This is the companion piece to “What Drives You? Pain.” Following a long, rocky, and glacially paced cataclysm, I have finally broken the last ties to my father. In my heart, mind, and all legal paperwork he is effectively dead to me.
My father died today. I’m not sure if I killed him or if he took his own life by a suicide that took nearly thirty years.
Everyone holds an idea of what a father should be in their heart and mind. Some are fortunate enough to get it, but everyone else is left scrambling. What is fatherhood? What makes a man? What does it mean to be a father? What does it mean to support another’s life until they can function as an adult?
And what are you if you walk away from that?
My father was never anything more than a specter in a beard, a ghost who lingered on the edges of my life haunting me. As a child, I held that idea of what a father should be in my heart: warm, caring, stern but reasonable, and an ever-present source of comfort and guidance. Instead, I got the transparent parent who ghosted me at every opportunity, only to reappear at another place and time. Like a soul lost to time, he would reappear, expecting the world to have remained exactly as he departed it. In his mind, I was still the six year old girl he made buttermilk pancakes for every Saturday morning. In his mind, I was the young girl who adored the tall bearded face that loomed above her. In his mind, I loved him.
Somehow he forgot about the abuse, about losing custody, and a period of only being allowed supervised visits. Perhaps to him, it was all a minor inconvenience, easily forgotten.
“The axe forgets, but the tree remembers.”
In reality, that ghost of a man’s life crossed mind infrequently, once every five to ten years. At each interval, he only brought me more pain and grief. Bringing a wife only a few years older than myself to my High School graduation, he was confused by how that affected me. The ghost drifted away again, blissfully happy in his new marriage and unwilling to spend time mending his bonds to me.
After another period as a ghost in my life, he suddenly appeared again, ill and desperate. I dropped every summer plan I had to spend three months as his in-home nurse, only to have debt collectors hounding me over his medical bills for the entirety of my junior year of college. The debt collectors talked to me more than him and I was desperately in debt from buying his groceries for three months. Warm ramen noodles were cold comfort each night as my student debt grew.
At my wedding, he was hurt not to be asked to walk me down the aisle but so clueless that he introduced himself to my brother, his own son, who was my escort for that long and beautiful walk. His Father-of-the-Bride speech was so horrific that the photography company mercifully cut half his speech out of my wedding video.
Peppered through my adult life are phone calls where he waffled between waxing poetic over my childhood (most of which he missed) and rants that were so racist and sexist I would hang up on him.
The first time I ever struck back at him was on my final deployment. I was not many weeks removed from the event that started my PTSD; I was sad, homesick at the holidays, and cold from dry December winds that whipped across the dunes. He mocked me and chided me, making some asinine comment that at least I wasn’t guarding the gate at some CONUS base on Christmas. As if being deployed over the holidays was some comfortable and pain free existence. I stabbed at him the only way I knew how: cutting off all contact over social media. My silence was the first wound that ever hurt him. I reveled in the peace while I knew we withered.
I left the silence flow. Drawing back, shutting him down, and refusing to acknowledge him. Because that’s what every deluded narcissist needs to thrive: an audience. I could almost feel him bleed out from the violent peace of my silence.
I was so close to freedom.
A single call drew me back. My beloved grandmother was dying. Finances had to be arranged, wills updated, and plans made. She passed peacefully, but my father, the ghost and ghoul, had made last minute changes to her will, effectively cutting out everyone but himself. When he called to tell me of her passing, I acknowledged it and hung up. His mother was a gift of a woman and a bright light my life, but she had tied me to him and while I mourned the loss of her, I knew it was another tie severed. I vowed not to speak to him and was successful until this past holiday season. He had my grandmother’s home, which meant I could evict him from the home I owned, one he had lived in rent free for nearly a decade. He reluctantly moved, a specter lingering in the back of my mind as I waited for a text to say he was gone. My silence continued to bleed the narcissistic soul from his body.
“There’s some damage I need to fix up before you can sell it.” Like so many statements from him over time, it was a lie. A half truth. An obfuscation meant to deflect actual anger. In reality, there was missing, rotted drywall, black mold, a broken HAVC system, and thousands of dollars in damage. The specter haunted me still and I couldn’t cut the final tie until the damage, which may have spread across to another unit, was repaired and the property was finally sold.
The pain and anger that was tied to the home created an emotional burden that crushed my spirit and my spouse had to take over the project. What should have taken six weeks dragged on six months because the pandemic made materials and labor scare. We finally had to make the decision to sell “as is” or let the specter linger on? For my sanity, we elected to sell it as is, my sanity was worth more than the time and money it would take to see the project through. We to could push the labor and materiel problems to a company looking to flip the unit before universities opened again. The cost was worth it.
At 7pm on June 19th, the property was under contract. At noon on Tuesday, 30 June, I signed the last document to sell the property with tears in my eyes. Two witnesses, my spouse, and a notary public watched me fight back tears as I severed the tie to a man who had been a ghost for decades.
The ties are finally cut.
The roles are reversed and now I am the axe. I can cut him in the only way I know how, severing the tie like an artery, halting the flow of blood to his narcissistic heart. Crush him with my silence and let him be a ghost for the last time.
My father died today.
I’m not sure if I killed him or if he took his own life by a suicide that took nearly thirty years.
One day I will get a call from the local sheriff’s office telling me that his body has died, finally withering away like his narcissistic heart, and his burden will haunt me the one last time. But today, I am free.
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