Half underwater, I’m half my mother’s daughter
A fraction’s left up to dispute.
-Amanda Palmer, “Half Jack”
Today would have been my father’s 66th birthday.
He died two years ago, just a few weeks after his 64th birthday. I still have hidden on a shelf the Breaking Bad DVD collection that I bought him to watch during chemotherapy. He loved the show, hard and proud. He made it through one treatment and two and a half episodes before his own season was cancelled.
My dad loved television. He got serious joy and impish I-told-you-so fun out of finding shows before they were cool.
Yeah. The dude was so hipster before there were hipsters, that he didn’t wax his moustache. He left that to grow 70’s wild like Bob Belcher.
The delight he had in talking about new characters he had met on his new favorite series was adorable. If you disagreed, he would get sulky. Even worse, if you couldn’t be bothered to watch the show after he recommended it? It was was like you were trying to be an awful, ungrateful child. You could see his cartoon thought bubble: Yes. I sold my 1969 Mustang so you could go to college. And now you can’t watch Mad Men so we can talk about it? What a jerk.
He always told me if I wanted to write, that I should write for television shows. Or commercials so that I could make money. So that I could take care of him and my mother. And then he’d give me twenty dollars because my mother said so. Hasn’t happened just yet. Sorry, dad.
He also loved music. LOVED. MUSIC. Couldn’t play a single note on a single instrument. He did have a sweet, tuneful voice, though. But it never saw the stage. Just the walls of our house, and our cars, and the office where he worked, and the grocery store, and the gas station, and…
Dude sang constantly. Anything. His favorite 70’s songs. Jingles. Christmas song. Old church hymns. While some teenagers ask not to be embarrassed, my only request was ever, ” Dad, when my friends come over, please don’t sing.” He’d smile and nod. And launch into full Led Zeppelin, “D’Yer Mak’er”,
OH, Oh, oh, oh OH!!!!!!
You don’t have to go, OH, oh oh, OH!!!!
complete with air guitar the minute my friends walked through the door. He thought it was hilarious. I vowed to run away.
He was my influence in music. It’s why I like rock and roll. His collection in vinyl, even if some of the choices are extremely suspect, is one of my treasured hauls. It made me endlessly pleased to watch him love every second of my brother becoming a talented musician. My dad drove to every show, from which he hadn’t been banned by sulky teenage ennui.
He loved movies. Because of him I saw Full Metal Jacket and Bad Lieutenant, Midnight Cowboy and The Deer Hunter. Although none of these would even be as good as Top Gun in his opinion.
In this instance, I am my mother’s daughter.
I don’t look like my dad. A bit of the crazy curly hair, maybe. The light eyes. But side by side, you’d never tag us as sharing DNA. I’m more the image of my mother. As I get older, and my wrinkles get deeper, and my grey hairs grow more wild and unwilling to be covered, I see the physical resemblance to my mother more intensely, more concentrated.
The older I get, I also see more and more the things about me, inside me, in my marrow and my grey brain matter that are my dad.
My father struggled with mental health issues for most of his life. I don’t know much about the details. As a kid of the fifties and a guarded and private person, he wouldn’t have talked about it. The upbringing in his house with a stern, bordering on abusive father, didn’t make it the most safe of spaces. Problem? Have a drink and shut up about them. It explained much of my father’s delicate personality and difficulty with conflict, but the kindness that he kept always surprised me.
Because we didn’t talk about it, I don’t really know what my dad went through. I don’t know if there were awful things that swirled in his brain and yelled lies and misdirections at him. I know he had dark times and dark places. I know anxiety was sometimes so intense and acute that he couldn’t leave his bed. I know that multiple times in his life, so disgusted by the whole cycle and infinite nature of the whole thing that he stopped his own medications. Trying to convince himself he was fine, he’d just stop taking his daily, needed and critical doses, without telling anyone. And he would be fine. Until very soon he wasn’t.
My own problems with depression and anxiety are small compared to what my dad dealt with for most of his life. But, even on my scale, I know a bit of the road he travelled. To have miserable, harmful thoughts flooding your brain. To not feel like there is anyone who understands or who can make it just the smallest bit easier to bear. To feel so hateful of your own mind and body and actual person, that you can’t imagine anyone else possibly seeing any worth either.
I wish we could have talked about that more. It’s something I try to include with my own son as part of our life and family. Sometimes people have bad days. Sometimes there are reasons. Sometimes not. But let’s talk about it. Not to fix it. Just to acknowledge it. Just so you know you’re not the only person on the road, even if it’s long, and shitty and full of holes that could wreck you. Could be that first child vanity and hubris, forever and always, needing parental approval. Just wanting to tell him how I pulled myself out of a depression and anxiety cycle a few days ago. That I was truly able to change my thoughts and choose positive and happy instead of destruction and hurt. I wanted to share that victory and I think he really would have understood. I don’t know.
Maybe knowing more about my dad and what he went through would have given me a better perspective on my own issues. Probably not. And maybe I didn’t know more because he didn’t want me to know. It was his war to fight, and you fight that whatever way you need to so you can win. Loud and thrashing screaming. Or silent and grounded and resolved. Or softly singing “Wish You Were Here” while smoking an “unfiltered cigarette” behind the garage.
But my dad was never a fighter.
My dad was, however, cool as hell.
I wish I could call him today. Let him say his always “Hey, Alyss!” and then after barely a minute, “Well, okay, let me get your mother” while he yelled from his chair. The man enjoyed a good sit. Another point on which we diverge.
I’m thinking about him today.
Comparing the men in my life to him as daughters of fathers have no choice but to do. (Hmm… an impressive guitarist and singer who also drinks Rum and Coke, and is funny and endlessly kind… excellent start)
I hope my dad was happy while he was here. Hopefully, despite all the difficult patches for him, he was. He sang and he laughed made the people around him smile. And I want to keep that and use it to be more my father’s daughter.
Happy birthday, Dad. Keep singing.