Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Law of the Father - Part I

This will be a brief intro post to what will, I'm sure, be several posts on the Law of the Father, in both theoretical and literal terms. The Reason: for the first time in almost a decade (and only the second time ever), my natural father is coming to visit.

The Immediate Context: My father came to my wedding in 2005, and I'd seen him once before at my brother's college graduation in 2004. Before that, I'd only seen him an average of once every year or so, at best.

Broader Context: My parents divorced when I was 10, and my father re-married WESM (Wicked Evil Step-Mother) within a year of the divorce, thinking he'd have a better shot in a custody battle if he had a wife at home to take care of my brother and I should he win. He didn't win, not at first anyway. My mother was granted full custody of us, but several months after the divorce, she was struck with a rare viral illness called
Guillain-Barre Syndrome. She was flown to Capital City Hospital, where her lungs collapsed, paralysis set in, and she was put on a respirator. We were automatically put into my father's care while she was in the hospital for the next six months. I lived with my father and WESM for about 2 years before finally moving back in with my mother, who made an almost full recovery from her illness.

Some Details About My Father:
* he cheated on my mother, nobody knows how many times though, but he wasn't terribly good at hiding it
* when he was home (which was often only a month at a time b/c he works in the oilfield), he was always the Good Cop, giving my brother and I lots of junk food, taking us fishing, hunting, etc. During my childhood, I was a Daddy's Girl; I was the son he didn't get until my brother came along four years after me.
* he has only a high school education, is from the south, and was the local football star/bully in my hometown (his nickname: The Animal)
* when my mother divorced him, he held a gun to her head and threatened to kill her; stalked her; broke into her house and burned holes in all the clothes in her close (this list is not extensive by any means)
* one time he head-butted me for opening a can of soup to eat for a late morning breakfast
* he is a Master Manipulator
* he is now divorced from WESM, though not after putting her through even worse fear and manipulation than he inflicted on my mother
* when I left his house at almost 13, he told me to take every picture of me with me because he didn't want anything to remember me by

I'm sure you're wondering why the hell I'd let this person into my home with my family. The answer, the short answer anyway, is that I forgave him a long time ago for all his past offenses, and I no longer give him the power to create fear in me. I forgave him as part of my own healing process many years ago. I confronted him about his affairs, I demanded an explanation, and I told him I wasn't afraid of him anymore.

The funny thing about The Law of the Father though, is one never really escapes it. Not completely. There's always that thing in the back of your head that knows The Law's potential to surveil, control, and punish: in theory, culture, and paternal law. I know I'm in a safe space with my husband and children. And my father and I have talked more in the past year over the phone, though the conversations are brief. He's come to recognize himself, in part, as an old man who will be leaving behind very few people who love him. He knows he fucked up with me. He knows there is no way to ever make it up. He knows (I think) that I will never trust him again the way a child should be able to trust a parent. I think he's very alone. He continues to work in the oilfield business, like he has all his life, yet he's got nothing to show for it. No home. No retirement plans. No social life. No goals. No close family. Right now, I think he's grateful for whatever he can get, and if that's just a two-night stay at his daughter's house to visit with me, my husband, and his grand-daughters, he'll take it. Even if it's tense and awkward. I know he'll die with a long list of regrets. I think this is the best I can do for him right now.

He's coming tonight, so we'll see how it goes. I'll be posting more about him, the visit, and my take on the Daddy-Daughter link to The Law of the Father in the next few days. This is one of the few times where I wished I had lots of readers who could totally relate and could offer tons of helpful advice.


Literacy-chic said...

Ugh. This reminds me of my mother's second husband in many ways--though not the level of violence. The violence was there, but not at the end. The manipulation since the divorce has been much more subtle. This is not my father, but fathered my 5 siblings, so I have distance, but was affected nonetheless. If you ever read of my fear & distrust of marriage, he is largely to blame. I actually have no knowledge of my father, who was differently abusive, from what I understand... Suffice it to say, I know what you mean about not escaping the influence. :/

wwwmama said...

Wow. I have absolutely no advice or reference for this. My father was flawed but not in those ways. I think I can understand you letting him visit, though, because toward the end of my father's life I forgave a lot in him for my own sake, just to be able to move on and not carry the weight of it all my life. I'll definitely be following the visit. I hope it goes as well as it can.