I never talk about my dad.
I tend to forget I even have one.
Every now and then I will see my mom and I will ask her if he is still alive.
She usually says that he is “in bad shape” and that his liver is failing.
I don’t know how she knows this.
She doesn’t know him either.
The last time I saw him was ten years ago.
I was walking into a liquor store.
He was walking out.
I said “Hey Melvin.” and he looked at me and tried to place me.
“Do I know you?” he said.
I felt like I should feel something so I became the actor I always had to be and feigned anger.
“Don’t even know your own fucking son.” I said and walked out.
I wondered if he had a bunch of families that he had abandoned.
I wondered if he had a lot of sons like me.
Little boys who used to clean their rooms and wait for their daddies to come home.
Little boys like me with their glove and their ball sitting on the steps waiting…mastering disappointment so early in life.
I used to say that it didn’t affect me, but I always got teary eyed when I would hear Cat’s in the Cradle and the first time I heard the song House of Pain by Faster Pussycat I had to leave where I was at because it crushed me so hard.
Little past supper time
Still out on the front porch sittin on my behind
Waitin for you…
Now as an adult, I see that it has actually shaped every human interaction I have ever had.
And it will continue to.
It is part of who I am.
I have one memory of us throwing a ball in the backyard when I was five.
I suspect I may have invented it.
And I have one memory of us sitting down to eat dinner together in front of the television.
I remember someone had shot Ronald Reagan and he and my mother were happy about it, calling him a “piece of shit” and I remember watching the footage of this old man being shot over and over again and feeling very sad about it.
As an adult I realize that they did not dislike Reagan for the reasons I have come to.
They did not understand his policies against the poor and minorities.
They did not know that the “War on Drugs” would become a new form of slavery for the impoverished of our country.
They just hated him because he was president and we were poor and that’s what they thought poor people were supposed to do.
I remember once I was lighting some matches, trying to burn some paper I had shoved into a gutter spout on the back of the neighbors house.
I wasn’t trying to burn their house down.
I was four years old and wanted to see if fire would shoot out the top of the pipe.
I felt a pain in my neck and blacked out for a second.
When I opened my eyes my father was towering over me.
By the way he held his hand I could tell he had just karate chopped me in the neck.
“Don’t light fires, boy.” he said in his southern drawl and lumbered away.
I have a sort of Stockholm Syndrome with that moment.
As an adult I know I would never knock a four year old unconscious, but I never lit another fire after that, and as sad as it is, I loved him for teaching me that.
I respected him on an animal level.
The big strong beast who could take my life at any time with one chop of his great hand.
My father. The giant.
But that was not the only time he hit me…
He wore a leather belt and on the belt where all these little metal rings, built into it.
When I had done something “bad” he would take it off and chase me into his bedroom.
He would tell me to take off my clothes.
I would beg him not to hurt me, but he delighted in it.
I would be in the corner curled up crying “Please daddy, please.” and instead of hitting me he would walk back and forth and talk about what a horrible child I was and pop the belt in his hands to make his point after each sentence.
He would do this until he was so angry that he could no longer contain himself and then he would just start hitting me wildly.
Occasionally one of the belt’s rings would open up a cut in my skin.
When he was done I would run to my room and crawl under my bed and cry for what seemed like hours.
I remember thinking that I wanted my mom to come and pull me out and hold me.
She never did.
I also remember thinking that they were mean like that because they had hard souls.
This is seriously what my little brain would say.
I would say that they had hard souls and that I would never let my soul turn hard like theirs did.
I told myself that their souls became hard from pushing down their feelings until they turned to anger and I had a very visual understanding of this concept in my head.
I imagined them pushing all feelings down and them getting all compressed in their stomachs and turning black and then the blackness oozing out of them and making them turn mean.
I remember thinking that it was harder to just feel my feelings and cry, but it was the only way I could keep from becoming like them.
I remember thinking that the tears were the feelings draining out of me.
Looking back it amazes me that I had such an advanced thought at such a tender age.
And in a very abstract way it was actually spot on.
I remember being five and sleeping with a knife in my bed.
A big butcher knife I had stolen from the kitchen drawer.
What did I plan to do with that knife?
I have no idea.
I just remember holding onto it like it was a Teddy bear and feeling safer.
The thought of this makes me very sad now that I have kids of my own.
One day, when I was eight, he went too far.
My mother came home and found me unconscious, covered in blood and told him to leave or else she would call the police.
My crime had been that I was confused about how to make instant tea.
I had poured the water into the jar of tea instead of using a glass.
It really seems stupid now, but no one had ever showed me.
He left and never came back.
My mother blamed me.
She told me that before I came along things were fine between them.
She told me that she wanted a girl and when she saw me that she tried to get the hospital to keep me, but they refused.
And then two years later, after not seeing my father at all during that time, she told me that I was going to his apartment for Christmas.
He was living with “a black lady who got him to stop drinking”.
My mother dropped me off at the apartment Christmas morning and I met Millie.
She was really nice.
My dad sat in front of the television drinking and Millie kept telling him that each beer was his “last one”.
With each beer he yelled at the TV more and more.
With each sip his anger built and so did my fear.
Finally Millie tired of it and went to bed in the middle of the afternoon.
My dad wanted to play chess with me.
I had never played, but he showed me how the pieces moved.
Every time he took one of my pieces he yelled at me “You will NEVER be as good as your daddy!!”
I recall sitting there, a ten year old boy, staring at this stupid drunk man and thinking “I am already better than you.”
So when the game was over I asked to play again.
How hard could it be to be a drunk idiot at chess now that I understood how the game worked?
And that’s exactly what I was doing when he lunged across the table and threw me to the ground and began punching me.
I squirmed away and ran down the apartment stairs but he caught up with me in the alley and dragged me down into the snow.
After a few hits I lost consciousness and when I came to my father was lying face down in the snow with handcuffs on both his ankles and wrists.
For some reason, the police then wrapped his entire body up with what looked like medical tape.
He looked like a mummy, except his head was sticking out.
“I’m sorry.” he kept saying “You daddy loves you son.”
He just repeated those lines over and over again until they loaded him in the van and drove him away.
All the neighbors were outside.
They must have watched the whole thing.
Some people in uniforms bandaged me up and some lady talked to me about hitting and gave me a bear.
Millie took me inside and she smoked a joint while we waited for my mom.
She was sad, but she cared about me.
She was just wearing a nightgown and it was hanging open.
I could see her bare breasts inside the opening.
I wondered if she was stoned enough to let me touch them.
I wondered how far I could go with her.
The most common question I get asked is how I became a single father.
I usually don’t answer, simply because it is such a long answer.
I promise to cover it in a future blog.
On the rare occasion that I do answer it, I get the inevitable follow up question;
“Aren’t you angry with her?” meaning my kid’s biological mother.
Honestly I never had time to be angry about it.
I have been pretty busy the last 12 years, and also I am way too selfish of a person to harbor anger.
I just don’t like the way it feels.
But there is one question that I always ask myself.
And that is, “What the hell am I going to do when Chloe (insert major female right of passage here).”
It used to be “What the hell am I going to do when Chloe needs a bra?”
That turned into “What the hell am I going to do when Chloe has her period?!”
Now I am wrestling mind-bending questions like “What the bloody hell am I going to do when Chloe starts dating???!!!”
Or “How will I stop from murdering a grown man when I catch him checking out my daughter?!!!”
It is not that I am your typical clueless man.
I am a musician and a writer.
I was raised by women.
When I was little I had long hair so people always said what a pretty little girl I was.
I have always been fascinated with the fairer sex, so I spent a good deal of my life studying them.
I have a very small measure of understanding of what it means to be a woman.
But there is still that crippling handicap.
I am a man.
So when a female friend told me Chloe needed a bra (and Chloe was only 10!!!!!) I was annoyed and in complete denial.
When a second female friend told me the same thing, I realized I must be missing something.
I looked at my little girl.
She was just a little girl.
She didn’t have curves.
She didn’t have breasts.
She was my little bacon bit ( her pet nickname from when she was a toddler).
Why were these women seeing breasts when she clearly was just a little girl.
So I asked Chloe…
“Yeah. I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that…” she said.
An hour later we were bra shopping.
I felt bad for Chloe.
I felt like I had failed her.
I had tried to find a woman who would take this role, but I had picked the wrong women.
Or maybe I was just the wrong man and had sabotaged the right women.
I don’t know.
But standing under the harsh fluorescent glare of the department store lights I was exposed.
Exposed for the man I am.
Exposed for the fraud I will inevitably be, when trying to navigate seas I have no business in.
A stranger in a strange land of under-wire protection and push-up support.
Feeling inadequate simply because I AM inadequate and wishing beyond wishing that I had just dated women who loved Chloe and had put my own selfish needs aside.
Double D, C. B. A…drowning in a sea of bras, I thought of the jokes men would make about women’s breasts and I wanted to punch every man in the entire world right in their collective throats. I thought about men looking at my daughter’s chest and objectifying her and every callous, jagged locker-room comment I had ever overheard came swarming back to me 10,000-fold and then when I was right on the verge of panic I heard her tiny voice…
“I like this one” she said.
And she is holding it in front of her.
“I can’t cry. Not here. Cry later. This is about her. Not about you.” my inner monologue rolls on.
Practical dad speaks through me “Will it fit?”
“I think so.” she says.
And with that she slides it over her head and turns around.
I help her to fasten it and think of more callous male jokes about bra clasps.
But I am no longer angry…or panicked…
I am so choked up that my throat hurts.
She straightens it out a bit and I say “How does it feel?”
“Kinda weird.” she says and turns around.
I see now what the women were talking about.
My daughter has boobs.
No. “Boobs” sounds silly.
My daughter has…hmmmm…”breasts” sounds clinical and “tits”…no freaking way does my daughter have TITS!!!
My daughter has…beauty
My daughter IS…blossoming…
My daughter IS…beautiful..
My daughter IS…perfect.
It doesn’t matter what we call them.
They are HERS and SHE can call them whatever she wants.
They are hers and they are her and I have new-found respect for breasts and women in general.
All the books on feminism and college courses on gender did nothing to prepare me for this.
“Chloe.” I say “I’m sorry you don’t have a mom to do this with you. I’m sorry if this isn’t how you imagined it.”
“You ARE my mom.” she says.
And then something flew into my eye.