Daddy meant well. After all, surreptitiously watching black people on TV is the gateway to miscegenation.
Posts Tagged ‘daddy issues’
The earliest memories I have of my father are of him yelling at me and hitting me.
The lesson I refused to learn as a child was “keep quiet, stay out of his way, don’t say anything to piss him off.” My siblings, who were close enough to each other in age to grow up with each other’s support, evidently were able to manage this to some extent. I, on my own with only an elderly mother, a sister who despised me, and a rebellious spirit, somehow couldn’t grasp this.
I was aware, from a very early age, that the things my father was doing were wrong, that other kids didn’t have to put up with this crap, and that it wasn’t fair. Why should I have to sneak around just because I made friends with the black kid down the street? Why did I deserve to get beaten for greeting the Jehovah’s Witnesses who knocked on our door? “It’s not fair,” I growled into the mattress over and over at night.
Fairness can be a terrible thing to teach children. Play fair, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, turn the other cheek, don’t cheat, don’t bully the younger kids. Sure, great advice, but the moment when you begin to realize that those rules don’t apply to everybody else is a moment of impotent rage when you’re a kid. And if you weren’t taught how to deal with the unfairness of the world at the same time you were taught to be fair, well, that snotty little “Who told you life was going to be fair?” crack that people can’t seem to help making, it’s like spittle in your face.
The fact that my father was allowed to get away with the things he did to me only fueled my percolating bitterness. It was years before I was able to separate the notions of simple unfairness and outright injustice, and sometimes the line is still hopelessly blurred for me.
I remain baffled, to this day, as to why my brothers and sisters never made any attempt to shield me from what they knew I would grow up with. Presumably, having survived and successfully escaped, they assumed that I would too, without doing the math and taking into account the fact that I was alone, whereas they’d had each other. When I finally went to the police at the age of sixteen, they resented me for the embarrassment, for my failure to just grit my teeth, keep quiet, and accept the unfairness of it all until I could move out. I’m still not sure whether their rejection of me was unjust or simply unfair.
My mom birthed a lot of kids, of which I was the youngest. My parents were Catholic, and that’s…what you did. Mom had actually gone to college (majoring in what, I never knew), but then she married my father and they got right to business and had a baby a year for the first several years of their marriage. Eventually they tapered off, leaving larger and larger age gaps between the offspring. In the end, I popped out, after a seven-year hiatus, with the result that I didn’t “grow up with” any of my many siblings. Most of them were gone by the time I started to develop cognizance. For all intents and purposes, I was an only child, with several brothers and sisters whom I seldom saw in person. I don’t even know when most of their birthdays are.
Over the years, I collected scraps of information about what life had been like for my siblings. They all inherited my mother’s love of reading, so there were piles of books in the house. We were always poor — my father had, I believe, been a bricklayer before eventually gaining a white-collar municipal job. But my brothers and sisters were creative types, finding ways to make their own fun, inventing homemade games when they couldn’t afford mass-produced toys, and scoring secondhand goods whenever they could. Most importantly, they had each other. Daddy was always a force to be tiptoed around — but that’s another story.
As far as I’m aware, the McLaughlin house had always been a disaster. And not the kind of “disaster” your mom probably talked about when she hadn’t dusted the mantelpiece for a few days, or didn’t wipe down the faucet after splashing some water in the kitchen. Our house, filled to the brim with people, collected junk and trash and layers of dust that never went away. Food was kept well past its freshness date, it being inevitably declared as “perfectly good” (how we learned to hate that phrase). Mom was most likely exhausted from taking care of so many kids, and Daddy had firm beliefs about a woman’s place in the home (and a firm hand to enforce those beliefs), so housework was apparently something that just didn’t get done that much.
This continued even when the kids were older, because by then Mom was not only exhausted but also old. All my life, everyone assumed she was my grandmother. At the same time, my siblings figured out that cleaning wasn’t going to do any good and the only way of achieving happiness in life would be to escape That House. (That’s how we all referred to it, even me, even years later, even now: That House. It wasn’t always the same house; the family had moved a number of times over the years, but it was always That House.)
One by one, they graduated high school and moved out with all speed, starting their own lives and leaving the younger ones behind, leaving the dust and the cast-off clothes and the boxes and boxes of junk that nobody wanted but nobody would throw out or give away. When enough people had moved out so that I could finally have my own room, the closet and corners were packed with my sister’s detritus that she didn’t take when she fled to college and marriage.
Nobody, not one of us, ever brought friends home. Even if we were allowed, none of us would bring people into That House.
There were never any pets. Pets would be an added expense that contributed nothing and would only add to the filth and stench. And where would you put them? Every room was packed with stuff, other people’s stuff that they might come back for someday but we can’t just get rid of it and this was half-price and this was a gift from Grandma. Your father doesn’t want to deal with the noise. When you grow up you can do what you want but under this roof, you’ll do what I tell you or else.
I developed a love for animals as a child, a desperate love, reading every picture book, sobbing over the plight of baby harp seals, collecting stuffed raccoons and bears and dogs and giving them names and personalities and lavishing them with all the affection I had no other outlet for. My friends who had pets (and clean houses and daddies who didn’t hit them and new toys and new clothes) became obsessions to me. I wanted so much to belong to another home, one where everything good wasn’t forbidden, that I once spent a frantic hour hiding under one friend’s bed, begging not to be sent away that night, I’ll be quiet I promise I won’t eat much just let me stay and play with the dog I won’t be a bother honest. Later I was beaten for embarrassing the family.
I still wish I’d been allowed to have a pet as a kid. If nothing else, it would have let me learn about death. As an adult, when my own late-acquired pet died, when my sister (the only one who didn’t treat me like the Bad Seed) died, when my mom died, I had nothing to prepare me, no healthy associations for how to deal with it, the result being before you.
If I believed in reincarnation, I could’ve sworn this was my father, based on his insightful problem-solving skills and tender care towards the life in his charge. (Ironic bonus: He was a black guy. Bwahahahahahaha.)
In other news, sorry for no post yesterday, but I’ve sorted out what I want to do with Sundays going forward, and I think it’ll be good. (It involves bigger pictures.) Stay tuned!