Had a Dad, Part VII
It seemed like it happened fast. Maybe there was an intermediate period in eighth grade, ninth grade, where I was getting irritated with him but held my tongue, tried to hide it. I have always been naturally filial, inclined toward showing my familial elders affection and respect. But by my sophomore year in high school, my dad was pushing it. I wanted my space, my privacy. I wanted to stop being such a kid. My dad ignored every cue I gave him. I’d say “Good night. I’m going to bed now,” and he’d chime “Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite!” And there was a long period when I’d say, in the most bored and patronizing voice I could stand to inflict on him, “And if they do, with your shoe, beat them ‘til they’re black and blue.” It’s kind of amazing, actually, that I continued to participate - even in a bored teenager voice - in this ritual that we'd been doing since I was four. Any other teenager would have said “God, Dad! I’m not a baby anymore. Can we drop that shit?” But I kept responding, I guess because it seemed less cold to respond in a snotty voice than not to respond at all. And I just wasn’t capable of actually slapping him with an honest slam. Eventually I just stopped responding with my half of the cutesy rhyme. But I never said “Dad, face it: I’m not a little kid anymore. You have to let go of the bedbug thing.” And so he kept saying “Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite,” in spite of the ringing silence that followed.
Maybe I was part of the problem. Maybe if I’d been more of a normal teenager, capable of supreme harshness (the way many of my friends had no problem saying what seemed to me the coldest shit to their parents), I would have broken through the cocoon of denial my dad surrounded himself with. Maybe he would have been forced to face up to the fact that I was growing up and he needed to move on. Maybe not. This is a man who is capable of deep denial, who continued to answer the question “How are you?” with his pat sunny answer, “Above average,” even when he was unemployed, living in his car, and missing his two front teeth.
That all happened later. I’ll get to that.
Whatever the potential of my dad waking up and realizing that he needed to let go of me, I was not capable of sending him that wake-up call. I have a deep-seated propensity for social guilt, especially familial guilt. I hate to make someone feel bad, even if I do it unintentionally, or even if the person actually deserves it. And more and more, my dad deserved it. Maybe even needed it. But I couldn’t bring myself to hit him full in the face with that slap of reality.