When my father says he misses me, I don’t believe him.
“You’ll have to plan a visit,” I say. He can’t see the look of disbelief on my face. I try to modulate my words, make them sound even and sincere. I want him to come, but I know he won’t. Instead, he’ll forward me political emails, animal videos, bad jokes, and photos.
I love my father. But he’s a liar and recovering alcoholic—and although I’m proud to say he has eight years of sobriety, his mind still operates as an addict. He says things behind my back that he believes I’ll never hear. So, it’s hard to trust him. I grew up loving a man who is hard to trust.
As a young girl, I watched as he would charge through the front door, amped up from a day at work, and yell at my mother. He unloaded his workday on her: the disappointments, the failures, the stupid people, the horseshit. He heaped it all on her.
And she took it.
Mom spent her days making the house as perfect as she could, as if the lines in the forest green carpet would make him less angry. As if interior design could ease the temple in his forehead or the tendon in his neck.
On weekend mornings, I remember watching cartoons with him. I remember walks with the dog and the way the anger in his face morphed into a smile—the same tendon that gripped rage held his laughter in place. I thought it was my job to help him get there. I could make him sing and laugh when we held hands and skipped high off the ground down the street. I have pictures of him and I where he is making funny faces, and I can hear the silly voice that went along with it. I can recall with perfect clarity the warmth of his hand when he held mine. I believed it was my job to keep the peace. I was a good girl, got good grades, and understood his whacky sense of humor. I didn’t actually like it though—it was laced with cruelty.
As an adult, I watched him leave our family and hide in his disease with another woman and her children. He divorced us all and erased the life he had with my mother after 36 years. Our pictures came off the walls and were replaced with formal photos of his new nuclear family. He refused to take a call of mine for nine months. He moved the new family into my family’s house. He had parties with them, bought them gifts, and shunned me.
When he did finally call, I learned when to pick up and when to send him to voicemail. If he called in the morning, we could manage a short conversation, but in the afternoon and evenings, I had to avoid the calls because he treated me like my mother. He heaved his alcoholic rage onto me. He told me I was terrible. He slurred his words and spoke nonsense. He called me the wrong name or reminisced about his childhood.
His second wife left him while he was visiting me in Los Angeles. He was with me for a few days, and when he returned, his house was empty. She left a note: “Living with you is like living with a caged tiger.” He got sober for her—chased after the woman who robbed him of his money and kept his children away. He never considered himself an alcoholic before. He didn’t have a problem; everyone else did. I’m glad he stayed sober despite never winning the other woman back.
Maybe this is why he doesn’t want to visit me. Maybe when he comes to my home, he remembers being left. My husband, child, and I moved to the east coast to be closer to my extended family. We’ve lived in Charlotte for six years, and yet, my father has come to visit me only twice, once for Hanukkah and once for my little girl’s birthday.
We talk on the phone about the weather, the price of gas, and his health. I’ve gone to Florida to see him plenty. I tell myself he prefers people coming to him. But I don’t believe the lie. I see the photos of him traveling on Facebook. He goes to New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Argentina, and Europe on vacation. He visits his girlfriend’s friends and children. He attends graduations and bar mitzvahs with another family while I sit stupefied, wondering why don’t you come here?
I wonder what he wants from a relationship with me. When I try to love him, I feel pushback. When I pull away, I feel his disappointment. What is this game? Why can’t we be loving, kind, and supportive?
Why is our love so complicated and polarizing?
I want to say, “If you miss me come visit. It doesn’t have to be long, come for the weekend. Sit, eat, and play with your granddaughter.”
But when his voice drops lower, sounding sad, and he says, “I miss seeing you,” I don’t believe him.
I say, “You should plan a visit.”
“Yeah,” he says.