Every Father’s Day of late, I’ve been telling stories about how awesome my dad was. But there was another side to the guy, and that’s what I’d like to talk about today, because I think it’s vital. It’s important. It has rarely been more important than now to let reality shine through your love.
We, as a species — and I’m putting it that way because this seems to cross cultures in a big way — tend to want to put people in the good box, or the bad box. We’re pretty terrible at nuance, where relationships are concerned, familial or otherwise.
My father was an amazing man, and an incredible father.
My father was was also a racist, sexist, queerphobic, abusive human being who only got away with it because he was charming, helpful, kind, and married a person infinitely worse than him in all of the ways he kind of sucked.
And before I posted this to Facebook, I could already hear “DON?!” or “I KNEW IT!” or a dozen other canned reactions our entirely reactionary mammal brains default to, where our opinions about other people are concerned.
And to my father’s friends and family, I preemptively said, “don’t. Don’t do the thing. Please, don’t. I love my dad more than you do, full stop. You don’t have to defend him. I’m saying these things *because* I love him.”
My father regularly told me that black people are whiny assholes who just couldn’t get over the past, and that racism was a myth perpetrated by “the lubruls” to control white people. That slavery wasn’t that bad.
My father told me that white people were a persecuted minority. He told me this when I was a child. One who didn’t even know what race was, yet.
My father told me “fa***ts were why the country was falling apart. Me, his queer kid.
My father raised me to be misogynistic because he didn’t know I was a woman. The things he said about women drove me further into the closet on the daily. When he gave my sister the sex talk, it was the “here’s how to avoid getting raped” sex talk. When he gave me said talk? He didn’t teach me not to rape, though it wasn’t hard to get there without him. He told me, on a very uncomfortable car ride, “every woman you fuck is going to accuse you of rape, so here’s how to avoid getting in trouble.” That was the first sex talk we ever had.
My father told me, often and loudly, “if you can’t talk a woman into fucking you, you sit at the kid’s table at Thanksgiving.” And he meant it.
When I had my first threesome, and I talked to him about it because he was my best friend, I told him everything, and it wasn’t a good experience, and I wanted to unpack it, he said, and I’m quoting here, “shit, son. I never managed that. I guess you’re the dad now.”
To him, it was just some accomplishment. Something I talked some women into doing. I needed to cry about how awful it was, but all he saw was that I put my dick somewhere cool.
So does he go into the good box, or the bad box?
None of these things are forgivable, nor was he a good man “in spite of them,” as people say. They just were. They were facts. As much as air, or fire, or traffic.
As much as his excellence was a fact, his awfulness must be, too. And dying doesn’t turn that wonderful, awful man into a saint.
I submit to you, friends and loved ones, that we can’t deify our dead. To do so is to atrophy our growth.
The last time I saw my father, he was heading to bed, knowing it’d be the last time. We hugged tighter and more genuinely than we ever had. “I’m really sorry you never got to see me be successful,” I said.
“Son,” he responded, — he didn’t know. I didn’t either. — “When my mom was dying, you spent your last two years of high school staying up all night taking care of her while I slept and avoided her, and from then on, I knew you were better than me.”
That was an incredible gift he gave me, whether he meant it or not, but it came so quickly to him that it’s hard to imagine he didn’t mean it.
His last fatherly act on Earth, to me, was something most fathers never manage. He told me he was proud of me in a way that wasn’t empty. In a way that made me believe him.
He was a great man. And an awful man. And an awful father, and one of the best fathers
.And he was better than his father, and I’d wager his father was better than his father. And my ol’ man gave me tools enough to know he was a bit of a piece of shit as well as the wonderful person with whom we all fell in love and admired, and that’s far from nothing.
I’d never be able to respect his memory by disrespecting it if he didn’t teach me to do so. Were he born and raised under different circumstances in a different era, we’d high-five about it.
Shit, he might high-five me for tearing him down. He could surprise you like that.
I miss you, dude. You might not’ve liked what I did with the tools you gave me, but I do know you’d be pleased as punch that I listened. And that I use them.