If you woke up at 8am on a Sunday, what would be your first thought? Mine was, “fuck this” followed immediately by, “I gotta pee,” so that’s what I did.
When I tottered unsteadily back into the bedroom, blearey-eyed and bemused, Steve was looking at his phone and mumbled, “your dad’s had surgery,” out the side of his mouth. Now, I have trust issues at the best of times with people who share information with me that, by all accounts, I should have received first. My MO in these situations is to scrunch up my face at said person and incredulously croak, “what are you talking about?” Thereby forcing them to repeat their suspicious sentence again.
Upon hearing this shitty news a second time I held my breath before examining my own phone, which was full of messages, both Whatsapp and Facebook, from my stepmom and my stepsister giving me various, realtime details about my dad’s health and imminent surgery: He had a strangulated hernia, he was at the hospital, he was in surgery, then out of surgery, where he had some bowel removed, and the final message read that he was comfortable and resting. While this real life episode of Grey’s Anatomy, starring my dad, unfolded, I was fucking sleeping.
Living far away from your family is tricky and in my case if anything major were to happen to anyone in the states it would take me at least 10 hours to get there. And even then some poor bastard would have to come and collect me from the airport before I could be of any use. Of course this is assuming I’m not in Bali or Sri Lanka, which doesn’t bear thinking about.
I adore my dad. To me he’s invincible, but the scene my stepmom described to me, when we finally spoke, was harrowing and heartbreaking. I’m just so grateful she was there to take care of business like the boss she is.
I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve ever seen my dad sick. He’s a robust and resilient man whose bones, I always imagined, were coated in galvanised steel judging from the amount of times I’ve seen him fall flat on his ass on sheets of midwestern ice and get straight back up, laughing. He’s not supposed to get sick or be in the hospital. I know we’re all getting older but, fuck, not yet.
This kind of situation makes you reevaluate your relationships and inspires an acute nostalgia for everything from your hometown to your childhood bedroom (I had rainbow walls, be jelly.) It certainly made me wonder what my life would be like without any parents and I came to the conclusion that it would be sad as fuck.
I was a uniquely difficult child. I was wildly imaginative; always putting on plays and making up dance routines to get the attention I craved, but also resented. The more praise I received the worse my brother, who I’ve written about before and who was a straight-up psychopath, would treat me. He used to piss on my toys and use my body as his own personal stress ball; punching, stomping and violently pinching it at will to aleviate the maddeningly painful symptoms of his ADHD and various mental health issues. I get it, though, so I’m not mad. Not even a little.
I learned early on that if I stayed quiet or if I outwardly refused to accept the kind words of my parents and teachers, I would earn my brother’s respect, at least for a little while. He’d see us as being the same instead of viewing me as some little goody-goody shit making him look bad and who needed to be punished for it. I was either with him or against him and in the interest of self-preservation, I was mostly with him.
Big moments for me, like the solo I earned in the 6th grade talent show, or my poems being added to primary school collections, had to be met with a cool disdain. My dad, in particular, found my behaviour irritating and on more than one occasion described me as “cold,” which, at the time, was a fair assessment.
My brother was very smart and incredibly damaged. This was not his fault and I think we all could have done more to help him. But my frostiness, my aloofness and my obsessive need to control the environment around me, especially as a child, was learned behaviour, which has been difficult to undo.
For much of my life I was afraid for people to like me too much and I was intentionally unkind and destructive when people got too close to me and no one was safe. Not even my parents.
I suppose I’m thinking about this now because I know that, as a parent, it must have been quite the fucking job having the two of us as kids. But also, I must remember to be kind to my juvenile self, as I was just a child. A child who has grown up to be a warm, compassionate person who doesn’t have to answer to anyone to avoid a beating anymore. I’d like to hope that knowing me now is more gratifying than remembering me as ice cube offspring.
My relationship with my dad is always improving and I recommend reaching out to talk to your parent(s)if your relationship is strained. Talk to them. It’s on both of you to make things better.
I know that I’m certainly not blameless for my previously tough relationship with my dad, but it also feels great knowing that we now get along well and that we have a nice time together. I’d like to think he knows how much I love him and I hope he knows I always have, I just wasn’t always able to show it. And even though we’re still far away from each other, we’re also closer than ever.