(As with my previous blog entry, this one was also originally posted as a note on Facebook.)
My seven-year-old son and I were talking about my dad this morning. That son has never gotten to meet “Grampa John”, though I tried to make it happen.
My son asked me, “Did your dad love you?”
I could only answer with total honesty, “I do not know.”
The question led to my mind playing all kinds of memories involving my dad, for the next few hours. I am pretty sure the answer to my son’s question is “No.” Does that sadden you? For some reason, it doesn’t sadden me. Should it?
One of the usual headaches I get was in the process of intensifying when I got the news of my dad’s death on Friday. It is now Sunday and the pain is still here now, Sunday evening.
Kids talking, stomping around, bickering, and needing varying levels of my help; chores; phone calls; emails; the sounds of the house in general all keep me from giving much time to the thoughts of my dad. Those thoughts barely get to finish their story or cast their feelings upon me. Incomplete processing.
Throughout the day, I jotted down notes as they came to mind, vying for my attention to help me answer the question of my earthly father’s love. Here are some random memories:
When I was 3 or 4 years old, I started playing a simple chord organ by ear. I think it only had two octaves or so. My dad was so impressed, he wanted to get me a better organ with more notes.
One evening, he took me with him on the bus into downtown Vancouver. We lived in East Van, so it wasn’t far. In retrospect, I wonder why we didn’t just drive there. Maybe he’d had a few drinks, but he didn’t seem drunk. I was so young, I barely remember it, other than in little snippets. We did get a bigger organ, and my mom still has it at her place.
Then when I was 7 or 8, my parents enrolled me in group piano lessons that took place after school, in the kindergarten room at Queen Victoria Elementary. Miss Salmon, with long Barbie-doll blonde hair, was the teacher. Normally a quiet and reserved person in school, I was amongst a small group of friends and became the piano-class clown, always getting reprimanded, but I learned the piano lessons well enough that I quickly needed more of a keyboard than the one I had.
My dad took me out piano shopping and bought me a lovely second-hand midsize upright. I don’t recall the brand, but it was glossy medium brown and I got a lot of use out if it before trading it for a black baby grand when I was 22.
Another random memory: When I got married at age 24, my dad refused to go to my wedding. He said it was because my mom was there. He did give me lots of gifts, though: practical kitchen items I needed, like Pyrex baking pans and pots, Corelle dishes, etc, plus he gave me a cheque for $2000, telling me to put it in a private account for myself, “in case worst comes to worst”, as he put it. Little did I know that a dozen years later, it would be all I had on which to live when I first left the guy I’d married, who was abusive and controlling, until I got on my feet.
In my teen years, my dad was very protective of me from boys. He used to always warn me not to get involved with them, saying they were trouble, yet his methods were troubling: When I was 14, a boyfriend and his buddies were waiting in their vehicles outside my yard while I went into the house to get something. My dad saw the vehicles, instantly became irate, grabbed a loaded rifle, and chased me with it. He fired a few shots as I ran. The police were called. He told them he was shooting at cats in the yard. (My dad always loved animals so that was a crazy lie.) My dad was arrested, his guns were taken away, and I had to stay at other peoples’ homes for a few days. For decades after that, I had nightmares of my dad chasing me with intent to kill me. This past year, I got EMDR therapy to deal with that, among other issues.
The year prior, when I was 13, another frightful occurrence, for which I also recently got therapy, was a time when I had gone to the junior high school’s gym to watch my sister and her friends in their gymnastics club. I came home alone early for some reason. My mom wasn’t home, but my dad was there, drinking. He launched into accusing me of having been out smoking pot with boys. I had never smoked pot in my life at that point and told him so. He didn’t believe me, and he tried to hit me. I dodged and tried to run, but he was quick and caught me. He easily wrestled me to the ground and started strangling me with his hands. Somehow I managed to break free and ran down the road in my socks. I ran through the path by the tennis courts to the next street and down one more street before daring to slow down and look back.
To my surprise, my dad was nowhere in sight.
I was in front of a house with a “Block Parent” sign in the window. I rang the bell and stood there, out of breath, hoping someone would answer and quickly. A man and woman came to the door, saw my tear-streaked face, messy hair, and dirty socks. They warmly invited me in, where I sat on their couch and told the story of why I was running. They called the police. I was sent away from home for a few days, to stay with my mom’s friend, Beryl Speller. I can’t remember the order of events after that, but I have vague memories of social workers coming to our home, and of my whole family going to meet with a counselor at RADAT (Richmond Alcohol and Drug Abuse Team).
I didn’t realize alcohol was a problem. It was so much a part of my dad’s life, albeit a part that often made me sad.
One time, when I was about 6 or 7, one of my friends, a daughter of my dad’s drinking buddy, pulled me aside, saying she had to talk to me about something very serious. Her serious talk was to the effect of, “We saw your dad pouring whiskey into your 7-Up.”
I was confused as to why we were having such a sombre discussion, as it was nothing out of the ordinary for my dad to put a little whiskey in my 7-Up or Canada Dry ginger ale. It wasn’t enough to alter my consciousness in any way. It just changed the taste of the 7-Up, kind of like a shot of vanilla extract in a cup of hot chocolate would do. Now that I am older, of course I know it is unwise for a parent to put whiskey in the beverage of a child, but when I was a child, I just went with what my dad exemplified to be normal.
After we moved to Tsawwassen, when I was nine, we were closer to my dad’s drinking buddy’s place, a couple blocks away. Many times, as we were leaving their place, my dad was so drunk, I would hover near him on the stairs to make sure he didn’t fall on the way to the car. He’d be getting into the passenger seat of my mom’s old Nova, trying to close the door, while I stuck my hand through the side of the seat to prevent it as he was about to slam it on his foot. One time he got so drunk, he didn’t make it out the door, but he fell and broke a hole in that family’s kitchen wall with his head. They called a doctor friend to come see my dad.
The doctor asked my dad, “What’s your name?”
My dad slurred in response, “What’s your name?”
The kids of the family, who were my friends, laughed. I, however, stood there feeling very concerned, knowing my dad was more drunk than usual, and injured to boot.
The doctor continued his questioning, even saying, “Hey, Johnny, what’s your name?”
My dad got all goofy and just repeated the question back to the doctor, “Hey, Johnny, what’s your name?”
It was upsetting me that my friends continued to laugh at “Uncle John”.
Another time, my dad fell at home and hit his head. I heard the crash and ran to him, and his face was already covered in blood. I was so scared, trying to help him stand back up. I called a doctor, and we soon found that it wasn’t a very deep cut. The doctor explained that head wounds can bleed a lot and make them appear worse than they really are.
Other times, my dad fell down the 12 stairs to the basement, scaring the crap out of me. I’d run down and help him back up, and we’d both nearly fall back down the stairs together.
Oh, the bad memories. I want to have some good memories of my dad. I know they exist, and I hope to share some of them at some point, but right now, the bad ones are hitting harder.
Did my dad love me? I really don’t know. Not that I can do anything about it either way, but the fact that my son asked such a question has me thinking, “I don’t want there to ever be a doubt for my own children that I love them.”
Maybe something I have written here has sparked some memories for you. Since I wrote my last note yesterday about my dad, I’ve received many private messages from friends, sharing their own thoughts and stories, some about my dad, some about their own lives, some cheerful, and some sad. I very much appreciate the communication and invite you to keep it coming.