my father was a creative, intense, complex man. he had a quick temper. he looked like errol flynn. he was 25 when he married my 16 yr old mother. he once dreamed of being a painter. he was a free-lance writer. he was a self-taught gunsmith. he was witty and clever. he was naive in some ways. today he would be diagnosed as chronically depressed at the least, bi-polar perhaps. he was all these things and more. i adored him. and even when we went at it, i always knew he loved me.
my mother and i were a different story. she made no bones about the fact that she preferred my 3 brothers 2 older. she had wanted a daughter she could live through; instead she got this moody, artistic, shy girl. where she had dreamed of a cheerleader she got a folksinger. oh, it was great if she could get attention through a painting i had done or poem i had written. and she really loved me when i tried out for and became the school's dance band soloist: i can still see her in the audience, basking in the attention! but she wanted to be a big fish in a small pond. me, i just wanted to swim in the out-of-the-way currents to see what was there.
when i was very small, i remember mom telling me that people were allotted just so much love to go around for other people. when some was doled out, there was that much less to give out. while it was no doubt her truth, it didn't feel, even to my childish heart, like my truth. when i was a little older she told me that she was attracted to a man where she worked. i began to cry. she disgustedly asked why. i told her i felt sorry for daddy. she told me to stop, that nothing had happened and nothing was going to happen.
to my 11 yr old mind, though, it already had. i did not have the maturity, the life experience to understand the nuances of liking someone whilst being married to another. i had no capacity to understand that attraction didn't automatically equal divorce or, even worse, sex. it was just overload for my system. what it did do was finally push me completely into my father's camp, so to speak. i became his defender. in my mind my job was to protect him.
my parents went through life in sort of parallel paths. there were good times, i'm sure, but much of it was spent just not communicating. mom was unhappy and not reluctant to voice that. dad didn't know how to make her happy so he began to turn inwards more and more.
my favorite memories are of being little, sitting on his lap while filling in the crossword puzzle from the newspaper. i learned to spell and read that way. when the words and the answers were both too obscure for me, he'd put the definition into phrases i could understand. (i was quite possibly the only kindergartner in history to know that 'portico' meant 'stoa' meant 'walkway', 'gallery'.) to this day i love words and word play.
as i grew older, dad worried about me more than the boys. i resented this. i mean it was bad enough that i had to go in the house to pee while they could just go next to a tree! (i tried going outside but usually only managed to pee in my shoe.) the boys were allowed more freedom at an earlier age. (when i was about 15 he tried to make me promise to remain a virgin til i was married. i countered with til i was 21. a painful compromise for him, but he accepted it.)
i rebelled, of course. but truth be told i was pretty much a good girl. i mean, to protect him i had to keep mom happy and the family whole and keep 'em all laughing, ya know?
as an adult i nursed my father through 5 years of prostate cancer. when he died from the cancer i was demolished. my mom outlived him by 17 years. when she died i mainly felt regret. she had missed out on a daughter who would have been terrific if she'd only given her the chance. the one thing i got from her was that i knew it could be different and i made sure when mick and caitlin were born that it was.
daddy never noticed the emotional abuse mom put me through. or else he saw it and didn't know what to do about it so ignored it. it no longer matters. i know now that he was fighting for his own life.