denied.  The thing is, it was a turning point.  Having finally earned some kind of respect and without his usual need to completely control me and my life, I was free to begin thinking of him as a person and not just a villain in the story of my life.

When I married, he walked me down the isle.  He was so very proud, more proud than I had ever seen him.  He was… emotional.  He told me he was proud, he told me he loved me.  He called me kiddo and I knew that he wholeheartedly thought of me as his kiddo.  Again, I felt mixed on the issue because I had wanted to feel like I was his when I was growing up, not when I was in theory going away and moving on to be on my own and start my own family.

Now that years and years have passed and my perspective has changed some, I realize that even though I didn’t exactly have it delivered the way I wanted, my dad did love and accept me.  I realize that he was as “real” as any dad could have been and that the hangup of him not being my biological father was mine - not his.  If he were more strict with me, if he pushed harder for me, it was because he saw potential that I denied.  While I wanted to be nurtured and needed to be shovelled a large helping of self confidence, he (in his own glorified ego) couldn’t understand my self doubts and uncertainty and took my hesitance as laziness or lack of direction.  He pushed because he assumed I saw what he saw: a blossoming young woman who was more intelligent than anyone else in the family, perhaps even him, who had not only logical skills but empathy and kindness.  He saw what every parent wants to see - unlimited talent and potential.  So, if he didn’t nurture it in a way I could experience or understand, I realize now that it wasn’t because he didn’t feel it, but because we just weren’t quite on the same wavelengths.  Just like I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t kinder or gentler, he couldn’t understand why I wasn’t more tenacious or voracious in my appetite for success.

In the end, my dad has shaped me.  He has helped me to become the woman I am.  I am stronger because of him.  I am smarter because of him.  I am more resourceful because of him.  This is exactly what I would have wanted, just not exactly how I would have wanted to learn it.  In the end, while I can’t rely on him to be there in my every day life, I know that when I don’t call, when I don’t visit, when I don’t press myself into his life, he feels the distance and he notices my absence.  We may never quite mesh, we may never quite find our way.  We may never see eye to eye.  But I’m grateful that I had a “real dad” and I’m hopeful that I can acknowledge the gifts he has tried to give me as such and find a better way to deliver those gifts to my own children.

Posted by Liberty on 06/30 at 09:28 PM
Posted under: See-ThroughWriting Womyn Collab

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