Apr 15, 2009

My American Dad

(updated post from my open salon blog)

Like most girls, when I was growing up my dad was the most influential and important person in my life. It's hard to describe someone like that honestly and without bias, so I'm not going to even attempt it. I'm going to give you a very biased look at my dad during various stages of my life, from my skewed point of view.

My dad was a super hero. Seriously. He could anything. He was incredibly strong. He could do magic tricks. He knew the answer to every single question. Until I was about ten years old. But even when I realized he wasn’t invincible, I still thought he was pretty infallible. Then Dad realized that I wasn’t just his daughter, I was a member of the dreaded female species. He decided he needed to teach me my place as a woman. Which was under the man, of course. My dad had a Middle Ages view of the world. There was God, then the Church, then the father or husband, then the wife, then the children.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

For the first six months of my life, my mom says I cried constantly until my dad came home from work. Every day. Poor mom. (I was then quiet for the next eighteen years.)There's a photo of me and my dad when I had Shirley Temple curls and liked wearing pink, frilly dresses. We were both wearing silly hats and Dad’s was way too small. He had a big smile on his bearded face. My dad was an energetic, fun-loving, intelligent, and kind man who loved his children more than anything in the whole wide world. Dad was obsessed with gaining knowledge, primarily about Christianity. Everything that my dad believed stemmed from the center of his Christian faith. Nothing else mattered. I found this interesting when I learned that his dad is an atheist and his mom is a non-practicing Methodist.

When I was five, my dad had some discussions with Jehovah Witnesses who were going door to door. Dad loved to talk about religion. He would talk about religion with anyone, anywhere. Well, the Jehovah Witnesses convinced my dad that Christmas was a pagan holiday that the Catholic Church twisted into a Christian holiday in order to convert heathens. So, we stopped celebrating Christmas. My mom was horrified and I don’t think she’s ever recovered from it. Because my mom had to submit to my dad’s authority, biblically speaking, Mom was no longer allowed to celebrate Christmas. My brothers were toddlers. I don’t think they remember ever celebrating Christmas.

My dad had issues with most holidays. We couldn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day (I don’t remember why) or St. Patrick’s Day and we had to call Easter, Resurrection Day. We couldn’t paint eggs or get chocolate bunnies or anything like that. Because Easter is a pagan holiday.

Dad was also a conspiracy theorist and he felt like his children were intelligent enough for him to talk to as if we were adults. Dad liked to have family meetings. He liked for us all to sit around and talk about how the Catholic Church is not really Christian. I mean just look at the Crusades. Dad was also convinced that the Jews controlled the media and entertainment. Dad liked to read books about the Illuminati and the Free Masons. He was obsessed with knowing the real truth and finding out what really happened. This obsessive compulsion made him paranoid and controlling. It was a bad combo.

But I have good memories of Saturdays at the public pool with Dad and my brothers. Dad taught us all how to swim because he was a life guard in high school. He was also very good at throwing us up into the water. He made us feel safe.

Life was not good to my dad. He had a Bachelor’s in Psychology from Oral Roberts University. He had to quit his graduate program at Oklahoma State because Mom got pregnant with me. Dad worked blue collar, manual labor jobs for most of my life. He worked the longest for Westerville City Schools as a groundskeeper for years. He actually loved the work. He studied the types of grass, trees, and bushes so he knew best how to care for them.

Dad didn’t do anything at home. He didn’t ever cook. Didn’t clean. Didn’t help with laundry. Didn’t work in the yard. Didn’t do home repairs. Mom did everything. Even when she had to get a job after my oldest brother was born and Dad lost his job. Even when she got a part-time job in the school cafeteria while we were all going to Christ the King Christian School.

The first big disagreement I remember having with Dad was when I was in fifth grade. Dad wanted to homeschool us. Well, actually, Dad wanted Mom to homeschool us even though she wasn’t comfortable with the idea and had no education past high school. Dad wanted to take us out of the Christian school, which they really couldn’t afford, and teach us at home. I was very upset. I had friends at school. I got straight A’s at school. I liked school. There was no way I wanted to homeschool.

But my dad reminded me that God commanded children to obey their parents.

So from the middle of fifth grade until we moved to Virginia at the end of ninth grade, I taught myself. My mom had her hands full with the boys and Dad worked.

The second big disagreement came when my dad realized that I was a dreaded female monster. He was more than concerned about my future and my well-being. He was determined to find me a good husband. The sooner the better, he thought.

Then came the rules:

1. I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere by myself. (Mom let me ride my bike alone, though, and Dad never knew that.)
2. I wasn’t allowed to babysit by myself. Other adults found me to be very responsible so I got a lot of babysitting jobs, but I always had to take one of my brothers with me. Even though they were both younger. This rule stayed in effect until I turned eighteen.
3. My brothers and I (who shared a bedroom until I was eleven) weren’t allowed to be in a room together with the door closed. We had no idea why. Now I think my dad must have been completely out of his fucking mind. Seriously. What did he think we were going to do? Don’t answer that.
4. I wasn’t allowed to date. I wasn’t allowed to think about dating.
5. I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup or get my ears pierced.

My dad was turning me into a lesbian. Swear to God. But dad wasn’t worried about my sexuality. The implication was that women didn’t have sexual needs or desires. It was all about protecting women from the advances of men. Men are bad. You can’t trust them, my dad told me. He taught me self-defense and made me carry around pepper spray like I lived in New York City or something.

My dad thought he was a prophet. He thought he was the Old Testament kind of prophet. The kind of prophet who wasn’t welcome in his own town. The kind of prophet who was aware of impending doom. Coming soon to a town near you. My dad felt responsible to spread the bad news so we’d all be ready.

My dad believed in the anti-christ in a very literal sense. He believed that the anti-christ was going to come out of the Roman Catholic Church, possibly a pope with Jewish background. (No, I’m not kidding.) Dad had a problem though. Most people didn’t listen to him and he didn’t really have a platform. So, he thought of the one person he knew who had a huge audience. That man was Pat Robertson.

That’s why we moved to Virginia.

We moved to a small housing development in Chesapeake about a month before my fifteenth birthday. That moved changed our whole lives. First of all, my mom didn’t want to move. She didn’t want to leave our family or our community. She didn’t want to sell the cute little house that they had managed to buy in Centerburg, Ohio.

My dad tried to contact Pat Robertson. He wanted to speak to him face to face. Dad wanted to give him all the research that he had done about the Catholic anti-christ. I think maybe Pat Robertson was used to people even crazier than him trying to contact him. (Imagine that!) Dad was only allowed to send a letter. He never got a response.

My mom had to get a job because the cost of living in Virginia was higher than in Ohio. They both got jobs at the Founders Inn, a hotel and conference center run by none other than Pat Roberts and the 700 Club. Mom was a housekeeper; Dad was a groundskeeper. We had to go to public school. My brothers and I decided that it was a great adventure, like being missionaries in a foreign land. Mom did not feel the same way.

While Dad was worried about outside forces of evil, he neglected the home front. His incessant fears were making us all feel like we were in a military camp. But Dad didn’t care about feelings, because you couldn’t trust them, especially female feelings. Dad said that hormonal emotions made women unreliable and untrustworthy. That was his comeback whenever I tried to make a point about anything that was different from his view. My opinions didn’t matter because they’re all based on ungrounded emotion. My dad said that as his daughter I had to obey him until I got married. As you can imagine, that didn't fly.

By the time I finished high school, my parents were getting divorced. Mom actually moved out of the house on my eighteenth birthday, during my party. Great timing. We were eating ice cream cake and my mom’s boyfriend, the devil himself, was sitting in the car only twenty feet away. I had to hold my best friend back because she wanted to kick his ass.

Dad couldn’t handle this. The fact that Mom had left was out of synch with what Dad thought his life was about. Dad wanted to have a life like on those sitcoms in the fifties. (He actually thought that was the way life was supposed to be.) My dad didn’t know how to be a divorcee. He decided that he must find a new wife. He wanted to rebuild something that had never existed.

Dad treated me like the wife. He talked to me about his day when he got home from work. He talked to me about his problems with my mom, their disagreements and miscommunications. He talked to me (and my brothers) about stuff that no father should ever confide in their children.
Dad was also verbally and emotionally abusive. He took his anger out on all three of us, but mostly on my youngest brother. I think because he looked the most like my mom. Dad picked on him because of his weight and treated him with disgust. It was painful to watch. Sometimes I would try to stand up for him. I couldn’t imagine leaving my brothers without anyone to protect them.

So I gave up my post-school plans. I was going to spend the next year with Teen Mania, an organization that sends American teenagers for short-term mission trips, which they pay for. It was very popular. (I’ll explain that in another post.) But with my mother’s half of the income gone, Dad couldn’t pay the bills and buy groceries with his one job. So I got my first full-time job at Eckerd’s as a pharmacy clerk. They exploited my naiveté and had me working Monday through Saturday—under 40 hours—without overtime for a year. I had no idea that this wasn’t the way a job should treat its employees. I’m from blue collar stock. We didn’t expect work to not be hard and we certainly didn’t complain.

I gave my whole paycheck to my dad, which wasn’t much. I didn’t even have a bank account. Sometimes we didn’t have enough money for food. One or two times, my best friend bought us groceries. My brother’s best friend brought us leftovers from the Duncan Donuts where he worked on weekends.

My dad decided to move to Florida the following summer, when my brothers finished the school year. I’m not sure exactly why. He didn’t have a job or a place to live. He found a church and he drove my brothers down there with all their possessions and slept in a church parking lot the first night. I guess my dad was running from his life, and he was taking his children with him.
I didn’t go with them. I had decided to go to college. I wasn’t sure if I was making the right decision, but my brothers told me to go. They said they would be okay. They said I needed to get on with my life. Leaving them behind was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Over ten years later, my dad and I still don’t have the best relationship, but we’re polite. We’re Midwesterners from mostly British stock. We don’t have passionate outbursts. But I now have a comeback with which Dad can't disagree. My husband says we are equal. Equally fallible, equally valid, equally emotionally acute, equally working in the relationship. So there!


Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

little miss gnomide said...

Thank you, Anonymous!