To Those Who Side with the Dad

“Just fuck him,” the first best friend used to say, “you can borrow my Pops.”

But he’s my dad, though,” I’d respond. “Why would he be like this?”

Because he’s an asshole.

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Yesterday the mom, brother, and I drove home to Alabama to visit with a member of our family (related by choice, not blood). She just lost her son without warning and I wanted to hug her and see her face and just feel her presence. She’s important to me. When my first best friend died I called her that night, sitting in the dark of my old apartment living room, on a chair in the corner, knees drawn to my chest.

“I don’t know anything, Hubba,” she said when she answered.

“I know,” I said. “I just needed to hear your voice.” And then she listened to me cry.

We got to make another stop on the way in and see another person whom I consider family and his wife and kids. (Look, our Alabama family is large and not blood-related but sometimes you do get to pick your family, and we did that with our Alabama people, and my luck runs deep that there are so many people I can call that I know will always answer.)

My heart felt full, my sentences were taking longer to tumble out of my mouth, and my slight twang had returned.  (I think that’s an involuntary reaction to crossing the state line.)

As we were visiting, I (as I always do) felt myself shift into the more confident, more comfortable version of myself that doesn’t mind being the center of attention and laughs too loud and kicks off my shoes as I lay down on the floor so I can join in on the gossip.

Whoever that girl is fades as we drive back north. I can’t explain it but I’m different down there. It’s my place.

…I have to be honest, I had one more mission for this trip – I failed – but I intended to go for a run while I was in town. Not just any run, but I wanted to set out on the path I used to try to run in elementary school. I tried to run it not for fun, but because the dad would tell me I needed to get my “running legs back under me” which meant I was fat. He would sit outside and watch as the sister and I went for a “run” because he told us we needed to do it.

I have always carried extra weight, sometimes a lot, sometimes a little, and that was a bad reflection on the dad who liked to take responsibility for anything we did well but shied away from anything we did that wasn’t so great. Like being fat.

So I envisioned myself completing a run down there and then taking a picture of myself flipping the bird (in homage to the first best friend and also because, are you serious, I was in like 4th grade and I didn’t want “running legs” back then) but we drove back early and I didn’t get to do it.

What I did get to do, though, was hear that the dad was still calling people from MY home, the place where a tiny piece of my heart always resides, and telling them how terrible the mom, sister, brother and I are. Yes, y’all. Over a decade later.

Now, I could write an entire book on all the bullshit he put us through, and how he’s a genuinely bad person, and a liar, and delusional. I could title it What Not To Do To Your Kids When Their Mother is Divorcing You Because You Slept with Whomever You Wanted because You Need Constant Reassurance from Other Women and, Oh, Wait, Now One of Your Mistresses is Pregnant and You’ve Drained the Bank Accounts and Stopped Paying the Mortgage and Still Owe Back Child Support To This Day but I guess I won’t do that.

I guess I won’t write about the time we were in Applebee’s after the divorce, because the mom forced us to have dinners with him, and I made him mad and he screamed to the entire restaurant that I was a whore. Did you know visiting colleges with friends made you a whore, too? I didn’t know that until the dad told me. (Also you can’t make friends in college if you’re fat, that’s another thing he taught me.)

I probably shouldn’t write about how YEARS passed before any of us heard from him – we were all living in a different state by then – and he popped back into our lives and the sister and I, as we always used to do, shrugged and said: well, he is our dad. So we met him with the sister’s first kid (his first grandson) and hung out at a park and then he called us for a few weeks and we tried to make plans to get together at Christmas – years had passed, after all, and we were grown now and then, wait…..no. He calls and asks us to be deposed for his new divorce, because he needs statements from us, and the sister and I do it and then he’s disappeared again. He didn’t return our messages afterwards to get together for the holidays. He didn’t need anything from us anymore.

It would be immature of me to put out there that every year his son from another woman plays in a soccer tournament in my town, at a park about 2 miles from my house, but we don’t hear from him.

I would look silly if I told you he blocked me on Facebook over two years ago.

I am not going to add that after his stroke, his sister called me (my aunt who will probably not appreciate this and who handles everything with more class and grace than me and for that, I’m sorry) and said he might not make it, so the mom drove me to the hospital and waited in the parking lot as I went inside, past his new wife who hadn’t called, and begged him to get better. Or when he was sick at his new house (dying, again?) and I drove myself out there and knocked on the door and his new wife’s dad didn’t want to let me inside the house.

What would be the point of telling everyone that as he was moving out, I sat on my bed and cried, hard,  like the snot-down-your-face-heaving-crying, and he came in my room and I asked him why he would do this, why, why, why, and he looked me in the eyes and said, “Don’t you want me to be happy?”

Probably should leave out that before the divorce the sister, brother and I used to try to cope by telling whomever he was meanest to that day that he had pulled their name out of his hat and that tomorrow he would draw another name so it would all be okay.

It would be unnecessary to fill this page with all the ridiculousness of this man, like when I ran into him outside the first best friend’s funeral and had a strained but polite conversation with him… but then afterwards at the burial site he pretended he didn’t know who anyone was there, because that’s one of his favorite games to play, to pretend like he’s lost his memories.

No, I shouldn’t stoop to his level, shouldn’t put my business on the internet, shouldn’t add fuel to the fire. Because on a day to day basis it doesn’t affect me anymore (except my trust issues, body image issues,  and general disdain for all middle age men).

So I guess, per usual, I will keep my mouth shut except to say (OVER A DECADE LATER, ARE YOU KIDDING ME) that if you donned your Team Dad shirt after my parents divorced, if you ran our family business around town acting like you knew what was going on, if you still shake your head at the mention of my people because you think we are awful… Then I sincerely hope you never had to experience what we went through with that shell of a man.

I haven’t ever written much on it because, what would people think of me? That I’m begging for sympathy or that I’m a liar? Would I embarrass myself or my family? Would the mom, who is not without faults, of course, because she’s a human, but who held us all together all those years and never once thought of herself, be upset with me? The woman who made us visit with him, sang the common refrain he’ll always be your dad! and who still, to this day, will say, “I don’t think that’s true” if ever I bring up that he doesn’t give two shits about me.

Would I come off as some sad, silly little girl who can’t let things go? ….Turns out I most likely have been misrepresented all these years,  anyway, by the 1/2 of my parents who decided it was appropriate to, incorrectly and incessantly, attempt to garner sympathy from the residents of my small-town home by, well, lying. A lot.

I love my Alabama people so much that the word love doesn’t seem sufficient. I have family down there that would drop everything for me, do anything for me, and will always, always answer when I call.

The dad isn’t one of those people. He never was and he never will be, and I don’t write this for pity.  Please believe me that we don’t still sit around talking about him. I write this because over a decade later he still taints my most favorite place with his venom and I’m so over it that I can’t hold the words in any longer. I can’t even drive down there in the midst of a tragedy without hearing about more self-serving lies he’s spitting. I’m done. Honestly, truth be told, I’ve been done for a long time.

Need more stories? These are nothing. Nothing nothing nothing – these are just my less offensive memories smushed together in a semi-coherent way. I wouldn’t dare take anyone down the darkest roads.

If anyone has a problem with my truth, and it is mine and it is true, you know where to find me. I’ve always been here.

MKJ

On Turning 30

The husband turned 30 gracefully (men, am I right?) and without complaint.

I, however, spent the last month painstakingly counting down the last days of my 20s, as if on March 31 I would wake up an entirely different person. Last month of my 20s! 10 days left of my 20s! This time next week I’ll be 30! I’m so old. That rigmarole.

Today, I woke up as a 30 year old. The husband hugged me goodbye and called me the Birthday Girl, and then I threw on my Alabama hoodie, washed my face, and yanked on some pants. I let my dogs out. I drank a cup of coffee and watched them play in our front yard of the house we own. I put away some dishes, told the pups goodbye, and I got in my reliable car and drove to work.

As I was driving, I suddenly felt very calm about turning 30.

I’m not sure if it was my morning routine that did it, or that I was chatting with the sister on the phone, or that I had about 20 text messages already wishing me a Happy Birthday…. but I felt the anxiety slowly leak out of me. (For now… let’s be honest… it always comes back.)

30 seems like a big milestone because it is a big milestone. Especially when you’ve lost people along the way, people that never saw 30, or people who you’d love to get advice from about being 30, but they’ve passed on, too.

Whenever my birthday pops up I think of everyone who isn’t here anymore. It makes me uncharacteristically emotional. (My boss brought me cake pops and a Diet Coke this morning and I got choked up over it.) It’s actually only been since DJ died that I’ve done this — every year I get that he didn’t get takes away another tiny piece of my heart. I text his mom and (unfairly) lay my sadness on her and she makes me feel better. “Grief is a bitch!”  We agree on this sentiment.

Anyway, I spent this last month thinking about all the people I’ve been leading up to 30 – a rebel (so it seemed to me at the time), a bad-decision-maker, a bitch (still that, though), a selfish friend (sorry everyone that I’m so flaky and unreliable, I still love all of you), a heavy drinker (thanks, Statesboro), a bitter whiner (your family texts me on my birthday but you don’t…cool, dad)… and I wondered if all the good things I try to do now outweigh the bad.

I hope they do. All those people I was (and kind of still am) just mush together to make me…me. When I turned 20, I had zero respect for me. Turning 30… I think I’m pretty kickass.

Turns out I’ve got a real drive to help animals. I’m always open to donate to charities that benefit foster kids. I’m not as conservative as I once thought. I can run a 10K. I can set a goal and follow through. My best friends are my family, and I’m fine with that. I wrote a book (I mean, I’m not saying it’s good, but I did write it). I’d drop everything and do anything for the husband, who has the patience of a saint to deal with an anxious lunatic like me. My nieces and nephews bring my so much joy. (So do my dogs, obviously.) I take pride in my work. I’m more outspoken and steadfast in my opinions.

20-something me… 20-something me would never have been able to list anything positive about myself. 30 year old me is much more confident. Much more self-aware. Much more… happy.

None of this is mind blowing revolutionary writing. I know this.

But I think the point is that no matter what you’re doing, if you’re turning 30 or 50 or 22 or 86, if you’re actively working to be a better person and make the world a better place, I think you’re doing it right. All the ‘Do This Before You Turn ___ Age’ articles or all the posts from your friends about how their way of living is the best way… that’s all nonsense. Don’t let anyone make you feel like your life choices are less than theirs because you settled down, or you bought a house, or you don’t party until 3am anymore.

Just let yourself…. become yourself. And when you hit the next age milestone don’t let yourself down. Be better.

I spent 30 years semi-figuring out who I am, and I plan on spending the next 30 leaving a positive mark on this world using what I’ve got. You only get so many days. Do something meaningful while you can.

As always, I am forever grateful to the people who love me no matter what, and who have stuck with me through my 20s so that I can kill it in my 30s. I love you all.

Happy 30th Birthday to me! 30

MKJ