I'm Sorry, Dad

I wrote the following text below the cut (the “read more” link; you’ll get to it eventually) on Thursday afternoon, the evening after I finally cracked. In engineering terminology, my psyche finally suffered a catastrophic malfunction. I’d been waiting for it – had been wondering why it had not happened yet, following Dad’s [tag]death[/tag] four short weeks ago. I’d been wondering if and when it would all become too much. Wednesday night, was the last straw, as it became evident to me that my two oldest siblings decided beyond all doubt that their vanity and personal demons were more important than honoring our father’s wishes.

And I broke – and only by the slimmest thread of self control did I keep from literally breaking everything I own. In the end, I wasn’t psychologically strong enough to do what I believe what my father would have wanted me to do.

And I went to a very dark place inside my soul. A dark, dank little cave that I haven’t visited since the spring of 2001, following my mother’s death; this has been my third visit to that place since December 1999 when, but for a “grave”(heh) miscalculation, it would have become my permanent place of residence. After writing what follows, I felt much better; I guess it enabled me to come to terms with my failure, that and the new cadre of ghosts that joins those my mother’s death left behind to keep me company.

I decided not to post it right away, however; I decided to give it a few days and read it over. For one reason, writing when one is emotional is not necessarily a good thing – sometimes it can be powerful beyond measure in its passion; at other times the force of that passion can completely wreck the writing, tearing it asunder and making it descend into melodrama, even as you put it down on the page. The second reason is because I have mixed feelings about keeping a truly personal blog. On one hand, I’m an intensely private person; I often fit the cliché of the loner. On the other hand, when I look at others’ blogs, the ones I truly enjoy reading, they tend to be of an intensely personal nature; they are the ones in which the authors lay their souls bare (they can write well, too). It’s probably not surprising that the blogs I enjoy the most are by published fiction authors.

So, I suppose if I’m going to keep a [tag]blog[/tag], then it might as well be one that I would actually read, were I on the other side of it (I’ll let you decide if I can write well or not; obviously I believe that I can). Furthermore, despite my private nature, there is something cathartic about publishing your innermost thoughts and feelings on a blog for all the world to read – it lets one bare one’s soul without the embarrassment of sharing that with someone in person. Plus, the reader gets the powerful words and compelling emotion without the drama and tears. If they’re uncomfortable, they can stop reading; if it’s someone I know, they can choose to acknowledge it, or not, as they see fit, when we meet in person.

For a misanthropic, navel-gazing loner who only maintains a handful of good friends, it’s the perfect psychological vent.

Another reason I’m glad I waited is that on Friday – it being early Saturday evening as I write this – bitch-ass Fate decided to deal me a coup de grâce: I got laid off from my job. That kind of helped me put everything in perspective, I think, because in spite of what conventional wisdom would suggest I should feel, I feel relieved. I liked my job, liked my coworkers and my employer, but lately, even before my father died, I had had trouble with motivation – in short, I just couldn’t feel motivated anymore to do something that I didn’t have a passion for. It has been like staying in a relationship with someone because it’s comfortable, not because I’m still madly in love with them. My career had become just a job – a cool job, but just a job nonetheless. I’ve actually felt that way about journalism for several years now, but with all of the shit going on following my father’s death, I was finding it extra difficult to do the job – I just couldn’t find it within me to care – so I think it is for the best, even though the future is now even more uncertain than it was before.

One of my good friend’s favorite quotes is from the movie Hero; the lines in question are spoken by Bernie LaPlant, played by Dustin Hoffman, to his son Joey as he explains his philosophy of life.

“People are always talking about truth. Everybody always knows what the truth is, like it was toilet paper or something and they got a supply in the closet. But what you learn as you get older is there ain’t no truth. All there is is bullshit, pardon my vulgarity here. Layers of it. One layer of bullshit on top of another. And what you do in life like when you get older is – you pick the layer of bullshit you prefer and that’s your bullshit so to speak.”

I suspect my dilemma with regard to my career and everything else right now is that the layer of bullshit I have come to prefer is near the bottom, if not precisely the bottom itself. Maybe I’ve always been that way, and I just took 40 years to figure it out. All I know is, if I don’t wake up and the first thing in my brain isn’t “Hot damn, I can’t wait to do my job today,” then I don’t want to do it at all any more, because, well, it’s bullshit otherwise. Out in California you often hear the phrase “I work to live, rather than live to work,” often to justify some heinously long commute, or to justify some mind-numbing, soul-crushing drudgery in a cubicle farm. I think at this point in my life, I’d rather just “live to live,” because everything else is bullshit, I’ve come to conclude. It’s cliché, but it’s true: one must follow one’s bliss.

Granted, truth is subjective, and so is bullshit. But then, I’m a loner at heart, and now that both my [tag]parents[/tag] are dead, the only person I have to answer to is myself. So, whatever the future holds … it won’t hold a lot of bullshit, as far as I’m concerned. I may end up living in my Subaru down by the river, but damn it, it will be on my own terms, and there won’t be any bullshit involved – I won’t have to be full of shit, convincing myself to do a job that I don’t care about, and that doesn’t matter to me at the end of the day.

If I ever get laid off again, I want it to be a tragedy, because I loved that job, and because I couldn’t wait to do it each and every day I got out of bed. No more bullshit, that’s my motto.

So yeah, whatever self censorship may have taken place in the past here is no more. I’m posting what I want and everyone else can bugger off if they don’t like it, future employers included.

But be prepared, dear gentle reader; what you are about to read, should you chose to continue, isn’t a [tag]fluffy box of kittens[/tag] with a side order of Carebears. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

OK, that was a bit over the top. But it is gut wrenching stuff, if I do say so myself. And lengthy. May want to go take a leak and get something to drink before you click.


So I guess in the end it turns out I’ve been a fool, and I come to the precipice overlooking madness and [tag]despair[/tag] after all. [tag]Grief[/tag] is a cruel mistress.

I’m sorry, [tag]Dad[/tag].

I’m more sorry than mere words can describe; I could fill the oceans and cover the world with my shame and guilt, and still, it wouldn’t be enough. This is failure beyond epic proportions.

You spent 40 out of the last 50 years of your life making sacrifices for your children, as did Mom. You slaved away at a job for 30 years – a job you loathed, a job you hated – working extra hours on top of it all. I think I was a teenager before I realized that most kids’ dads who had white collar jobs like you didn’t usually work on Saturdays; I had always thought that was normal. You even passed up promotions – and with them, pay raises and better benefits – because you didn’t want to uproot your family time and again to move hither and yon. You didn’t want to become a complete corporate shill, because being a father and husband was more important.

Family always came first, your children in particular. You only quit that job after it nearly killed you, and then Mom stepped up to the plate and went to work full time, because I was still a kid, and two of your other children were still in school and living at home. I remember discovering the tapes you made for my older siblings during your long stay in the hospital back then, the tapes I wasn’t supposed to find and hear. But as a child I knew more about what was going on than anyone gave me credit for; I think most children are.

I listened to those tapes. Even as you sat in a hospital bed, facing at best an uncertain future and at worst, an early death, your thoughts didn’t turn to yourself. There was no navel gazing or maudlin, simpering self-loathing in your blog (heh); no lamentations at your own limitations and weaknesses. No, your thoughts were for your wife and children. I remember listening to your recorded voice exhorting my older brothers to take care of me and Mom, should you not come home from the hospital; you expected them to be able to step up, if it the situation called for it.

I remember thinking in my naive, 10-year-old way that they wouldn’t have to take care of me, that I could take care of myself. That I could help share the burden and look after Mom. That I could step up and meet your measure.

I was a fool then, and an even bigger fool now; the intervening years have brought no wisdom, only more self delusion. Less than a month ago I stood beside your corpse in its ridiculous funeral garb and makeup, and declared that if, at the end of my days, I could say that I was just half the man that you were, then I will have done okay with my time here on this earth, by anyone’s measure of a man. And here I am, drowning in shame and despair, for I have failed you already, and the weight of the years that must follow bears down. More ghosts to live with.

But it’s nothing less than I deserve. Indeed, all of your children deserve this fate.

For we’ve failed both Mother and you in the worst way possible. Your lives together were marked by self sacrifice for your children; so many times you put aside your own self fulfillment, your own hopes and dreams, for all of us. By the time you decided that we were far enough along in life that you could go back to your own lives, it was almost too late. Mom was already fading (and yet you stuck by her, to the bitter end). Your last few years were spent as you saw fit – at long last you lived for yourself and yourself alone, and for that, I am forever thankful; there is some measure of cold comfort in this. But even then old age and infirmity robbed you of much enjoyment in life that should have been yours; you deserved nothing less and never got it.

So what did it mean, your sacrifices? In the end, judging by the actions of my siblings and I, they meant nothing.

Nothing.

In fighting over your estate – hell, they haven’t even been fighting over that yet, but merely fighting over who gets to be in charge – in squabbling over just how quickly they can get their hands on your meager possessions and modest financial portfolio (before you were even clinically dead, wrangling over the discharge of your estate began), they’ve done more than metaphorically defecate and urinate on your grave.

They’ve burned away the very meaning of your life.

Merely by how you lived your life you made it clear, leading by example, that family should come first, that blood is what is most important, even more important than one’s self. Your only wish upon your death was that your children would get along; you said as much on more than one occasion.

And yet there was still breath in your lungs when your children descended into backstabbing and deceit, giving into selfishness, pride, and issues that stem back to childhood, even before I was born, I suspect.

But even though I refer to “them,” and “your children,” don’t think I absolve myself of blame and the burden of guilt and shame: oh no, far from it. I’m the worst sinner of all; there is no cross large enough for me to carry that would adequately symbolize my sin.

For I knew, knew instinctively, before I even reasoned it out, that what was happening was wrong. I knew better, and yet, in the end, I succumbed to baser emotions and stooped down to their level; in the end, I remained true to my nature and succumbed to selfishness. In the end my anger consumed me and prevailed over what I knew to be right – what was necessary to honor you and your life – and I crawled down into the muck and mire to lie with them, my siblings. Even now, I can’t entirely let it go, even as I acknowledge it to be the worst of wrongs.

They lit the pyre that burned away the meaning of your life and made your death meaningless. And now I’ve joined them, wallowing in anger and despair – wallowing in the ashes of your life and letting them sift through my fingers and scatter to the four winds.

Nothing. Emptiness. [tag]Death[/tag] and dissolution at the end of a life that adds up to a meaningless nothing.

You deserved so much more.

For what it’s worth, Dad, I tried. I really, honestly, did try. I tried my best to take the high road, and play referee between my battling siblings. I tried to rein in the paranoia of one and the delusional fantasies of the other, as well as the mountain of insecurity they both share that masquerades behind their foolish, selfish pride. Every time I would hear one of them come to me and complain of the machinations of the other, filling my head full of crap and attempting to color my judgment with perceived transgressions, imagined plots, and personal insults, I would try and remind them this wasn’t about them, it wasn’t about any of us, that it was about honoring you and what you would want. About what your entire life stood for. Even as the aftermath of your death descended into the stuff of Shakespeare – and bad Shakespeare, at that, I tried to rise above it.

But like a tragic Shakespearean figure, I have been tried by Fate and found wanting. I remember thinking that you would want us all to get along, and if we couldn’t, then you would at least expect me to step up and do what I could to maintain a fragile, volatile peace, rather than indulge in blood feud – because that’s what you would have done.

But I failed to live up to your measure; it turns out I’m not even half the man you were; apparently none of your children inherited what made our parents great, as we’ve all failed you in the worst possible way. But I think my failure is the worst, as I say, because I knew better, and yet I failed in spite of that. I knew better, I aspired to be better, but I’ve thrown in the metaphorical towel; in the end I’ve washed my hands, laid down the burden, and surrendered to the baser of the potential fates that lay before me. Even now, I subconsciously try and assuage my guilt and shame by comparing myself to some noble, flawed, Shakespearean figure – ridiculous, really.

In the end I guess I’m no better than they, in my selfish pride and vanity. There will be no end to my shame, either. More ghosts to live with.

No, there won’t be an end, at least not any time, soon, will there? Not unless whatever gods there are take pity. But I’m sure now that there are no gods, benevolent or otherwise. I admit, in my despair, for the first time since Mom died, I’ve contemplated taking my own life. Oblivion would be most welcome right now. And the one person that was left on earth that I truly gave a damn about deep down in my heart of hearts, the only person left whose opinion I cared about … well, you’re gone.

So what stays my hand? It’s ironic, Dad. It really is. When Mom died, I had to turn to a belief in an afterlife, just to keep from going insane with grief over her loss. And now, watching what has befallen your family after your death, I hope beyond measure that there is nothing beyond the pale but darkness and dissolution. I pray you are not able to see what is happening. I fear for the guilt and shame I must carry over the course of my remaining years, but I fear even more the possibility that our souls will cross paths again, on some other plane of existence, and all these sins that have come to pass will be laid bare before you, naked and exposed. Remote as this possibility may seem, I don’t think I could chance bringing myself to insult you and your memory even further by taking my own life. I have no desire to add to my karmic burden, and dishonor you even further.

In spite of my failure, I love and respect you too much for that.

Besides, I feel like penance should be served. I suppose that is why I’m posting this here, for all the world to see. Public catharsis is the only avenue open to me now, even though with your death no one remains alive whose opinion concerns me anymore. Nothing at all really matters anymore, not even the life you’ve lived, thanks to the actions of my siblings and I. So the least I can do is acknowledge this, to bear the weight of shame, guilt and dishonor, and embrace it with open arms.

I wish you were here to yell encouragement at me Dad, like you used to from the sidelines of the football field, giving voice to the motivation I needed to transcend myself and actually perform like I was capable of. But you’re dead, buried and gone; your voice has been silenced. And thus it seems I’ve opted to play give-up ball, in spite of all that you taught me about life and how it should be lived. It is a bitter thing.

But at least in the end I will walk off the field with my head held high. I will persevere, as that is the only avenue left open. I may have failed you, but I shall bear it and disgrace you no further, even if I should live for a thousand years – which would be fittingly ironic, should it come to pass. Because there is no pit that lies deeper than this, no graver sin to commit, than erasing what meaning your life had.

In the end, this is all I can offer your spirit and your life: my eternal sorrow.

I’m sorry, Dad.

2 thoughts on “I'm Sorry, Dad”

  1. Jeff, I am certainly no expert on what you are going through right now, however, I can tell you that you must keep your parents’ spirit and memories alive. Remembering the good times, your childhood, your time with them on this earth is what they would have wanted. Family dilemas always rear their ugly head after a death. I’ve been through it with my Mother in law and Father in law. Walk away if you can from the bickering and fighting. If you want any type of relationship with your siblings, let them duke it out on their own. Don’t let them bring you down.

    I hope you stick around this fucked up world for a long time to come. I would miss you 🙁

    I’ll say a prayer for you(yes, I still believe in God, for now) I will also say a prayer for your parents.

  2. Aw, thank you Suzy Quzy. I’m actually feeling in much better spirits these days, but your positive prayers and karma are much appreciated. 🙂

    Jeff

Comments are closed.