Today is Father’s Day. So I called my mother.
My mother mostly raised me and my two younger sisters by herself. Dad divorced us when I was eight years old. He moved to a town half an hour away, and I rarely saw him, despite promised weekend visits. The Friend of the Court assessed him $35 a week child support. He didn’t pay it.
My mother had a few boyfriends, but up till I went to high school at the age of 15, none of them seemed interested in marrying her and instantly acquiring three daughters. So she supported us on her own. At one point she held two jobs and went to school. I don’t know how.
My mother had risen through the ranks of the Michigan Employment Security Commission, from part-time switchboard operator to Executive Vice President, before she married my stepfather. He wasn’t worthy of her, and he knew it, and he beat her.
But that’s another story, and besides, he’s dead. Long ago.
We’re talking about today. Father’s Day. I called my mom.
My dad answered her phone.
My dad was visiting my mom. Dad’s on his fourth wife now, a school teacher exactly my age who was out of the state today, taking care of a crisis in her family, so Dad was visiting his. My mom saw my number on her cell and handed him the phone. She has always done her best to facilitate relations between Dad and us girls. Probably why she never sued him for child support.
“Hi, Dad,” I said. “Hope you’re having a good day. I love you.” (Translation: “If you like. I’ve been cornholed.” Yes, years have passed since Dad fell off the worthy-of-my-anger list. Smile and nod, smile and nod. Less effort that way.)
I’ve seen pictures of my dad as a teenager that I thought were of me. I go by “Nisi,” but the name I was born with was “Denise.” My dad’s name is Dennis. My name was his, feminized, and before the divorce I was Daddy’s girl. Afterwards, well….
I did write him a poem. Like to hear it? Here it go:
I’m supposed to hold a job?
I’m supposed to tie my body
to your iron clock,
dragged round by the axe-hands,
cutting me off in pieces,
minute by minute?
I’m supposed to report and record my impulsions
I write one word a day.
Guns. Color. Voodoo.
Wrote that back in 1977.
Thing is, I know I’m not the only woman in the world with an absent father. My housemate, for one. Holla if you another.
My father’s father left him when he was quite young, see. I figure that’s part of how he became as hopeless at loving me as he is. My father’s father, Vandeleur, moved to Ohio from Michigan and passed as white. Broken, broken, our lineage is a broken thing, like a thin and brittle stick.
Can anger be sad? Can anger be dry? Can anger be charcoal? Can it burn twice?