An open letter to my father from your only and first born daughter
I wanted to write you a lovely poem, one which would delicately yet courageously make me wholly known to you. I wanted to be able to sweetly tell you how dearly I miss our afternoons when you’d pick me up from half day kindergarten and we’d mosey through the strip mall in the little city by the lake. I felt so unbelievably cool with all the hello kitty trinkets and travel art supplies and play make up. You were my best friend then.
I wanted so badly to be you. I wanted to make things with my hands, spend solitary hours on the open road with the sun drying my sweat into a salt ring like those on your cycling gloves. I too wanted to feel music to my core; to create memories throughout my life, dog eared by expressive musical pieces of all genres, and regale these tales in my middle age. I wanted to have as eclectic a path in life as you, cleared with the same drive for life as you and the same explosive personal style. When you were my best friend, you left the most precious stones in your wake.
In all my naiveté and my youth I felt so secure being nothing but rightfully myself. Nothing you did, when I was young, even allowed for a hint of patina to settle on my shine. From Ginsberg to Hugo Boss to Buddhism to Dali to martial arts, oh my! You expanded my mind and let my creative heart and spirit grow immensely strong. I can do nothing but thank you for planting these seeds so deeply in my porous soul then.
I strive every moment you cross my mind to not curse you now.
I want to ask you so many questions. I want to show you my scarred, half hardened, terrified heart. I want to demand all the answers as to why you quit telling me I’m beautiful. I want to know why you just sat idly by while I attempted to give my heart to a string of worthless men. I want to know why you made me stay in college that first year even though I couldn’t hide the depression on my face. I want to know why you quit listening to anything I say and how you are able to tune out my voice like the most expertly crafted white noise machine. I want to know why you believe I’m capable of malicious harm to other people. I want to know why you never held me after a worthless man physically hurt me. I want to know why you are not in my corner and why you never stood up to be my coach, my trainer, my mentor. I want to know why you allowed an 11 year old girl to sit with all of the existential questions and not so much as a butter knife to help clear my own path.
I want to scream in your face and demand you see me, hear me, accept me.
I know in my heart of hearts you love me as any proper father should love their female offspring. However the sterile, coldness of that statement reflects the energy I have received lately.
The blame and shame your eyes direct my way every time you catch a glimpse of the black ink I’ve added to my body. I used to use them as bricks to guard my immature heart.
It isn’t only me who sees over the past few years I’ve become not much more than a figurehead of a daughter to complete the nuclear family in the imaginary American Dream. How recklessly desperate I’ve been to not let this be mine, our, reality.
I can say without any shred of doubt the last time I, in anyway, felt truly accepted as your daughter was in early Fall 2005. I had been released, with your blessing, from the completely wrong college and was working at the local chain coffee house. I had unwisely burned nearly every bridge I had back home before my first failed freshman year and would spend my Saturday nights taking in a solo screening of a classic or cult flick at the indie theater in the city. Back before the Yuppies moved through and made everything resemble their modern ghettos, the indie theater was my refuge from a solitary, directionless life. The obviously class/race segregated balcony with the worn, nearly broken, crooked red pleather seats bolted to bare concrete floors with unfinished, unironic steel pipes for railings. The musty smell of a thousand screened film reels and the old air conditioner. Stage left, first row, 2 seats in from the middle aisle. This was the sanctuary I retreated to on my weekly pilgrimage to feel right. One surprise evening you took me up on my weekly, cordial invite to join. The film was 2001: A Space Odyssey by Kubrick. One of the greats you had introduced me to with A Clockwork Orange at the tender age of 10. It would be like old times, we wistfully imagined. You in your mind numbed by a few cocktails and me in mine numbed by my reckless, desperate desire to feel like your accepted, wanted and hoped for daughter. While the night was relatively uneventful, I vividly remember you asking for a smoke during the intermission and lighting the filter end. Giggling while you proudfully told all the cool kids your daughter brought you to see 2001 in the theater, for the first time in decades. On the drive home you recalled originally seeing 2001 in the 70’s with your then girlfriend. The frustration you told of when she wasn’t into thinking as deeply about the film as you. At that 2am moment, while making the final right turn into the suburban residential development where you and Mom own your home, I remember the feeling of closeness I had with you then.
I feel I know the moment the direction of the current changed. You became a magnetic opposition and the once powerfully calm Mississippi eventually, and over time, became raging rapids fit for National Geographic specials.
I need to let this be steady within me. I want to be apart of wholly accepting love, Dad. I know I cannot as long as those heavy, critical bricks guard my heart.
I just need to say, finally, and I hope you can hear me.
Please accept me for the wondrous, insightful, ever evolving and growing human being you helped create and shape. Even the parts withered and weathered by suffering, alone, in my desire for my best friend I knew decades ago, they have all helped to create this that is me.
I wish I could end this on the current, rosy note, to keep the doorway I have managed to at least prop ajar for all of these years open.
I am so much the person I dreamed of being when I was a little, uniform wearing kindergartener eating bubble gum ice cream on a glittery, blue stool at the ice cream shop in the quaint strip mall on the edge of the main drag of the picturesque, tiny city by the lake. I gleaned so much greatness from my then nurturing best friend. I cannot help but see myself in all of his behaviors now.
When you act selfishly, Dad; I see myself in you.
When you smile from ear to ear, admiring the yoga studio you helped build, Dad; I see myself in you.
When you numb yourself to your connection with everything in life, Dad; with great personal weight and suffering, I see myself in you.
Being around all of this delusion and denial over the past few years either sucks me dry or leaves me numb inside. I feel our time together has become much more of a play on the ridiculousness of the American Dream than life playing out each scene gracefully. Your other offspring quietly, and out of ear shot of his providers, his protectors, his nurturers; shamefully agrees. We are all complicit in our crushingly complacent familial relationship and I can be complicit no longer.
I need you to sit with how this letter makes you feel, Dad. I need you to practice and work to be the man who was my best friend so many years ago. I am more than ready to be his friend again, but I need you to never forget the pain contained in this correspondence.
I need you to know the joy of a friendship between us is only possible if you can accept your suffering and empathize with my own.
No ultimatums in this communique. No blame. Just my feelings. My meditations. My courageously written words outlining a basic construct of boundaries which could lead to a stable framework to accept and hear and see each other.
I never again want to ever utter the phrase “I’m the son my father had after me.”