Journal Entry #16

‘Kind’ is not a word I would use to describe my dad. ‘Hard-ass’ is more applicable. He wasn’t affectionate, wasn’t interested in me as a person, and was tired of raising children by the time I came along at three or four years old and was adopted by him. He told me that often. My memories of him are not wholly great…he would come home from work and immediately go to the shop, a building next to our house that was full of his hobbies: boats, planes, cars, motorcycles, scooters, kayaks…He would work on his stuff every night, sometimes skipping dinner because he was working on a project. When he would come to dinner, children were to be seen and not heard, so my sister and I were mostly quiet while he got the biggest portions of the food as the man of the house. Then he would watch TV and drink until he went to bed.

Weekends were much of the same. There was yard work to be done growing up on a farm, so I pulled weeds in the garden and hauled and stacked firewood for the wood-burning stove in the winter…all under the gaze of my dad, who was very harsh with his critiques. I hated doing work outside…I wanted to stay inside and read my books…and I looked for every opportunity to disappear when people weren’t looking. It became a family joke that I was a tissue who blew away in the wind when there was work to be done. “Oh, there goes the tissue off with the wind…blow away, tissue”…I wonder if I just wanted to get the fuck away from mean people. Or maybe I was lazy…

My dad hated noise from children, so I wasn’t allowed to bring friends over. My best friend growing up finally met him when we were teenagers. I got hit a decent amount and he never went to any of my concerts or performances (even when I was winning awards and in first chair)…I think he told me he loved me twice in childhood, and once was when I was in Intensive Care from a suicide attempt at 16.

But this wasn’t supposed to be about the bad stuff. This was supposed to be a discussion about how complex love is…tangled in abuse. Because fuck, I love him, even if he was a raging alcoholic asshole who never hugged me. But how can I explain the good if you don’t understand how bad the bad was? How can you realize how much it means to me that he built me a kayak if you don’t understand the fucking terror I felt getting dragged from my bed in the middle of the night by my mom to my sister’s room as he yelled from downstairs, “I swear to god, I’ll do it, Clare, I’ll do it if you don’t come down here…” and then hearing the gunshot…and the shattering of a TV exploding into a million pieces…

The kayak is in my garage right now. He built it from scratch when I was eight… the same age as the shooting…the frame, the fiberglass covering…he measured me and built it in the shop to fit me specifically. I watched him iron the covering onto the frame. I had to be completely silent if I was in the shop…handing him tools as he worked, getting yelled at the whole time because I was always doing something the wrong way…but then we went kayaking together. Just me and him…with me in a kayak he built. We went miles around the lake in complete silence…my arms were dead. I would’ve done anything to spend time with him, to make him proud of me…

What about when he would take me on motorcycle rides? I was also seven or eight…and I would fall asleep with just my thumbs through his belt-loops. We would ride for hours around the Georgia countryside…and I would fall asleep every time. He would reach behind him and swat me on the back to wake me up because my helmet would bump into his when I started nodding off…

And he would take me on plane rides. Nothing but a single seat belt to keep me safe as I put my hands out of the cockpit of the single prop plane he flew.

What about when he built me a go-cart and set up cones for me to navigate to train to race? He would urge me to go faster and faster and then yell at me when I crashed…

Or when he taught me how to drive? Taught me how to feel for the clutch? How to accelerate through turns like a race car driver, pressing my knee down and telling me to stop being scared…

Or when we went sailing and I didn’t know what “tack” meant so when the boom came around and I was struck on the head and tossed into the water under the boat, he jumped in to save me, pissed off as fuck that I almost got killed? “Dumb fucking kid.” He always called me ‘kid’…

What about when I was scared during a thunderstorm and he brought me outside and told me all about thunder? He sat with me until I stopped being scared and we listened to the thunder rolling for hours.

But then I remember when he hit my mom…and I stood up to him. I was eleven and I put myself between them in the parking lot of the hotel on Jekyll Island while he was full of rage and beer…he flipped me off. I guess I am glad he didn’t slap me across the face because he certainly would’ve broken something. Does he realize that I was more scared of him than I had ever been of thunder?

How can we love someone who abuses us? Because I know he loved me… in his own weird and twisted way. Otherwise, why build anything for me? Why teach me anything?

I don’t really know where I was going with this…oh yes, kindness. He wasn’t kind. But he was my dad.