Tag Archives: childhood

Father’s Day

Father’s Day has come and gone. For those of you with strong paternal relationships I hope the holiday was rewarding on all sides. For those with strained relationships, I hope the day passed without incident. If the day provoked sadness, anger, or confusion I hope the events of the holiday gave you something to think about, something you can use to grow.

Often, that is the best we can hope for in our father-child relationships. Unlike mothers, who get all the best press, fathers are a complicated breed. The best devote themselves to their families, work hard to provide a safe environment. They listen to their children and their children’s mother. They are proud of their children’s achievements, no matter how small. They are understanding, patient, and compassionate. They are strong, decent men.

So far, I haven’t described a single father I know. Most of the men I know with children are human beings with the same faults as everyone else. They are often impatient, tired after work and need more quiet time than most families allow. They argue and about money, school, work, food, friends, TV and computer time-you name it, families argue about it. Sound familiar? So forget the movie Dad I described. Look at the human being your father really is. If you’re lucky, he’s just that, a regular human being. A guy with kids who did the best he could.

If you aren’t lucky, like me, then you got one of those fathers who should have been stripped of his title before you reached the age of cognizance. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that kind of society. People are allowed to have children if they have the physical ability to reproduce. So if you were unlucky enough to have lived through a childhood filled with fear and abuse, know that you are not alone. But your life as an adult does not have to center itself on reliving the traumas of your childhood. In the past few years, as I’ve lost everything, I’ve also lost the need to understand every single thing about my parents.

For a long time, I believed if I could figure out why they behaved as they did, I could modify my own behaviors and lose the painful baggage of my memories and fears. I spent a lot of time with my mother before she died and realized she was simply a frightened little girl. Scared of my father and life in general. She wasn’t prepared for anything that happened to her and like a child, tried to hide. She hid behind us and her religion. I forgave her everything before she died, and we parted friends. I loved so much about her, and even more once I realized she couldn’t have done anything differently because she didn’t have the tools.

My father was a complex person, riddled and driven by demons. I’ve been trying to identify those demons for some time. There are so many-addiction, rage, narcissism, fear, multiple anxieties-that I will never untangle them all. He was a raging beast one day and bringing us presents the next. I have never seen anyone so capable of casual cruelty (he shot my best friend’s dog while he made me watch) and such tenderness (he brought home lost kittens or puppies for us.)

I was afraid of him and I hated him. The three most intense, important relationships in my life show the men to be almost mirror images of him. Each time I realized that (to my repeated horror) I ended the relationships. I would not live my mother’s life.

So, every Father’s Day I think of the complicated man that I hated. I can’t say I ever loved him, though surely as a child I must have. We love to survive. I never silently hoped for his approval or attention. Good grief, in my house the less attention Daddy paid to you the better off you were. When I saw my best friend going off fishing with her father I shuddered. Why would she do that? I wondered.
As an adult, I’ve watched other women doing things with their fathers and wondered what it must be like to want to spend time with him. I’ve heard women talking about their dads and wondered what that must be like. Then again, I’ve always wondered what it must be like to be in a relationship with someone you love, who loves you back. I’ve felt it briefly, before it devolved into the truth. And I know, now, that I will likely never be involved with someone that I trust, like, admire, or really love. I didn’t get that as a child and I don’t think I have the DNA now. I don’t know how to do it. Thanks, Dad.

No, I’m not bitter, not really. I’m pragmatic. It is what it is. I never learned the love skill, not for intimate relationships. I can be a great friend, aunt, coworker-but not lover or parent. I’m never going to be tall either, so there it is.

So I hope Father’s day reminded you of your profound luck if he was strong and taught you positive life skills. If it was another reminder of what you didn’t get, let it go. You can do that, you can let it go. If you do that, you will be in control, not him. He’s never going to be the father you should have had. OK. Let it go. Like I said, I’m never going to be tall so I keep a stool in the kitchen. It is what it is. Go with it.

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Recess

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Where did we learn our childhood games? Hide and Seek, A Tisket, a Tasket, a green and yellow basket…Red Light…Follow The Leader.

Some of them maybe we learned form teachers at school, but I don’t remember any teachers at recess-not teaching games. They were sitting in the sun with the other teachers, talking or reading, watching us to make sure no one misbehaved. But I don’t remember a lesson that explained the meaning of the words, “You’re It!”

We played dodge ball in the dirt road between our house and my best friend’s house. We lived in the country, and our little neighborhood boasted a lot of children. My brother was older, and a Boy Scout. He taught us how to build a fire and the right way to roast marshmallows. He told us skin prickling ghost stories. He sometimes told us of his adventures on Boy Scout Camporees, but not often. I don’t remember him explaining the intricacies of dodge ball. I do remember he showed up a time or two when someone threatened to break the rules, or when someone small was getting bashed too often. My brother didn’t suffer bullies.

But I still don’t remember an actual lesson in childhood games, yet I see them being played all around me. The same shouts, the same rules, the same unbridled glee at slapping someone’s arm and shouting “You’re It!” Watching children at recess in a nearby schoolyard recently brought so many bright, tender memories to mind that I hated to leave.

I have often despaired of children missing out on the benefits of playing outdoor games, real playing. So many children never go outside in their own neighborhoods except to get to the car. And I despise the practice of small children being hypnotized by computer games that keep them locked in a solitary fantasy world. But then I watched these children in a local schoolyard and I felt some of that sadness lift. Maybe there are still games passed through some kind of primal childhood osmosis so strong, so important, and so much FUN that they will always be with children lucky enough to have recess.

I’ll Fly Away

The play “Along about Sundown,” is a homey musical about Bascom Lunsford, the famous song catcher and music festival promoter in the Blue Ridge Mountains. An aging Lunsford told the stories of his life punctuated with folk songs, accompanied by the other players on traditional mountain instruments. A steady rhythm beat on the stage and the audience, myself included, happily clapped, and tapped our feet.

One song, “I’ll Fly Away,” was an old hymn I recognized from my childhood. I thought of Mama singing in church, and around the house as she worked. Once, she sang it softly to me when I lay sick in bed. Her clear, sweet voice soothed me.

Now, I suddenly felt weak with regret for not understanding what the song meant to her. I heard the words as I sat in the darkened audience, the promise of joy and hope for the time when the singer would fly away, after death, to the reward for life’s travails. The enormity of my mother’s suffering hit me, as it has so many times in the past few years. I heard her hope in the song, the Great Promise.

As tears gathered in my eyes and my throat tightened, I understood how much that song had helped my mother get from one day to the next. With so many children to be responsible for, the Great Promise helped in her daily struggle. And she struggled for everything. Everything. Rent, food, shoes for us. She struggled with Fear, fear of my father’s disapproval, of her neighbor’s disapproval, of God’s disapproval. She struggled to get us fed and clothed. She listened to us cry and gave us what comfort she could, for we all feared the same boogeyman. He lived with us, held us in the omnipotent power of Head of Household. He could do with us, to us, anything he wanted. But she carried the responsibility of it.

I choose to get up every single day. I know it, I am conscious of it, and I am open about it. How would I feel if I had little ones clinging to my skirt? How would I feel if I realized, too late, that I had nowhere to go, no one to call, no one to help me? How would I feel if I realized, in my secret heart, my cognizant heart, that I was in a corner with no way out and children who depended on me? Would I sing about a time when I could fly away? Or would I just fly away?

I can fly away today if I choose, and so I choose to go on, to experience one more day, plan one more art project, write one more story, hike one more mile. I think I am being strong, that I am fighting, struggling, and that I am brave. I am not strong, or brave. I am alone and, yes, I choose every day to experience life. It’s not a hard choice. It’s just me, after all.

My mother was brave. After all the years I spent being angry, resentful, questioning why I didn’t have this and that, I see now how very brave my mother was. I see how much she loved us, how hard she gripped that Hope and Promise so she could get through another day, taking care of us. She did the best she could. Her best will be the level of love I try to emulate. Because I am alone, my life is quieter, calmer, saner, and yes, easier. I don’t regret being alone. I don’t regret not having my mother’s life. But only now do I understand how much she loved us. She didn’t fly away.

new poems

FRIEND

There is no crueler arena

than Childhood.

My attempt to help my friend

left me as far on the

outside as she was.

She lost control

of her bowels at school,

one of the greatest fears

of Childhood,

exposing

some weakness,

knowing the predators

at the edge of the herd

would pick us off.

I helped her out of the

great laughing crowd

in the schoolyard

and stayed with her in

the sickly green vastness

of the bathroom.

I stood outside the stall

where she cried,

passing wet paper towels

under the door.

Somewhere between

the dust and dirt

of recess

and the cold echoing sobs,

small, fierce vows

leaped the chasm between

her head and mine.

I lived afterward with

the horror of my secret,

would there ever be

anyone to sit with

me in the

cold green bathroom,

and risk

Eternity on the Outside?

======     =-=-=-

DRIVING

I checked the oil,

the air in almost-new tires.

My gas gauge pushed the F

and my windows sparkled.

The passenger seat held

an assortment of books on tape

and a notebook .

Backing down the drive I

breathed in the moist

air of dawn and

smiled at the wake-up

songs of cardinals.

I drove down the highway

that connects my house

to the house 100 miles away,

hoping, again, I will

find the person I lost

So long ago.

If I pack more carefully,

drive slower or faster

maybe I can find

that bend in the road

that takes me back.

When she still breathed

the same clammy air

at five in the morning

that I breathe now.

Breathing and talking and laughing

maybe if I time it just right,

I can reach her

before she’s gone

and ask her the questions

that propel me out the door,

and down the highway

over and over again.