Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Father, Christmas

I just saw my father for the first time in a year or so. I used to see him once every week or two, on Friday nights before I went to visit my mother (they live ten minutes from each other). But it was always compelled by guilt and laced with the fear of what would happen if I ever disrupted our relationship. When I felt him pulling away from my after I transitioned, I took the opportunity to pull away also. Now, I talk to him perhaps three or four times a year, for a couple of minutes. And that’s that.

That kind of distance does something. I felt cut-off, certainly; better because I wouldn't feel guilty by being around him, worse for the lingering knowledge in the back of my mind that he was still out there and knew I’d pulled away too. But it also gave me new clarity when I saw him again.

I suppose this is what happens to many when they go off to college and return. Instead of having someone be a usual presence, you gain more perspective and distance. And with distance, like taking a step back to survey an entire scene instead of focusing upon what’s right in front of your nose, you see more anew.

He was the same person I remembered, but I could see the sameness with a twinge of difference. Fat, awkward, a scared boy in a large man’s body who doesn’t know how he ended up in the dolorous life he’s found himself in. Now, his hair and beard are almost entirely white, and I thought of how he looked a bit like a rather tired and sad Santa Claus. The comparison prompted me to imagine, as I often do, a hypothetical future scenario where my partner and I ask him to dress as Santa Claus and bring gifts to our kids for Christmas. And I imagined how happy he’d look, how joyous he’d be to have these innocent little creatures laughing and smiling around him, happy because he was giving them things, and he’d see their joy as love. He’d want to awkwardly pull away, of course. He wouldn’t know what to do with this love that scared him. Or, in the worst case, one of my children would say or do something that would prompt him to respond to them as another selfish, poorly socialized child might, not really understanding that he’s a giant adult playing with tiny children, not a poorly socialized peer. But assuming that didn’t happen (and, if it did, I don’t think it’d be particularly severe), it would make him shine. He would be so so happy. And I would be happy. A bit wary, of course, but with my own family and the safety I felt with my partner and the love I felt for my children, I would be happy.

It’s a fantasy, of course. Not *that* much of one; a feasible one, as far as fantasies go. But it was still starkly different from our present reality. The reality where we stand somewhat distant in the cold,  the gray sky and the dead trees the backdrop to two sad, lonely people. He can barely look at me, his eyes shifting down and away, his body withdrawn. And as I stand there and look at this childish old man before me, I wonder to myself “How could I have ever been afraid of someone so sad and scared? How could this man have ever invoked such absolute terror inside of me?”

Then he looks at me, for a moment, and I meet his sad, sunken eyes with the blueish purple sacs below them just like mine. And I realize how very similar we are. How, even though I devoted years to trying to find ways to Not Be Him, he’s one of the few people I know who feels so very… familiar.

This gaping wound, this morose and fearful child in a decaying body he barely recognizes as his own. I want to reach out to him, to cry out “I feel so sad and scared. I feel so very alone. And you know that feeling. You live that feeling. You are that feeling. I live in a world of people who seem to hide or never feel the loss or hurt or fear or desire that I so so strongly feel all the time and here you are, your very existence aching. I know that ache. God, I know that sad, bitter ache that wishes for so much more than it has. And I hate being so lonely and unhappy, and I hate not knowing how I ended up this way or how to change or break free. And I just want to be with someone who knows, who lives that feeling too.”

But we both know that can’t happen. At heart, he's a little boy who wants to be loved and wants to be protected. I can’t ever be the parent he so desperately needs. I can never be enough for him. I can only ever be a child to this sad, sweet, awkward boy who only ever wanted to be loved and when he finally was he hated himself too much to accept it.

And that’s the dark coda to this sad story. I ask him about his work, and he predictably complains about it (now he has too much work, whereas a year ago he was constantly obsessing about being fired for too little; it’s always something). And then he says “But it keeps me going; I’d probably have no reason to get out of bed in the morning if I didn’t have it.” The sort of glimpse of desolation that he tosses out where part of him so wants someone to ask more, to care more, to reach out and feel that desperate pain even though I know that if I tried he’d lash out and pull away.

Yet it feels like a Ghost of Christmas Future, pointing me towards my own grave. The walking dead, a sad, lonely, self-loathing person who hurts so very much but pushes away those who try to reach past, barely living only for work, the one place one can truly feel useful, valued, and productive.

I don’t want to feel like that. I don’t want to be like that. I don’t want to end like that. But it’s in my blood. I’ve been running from it for so many years, and yet I’m still staring it right in the face. And one day, an ever-smaller number of years from now, I can so vividly see myself traded places with him, glumly bewildered at how it happened just as I always feared it would.

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