Thursday, May 21, 2009

Pater Familias

Because my Mother’s Day post was a wee bit glum, I decided not to wait for Father’s Day to post the poem I wrote about my father. I’ll let Mr. Right bask in the glory that is his on Father’s Day. That is as it should be.

I’ve just returned home from spending a few days in Oklahoma where I grew up. I stayed with my sister and attended my niece’s high school graduation which I’ll maybe write about later, but right now my brain is in low gear and can’t seem to get up any speed.

The last day at my sister’s house was spent sitting on the back porch drinking, talking, laughing and occasionally letting a tear or two escape our eyes. We brushed off a lot of old memories and turned them over and gave them a look see to see if they were worth keeping. I reminded her of childhood things she’d long forgotten and she shared some of her memories of our grandparents that she’d made in her adult life of which I’d not been a part. Sitting on her back porch that day, my sister and I wove together a rag tag Quilt of Remembrance.

Being children who grew up quite often feeling as though we’d lost the Parent Lottery, the subject of our mother and father made it into the conversation with some frequency. We discussed how we lived a large part of our lives learning how to avoid our father’s fury, which basically, boiled down to avoiding him altogether.

In previous posts, I’ve introduced you a bit to my mother. Allow me to introduce my father.

The Cowboy

In the distance he stands, thumb hooked inside the pocket of faded Levis, hip cocked.

His head is tilted under an expensive but weathered Stetson, and his neck, native red,
shows above the collar of his long sleeved western shirt.

His eyes are squinted against the scorching sun and he seems
oblivious to the heat. The rope is held in his free hand, hanging by his side naturally, as if it were an extension of his own arm.

He possesses the soul of a cowboy, the heart of a horse,
and the patience of a rattlesnake.

Weathered and worn, occasionally beaten,
but always fighting, and never admitting defeat.

He is proud to a fault, quick to judge, and sparing with compliments.

In his eyes there is admiration for the horses he loves and controls.
For his children, his eyes are flashes of lightening threatening to strike;
his boots like thunder on the sidewalk, warning of the coming storm.

I know this man, this man’s man, a charmer of horses and women.
A part of him lives in me.

I can sometimes hear the thunder roll and the hair raises on my neck waiting for the lightening to strike.

I have felt the force of his powerful hands and have lived through storms that left me wounded and afraid.

I know him.
I love him.
He is my father.

This was written in June of 1999 when I was thirty years old. At the time, my father was serving the tenth year of a fourteen year prison sentence. I had three children, none of whom he'd ever met and I was in therapy, attempting to save myself and a failing marriage. I was also still in regular contact with my father via collect calls from the prison and handwritten letters back and forth.

Today, ten years later, my children have still not met their grandfather. My marriage was not saved, but I was, and I no longer have contact with my father.

What I feel for him is something akin to the feelings one might have when seeing an animal alongside the road that has been hit by a car but is still alive and suffering. It's not love, but rather a desire to not see another living thing exist in misery. Or, maybe it is love but my mind can't acknowledge it because my body and my heart are still too scarred from his hands and words to comprehend that I might still be capable of such feelings for him.

I'm not sure what it is, but I am sure of this: I never knew my father and I never will. The loss has been overwhelmingly great at times and I have sorrowfully mourned what never was. I also know that it will never be and I have come to accept that. Life is good and full and I have filled it with family that is partially DNA and partially just Love. The father sized hole in me no longer exists. The scars he left, I carefully tend and treat with the gentleness they deserve.


Kathy's Klothesline said...

That was powerful. Isn't it amazing how cathartic it is to put it down on paper (so to speak). I had a similar relationship with my mother and when she died I was incredibly heart broken and didn't really know why. I think now that maybe it was the loss of the opportunity to say what was never said. I am glad you have had therapy and are able to handle things so well. I recognize that your hurt and anger will always be a part of who you were and who you have become. Thanks for sharing something so very deep and personal.

lakeviewer said...

Pain tends to make us wiser. You've come to terms with the people who are your parents. You can't change them; you can't erase them. You can only live your life knowing that the world is flawed.

Jennie................ said...

I feel this way about my father too. I share your pain in that department. I too have moved on from his harm and abuse. Its a shame that fathers can be like that eh?

ellen abbott said...

I guess a lot of us can relate. As kids, when my father hit the door coming home from work, woe be to the one that didn't scurry back to their room quick enough, and sometimes that was no guarantee of escape. He wasn't physical though, just in your face venting his spleen for hours. He had a stroke and he became a changed man and I actually found some affection for him before he died.

Very powerful story (Kathy took the words out of my mouth). I'm glad you are healed from it.

markdw said...

I know how you feel.

In my case, the problem was never the actual loss of the person. I didn't ever know him every well. The problem was the loss of potential...that a proper relationship with my father had irrevocably been rendered impossible.

Amy said...

KK: Thank you. I like your comment about hurt and anger being a part of me and who I have become. Yes, it's true and also true that I now understand that it can be a part of me without defining me.

Rosaria: I hope pain has made me wiser! I'd hate to think it was all for naught. As always, your comments are appreciated.

Jennie: Mr. Right and I have discussed many times the similarities between our fathers. Although the ways in which we lost them were different, they were losses nonetheless. Fathers have so much power over us. It would be so lovely if they knew how to love us better.

Ellen: I smiled when I read your comment about the sound of the steps coming up the sidewalk. A smile of rememberance I suppose. My sister and I were discussing this past week about being able to determine his mood by the way his cowboy boots sounded coming up the walk. I hope you have made peace within yourself. Thanks so much for your comments.

Amy said...

Mark: I understand. I mourned the loss of what never was for many years. No matter how we lost our fathers, it was still a loss and the grief must still be dealt with.

Wendy said...

Well, it looks like my siblings (we're part of your "love" family, I guess) have already stated the obvious. Thank you for this post.

Tessa said...

What an extraordinarily brave and compassionate woman you are, Amy. I am in awe. That was one of the most touching, heart-wrenching and beautifully written posts I've ever read.

I know we are many, many miles apart but I reach out to give you a warm hug and I send my love. Bless you.

Lee Ryan said...

Great Post. Though - maybe you should have made the title: "Roadkill Daddy"



Amy said...

Wendy - Thanks for stopping by again and for commenting. XO

Tessa - I feel your hugs from across the miles and thank you deeply for them. Your words are so kind and touch my heart.

Lee - Hm. That title never crossed my mind. I went with a Cohen brothers reference instead. Had I been writing another country music song, "roadkill" might have fit right in.

markdw said...

Heh, the first thing I thought of when I looked at the title andB&W photo was George Clooney as Ulysses Everett McGill and "I'm the damned Pater Familias!"

Snowbrush said...

You are a powerful writer.

I envy you your closeness with your sister. My sister and I are estranged. There's nothing I can do to change that, but it saddens me very much and very often.

Amy said...

Mark - Bingo.

Snowbrush - I'm one of five sisters and I only have a close relationship with one. I've literally gone years without speaking to some of them. I'm so sorry about your relationship with your sister. Thanks so much for sharing a bit of yourself here on my blog.

Cubil said...

Well done, well said, and something I relate to having a relationship with my father that led to estrangement on my part.
I woke up one morning while on a retreat with a poem completed, waiting to be written down. Sharing it with the group, was the flush that completed the unresolved feeling around him. When he died a year later, the grieving had already been done.

Andrea said...

You have a way of getting to me in every post (but you already knew that)! I feel for what you are saying. I watch my own son and daughter deal with their emotions about their dad - someone who never really "gets" it when it comes to his kids. You've obviously done the very hard emotional work to get where you are right now. That's something to be proud of!

Cynthia said...

Amy, I am honored that you shared this prose with the blogging community. What beauty and fine feeling you express.

I posted a piece about my own father on Saturday...and I ended with a poem about him. I hope you can come over and read. I want to add you to my sidebar and follow. You have a gift of profound personal expression.

I found you from Tessa's blog...a person I genuinely admire.

Take care and love to you <3

Amy said...

Andrea - So glad to have you back in The Land of Blog! Thanks so much for stopping in to read and comment. You always seem to be able to lend an empathetic ear and a word or two of support. Many thanks.

Cynthia - So glad you found me through Tessa! She's a wonder, isn't she? I've just finished reading the most recent post on your blog and loved it. Thanks so much for your comment and lovely sentiments.

Fragrant Liar said...

Wow, my dear that was an excellent piece of work. This is my favorite line: "He possesses the soul of a cowboy, the heart of a horse,
and the patience of a rattlesnake." That says SO much. I'm sorry for your loss, and sohappy for you that you've found your way to a happy life in spite of your childhood.

Amy said...

FL: Why, thank you, My Dear! Glad you're off the prescription hooch enough to read! I always appreciate you stopping by and commenting.

Angela said...

Dearest Amy, I was sure I had written you a comment, but I can`t find it now. Thank you so much for yours on mine. I will write you a real letter instead then! (Your post made me dream of my father... It was so moving. Thank you for your openness! You are amazing)

Inga K said...

No one could have described our father better! You gave a voice to my thoughts and feelings with frightening clarity. Thank you.