Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Parenthood Isn't Easy, But I Don't Care

I've alluded on a few occasions here about my relationship with my father. When I say my father, I don't mean my Daddy (who is actually my grandfather) or my Dad (who is actually my stepfather), I mean my actual biological father. The human being who shares half my genes.

If you've missed those allusions, or are new here, here's the gist: it's not good. We can only really be said to have a relationship in the technical definitional way: we know each other.

Recently, I made a few jokes about how my father didn't even know about Maren. I want to make it clear that I am not hiding Maren from him, it just never came up. It never came up because I have not physically spoken with him since before I knew I was pregnant. He sends me cards, I ignore them. He sends me texts, I ignore them. That's it.

On his birthday, he posted a Facebook status about the "grandchildren [he's] allowed to know about." At first, I was sort of amused. My Facebook is protected and he's not allowed in, so he must have found my blog? my Flickr? Who knows? It was a mystery. But, it's stuck with me, that little snide remark. Like a splinter under my nail. From time to time, I forget it's there, but then I move my hand and it annoys me afresh. I've tried to just let it be, just let it work itself out of there, but I've reached my limit. I'm ripping off the nail and dealing with this thing. Right here, right now.

I tried for years to love my father. To view him as more than the sum of his faults. To see his avoidance of responsibility, his uncaring attitude, his lack of meaningful existence in my life as some sort of disability. I'd just love him on his own terms. Not mine. It seemed selfish to demand that he send my birthday cards in the right month or to know what year I was graduating high school. So what if I only saw him on average every three years and only talked to him twice a year, those cards he sent said he loved me, right?

But the disappointments continued. His absences grew longer and longer and his demand that he be the center of the universe when he was around grew more and more insistent. And I came to realize something very important, I wasn't selfish. He was.

He was selfish to think that he could just go 800-some odd miles away from me and his tie to me would cease to exist, but my tie to him would weather any storm. He was selfish to expect me to drop my plans and talk to him on the phone for hours, even when he didn't bother to call until a day or two after my birthday. He was selfish to believe that I could be bought with an annual gift certificate and a little poetry.

I have men in my life who were never selfish with me. Men who threatened my dates, taught me to watch basketball and play baseball. Men who watched The Dukes of Hazzard with me while drinking Coke out of a glass bottle. Men who shared Stephen King with me when I was growing out of the teenybopper fiction section of the library. Men who sat and watched cartoons with me when I was sick. Men who cruised neighborhoods to make sure I was where I said was going to be. Men who cared more than twice a year.

My father's father never knew me. He and I lived less than ten minutes apart for most of my life, but we never met. And that bothered me. I always lived with that just under the surface, that feeling of not really belonging to someone who I should belong to. So, when Brynna was born, I tried again with my father. I let him come back into my life. I answered the phone. I invited him into my living room and let him hold my daughter. I told myself that it wasn't going to be that bad, that I was an adult now and he couldn't hurt me anymore. I was doing this for Brynna.

But the truth is, I was wrong. He could hurt me. He did hurt me. I won't go into the details of that hurt, but I'd always just felt ignored and he left me feeling attacked.

But the larger issue is that I remembered how I had felt as a kid. Yes, I always felt sad about the lack of relationship with my grandfather. Yes, it always bothered me. And that's what I was concentrating on. But about my relationship with my father, I always felt like a not-so-favorite toy. I was something that he would pick up and look at every once in a while. I would turn on the lights and smile and think that this time would be different, this time I wouldn't just go back in the box at the end of the day. But, ultimately, that's where I always landed. I remember as a teenager telling a friend that it would have been easier if he had just disappeared than what he did.

And that's what ultimately changed my mind. I don't want Brynna to have such a fair-weather friend in her life. I don't want the definition of grandparent to be sullied for her by someone who only appears sporadically, makes promises he knows he can't keep and tells stories that never happened.

My father was young when I was born. He wasn't ready for a life with a kid. And I get that. I truly do. I am lucky that I didn't have children until I was ready and I know that not everyone has that luxury. I know it wasn't easy. I know I wasn't easy.

But, dammit, I was there. Ultimately, it's the grown-up who's responsible. The parent who has to make the effort.

As a parent, now, I know more than I ever did how hard it is to be a parent. How hard it is to let your life revolve around someone else. How hard it is to give up so much of yourself and expect so little in return. How hard it is to always be The Parent, with no breaks, no time off, no give-backsies.

I get it, but I don't care. You do it because you have to. Because there is no other choice. Because pretending there is doesn't make you stop being a parent, it makes you a sucky parent. Because even on the absolute worst day ever, the day that you honestly start to think you hadn't gotten yourself into this mess at all, you still love them and couldn't give them up for anything. You do it because, like it or not, you are The Parent.


Suze said...

Maybe he wasn't ready, but men get that luxury of choosing to be around. Women. do. not. get. that. luxury. So there's no excuse for being absent from your child's life. I am so sorry you've had this lack of relationship with your father, but I'm glad you have at least had good men in father roles in your life. You also have a kick-ass mom. And even though I've never met your kids, you seem like a pretty kick-ass mom yourself. Booyah.

Steve said...

It's a tough call, which you have obviously considered long and hard, but I think you are right to keep someone so damaging out of Brynna's life.

My wife's mother has never seen our children. She's an aggressive and even violent woman thanks to her alcohol problem. She pushed my wife when she was 7 months pregnant with our first child. We haven't seen her since. We told her to deal with her problem or she wasn't welcome around us. She replied with abuse so that was that.

The denouement is that my kids have never queried her absence. They don't miss her and they certainly are not missing out.

Mrs. Allroro said...

You are so precious. He has missed an awesome treasure. I always thought it was awesome that you had a stepdad you admired so much. Why does it always have to be one or the other--either the dad or the stepdad? Anyway, I loved reading this, even though I wanted to stop a couple of times because you were breaking my heart. It's awesome that you have enough love in your life now that you can open your heart like this. (Not that you need my affirmation for any of this, but I wanted to share somehow.) Anyway, I can't imagine how hard this has been and is for you, but I pray that you will heal completely from this and that your children will never be hurt by it.

And your mom is so super sweet. Just had to throw that in there.

Jessi said...

Mrs. A - My mom rocks! I didn't want to bring her into this post because there is just no comparison. I'm glad that you got something out of it. I wasn't sure if I should post it because it seemed so whiny to me.

Suze - You are right. Women just don't get that luxury. I was thinking about how my mom was even younger and has been so great.

Steve - It's very hard to make that decision. I was never willing to do it before, but kids change things.

Steph said...

Jessi--no wisdom to offer, just thanks for writing this and sharing it.