POST 17: A Little Bud Never Hurt Anyone
As a matter of fact, I try to give Bud very little thought. The topic of my birth father is one of the more difficult ones for me to talk about which is largely because of all of the hours I have spent in therapy peeling back layers upon layers of my grimy past, memory after memory of sexual abuse, abandonment, and neglect, I have become an expert at mostly avoiding his name in these conversations. I am skilled at forgetting him, skilled at pretending he never (and doesn't) exist, skilled at putting him out of sight and out of mind.
It’s interesting how I have segmented my history. Just like cutting up an apple for my four-year-old, I have peeled off the outer layer and exposed the delicate flesh, and then one by one sliced the whole thing into manageable slices. Some of the slices are easier to chew, easier to digest. I have made an attempt to cut out and toss the rotten spots so I can get to what's salvageable. The only difference is when I am finished cutting an apple for my son I discard the core and the seeds; however, with my own symbolic apple I am as diligent as a middle-aged, mid-western seed saver. I take those deeply-entrenched, bitter seeds (all the self-hatred, all the shame, all the anger, all the despair) and think, "Oh, I really don't have any use for them... but just in case I need them (the baggage) I'll sit them over here." On bad days I roll them in my hands, rub them in between my fingers, feel their familiar pains - my old friends - just to tuck them safely away in wait for use on another day. I can't plant them, I don't dare toss them. I love them and I hate them. Gollum and Chicken Little – the two fictional characters I most identify with, except frighteningly neither of them are all that fictional, are they? My segmented emotional fruit is divided into large chunks. The sexual abuse has been the clear largest and most toxic chunk though it’s getting better. I used to chew on it like cud. Now maybe a better description would be that it’s like a popcorn kernel stuck between my tooth and my gum. Ugh! Why are you still there? Get out! ... I need to floss. Then of course there is the segment devoted to Frances (another sizable piece). And the portion dedicated to the neglect, etc. The next slice of the apple? Bud. Here is where you can imagine the blinking cursor.
Growing up with Bud was like.... it was like.... living with the ringleader of a flippin' B-rate circus that played I Am Sam in the background 24-7. I just want to say right now for the record that when my kids are 30 and they write a blog about their childhood, I really hope it doesn't make them want to vomit. I mean, I really hope that.
My birth family has freely admitted to me that when Bud decided to marry they were relieved because he was going through a major depression at the time and they were afraid he would hurt himself and they believed marriage was a nice distraction. Then when I was born they thought having a baby would make him feel more "normal," more like the rest of the world. I get furious when I think of this because it’s not like I was a puppy or a hamster that you get your kid one Christmas cause he had a rough year. I was a person and they just kind of forgot that tidbit and totally sacrificed both my brother and me so they could ease their own guilt about Bud being mentally disabled. It makes me want to punch them in the neck... right after I make them read this blog and eat Crisco.
After I was born, Bud continued to work and try to provide for the family as best as he could on his small salary. In his defense (double gag!), it must have been terribly stressful - two small kids, a cheating, disabled wife who couldn’t work, and his battle with his own depression and limitations. I am sure it wasn't pretty, but it’s still hard to cut him some slack. It’s like this: At least Frances admitted she didn't want to be our mother; Bud just hung around anyway even though he didn't want to be our father. People have foolishly, so very foolishly, said to me, "Well, he just did the best he could and he is your daddy after all." Okay, okay, I’ll entertain that nonsense for a nanosecond. They've said the same about Frances. But the worst is when someone says all self-righteously, "The Bible says love thy father and thy mother." You know what I say to that? Fine - YOU be raised by Mowgli and Baloo and then get back to me.
Part of me thinks I shouldn't be so hard on Bud for all his shortcomings, but I think that's less because he shouldn't be held accountable and more because I can still fall into that old habit of enabling and excusing. And I am sure there is someone who will judge me because of Bud's disability - maybe I am being too harsh? not giving enough grace? Maybe. I think that's true sometimes. The hurt is still too raw so I know I don't see it as clearly as I should. I am not judging Bud for being disabled. His mental faculties (or lack of) clearly affected our day to day living but most of my issues then and now lay solely in his lack of care. For instance, Bud would take our meager family budget and buy a $100 worth of gifts for Valentine's Day for a waitress he had a crush on but act annoyed if Buddy and I pointed out he didn't buy us anything for Valentine's Day. He never cleaned our home. He never made us do our homework or even go to school. He didn't care if there was no food in the house but always managed to have money for cigarettes. I know he had enough sense to give us a bath - he took baths. At Christmas he didn't even bother to wrap our presents; he just stuck 'em under the tree in loosely tied grocery bags. If I close my eyes and think of him the only thing I hear is yelling and exasperation. Bud was not a man who liked fatherhood, he merely liked the idea of fatherhood. Am I knit-picking? Oh, I am totally knit-picking.
Its not all knit-picking though. I know at the root of my feelings and thoughts toward him is just plain hurt. I am hurt that he didn't care for us more or try to take better care of us. I am hurt that he thought he could just throw his hands in the air and let us try to make it through on our own. I feel betrayed that he didn't want to put us first. I feel angry that he didn't protect me from being abused, even when it went on almost literally right under his nose. I am angry that he let a grown man spend time in my bedroom with the door closed for five years and never asked a question. I am angry that when I was nine years old and asked if he would put a lock on my door for me and then the next week my abuser had ripped it off the hinges, he didn't even ask why. And I don't mean that everything bad that happens to a child is a parent's fault. I can give Bud grace, but I just can't give him a pardon. All those years Bud wanted a gold star for sticking around when our mother left us, but I can't help but sometimes wonder who was the worse offender, who did the most damage. Frances' error was blatant, but Bud's.... his was a like a silent poison.
After I graduated high school, Bud and I had little to no contact. Maybe once a year one of us sent the other a small note saying, "I'm still alive. Hope you are too. Merry Christmas." Or not even. Mostly I got a note at a random time of the year. Then once I had my son it was as if Bud realized he wasn't a part of my life and he was all alone so then his notes increased to twice a year at random times. Occasionally I would call him - I don't know why. Some sort of childlike obligation, I suppose. Then this past year when I got pregnant with my daughter I sent him a little card that read I was having a baby girl. Again, I don't know why. A few months later our family moved to another state. I was seven months pregnant, my husband changed jobs, we left all of our friends, we bought our first house, the movers lost all of our belongings, and I had our baby... It was an insanely stressful time and I didn't call Bud and let him know the baby was born. Sue me. Then when our daughter was six weeks old, I found out he made a trip with relatives to the town where we live and didn't call or come see the baby or even let me know he was in town; I only found out after he had left several days later. And I cried. And I HATE that. I absolutely, unapologetically HATE that I cried because he didn't want to see my child. And then he made some very hurtful remarks about me to our family. Sigh. It all bothers me and the fact that it bothers me makes it even worse because I'd like to forget all about him and I can't.