For the first time in decades, I woke up on Father's Day thinking about my own father. As any of you who are products of an ugly divorce know, a messy separation can leave a growing child a mixed bag of luggage to cart around from year to year, relationship to relationship. Now, at 32 (am I really so grown up?) I can reflect, with wiser eyes, and a wider view. Little children often think their parents are perfect, they have all the answers, solutions and handle things like an adult. Children, by contrast, make mistakes, learn lessons, throw tantrums when they can't get what they want, and are prone, at times, to acting like a baby. Only as an adult can one chuckle and realize that as we enter child-rearing age, that adults really don't know that much. After spending our teenage years and our twenties acting like we got our shit together and have all the answers, 30 hits and we gasp - where has the time gone!? Who am I? Am I happy? I hate my job/life/dog/house/boss/whatever. Now, imagine I were my parents, and I married in that time of "knowing it all" in my 20's. And had kids (late in age for the 1970's) at 28-30 years old. Still thinking you know everything. Still thinking you know what's best for yourself, for your partner and for your new little people you've brought into the world. At 32, I can honestly say, that terrifies me. Who I was at 28 was a lifetime away from who I am now. The decisions I was making, my view on life, my understanding of relationships...I look back and think, how little did I know?! How small was I living!
It is in that light that I look back at my own parents, and while I have grown from that age of confusion I can look back and sigh and say, "What did they know?" They were little older than myself, dealing with a breaking family, a mis-matched relationship, divergent dreams, and a growing inability to understand each other. It's easy to see how immaturity and emotion can combine into a white-hot rage in which so many things are said that should never be thought, felt, expressed. I can see, sadly, how children are seen as possessions to be tug'o'warred onto this side or that side, each parent saying things to us about the other. Each parent, oddly right in some way, in the end. Time and hindsight are well-paired tools. The resounding conclusion is that all the self-help books were right, none of the divorce had anything to do with me or my sister as children. Sadly, the damage of those years was done, and like stone carved by flowing water, my sister & I remain etched, weathered, and changed by the decisions and actions of our parents. Still, it is comforting, at 32, to finally believe that it wasn't our fault; to know that I wasn't a part of the war, I was just a civilian. Yet, even without intent, all those things happened to me. I was just there, in the crossfire of two imperfect adults who really didn't have all the answers, and sometimes, when emotions ran hot, threw tantrums and acted like complete babies.
The first seven years of my life are full of my Dad. If there was a flip-book it would be page after page of adventure, warm memory, art project, and tiny hands engulfed in larger hands. I was lucky in that my parents worked from home, my Mom did a lot of the working so I spent most of my time with my Dad (outside of the time I spent in school - I started Montessori at age 2). My Dad is an artist and has a wide range of things he likes to do from ceramics, paint, draw, woodcrafts, carving, gardening, guitar-playing, you name it, he did it. He truly was a Jack of All Trades, and if there was something creative he didn't already do, he could pick it up and within the hour, he had a good grasp on it and was contentedly whittling away at something new. My Dad played guitar while we took baths, taught us how to be creative, showed us best how to model figures and houses and animals from clay so they didn't explode in the kiln, taught us which glazes worked best and never imposed limits or sense on our creative ventures. The wilder, the better - we were free-spirited children and any creation was worthy of time. He sawed out fish shapes and handed us paint pens to decorate our fishy shapes. He spent hours helping us make the most kick-ass dioramas for grade school - 3-D trees cut out of foam and carefully sanded, and Halloween costumes that ruled the school - airbrushed by hand to suit whatever crazy idea we wanted to be (Alice in Wonderland's Queen of Hearts! An Owl! A Monkey! A Witch!). We stood in the garage arms held out at 90 degree angles, in our leotards and tights feeling the firm press of the stencil and then the cool spray of paint from the airbrush as our feathers or fur or markings were painted on. We made masks with faux gems and paper mache and candles and a small loom of wood and nails so that I could weave bookmarks. He took his drawing pad with him everywhere, pockets of his Reyn Spooner shirts lined with drawing pens. He'd flip open a page as we sat at a dining table or in a park or in an office and draw a few shapes - a few hills, a winding road and then pass the paper and pen to Anna or I. We'd throw in a tree, maybe a bird or a house. Then pass it on, time would slip by as each person added their own pieces forming one larger picture. We must have made hundreds of those drawings in our childhood. Other times I'd find my Dad in the morning, with his coffee steaming, hands splayed out on the desk, a myriad of colored pencils by his right hand, diligently coloring and shading one of his drawings, bringing it to life. He was a story-teller who spun songs and tales so well-developed and outrageous that they occassionally crossed over into real life. His world was one of fantasy and play, castles on hilltops, caves full of giant crystals and endless geese roaming a giant sky. These were the magic hours that my childhood was crafted from, forever instilling in me a love for art and creativity.
My Dad wasn't much of a rule follower. Even as a child I could tell, he didn't act like other adults. He was warmer, funnier, and played a bit more on our level. He wasn't so busy and stressed out and tightly coiled. He conceded to my Mom to dress nice by wearing Reyn Spooner shirts, but his hands were often speckled in paint and sometimes his legs too. As a child I recall hearing remarks about society and employment and work and bullshit and grow up and The Man and selling out and following my dreams. My Dad was a black sheep if there ever was one, and he was not about to turn into a white sheep no matter the cost. I recall in my teens and twenties as I tried with all my might to be Normal telling people that asked that my Dad lived, "Off the grid somewhere" and was just, "some crazy artist". Because everyone knows that every adult should have a steady Monday - Friday job, generate and then pay their bills, have a home, buy more and more shit to feather their nest and chip away slowly at life until retirement day. I spent my energy post-divorce, trying to prove to myself, my mother and the world that I wasn't like my Dad.
The Divorce taught me a few things. To be like your father was to quit when things got hard, to be an artist without a lot of ambition (and everyone knows that isn't a real job), to be irresponsible, to be a child in a world of adults, to be a rule-breaker, and to not be on time, to be a Jack of All Trades, but Master of None! Angry and hurt at being left at a young age, I struck out in an effort to be nothing like my Dad. Even when I got extensively into painting as an emotional outlet in high school and college, I insisted it was my own talent, and not passed along the hereditary line. And for extra spite, I finished each piece I started, even if I hated it, because I wasn't someone who just didn't finish things. I struggled when I left practicing karate with my 2nd degree brown belt - I didn't want to be there anymore, I didn't want to fight anymore, but I was haunted at quitting before I finished like my father. In high school and college, I knew, I knew I didn't want to be a banker, a business-woman, a whatever. I wanted to be creative - to go to FIDM and do fashion design, to be an artist, to go to culinary school and be a chef. But, no, I had to get my degree first and follow the brightly painted lines on the path to adulthood, lest I become an artist. I spent decades trying to bang my square peg self into a suitable Orange County round-hole. More and more I found myself yearning for a little place in the middle of nowhere to just be. More and more, I realized I didn't want to finish certain things and I could just walk away from situations I didn't like and I didn't give two shits who that made me like.
Almost twenty years went by before I spoke with my Dad again. All the anger, pain, hurt, loss, sadness, confusion, blame, all that increasingly heavy baggage I'd lugged around since I was a child and the big bogeyman in the closet that I liked to blame my failed relationships on...evaporated. All of a sudden, we laughed on the phone. He was just a human being - flawed, real, imperfect. I found out that just being a father did not grant him all the answers. And while no reason is ever going to justify growing up without a father, I could look at his story and step outside of myself, and say, "Yeah, sometimes the choices we make in the middle of emotional upheaval are the best we can at the time, even if they are kind of crappy in hindsight". There were things I could understand completely in my late 20's that I never thought I would. And finally, in that moment of letting it all go, I welcomed a huge part of myself back in. I realized I AM a lot like my Dad. I'm not punctual. I like to do all kinds of art. I would be thrilled to live off the land somewhere dicking around with a million little projects, building stuff and not being bothered by people who watch reality TV shows. I don't want to work for someone else and be held hostage to their ideas of my worth and their whims of their ego. I sometimes, with good intentions, make promises I can't keep, and it's not that I don't mean to, I just get distracted with the next idea. I AM a Jack of All Trades, and sometimes I feel like a master of none of them, but I am able to get by doing a lot of stuff myself instead of paying someone else to do it (and I enjoy the process and pride of DIY). I like to make things with my hands and create something from nothing, and I like to make people laugh. If growing up means working forty (or more) hours a week for someone I may not like, for a salary that I justify by buying a bunch of stuff that I don't really need, all the while saving for a retirement of sitting around on a cruise ship, or at a Club Med, or playing golf, then I don't want to grow up, and don't plan on ever being an adult, and while I will pay my bills and play by some of the rules, a lot of them? I'd like to give the middle finger to.
All that said and done, for the first time in twenty years, I'd like to wish my Dad a Happy Father's Day - the childhood you gave me was truly priceless and formed the groundwork for much of who I am today.