UNDERSTANDING MY FATHER

  1. My father and I have never really had much of a relationship.
    I lived with my dad from birth until college, but I don't have that many memories of him. He would leave in the morning, come home from work at six, then go to his room and watch sports on television. We saw each other in passing. We were roommates, not family.
  2. My father has always been a cold, emotionally distant man.
    Not long ago, my mom told me that when my dad was in his 20s and working at the family lumber company, he pressed the wrong button, and it caused a man to lose some of his fingers on one hand. My dad continues to carry that guilt with him to this day. Is this why he's always been shut off to me? Is he just too sad to feel anything?
  3. My father tried. I'd like to think he tried.
    Every weekend during football season, my dad would drive my family five hours south to Baton Rouge to watch an LSU football game. This was his idea of family time. I didn't like sports. God knows I tried to, I played football for five years in elementary school and junior high. And during this time, I would ask him questions during games. An attempt at bonding. He would answer, sometimes. But I knew I was bothering him. He wanted to watch the game. So I started bringing a book. And I read.
  4. My father is not a tolerant man.
    I've gotten into many fights with my dad about his political views. He's a Fox News-watching right wing Republican who believes everyone on welfare is mooching off the government. He told me if I saw "Brokeback Mountain," he would not help pay for my college (to his credit, when he found out I saw the movie behind his back, he did not keep this promise). One of the last times we talked, he wanted to make sure I understood black people can be racist against white people too. Thanks, Dad.
  5. My father always read my writing.
    I wrote for my college newspaper. Several articles a week. My dad read them all. But the only times he would talk to me about them were if I said something that upset him. Once in a movie review, I mentioned the "motherfucking snakes" quote from "Snakes on a Plane." He sent me a text that said he was ashamed of me. That I was embarrassing the family. I ignored him and kept writing.
  6. My father spanked me. A lot.
    I'm from the South. This isn't seen as unusual there. Sometimes he used a switch. Usually he used a belt. I was a precocious kid, so I was always getting in trouble for being a smart aleck. And when I got in trouble, Dad would take me into my bedroom, make me pull down my pants, and he would spank me. Several hits, every time. When I brought this up to a girlfriend years later, she told me it was child abuse. The thought had never occurred to me. That's just what dads did. Right?
  7. My father has always been terrified that I am gay.
    When I was five, my parents were dropping me off at my grandparents for the weekend. When I was telling them goodbye, I kissed my dad on the lips. He stopped me, looked down into my eyes, and said, "No. You don't do that with men. Do you understand me?" Once, when I mentioned I was attracted to women, he muttered under his breath, "Thank God." He was constantly chastising me for acting too feminine. He didn't use those words - usually it was "Patrick, calm down" - but it's what he meant.
  8. My father cried the day I left home.
    I spent my last night of living in Mississippi at my parents' house. I wanted to be with my family before starting a new life in Los Angeles. The next morning, I told everyone goodbye. My dad was in his bedroom alone. I popped in to say goodbye, and he stood up and took me in his arms. And he started crying. I had only ever seen him cry at funerals. "Take care of yourself," he said. I told my mother what had happened. I asked her why. "It's complicated," she said.
  9. My father and I don't talk.
    I called him today. We didn't have anything to say to each other. I asked about the town and the family. He didn't have much to say. Neither of us wanted to be on that phone call, that was clear. He didn't call me on my birthday. Sent me a text. Like he does every birthday.
  10. My father is the only father I'll ever have.
    And that's just the way it's going to be, I guess.