Thursday, July 20, 2006

Let Me Know Where Ya Land, Kid!

I haven't really talked about my dad too much. He passed on in June of 1993 at 49 years old.

Its been so difficult to disect this man who was my father. He was gregarious and smart and witty and a complete package of the "Disneyland Dad". My memories of my father stretch between gratitude for him because without him I would never have developed the charisma that enables me to walk on this planet -- the very charisma that has enabled me to live even though I weight 400 lbs. I can enterain people with my wit and charm and pretend that they don't notice I'm 400 lbs. and dying inside.

However, my father was selfish. He was addicted to the ponies. His whole adult life was spent chasing the elusive big win. He did this at the expense of his children's well-being and security. I suppose that fits the addiction model. Here's a trip down memory lane -- join me won't you?

My brothers and I are all sick with bronchitis. My dad reluctantly drives my mother and us to the doctor and says, "I'll be back to pick you up." He never shows up and my mother and my brothers and I walk home from the doctors office - sick and coughing and feeling awful - the trip was about 5 miles. Where did Dad go? -- Where do you think he went? (rhetorical question)

My mother sits crying and I ask her what is wrong? I have always had an intuitive sense when things are wrong. She tries not to tell me, but I am so attached to my mother, I simply have to know...begging her to please tell me. She said we couldn't pay the rent because my Dad has gambled it all away.

My mom and dad had gotten divorced when I was seven. My mom and my brothers and I move into the Casa de Single Moms Apartment Complex. I had constant stomach aches during this time and often had to come home from school early due to intense stomach pain...(this gives me some clue about food being a soother). One day, my dad shows up and my brothers and I are beside ourselves with excitement. He doesn't stay but for a minute -- just long enough to take our television and walk out. We all cry the cry of abandonment.

This takes place any given weekend throughout my childhood: Dad makes arrangements to take us somewhere on a Saturday. We get so excited and look forward to the day. All dressed and ready to go we wait for his car to pull up outside (a brand new Cadillac for him -- we had a VW bug with no a/c). Phone rings and my mom says my father wants to talk to me. I say to him, "Daddy what time are you getting here?" He replies, "Sorry kid-- can't make it today, something came up, but we'll do it soon." I tell him oh that's okay daddy-- I love you. The rest of the day is spent with my mother rushing around trying to take our disappointed minds off of what had just happened. We would do art projects or macrame or anything so we didn't feel the emotion of what had taken place.

Daddy calls and says he's taking us to Disneyland. We are beside ourselves with glee and over-excitement. However, when daddy shows up he introduces us to "Sheila" and says how great she is and how nice we should be to her. (This is just a typical time with Dad- never Dad alone-- always a new woman in tow). We got to Disneyland and I have good memories of Disneyland (who wouldn't -- its the Magic frickin Kingdom), but what happened next was disturbing. I was about 10 or 11 at the time and Dad and Sheila were either having sex and having issues or having sex and then having issues, because I heard my father talk in a way I had never heard. He mocked "Sheila" and told her she was a baby and wanted her mommy. I guess Sheila wasn't having a very good time. This memory still leaves a pit in my stomach.

As the years go by, wife number two, three and four are introduced. We are to love these women because they are so great. For the most part, these were women who had fallen under his charismatic spell. They were all quite nice, but would disappear without notice to us. We were just supposed to love them and then they were gone. My dad would never be without a woman and I imagine these women were all bled dry of their financial security and/or self worth after Hurricane Larry blew through.

When I was 16, my dad sent me roses. I felt these were so special. Wife #3 was very kind to me, as it was her idea for the roses. Wife #3 taught me to drive. Wife #3 was an alcoholic with money to spare I suppose. My dad calls me and says he's taking me on a special trip to Washington DC for my birthday. I am so excited to have a trip with him- just him and me. However, wife #3 comes along and they are on the 10th floor of the hotel and I'm on 12th - all by myself. As is regularly the case, Wife #3 is stuck with me the whole time because Dad has business to take care of -- the races were in town. I sucked it up as I always did with my Dad because not doing so made me selfish. I was supposed to be grateful for the trip. My room had a mini bar and I ate every single thing in it.

Enter Wife #4 -- the longest running wife and the last wife before he died. The phone call came in and as is typical of all the wife announcements it was explained that he met Wife #4 and they got married. Isn't that great? He told me I was going to love her. She was also a very nice woman. Rumor has it she went nutto after my dad died and left her penniless. With Wife #4 I saw my dad alot more. They would come to San Francisco and my dad would disappear to the track and wife #4 and I would go shopping. However, I had become quite fat now and shopping was a daunting task. We ended up in the shoe and handbag section alot. She was kind to me, but I remember the shame that lived deep inside of me was beating like a drum. All of dad's wives were thin and blonde. I was red-headed and fat.

A few years later, my father called full of glee. He announced that something great had happened. He announced that he won "big" at the races and was beside himself with joy. I gave him the congratulations that you give an addictive gambler who had won big. I was 22 and living in downtown San Francisco and working and going to school. He said to me, I want to give you my Thunderbird. The Thunderbird was a large vehicle with all the bells and whistles. However, I had no need for a car in San Francisco and more importantly no where to put a car in San Francisco. I told him that I appreciated the offer but I would rather have money for school. He replied, "Listen Kid, I can't help you with that-- you're on your own. But, I will give you this car...if you don't want it you're ungrateful." I took the car and paid $180 to park it in a garage every month. This story gives me a stomach ache.

At age 23, I called my father to ask him if he could help with money to go to Jenny Craig. This began our conversation about my weight and he proudly told me that he was the only one who had never bothered me about my weight. "Chele, I've never bothered you about your weight, and I never will - but remember I have never bothered you about it". Actually I remember him saying that to me quite a bit. As I think back, he said that so much to me that I think it was bothering me about my weight. He gave me the money for Jenny Craig where I proceeded to last for about 2 weeks. This reminds me of a story of a girl who is very similar to me and had a very similar father. She says:
My dad was a radio disc jokey and always got free cars , etc. He would give me the cars and then he started doing sponsorship with Jenny Craig. Thinking it would inspire her to diet, he hooked me up with Jenny. I was was sixteen in a brand new sports car, with a crap load of Jenny Craig, driving through Taco bell.

At 24, I joined Overeaters Anonymous and began learning about my addiction. I lost weight and was thin. My dad still boasting from his winnings wanted to have a Norman Rockwell Christmas. (Places everyone, places -- you could almost hear the director calling out.) He reminded me that I looked great and that he never talked to me about my weight. (Ok Dad, I got it -- you never bugged me about my weight). Dad and Wife #4 had moved into a posh neighborhood in the Los Angeles area and we got to enjoy a huge house with a swimming pool and waterfalls, gardeners, housekeepers, etc. My brothers both got brand new cars and we inherited two step-brothers who were a year or two younger than me. I'm supposed to love them too. Prior to this visit, I had experienced a number of panic attacks for the first time and was given Xanax to help me. I had never thought I was a depressed person but was quite confused as to why I felt so panicked all the time. Xanax only excaserbated my emotionalism. Both my mother and father didn't do "emotions". My dad wants to take me to a party with Wife #4 for Christmas (to show me off I suppose). I was so depressed I just didn't want to go. He was not pleased with this. Later, after they returned from this party, he sat me down and sternly said, "Chele I want you to tell me why you are so angry at me. Just tell me everything." I said that I didn't feel comfortable doing that and perhaps we could talk about it at another time. He insisted I tell him. I reluctantly told him that I had been continually disappointed by him as a child when he would disappear. I told him that it made me sad that he never tried to get to know me. I told him it made me think that he didn't like me because he'd rather marry 3 strange women rather than get to know me. After this explanation, he got very angry and said to me, "You are the most selfish person I have ever known. You're an ungrateful person." Well, let's just say this didn't help the depression.

The next 6 months were strained between me and my father as I really didn't know what to say to him. In May of 1993, he went in for his 4th bypass operation where they take veins from your legs and place them in your heart. He had never followed doctor's recommendations to quit smoking, quit gambling, etc. Hence, the 4th bypass by the age of 49. He had burned through all the money and the honeymoon was over. I had my last conversation with my father on the day he got out of surgery. He was groggy from the morphine and I told him I loved him. He told me that one day he and I would take a trip together - just us. I told him that I would like that very much and that I loved him. A few weeks later he died suddenly while at the doctor for a follow up appointment after his surgery.

I received a phone call at work and was paged to answer the call immediately. It was Wife #4 sobbing and trying to tell me that my dad had died. She asked me if I could call my brothers and tell them. Oh, those were not easy calls to make as my brothers were in love with my father. We were all numb from this experience however, I imagine my brother's numbness was for different reasons than mine.

The money had run out and sadly there was not enough money for a headstone for his grave. That is the way my dad lived. He had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. When life was running high we would meet the next new wife. When life was running low, we wouldn't hear from him.

I have such a hole in my heart where his love and admirationof me wouldhave lived. I weep from a deep place when I think about this and I also weep when someobody comes along and treats me with unconditional love - the love I should have received from him. There haven't been too many men in my life who have been unconditionally loving to me. In fact, I can't really think of one. And it is with that experience that my heart weeps when I think of him.

At least he never bugged me about my weight.

The evolution of human growth is an evolution from an absolute need to be loved towards a full readiness to give love.
--Dr. Karl Stern

As children we looked to our parents for love, for clothes and food, for an indication of who we were. If our needs were met, we felt secure. As developing adults, we still seek love. We continue yearning for security and all too often our self-definition comes through someone else. But a healthy sign of our growth is revealed each time we extend love to another with no thought that love is owed us in return.

We can show our love in myriad ways -- a genuine smile, a note of appreciation, an unexpected favor, perhaps flowers, or a phone call. Warmly giving another attention in any form is an act of love, one that will be repaid in full by someone, at some time.

The ease with which we genuinely love others is directly proportional to our commitment to loving as a priority in our lives. To love is a decision first, an action second, a value next.


jen said...

I'm so sorry that your father couldn't love you in the way that you deserved (and deserve) to be loved, Michele.

Lori said...

Michele, boy, it was hard reading this. My dad never had the highs and lows like you describe but he did drink. A lot. And he had a temper. And he never mentioned my weight either except when I lose weight.

I'm so sorry you didn't get what you needed. You deserved it as a kid and you deserve it now.

The things you say about your mom makes more sense to me too; it must have been hard for her to have been so disappointed with him as a husband and as a father. I would have shut down quite a bit too and been afraid to give my heart to anyone really. And your brothers too.

daisyk said...

I like the quote you give at the end -- it's such a contrast to your story & makes me think that maybe the hole that so many of us carry, or through which we keep falling, is fillable only with the genuine, healthy love we GIVE. To ourselves, if we can, to strangers, to other strugglers & stragglers. & perhaps, too, fillable with the healthy love we allow IN.

Someone taught you how to love: thank God for that, you know?


Anonymous said...

I am so incredibly moved by your blog about your dad and how he affected your life. It took a lot of courage to write that, my friend, and I am immeasurably proud of you. Watching you on your journey has been an inspiration and I wait with curiousity as to what comes next. Keep up the amazingly heroic work!

Rowan said...

I can relate to the 'absent father' in some ways because my father was an alcholic and rarely available to me even though he lived in the same house.
A friend of mine once told me, as we shared our stories about our families, that my 'father' was not my 'father' and I should stop looking to him for that support and love. He said the definition of a father is someone who protects and guides you and gives you a strong foundation from which to launch out of.
That idea really helped me see how strongly I still wanted the father I never had and how futile it was to still hope for that connection after all this time.
Over time I was able to see how childlike I was in a lot of my friendships/relationships - always looking for that security by defining myself according to what they wanted of me or what I could do to make sure they loved me and were never
disappointed with me. Exhausting way to be.
I love the last bit here because is it so positive and I believe it truly is the right direction. Unconditional love was the way I learned to forgive my father and love him for who he is now. He still is not able to give much in the way of love but I don't need it in the way I did, I guess because I have healthy relationships now.
Your quote at the end sounds like the practice of 'loving kindness' in buddhist meditation. It is especially important to practice it with people we have difficulites with, otherwise we get tied up in all of that muck and it's hard to grow as a person.
It seems to me you are well on your way!

buddha_girl said...

I wish I could weave some words together to make you understand that even though you had no true father figure who loved are loved regardless.

My Dad was the complete opposite of yours. I simply cannot imagine having lived my life without my Dad who was my greatest supporter. I miss him every day.

You are a brave soul who is coming out of the darkness. Writing about the pain from the past and how disappointment has molded some of your life habits is healing. Hard. Tough. Draining. But healing.

You are loved!

Cindy184 said...

Wow. Thanks for putting this out there and sharing it with everybody. We have father issues in my family. I find myself trying to make up for the absence of my daughter's father. I just want to be able to love her enough to make up for it. And I know I fall short. But what you are doing, getting down to origins of hurts is part of the process of understanding and forgiving and moving on. At least, that's how I see it. Thanks again.

Michelle said...

Just wondering if you're okay..
It's been a few days since you last posted. I hope all is well.