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

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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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reading and enjoying, E... Keep it up! SO impressed with how you're publishing a regular basis.

- Ellen C. (Sea) :O)

7:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ooooh, cliff hanger! Looking forward to the next installment...

1:00 PM  

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