Oral Hygiene Queen

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Location: Midwest, United States

I floss daily, brush after every meal, and trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries.

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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Had a Dad, Part the Last

So no one got why I writhed so much in my dad’s presence. Perhaps I could convey some element of the basic suffocation, but not the egregious things that really made my dad more than annoying and sometimes even alarming. “Asking too many questions” doesn’t really begin to convey the one-sided and prying nature of most of our conversations. It would start innocently enough with a basic parental inquiry, but as he questioned and I deflected his questions, we would begin a tortured dance of teenage passive resistance and increasing parental determination for some sort of meaningful information:

Dad: So, you went out with Amy and Mia last night?
Me: Yes. You know that.
Dad: What did you three do?
Me: Nothing. We hung out.
Dad: Where?
Me: At Mia’s.
Dad: Where are you when you’re at Mia’s house?
Me: We’re at her house.
Dad: No, I mean are you in the living room? In Mia’s room? Do they have a family room, a rumpus room in the basement?
Me: A rumpus room?
Dad: Where do you spend time when you’re at Mia’s?
Me: …
Dad: Well, what did you do at Mia’s last night?
Me: I don’t know. Nothing.
Dad: Did you play records?
Me: (Lying) No.
Dad: Did you watch TV?
Me: No.
Dad: Did you just talk?
Me: No, Dad. We just sat in silence the whole night. God.
(This whole time my dad is smiling this blithe smile he has, like everything is right with the world and this is just a completely pleasant, not at all tense heart-to-heart between dad and kid.)
Dad: Well, honey, I’m just curious about what you and your friends like to do when you’re together.
Me: Well I don’t even remember what we did. And I wouldn’t want to talk about it if I did.
Dad: (giving up that particular tack, but not giving up) So, are Amy and Mia your best buddies these days?
Me: No.
Dad: So who is your best buddy?
Me: No one. I don’t have “buddies.” I have friends.
Dad: So who’s your best friend?
Me: (Lying) I don’t know. No one. God.

Is this normal? Are all parents of teenagers this persistent, this impervious to their kids’ indications that they don’t want to talk? And if so, do any of them have a kid who can’t bring herself to just say “Shut up and leave me alone”?

I don’t know if this conversation, in itself, seems chilling to you. Maybe it was the context. Something about the way my dad walked through a closed door without knocking, then wondered why I was always locking the door to my room. Something about finding him reading the postcards my first boyfriend had sent me, which I’d stored in a shoebox under my bed. And then, when I reasonably got angry with him for invading my privacy, hearing him argue that he was perfectly justified in reading them, since they were, after all, postcards. (Stored in a covered box. Under my bed.) Something about the way any bit of information I shared about myself might be used to wage yet another battle in his ongoing effort to give me detailed advice regarding every possible aspect of my life.

At that point I thought everything would get so much better once I went away to college. Instead, everything with my dad – and everything between me and my dad – just got weirder and weirder. Perhaps in a few weeks I’ll share with you a few of these later moments. (Watch as E’s dad moves to California and decides to become a homeless environmentalist canvasser! See him create for himself an almost unpronounceable acronym! Look on in astonishment as Dad harasses E. long-distance via the telephone, and witness her decision to cut off all communication with him for almost three years! ) But for now, I think this story has gobbled up enough of my blog. (Or bloggled up enough of my gob.) So, soon we’ll return to the regularly scheduled program of lighthearted musings, scatological anecdotes, and the occasional advice on matters orally hygienic.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Had a Dad, Part VIII

The move from Chicago to Sheboygan, Wisconsin exacerbated an already bad situation. In his Chicago life, my dad had a certain amount of sophistication, though sometimes he moved in a rather riff-raffy crowd. In Sheboygan, he had no peers. No one was weird like he was weird. He started golfing. He joined the “Y’s Men” at the local YMCA where he and I both spent much of our free time. He tried to do boring, normal adult stuff, but he was just too odd to really pull it off. He was out of his element. Nothing stuck. We moved to Sheboygan in the middle of the school year when I was in sixth grade, and stayed there ‘til I graduated from high school, at which point I moved on to college and then jobs in other states, my dad stayed in Sheboygan for another ten years. During that entire time – sixteen years – I don’t think he made a single close friend.

In Chicago, my dad had good friends from way back. Bill Byrne, Bruce Durant, Joe “Screams” McQueen. These were “buddies,” as he called them, who he’d play chess with, or meet at the park or the JCC for pick-up basketball games. Sometimes my dad’s friends were a bit shady. He had to bail Bill out of jail when he got picked up by the cops for selling pot on a public beach. Our apartment was robbed when I was seven, and when I was a bit older my dad told me that he thought it might have been Screams McQueen, who dropped off the scene not long after the robbery. Then again, my dad wasn’t always the most trustworthy friend. I know for a fact that my dad made out with Lorna, the live-in girlfriend of Screams, while they and their infant son were staying with us between apartments. Screams was working a Saturday shift at the vacuum cleaner factory, the baby was sleeping in the living room, and I was supposed to be cleaning my always messy room, but I caught my dad and Lorna going at it in the kitchen. I have no idea if it ever went any further than that between them, but that was far enough.

But while there was a certain level of sketchiness with some of my dad’s Chicago friends, at least he had friends. In Sheboygan, people just did not get him. There were really no freaks there. Or if there were, they were really freaky, messed up, beyond what my dad was willing to put up with. It seems like all the functional freaky people abandoned this small, German Protestant city for somewhere more interesting, and left behind only the freaks too far gone to escape. So while I was on the verge of needing to create some distance in the very close relationship between me and my dad, he was newly in a situation where all he really had in his life was work and me. Thus, the suffocation began.

The suffocation. How to describe it? It consisted of things that in themselves were troublesome but not huge – him giving me too much advice, asking me too many questions, always seeming to be in the same room as me, talking way too long to my friends when they came over – but all of these things together added up to an increasing feeling of just wanting him out of the room, out of my hair, out of my business. My dad never seemed to pick up on my cues that I wanted him to leave me alone, or he just willfully ignored them. And it made it worse that no one else seemed to perceive it. Incredibly, my friends didn’t mind my dad always hanging around and chatting incessantly. They thought he was funny. And I guess he was, in small doses. But his eccentric superfriendly demeanor and goofy sense of humor wore thin for me. I felt guilty rolling my eyes and hinting more and more strongly that I wanted my dad to scram, especially since all my friends were standing around laughing and joking with him. When he’d finally leave, one of them would invariably say “Your dad is so nice,” or “Your dad is so funny.” And I didn’t want to correct them. I knew my dad was a freak, but I felt pretty ambivalent about anyone else understanding the true extent of his oddness.

In one sense, it would have been a relief to have someone understand the reality of my life as my dad’s daughter. But when I was in high school, I cherished the perception of normalcy. I was not normal. My dad was by no means normal. My family was unconventional in various ways – I lived with my dad and stayed with my mom during school breaks, I was an only child, and our household shifted to include my grandparents and sometimes my young aunts, who were much closer in age to me than to their brother, my dad. All of these things made me feel like a curiosity. In Chicago, many of my friends’ parents were divorced, and unconventional family arrangements weren’t uncommon. In Sheboygan, the classic intact nuclear family was the rule. I’d never heard the phrase “broken home” ‘til I moved to Wisconsin. And as I got older, I began to perceive that my home was broken in more ways than one.