I am not a monster…

Charles Eugene Trantham at 15
Lee Edward High School 1951

My father died last December.

I typed that, like, two minutes ago and just sat there waiting for some other thought to come into my head. But nothing did.

After my mother died, I wrote As My Mother Lay Dying fairly quickly. There were a lot of feelings there to work through. A lot of confessions to be made. Not so much with my father.

As with my mother, I hadn’t seen my father in years. More years than with my mom. My father wasn’t always trying to get us together. He did occasionally, but not like my mother. My mother had to be involved in her children’s lives. Not my dad.

My mother and brother called my dad “the fog.” I called him “the shrug.” He shrugged a lot. It was how he escaped accountability. Not that my father did anything to hurt me like my mother did. But he had his ways of cutting deep.

My mother was the narcissist and he was her ally. He divorced her sometime in the early 80’s and apparently told her that awful thing that men sometimes tell women they’re leaving—“I don’t think I ever loved you.”

So, my father wasn’t without cruelty. And he liked to cloak his cruelty in reason, which is probably where I get my rationalizations from.

I remember years ago, my dad called me, probably on my birthday. He told me he’d like to see me. He said, “I need a hug.” I remember thinking, “You need a hug! Where were my hugs?”

That’s my parents in a nutshell. They didn’t hug me, or tell me they loved me, or tell me anything good about me, or guide me through life, except for the occasional stupid witticism people nowadays pass around as inane memes. They never showed me compassion.

But once they were old and feeble, they expected those things from me.

And my response, as the scapegoat, was, fuck you.

There’s a caveat to that…the part about the hugs. With my mother, the older she got, the more she wanted to hug me. When we said goodbye, mostly. I was really uncomfortable with it. I dreaded it. When you grow up without hugging, being hugged as an adult isn’t natural. I don’t know if my mother needed the hugs, or if she thought she could “mother” me at that time, after all that had occurred between us.

With my father, unfortunately, the hugs and kisses were downright creepy. After he divorced my mother, he left the United States and lived overseas for a while. He married, divorced, and married again.

When I was getting married, he came home to walk me down the aisle and never left.

And when he came back, he was suddenly very physical. He wanted to kiss me on the lips and pull me into bear hugs that lasted too long. If I’d grown up with that, it wouldn’t have felt odd at all. But because I’d grown up rarely being touched by my parents, this was bizarre and horrifying to me.

And it was clear that my father had a problem with social mores and lines. When I first introduced him to my husband (then fiancé), we were at his little apartment with his third wife and their new baby. He asked us if we wanted to watch a “porno.” Who does that? I can’t even fathom what he must have been thinking. Did he really imagine we were all going to sit there and watch pornography together?

1956 at age 20
My dad, the college drum major

The last time I saw him was at a family gathering at my house. He was sitting in a comfy chair and when I walked past, he grabbed me, pulled me down onto his lap, and held me there. I was a grown woman with three children and he had me on his lap like a child. I got up as quickly as I could, but I was really embarrassed.

The guy was creepy, and I was uncomfortable around him.

I did have plans to see him last year.

He called me and asked me to come. I think he knew he wasn’t going to live much longer. He’d asked before, now and then, and my brother saw him often and invited me along a few times. But every time I thought about seeing him, I just couldn’t get past the overwhelming discomfort at the idea.

But I guess I figured it was time. I saw my mother before she died, so I could handle seeing my dad. My brother and I were scheduled to visit in early December. But my dad’s ex-wife, whom he lived with, and his son, my half-brother, got sick. With colds, I think. So we postponed it to the next Saturday. But on the Friday before, my dad had a stroke and couldn’t speak. And early the next morning, he was gone.

My brother called to tell me the news and I told him I was so sorry—I was comforting him. At some point, my brother noted that I wasn’t crying. I waved it off and said I’d cry later.

But I never did.

I’m not a cold person. I cry at movies. My god, if the first two minutes of UP! don’t make you cry, you’re a monster. I cry at hurt animals, or children. I cry at memories all the time. So much so that for a long time I made myself psychologically unwell by trying to push away terrible memories and had to learn to accept them, to live with them. I cry at the news. I cry when I’m sad.

But I didn’t cry when my parents died.

I think there are two basic reasons for this.

First, I came to terms with the relationships long ago. I realized what was broken, or never formed. I understood that the bonds most people have with their parents weren’t there for me. They were just people.

With my mother, she was a person I didn’t really like, who didn’t like me.

With my dad, he was a guy who loved me, and I loved him…in a distant, long ago way. I loved the idea of him that I’d tried hard to hold on to, but that just wasn’t real.

I felt sorry for my parents. But we were simply not close.

And second, I said goodbye to them long before they died. I knew that one day they would be gone and I sometimes asked myself if I was okay with how things were. Would I regret not trying again to have some kind of relationship with them? Each time, I decided I was okay. I knew that, intellectually, I had come to terms with it all. And if I did have regrets, my reason would remind me that I made the decision that was best for me at the time.

I do cry once in a while now. But it’s over what I never had, or some tiny memory of something good between us. I don’t mind a few tears now and again. But I can’t spend my energy on what might have been.

It was what it was.

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