“My uncle’s dying wish – he wanted me on his lap. He was in the electric chair.”
My dad called me on the phone. It was the first time I’d spoken to him in six months. “I need to ask you something,” he said. His voice always made my heart rate go up.
“What’s that?” I asked. I did not want to talk to him.
He got to the point, which was his way, never any meaningful conversation. “I’m thinking about taking myself off of dialysis. I’ll be dead in a week. What do you think I should do?”
My dad has always had health problems, at least most of the time I knew him. When I was in tenth grade, he had bypass surgery. When I got home from boot camp at nineteen, he was getting his kidneys out. He had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, alcoholism, and anger problems. I figured his question to me meant he had given up.
What does a son say to his father when asked should he kill himself? Do you give an answer? Hang up? Do you take control back from the control he always took?
“If that’s what you want,” I said. “If you aren’t happy, then do it.”
There was not much else to be said. We hung up from each other, and I went into the bathroom of the two flat that we were renting and cried. My wife came next to me and simply rubbed my back trying to take the pain away. I told her about my dad wanting to die and how I basically told him to do it. She listened as she always had.
The phone call from my dad came to me in November, shortly after his 61st birthday, and on December 10th he was dead. I took off work the week that he was dying. It was a strange week. My family all came to the hospital and waited. My mom, who had left him three years earlier, was there too. I have a feeling we were all looking for something from him. Maybe we were waiting for repentance. Not my dad. You have to know that you sinned before you can repent.
We waited and watched as my dad began to die slowly. We sat around and all spoke to one another like this was just another hospital visit, possibly ignoring the fact that this man, who has haunted many of our dreams, was in the process of dying. I was waiting for him to say, “I’m just kidding,” and get up and walk out of the hospital. It wouldn’t have surprised me. I cannot begin to tell how many times my Dad faked heart attacks when I was a kid, so faking his death would not have been out of the question.
I wanted all week to speak to him in private. I wanted to ask him a list of questions because, you see, my dad is a cliché for me. He is a major reason for my depression. He’s a cliché because he was an alcoholic, abusive father, who has been in so many movies and stories, but this is my story and his abuse was real. I finally got my chance to be alone with him. It was the first time that I saw him in seven months. The reason we stopped talking was because I went to his apartment and threatened him. I did it to protect my mom. He was following her and stalking her. He never could accept that she left him. I think he just missed having someone to cook and clean for him, and he got pleasure from messing with her mind. See, my dad is also a part of my mom’s darkness, too.
Yes, I threatened my own father. I drove to his apartment, went in, sat down in front of him, looked him in his blue eyes and said, “You need to leave mom alone. Stop following her.”
“I’m not following her,” he lied.
“Stop doing it,” I said calmly, so calm that I think I scared him.
“You can’t tell me what to do,” he tried to be the father that he used to be. The one that could intimidate his youngest child, but this was not his little boy he sat across anymore.
“If you don’t leave her alone, I will kill you,” I said and got up and left. That was the last conversation I had with him until he called to ask me if he should kill himself.
So, my dad lay in the hospital bed eating a chicken dinner, and I knew I had my moment to ask him my questions. There was a short window of time left because soon his body would start to poison itself and he would not be coherent anymore.
“How come you never loved me?” I shot my question at him like an arrow to the heart.
“I love you,” he said.
“Why did you hurt me?”
“I hardly ever touched you.”
“You hurt me in many ways,” I said.
Then, something happened that I had only seen once or twice, he cried. However, he did not cry for me or because of my questions.
“I always loved your momma.”
My opportunity was gone. I would never find out why he did not like me, or why he treated me differently than my brother. I could not ask him why he would take my brother places and leave me standing in the driveway watching the car back out as they left. I never got to ask why he would hit me, either in the back of the head, stomach, or balls, when I walked too close to his chair. I never got to ask why he taught me how to fight, but never taught me anything else. He never got the chance to tell me why he didn’t want to be my father.
He drifted throughout the week until he was no longer awake. They put him on comfort care and then one night I was called while at a friend’s house and told that he was dead. The man that had such a controlling influence on my childhood was gone. Inside, I was conflicted whether I should feel sadness or breathe a sigh of relief. I’m still conflicted at times.
We buried him in a grave that is only visited by a few. This man, my father, still haunts me and I struggled for a long while to forgive him. I’m not angry at him for the father he was, I’m more angry for the father he was not. He was one of the smartest men that I’ve known, very handsome as well, but his emotional intelligence lacked and this was his tragedy. His ghost roams around me sometimes, usually at night when I cannot sleep, and I get mad at myself that I am still allowing him to have any control over my thoughts. I have tried to become the opposite of all he stood for, but I see his eyes everytime I look in the mirror. This is why in those moments of hopelessness; I want to destroy every mirror and everything that can show my reflection.