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Daddy Issues

Hello Dear Readers

It’s me. The Editor-in-Chief.

Apologies for the delay in bringing you new content. Turns out when your Dad dies, the whole writing thing is a little less fun.

Yeah. My old man passed away. I knew it was coming. He had a brain tumor that couldn’t be stopped. I was mentally and emotionally thrashed in the month or so prior to his death. I’ve been even more twisted up in the month since.

It’s been a complicated stretch of time for me. My father and I had a very difficult relationship. As I write this now, the purest thing I feel in regards to him is hatred. It’s not what I want. But it’s what I feel.

I’ve alluded to exactly what kind of man he was in things I’ve previously written. In writing this, I’m just gonna be straightforward. He was a scumbag.

From the outside, he was a man who deserved respect. In my community, a lot of people held him in high regard, and some lauded him in a way that makes me cringe. He was a cliche success story— an immigrant who came to America with nothing, worked his way up, and built a life for his family that, on the surface, others would be justified in envying.

We had all the trappings of the ideal suburban life. SUVs, three bedrooms, two and a half baths, a pool, and a landscaper who kept the lawn looking nice. But while we had the material things, and the outward appearance of happiness, of abundance, and of a functioning family, my mother, brother and I were living under a tyrant, who took substantially more from us than he ever gave.

He didn’t beat anyone. There was never any physical abuse, outside of that one time I ended up bleeding in the bathtub. But that was the only instance in which I ever felt his knuckles, and it was a backhand, not a punch. And from what I remember, I was being a brat.

What he did do though, was wage war on our psyches, our sense of self, and whatever internal worth we had. Dad was sinister and evil and disturbingly calculated in his efforts at tormenting us. He found ways to pick each of us apart piece by piece, to slash open wounds and pack them with salt. My mother suffered the most, but we were all used as pawns in a sick manipulation game, that was rooted in some deep-seated misery and resentment he carried with him throughout his life.

He had a hold on us. He had a hold on all that we did. When he wasn’t busy trying to control everyone, he treated us like throwaways.

When other people needed my father, he was there. Fundraisers, rides to football practice, golf outings. But when it came to us, a lot of the time, our feelings were totally disregarded.

I have questioned the validity of my feelings regarding him more than once. I have wondered if I was dramatizing it, or if maybe it wasn’t all that bad. Again, like I said, he never beat us or anything like that. But I’ve spoken to a number of counselors, professionals, etc that are familiar with the exact details of our life, and they have confirmed for me that what we went though was consistent psychological torture (though it was underhanded and subtle at times) and that I am likely carrying some sort of post traumatic stress disorder as a result.

I won’t get into those details, or rehash all that he said and did, because it would require an entire book, and my family doesn’t need to read this and relive any more horseshit. We have been trying for a long time, even before he passed, to heal and step into the next phase our lives.

Now that he’s finally gone, we can make it happen. But I haven’t really, truly believed it was possible until today, which ironically, is Father’s Day.

The things he did have sat in my gut like a heavy hunk of rusted scrap metal throughout my life, digging into the lining of my stomach, making its presence known in a burning sensation I used to feel radiating through me every few hours. I have done a tremendous amount of work to deal with it. Therapy, exercise, moving around the country, reflecting, starting a self-indulgent website. Bits of peace came to me gradually. And little by little, I realized what was more important to me than anything else: never ending up like him. Developing self-awareness and an understanding of how my actions might affect people I care about became an obsession.

On the ten-hour drive home to say goodbye before he passed, I relived every single bad memory. I cycled through rage and grief and a deep, intense sadness. I tried listening to angry music. Then I listened to light stuff. Neither made me feel any better, nor did it slow the highlight reel that was playing inside my head. I saw shattered picture frames and tears from a decade ago, reheard pleas from the person I care about most in this world, and felt the same heat that had run through my skin a thousand different times as a kid. All that had happened felt like it was happening again, and this time I was watching it in HD.

In Virginia, I pulled over at a rest stop to puke. When I was done yacking, I sat in the dirt, trying to breathe. The visualizations stopped, and for a moment, it felt like I’d finally purged that hunk of metal from my gut. There was just a sinking feeling that nothing could be reversed. What was done was done. And I could only forgive my father in his final days—I could do what he never did for me and provide some peace.

When Dad and I had our last conversation, I cried hard. I told him I forgave him and that I was sorry for all the battles we’d had. He told me to forget about it, then commented on my relationship, asked about my mom and brother, and congratulated me on a big career break I’d gotten.

But he didn’t apologize. He didn’t acknowledge what he’d created and was leaving us with. Even facing death, he couldn’t take responsibility. He couldn’t even look at me when we spoke, and my sneaking suspicion is that he had been hoping to die before I’d had a chance to make it home and face him.

Days later, I was awake at 5 AM, listening to his lungs fill with fluid, one layer of mucus building upon another, while his breath became more ragged and the reaper creeped closer. At 9:28, he took his last breath, as my brother, mother and I held him.

As my family gathered their things and prepared to leave the hospice floor and his body behind, I grabbed Dad’s stiff hand, kissed his forehead, and told him I forgave it all.

And walking down those preposterously long hospital hallways, I truly thought I had. I came to reason that my father was a tortured soul, that someone had hurt him at some point, and he had inadvertently put that pain on us as result. I still resented that the brakes had been repeatedly slammed on my life as a result of some crisis he’d created. But I felt pity for him. I felt awful for what he must have felt throughout his life, and knowing my own pain, I couldn’t imagine what kind he’d been carrying for six decades.

In the days that followed, I consumed a stunning amount of whiskey. I cried in the arms of a few friends. His absence felt heavy and I floated through each hour at half speed. When I decided to stop boozing and weeping, I set about writing his eulogy.

I’ve put hundreds of thousands of words to paper, but nothing has ever been as difficult as that was, or came with any more pressure.

Because I developed that obsession with self-awareness as a result of my father’s actions, I find it very difficult to tell anything but the truth. And though I’d forgiven him, and a eulogy is supposed to highlight the good parts of a person’s life, I couldn’t tell his story without acknowledging what he’d done, and what he left behind.

And so, when the time came for his service, I white-knuckled my way through the handshakes, the hugs, and the countless people who told me how good my father was, how selfless he’d been, and how much he’d given to others. I fought the urge to spit in anyone’s face when they told me he was a great man. I didn’t fire back and tell them he was a sack of shit in his own home, or that he’d treated the feelings of his family as if they meant nothing.

One hand after another slipped into mine. People showed up who never really knew my father. People showed up who I believe in the core of my soul I owe a beating to. But with help from my girlfriend, I kept a lid on the rage that I felt inside, and anytime I felt like I was being pushed too far by the handshakes and horseshit conversation, she saw it in my eyes, and calmly walked me outside for some air, a hand to hold, and a nip of whiskey.

I was exhausted by the time I had to step to the podium and memorialize him.

I honored the good parts of my father, or at least what other people perceived as good. I mentioned the funnier parts of his personality, what he’d done in the local community and the lessons he’d provided for my brother and I.

And then, I devoted some time to what was the most impactful lesson of all, though it was never intentional on his part. I didn’t give specifics, but I let the audience know that for as much as they respected my father for being a man that handled his shit, he failed in the most important fight of all. He was incapable of facing himself, of acknowledging his own faults, of seeing the hurt he was putting on the people that were supposed to matter most. My dad couldn’t reckon with himself and we paid the price for it. I told everyone in attendance that my father had taken the pain of his immigrant experience, or whatever kind of trauma he’d gone through, and put it on my family to carry.

So many of the people in attendance had asked if there was anything they could do for us. And so, I closed it with a request.

I asked that they go home and look at the people they love, or call them. I asked that they listen to them and feel them, then look in the mirror and ask themselves if they’d been doing everything in their power to be what they needed, to make them feel safe, and to assure them that they are loved.

I asked them to recognize when someone close tells them that something hurts, and if they truly matter, to then listen and change.

I asked them to understand that every action they take has an impact on those closest.

I asked that they be willing to face their own demons and to acknowledge their faults.

And I asked that they not live to prove a point, but to enhance the lives of the people they care for, in whatever manner necessary.

I got up on my soapbox and bathed the room in melodrama, in an attempt to turn a negative into a positive, and morph my father’s shortcomings into a warning of what comes when one fails to do battle with the self. I was preachy and a bit verbose, as is my nature, but I spoke the truth, and when I finished and stepped away, no one moved.

I found myself in my girlfriend’s arms moments later, and was physically shaking. I had expressed most of what I had been feeling for over two decades, and afterwards, thought that I had forgiven my father, and with his corpse, put all the bad he’d brought down on us to rest as well. I felt that I was ready to forgive him, to love him, to focus on the good memories, and to move on. That night I partied with good friends, smoked cigars, and drank enough Jameson and Red Stripe to incapacitate a rhinoceros.

In the weeks that followed, I grieved my father as anyone grieves the loss of a loved one. The bad he did and the hurt he caused would crop up at times, and the rage came with it, but nowhere near as much as it had in the weeks preceding his death. I truly found myself missing him, feeling his absence, and wishing I could turn the clock back. After expressing all that I had been feeling in the eulogy and coming to peace with who he was, there was mostly just a deep pity for my father, because I saw a man who left the Earth in tremendous emotional pain. And though he had put it on us, I thought I had finally come to a place of understanding, and was ready to heal.

I left my mother and made my way back to the Southeast. Once here, I slogged through each day. Most of my anger had receded. It was there, and the resentment was too, but nowhere near as powerful as it had been before. I just felt a general sluggishness and viewed almost everything as pointless. Still, I tried to return to normalcy as much as I could. I went out, had dinners, socialized when I could. I felt lost, and I missed my father, but at least most of the fury had receded.

I rarely slept more than four hours at a clip, but still had a few halfway decent days. I was moving, getting things done here and there, and writing, though everything I typed out was shit. There were less visual flashbacks, less reliving moments that had passed long ago. I focused on the good he and I had as much as I could. More than once, I told people close to me that I felt as if I was almost back, that there was still a fog hanging over me, but in the wake of Dad’s death, I felt an intense drive, one that would eclipse any effort I had ever put forth before. I just had to clear the fog to grab hold of it.

But then without warning, the fog grew thicker, and darker.

I got word that prior to his death, my father had pulled one last move to fuck us over. Again, I won’t get into specifics, so as to spare my family, but what he did is unforgivable. He went out of his way to cause us more hurt. My father was twisted and sick, but he knew his sons well. He knew exactly what he was doing, and exactly how it would affect me. It was a premeditated attack, meant to cause us as much suffering as possible—a betrayal that, in my eyes, was so egregious, had a living person been the perpetrator, I’d have gone after them with the claw end of a hammer.

Learning of his final actions hit harder than his death.

The fury and resent came back hard, this time coupled with an intense sensation of worthlessness. The nature of what he did sent me into a spiral, making it clear that my father may never have actually loved my brother and I, but instead seen us as only as tools in his efforts to inflict as much pain on my mother as possible. Nothing more. And worst of all, when I thought I had finally been given a chance to move past all that he’d done, it felt as if he’d somehow found a way to still come after us from the grave.

My mind has always worked at a rapid pace and I have a bad habit of turning things over in my head repetitively. It’s what creates those visual flashbacks. I have put a great deal of effort into working with it, acknowledging it, and stepping back from situations when it becomes overwhelming, until I can find a way to bring myself back to baseline. But the news of my father’s last action put my thoughts into overdrive in a way that I have never before experienced.

Over the course of the next 15 days, it felt as if there was electricity running through my veins. I was as angry as I’ve ever been, calling into question every positive moment we ever had, and asking God what I had done to deserve a father like him. I questioned myself too, wondering if there was any good in me at all. I couldn’t fathom sharing blood with someone who possessed that kind of evil intent, and still being capable of doing even a fraction of what I aspire to do, or being who I have said I want to be as a man.

I relived the bad shit I’d experienced at his hands every twenty minutes. I went on high alert, terrified of what would come next. If my father had been capable of causing me this kind of pain weeks after dying, what else was coming? If the person I was supposed to be able to trust the most did this, who else close to me would come for my heart? Had I missed anything anywhere else that was an indicator of hurt coming my way? What fucking shoe would drop next?

I blamed myself. I thought there were things I should have paid more attention to. Maybe there were signs I could have seen, or actions I could have taken. I didn’t know. I couldn’t think or see anything in front of me. Just a week earlier, I had been waxing poetic about how my father’s life story was a gift, in that it showed me exactly who I didn’t want to be. But that had all fallen by the wayside after learning of his final betrayal. I forgot all of the thinking and analysis I had done, and instead dove into every inch of my past. I picked through every memory, every bad thing that had ever happened. First it was focused on him, and then like a virus, that feeling spread.

Every single instance in which I’ve felt disregarded, disrespected or cast aside by anyone, danced in front of my eyes. My sleep became even more irregular. Whenever I was in my own bed, I never got more than an hour or so of shuteye. I would wake up frantic and sweating. I started sleeping with the lights on, because when I woke from a nightmare in the pitch black, the sound of his mucus-filled lungs and labored breathing rattled around the room.

I felt him on my shoulder every day, like he was slithering up to my ear, so as to whisper “there’s nothing you can do to stop this”. Looking at it now, I feel that I may have entered some form of psychosis. Or at the very least, those head doctors I spoke to were for sure right about that PTSD shit.

I tried so insanely hard to keep moving. I went out, was around the few people I want to be around in this town, and tried to do things that normal people do. But I wasn’t normal. I was subconsciously peeking around every corner, dredging up every past piece of pain I could, even if it had nothing to do with my father.

I stewed. I festered. I grew angrier and angrier.

I did my best to push through. Just last week I strung two good days together that involved 3,000 or so words of writing, and thought maybe I’d be alright. But so many things came back and jogged my memory without warning. Everywhere I looked, I found a trigger. Up until today, it has felt as if my father’s ghost has been following me around, injecting cocaine directly into my bloodstream every half hour or so, slapping me on the back of the head, and saying “get ready for the next hit!”

I grew angrier to try and keep his ghost at bay. I haven’t been present in any situation or scenario since getting the news of his final maneuver. I’ve been averse to writing. There was one 3,000 word day, but other than that, putting words on the page felt too terrifying. I rarely made it through an afternoon without a beer. I lashed out over the phone, and in my day-to-day interactions around town.

I was spinning my wheels and obsessing over every instance in which I’ve ever felt wronged. When I woke each morning, it felt as if someone had pulled a chain tight round my windpipe. Helplessness gripped my heart, and the idea that I could trust no one started to take hold. And worst of all, the highlight reel I’d experienced on that long drive home was now on a never-ending loop inside my mind, only this time, I was watching the Director’s Cut, with a few hundred hours of bonus footage.

Dad’s ghost had taken control of the projector, and was putting every example of where I’d not been enough for him or for anyone else on the screen. And I willingly watched, to my own detriment.

I was behind the wheel of my truck, scoping out a spot for a possible date night, when I dove into one of the memories that his ghost had been dangling in front of me. One small trigger and I stopped paying attention to where I was in the moment, then got into a car accident as result. It was just a fender bender and no one was hurt, but I was furious. Somehow, though I was certainly the offending party, I found a way to convince myself that this was another instance in which I’d been wronged. As far as I was concerned, nothing was in my control and the universe was conspiring with a ghost to bring me down.

Hours later, I was out for drinks when another trigger hit and I was off to the races, dredging up old shit from the depths of my mind and blasting it out into the world. I lashed out at my best friend, cutting with hot fire that came pouring from my mouth. I unharnessed my resentment and shoved it in the face of the person in front of me. I went from being a man who was mourning the death of an abusive father and running from him, to being him—a tyrant at a high-top table. Or more accurately, a petulant child, whining about the injustice of the world around him.

I cooled down while driving laps in my truck shortly after leaving that bar, when it all became clear to me, and I finally saw what the idea of my father’s ghost really was: a fabrication of my own creation. I realized that in the two weeks leading up to that moment and the car accident, I had been doing the exact opposite of what I’d asked of the audience at my father’s funeral.

I hadn’t looked at myself or what control I had over my feelings. A death isn’t easy, and to truly despise the individual that spawned you is a feeling you cannot understand unless you’ve experienced it, but that wasn’t an acceptable excuse.

I’d been playing victim. I hadn’t been self-aware at all. I haven’t been myself in any sense these past few weeks. I’d forgotten all I’d worked so hard for, and in my attempts at avoiding him, I became him.

Everything my father did over the course of 65 miserable years was rooted in his own inability to let things go, his insistence on holding fast to resentment, and a belief that everyone in his world had somehow wronged him. I had been acting in the same way

When I saw that it was me, and not him, that was my current problem, I fell asleep feeling like all that had been festering inside me since I got word of his last betrayal was finally gone. And for the first time in weeks, I slept a full eight hours without waking up at all. No nightmares. No sweats. I slept like a fucking baby, and when I woke up, the fog had been lifted.

Everything about the past that had been bothering me, from my childhood, to my teens, to my early twenties, to last year and to just a few months ago—it evaporated.

In an instant I realized that I had created all those situations in which I felt awful, unsafe, angry and electrified these past few weeks. I crashed that car. I lashed out at my best friend. I wasn’t finding triggers everywhere I went. I was subconsciously creating them.

Because I had generated this idea in my head of a phantom father, and because I had directed so much of my energy towards him, I became him— stalking about town, mad about everything that had ever gone wrong in my life. I was never just present in the moment, never stopping to see that where I was or who I was with and what was in front of me was ok, and that I didn’t have to be on high alert. I didn’t have to hold on to things that had already passed.

I had generated that sensation of electricity that came barreling through me every few minutes, and I had been emulating him. Unknowingly, I had picked up right where he left off and taken his place as a bitter, miserable fuck, bringing the past into the present. In recognizing it, I felt shame at having, for a moment, done what I feared most; I became him. But more importantly, I got what I had been in such desperate need of: clarity.

The unraveling I’d been experiencing wasn’t a force to be reckoned with in any way, but something I could choose to stop on my own.

I could think. I saw that I got to decide how I went forward with life and that I was capable of compartmentalizing and putting every last bit of old bullshit to bed.

I saw that I didn’t need to sit around hoping someone else would show up and save me. There’s nothing anyone can do, no rights for anyone else to wrong, and no reassurances that they can give. It falls squarely on me. It’s not an excuse. It’s a weight to carry, acknowledge and never allow to grow too heavy again. His legacy has died with him and I don’t need to constantly worry about what’s coming next. The ghost only ever existed in my own mind, and having a full realization of that has allowed me to come back to who I am at my core—my mother’s son, not my father’s.

Halfway through writing this, his favorite Lynyrd Skynyrd song started blaring out of the speaker above me in the brewery where I was sitting. I stopped for a moment. Breathed. And then I kept writing. That song didn’t come on because my dad is now some powerful entity on the other side trying to make his presence known and to remind me that he still has any power over my life. It came on cause some asshole apprentice brewer thought “Gimme Three Steps” should be included on the midday playlist. That’s it. Dad is dead, burnt, and now contained in a box. He couldn’t figure out how to use Spotify when he was alive anyway.

So boo-fucking-hoo. My Dad was a dick. But he’s no ghost. He’s just dead now. Just ashes in a box. As long as I don’t play host to the parasite that is his legacy, he’s never coming back.

But The Dirt Lot’s back. I’m back. And I’ve got shit to do and people to show up for.

I hope you had a beautiful Father’s Day. Now call your friends and tell them about The Dirt Lot. I’m gonna call my mother to tell her I love her, then have another cold one, make plans to paddle later this week, and write some more. Then I gotta figure out to how to pay for the damage I did in that wreck and apologize to my best friend.

Thanks for reading. I promise to try and be funnier next time.

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