After finding my mom at the center of the extreme emotional explosions my son’s mom faced as my wife, it came as little shock to see my dad smack in the middle of my persistent problems with authority and self-confidience. Clearly I suffered from many of the same underlying issues he had most of his life, despite the specifics being vastly different in character and severity. That’s how your devils get you to ignore problems for so long. Change the fine details. Give you room to debate obvious facts. Plausible deniability. I grasped at every straw for decades.
“You’re nothing like your old man, Jason. You don’t steal from people, including your own children. You don’t cheat people at every turn for as long as you can get away with it. You don’t lie like a rug everywhere you find yourself. You are not your father’s son, son!”
I set the bar too low. I was absolutely my father’s son. Not in any way that would be immediately noticeable from the outside, but deep down where fear and insecurity ruled the roost, we might as well have been twins separated by a twenty-year contraction. Places that few people ever saw were a mirror image of the weaknesses that kept my dad forever behind the eight ball despite his lackluster efforts and noble intentions. I’ve lost track of how many balls dropped from my careless hands over the years. I learned the fine art of avoidance and deflection and self-deception from my dad, too.
That’s not to say my dad was awful. He wasn’t. He was broken. He tried his best. It was just a sad fact that his best was never near good enough. It was usually the exact opposite of good enough. I was working as an apprentice carpenter in Reno, Nevada, in 1989 following a year and some change at the Sierra Nevada Job Corps and decided I wanted to buy a truck with the newfound “wealth” that came with a steady paycheck at union rates. I filled out all the required paperwork at the bank, expecting a speedy approval because my credit should be pretty good at that early point in life.
When they ran my credit report and asked me what happened to the black Mazda pickup truck I bought in 1984, I replied that I was 14-years-old at the time and not old enough to drive. My dad bought a similar vehicle back then. Still had it, in fact. Turns out he’d used my social security number to get the loan and then promptly stopped paying, changed the tags and drove the shit out of that truck until it died in the nineties. I called my dad to ask about it later the same week. He laughed and rattled off my SSN from memory. Nothing more was said, but it was the last time I ever trusted him, despite helping him from time to time.
The last and final time I tried to help him, we owned a large Victorian rowhouse in the up-and-coming H Street neighborhood of Washington DC. Plenty of room for guests. If I had an ounce of respect for my marriage, I would have cleared the idea with my wife first. Of course, she probably would have said yes. Instead, I rogered up on behalf of both of us when my uncle called to tell me my dad was fading fast and needed my help to make the changes necessary to get on the donor list for a new kidney. He’d been on dialysis three times a week for years. Could we help? I assured my uncle that we could and prepare to send him east from Eugene, Oregon, as soon as practicable.
My amazing mate backed my play without hesitation, but she rightly guessed it would end in heartache and disaster. It took maybe six or seven months for the blush to fall off the rose. My dad refused to make any of the necessary changes needed to prepare his body and mind for a transplant operation. I refused to flex on my “suggestions” for transforming his habits into something that might sustain his life. His health continued to worsen. He ended up in the hospital several times. The only positive development that came out of the experience is my ex decided she wanted to be a nurse and help people like my dad mitigate the damage caused by the worst of their self-destructive behaviors. That’s exactly what she did.
We dropped dad back at National Airport for his return trip west having made no headway in helping him heal. A little over a year later he was gone. My sister and I were lucky to be able to rush to his side when the time came. I happened to have been working and could afford to help finance the last-minute trip. I still remember his last words like it was yesterday. I kissed him softly on the forehead, forgave him deep in my heart and said goodbye. It’s a sad commentary on our relationship that losing my two dogs about a year apart hit me far harder than losing my dad over a ten-year chronic illness.
Now that I’ve made it through the first stage of my transition to being more fully human, I’ve never been happier with my performance as a father. My son’s response has been all the motivation I need to continue down this path. Continuing to enhance and extend my patience and kindness feels like a natural part of my being now. Something that I didn’t know was missing and now that it’s here, I can’t believe I never noticed it’s lack. Just like my explosive temper was something I never saw until it was gone. I’m still shocked I didn’t see it long before.
I’m coming to terms with a lot of things I never saw. My eyes have been opened. My heart made whole. My future restored. Anything is possible now. For all of us.