So it's Oscar weekend. Makes me think of my dad. Not because he was a big lover of the Oscars, or even of the movies. Instead, it's because of the last time I saw him, my ill-fated trip to California, and the fact that we were on Rodeo Drive two days before the Oscars and watched innumerable limos pull up to different stores, spitting out assistants who were coming to pick up fabulous dresses for the stars. It was truly odd--limo pulls up, harried young woman gets out and runs into store, harried young woman returns moments later with giant garment bag in hands. No joke. Perhaps "innumerable" is an exaggeration; probably it was four different limos, but still--enough to make an impression.
That trip was such a horrible one. The week I spent in California revealed a number of truths about my father, ranging from akward to mildly disturbing to clinically insane to downright hate-inspiring. It's not often a girl has the opportunity to discover she is not, in fact, an only child, as she's thought for the 21 years she's been alive, but instead has a half brother out there, one who knows of her existence at least in the abstract but has never spoken to her. Of course, I can't fault Ron for that--he hadn't spoken to my--our--father for 20.5 of those 21 years, either, and when they did finally speak, instead of embracing the son he'd lost and found, my father pretty much said, "Glad you turned out relatively okay. Now stay out of my life."
Four months after I returned home from that trip, heartbroken and worn out, my father died. In that short season, we spoke only a handful of times. Each conversation was a little more guilt-inspiring and depressing and anger-inducing that the one before it.
The night before he died, I came home from an evening with a friend to find a message from my father on the answering machine. "Hi Jay, it's Dad. Just calling to see how you're doing, and remind you that you still have a father. I miss you honey, and I love you. Call me soon, okay?"
I stood in the kitchen and glanced at the clock. Midnight in Sharon meant it was only 9 pm. in Orange County. Plenty early to call him back. But HSBF Scott and I were in the midst of an awful fight, and I just didn't have any energy left to do another round with my father right then. With a mental promise to call him back later in the weekend, I went to bed. 12 hours later, he was dead. And me--I was numb.
It took me a long time to cry for my father. There were too many other things in the way for me to feel sad about his death in any measurable capacity. I was far too angry with him. And far too guilty about the last four months, during which I'd walked around with his secret--now our secret--about his son tied close to my chest. He died never knowing I knew I had a brother.
Ron and I spoke for the first time the day after our father died. It was the most akward wonderful conversation I've ever had. In that weekend, I lost a father but gained a family--a brother, sister-in-law, and two nieces. Now a nephew, too. And, as my husband will point out, a place to visit in Washington State. Not that we've visited since the wedding, but it's good to know the option is there.
It's sad, though. I love my brother and his family, but we don't speak often. A couple times a year. I've been out there twice since we connected; he's been here once by himself and once with the whole family for my wedding. We lost the first two decades of our relationship, and there's nothing anyone can do to change that. Nor will we ever be on the same side of the country for more than a visit.
It didn't have to be this way. My father robbed us of so much, keeping it all to himself.
For the most part, I've gotten past my guilt where my father is concerned. There was nothing I could do to change who he was. He was drowning long before he met my mother. She was his lifeboat for a long time, but that's exhausting, keeping an extra person afloat. Eventually, they need to learn to swim on their own or row to solid ground, and my father never did either, neither of which is remotely my fault. I've also accepted that my calling him back the night before he died wouldn't have changed anything, either. Since there was no way we could have known it would be our last conversation, there's no reason to believe it would have been any different than the handful of conversations that had come before it in those months. The only thing that would have saved us was time, and that wasn't an option.
Not for us, but it is for me. Enough time has passed that I mourn now for the loss of my father. I look at Will and feel sad that he will never meet my son, although I am, at the same time, glad that my son will never experience my father's particular brand of crazy. Time, I suppose, gives us persepctive, and I can see from here that there was nothing the 21-year-old me could have done to make any of 1992 better.
But those damn gold statuettes bring me back to that day on Rodeo Drive. I guess it's no surprise I don't watch the Academy Awards.