Dad tells me he doesn’t remember my mother’s manic episodes having too much of an effect on my brothers and me.
“I got into a really good routine. I worked out every day in the gym. I read books, remember? I had a whole shelf of books about bipolar this and bipolar that.”
I don’t remember the books.
I don’t even remember my dad being home. I can’t seem to put my questions into words.
“But, me and the boys? Do you remember us taking it in any…way?” I want my dad to remember that I never left my room and I repeatedly locked myself in the bathroom and threatened to harm myself and another sad behavior and another sad behavior and another.
“No. You were normal. You were very normal kids. I mean, everyone around your mother could tell that she was…different…I think you could tell…”
I’m shaking as I walk beside him. My mother used to yell, scream, call names and slam doors. Meanwhile, my father would travel on business or golf or just, leave us in his own way. He’s right that things were normal enough in that we were fed and we were housed. But other than that, we lived in a chaotic state, usually without him. And, his lack of memory speaks more to his absence than to the normalcy he seems to think was a product of his stable personality.
Dad details his theories about how we survived my mother’s illness as my memory floods with images of my 12-year-old body crouched in the corner of my room, crying, watching the clock, waiting for time to end. But, Dad thinks that he comes from Holocaust survivors who dealt with their trauma by succeeding in business and Mom comes from Holocaust survivors who dealt with their trauma via more negative behaviors. And so, according to Dad, therein lies the foundation of difference between my bipolar mother and my father who kept us together. Their combined differences offered us stability, despite Mom’s behavioural problems.
Dad’s theory bothers me. I don’t remember stability. I don’t remember Dad.
“I took Mom’s behaviour really personally,” I tell him as he watches the ground. I shake. “I took it personally. I thought she hated me. And, I was afraid of her and it felt really alone.”
He looks up and nearly laughs.
I’ve realized on this walk, my Dad put up with a lot from Mom. “Eventually you take it in stride,” he explained.
I asked him what he meant by that but he didn’t really know.. I love my father for helping my mother get better and I am astounded by the amount of abuse he endured but I also know that he was able to get through it by leaving. Leaving the house, leaving the kids. He didn’t believe she was dangerous.
The walk lasted 90 minutes. It ends with a complete misunderstanding between us, something completely off-topic: I want to find work that can support my writing career without wasting the time and energy I need to write. He insists that my only option is to work in real estate. But, I am legally blind which is a huge barrier to a career in real estate, which I’ve explained that to him before but he doesn’t believe that I am visually impaired. And, I know it’s just one of those Dad things that won’t make sense between the two of us, just like the way I feel he left us when we needed him.
After the walk, I grabbed my dog’s leash back from my dad (Dad insists on holding the leash when we walk because he loves my dog). I walked home and when I got inside, I snapped my cheap sunglasses in half, screamed a barf-like desperate sound and crouched in the corner of the front room, weeping. Some things never change.
A few hours later, Dad called me.
“I just want you to know that I think what you’re doing is very important. And, are you going to talk to your mom about this? I think you should talk to her because Ididn’t know you feel that way as a kid and I think she would like to talk to you about it and I just want you to know that this book is a big thing you’re doing and the research is a really big, big thing. I didn’ realize how big it is and I think I misunderstood the last part of our conversation and I don’t know how you’ll make the money you need but I hope you do. I really hope you do, ok?”
I thanked him twice.
I’ll be thankful all weekend.
I wonder if our fathers just take a little longer to understand sometimes. Maybe that’s just my dad.
But, I’ve learned that it’s good to have patience with your listener. If they don’t seem to understand you, trust your own intentions for speaking and tell them what you’re here to say. It might feel traumatizing (or re-traumatizing) to open up without an immediate payoff but, accept your listener’s capacity for emotional resonance, give them space, give yourself space, and try to honestly let go.