One of my first memories was that I have always been afraid of my father. Specifically, I can remember that one day as a young child, my mom left for work and I was inconsolable, partially because my mom has always been my buddy, but mostly because I was scared of his crazy ass. At the time, I didn’t understand why, but I later recognized as an adult that it was simply his demeanor. The way he spoke – his voice was like thunder and everything that came off his lips sounded big and dangerous. He wouldn’t really console me when I was crying. He would just stare at me with those almond-shaped eyes. He was so freaking scary. He was young, from the projects and in the United States Marine Corp, so his life experiences manifested in his physical presence. It terrified me because he also seemed to be devoid of emotion. Little did I know he hardly had any feelings left – he had been ignored by his father, my biological grandfather, not the one my grandmother married, whose name I have. He had grown up with little supervision and much freedom. Many of his brothers and sisters were adults when he came of age, so he was never treated as the youngest or babied in any way. Left to his own devices, he became his version of an adult.
My grandmother was pregnant with my dad when she married her husband. My grandma’s husband signed my dad’s birth certificate when my dad was born, giving them all the same last name. Later, I would inherit the name as well, despite not being part of that bloodline. My dad’s biological father apparently never fully acknowledged my dad as a person. The gist of this classic story is that my biological grandfather – my dad’s father – knew about my dad and was always aware of his whereabouts, but didn’t take an interest in being present in my dad’s life. At least that’s my dad’s version. I believe him because he starred in the same movie.
Also among my earliest memories is growing up with my mom. Her relationship with my dad ended super early in my life, so I remember having a very happy childhood without him present. Despite being happy, I must admit, I envied the other kids who spoke about their dad’s at school. I didn’t really know my dad then though. I knew he existed and I can recall wanting to see him often, but his nomadic lifestyle made him difficult to track. “Nomadic” is my scholarly way of saying he was never stable or living anywhere for any certain period. Sometimes I couldn’t see him because he was incarcerated. My mother never attempted to keep me away from him – her mission was always to encourage our relationship.
I have had various other encounters with my father; we lived together during my adult life when he and my mother decided to rekindle their romance from like twenty years prior. For me, the element of fear has been ever-present wherever my dad is concerned. When I was younger, I was afraid of him as a person. As I got older and became more equipped to recognize my feelings and their catalysts, my fear shifted from fear of my father as an individual to fear of the way I felt with regard to our relationship. I found that I had developed anxiety. Some of it was learned or hereditary (nature or nurture, you pick) behavior from my mother because she basically wakes up on ten. She gets a flat tire and she’s on ten. A crumb drops in the kitchen when she’s not home and she’s on ten. She’s hysterical about life in general. My anxiety worsened significantly when my dad would appear and then disappear, which happened a lot. Each time I had prolonged contact with him, I was scared that it would not last. It never did last. I didn’t understand how profoundly the dynamic of my relationship with my father had affected me until very recently. Anxiety is about fear and I spent a lot of my childhood handling that. So I became another variation on a familiar statistic.
When Your Brain Hurts