Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Dark Stuff

It seems like everybody around me are having babies these days.  Those who know me and where I work know all too well the water is poisoned with fertility drugs.  Simply drinking it will cause a woman to become pregnant and I've often thought they should advertise that fact when recruiting employees.

Are you trying to conceive and just not getting the results you so desperately want?  Come work at The Place Ted Works!  Over half of the females who work here for longer than six months become pregnant, with numbers even higher for women who work for more than a year.  Does your doctor pay you?  Well, we will!  Not really well, mind you, but it beats fertility drugs and the chance of having octuplets.  Instead of racking up a $20,000 medical bill, get paid to get pregnant!

Normally I have a lot of dark jokes to make about life-changing events.  You know, baptisms in goat blood, consecration of the child into the service of Satan, teaching the child lethal combat moves as soon as they learn to crawl--the usual silliness people have come to expect from me.

But I just haven't been able to bring myself to do that.  Children are serious business.  Babies are important.  And fatherhood is such a complicated issue.

My dad's birthday was November 27th.  With all the talk about fathers in recent weeks, and a few other triggers, he has been on my mind a lot.

My dad was a drunk and a fiend.  He hated me.  He hated everything about me.  When my dad looked at me, he saw himself, and took out the sum of his self-hatred upon me.  He was abusive and cruel.

Dad was also gifted.  He was offered full-ride scholarships to major in mathematics out of high school.  Instead he used that intelligence to get inside my head.  I often compare him to Hannibal Lecter in his mind-fucking skills.  In many ways I was a puppet for him to play with.

I often think my dad's goal was to destroy me and when he realized he couldn't, for one reason or another, he opted instead to break as much of me as possible.  There were other things going on in my life back then I'm not going to get into.  But the end result was that by the time I was in high school I no longer considered myself to be human.  I was so disconnected from everybody and even myself I didn't think of myself as even being equal to the people around me.  Instead, I was something less than the rest of the world.

When you're not human, you don't deserve happiness, or even love.  It made so many things more easy for me to understand.  It was better to accept that conclusion for some reason instead of facing some darker, more painful truth.

Things got much worse for me as the years progressed.  And despite all the recovery I've done since then I still find myself having to hear a chorus of demons singing to me all of their greatest hits.  When things were finally over between myself and my family, and I knew I'd never be with my wife and daughter again, they were there in the back of my mind.  "This was God's doing," they sang.  "You're a monster and He was protecting them from you.  All of that darkness inside of you would have made you into your father.  You would have done to them what he did to you."

And for a long time, I honestly believed it.

There is comfort in the darkness.  This is why horses run back into barns that are fully engulfed in flames--the don't know comfort outside of that barn.  It's their home.  It's what they've always known. I know why the horses run back into burning barns because I do the same thing.

But I fight it.

And I've got some great tools to get out.  A couple of weeks ago, I turned 29 again.  And in all my years, I've developed some pretty strong kung-fu, and I can fight my way out of the darkness so much faster than before.  I will admit that certain pieces of me are held together with duct tape, but I'm much stronger than I could have ever imagined back then, and I've been fortunate enough to be there for others when they're dealing with their own horrid shit.

I have moved beyond mere survival.  Survival is the slowest form of suicide.  I'm now looking for happiness.  I have no idea what that is or where to search, but I'm working on that.  Maybe that is what comes next.

I'm not sure I would have made a good father.  I'd like to think I would have, but when I think about it, all that darkness swirls around me and I'm transported to that black hole all over again.  Yesterday I found myself going over and over a memory from my childhood the way your tongue can't ignore a piece of apple skin stuck between your teeth.  My brain chewed on it.

The memory is this:  The first time I beat up my dad, I was 13.  Middle School.  It was summer and Dad was in a weird drunken mood.  He wanted to roll around with me in the back yard.

It was all over in forty-five seconds.

I cracked two of his ribs, broke his nose, and sprained his ankle.  He was on the ground gasping for breath and writhing in pain.  And I was laughing at first, but then I was disappointed.  I wanted to keep going.  I wanted to keep throwing him around the back yard like a ragdoll.

I wanted to make him hurt.

That day changed everything.  Dad got darker, meaner, and more cruel.  He would mumble drunkenly before passing out about shooting me in my sleep or hitting me from behind with a baseball bat.  He had attacked me in my sleep years earlier when he would come home drunk.  I started sleeping with my eyes open again.

And then the darkness came.  I went over that memory but instead of helping him up and into the house, I kept beating him.  I broke bone after bone while venting such hatred it was like breathing fire.  And in the end, I broke him in a rage, destroying him completely.

I have gotten out of that hole and I'm able to focus more on what is in front of me.  The echos of the past have faded and I am here today and right now.  One day, I won't even drift into that hole, or run to it so I can hide.

I'm jealous of the people I know who have kids.  But I also know I wasn't ready.  I've talked before about how if we look at our lives as a Mythological Tale, the battles we fight aren't all the same, but we learn things we can pass on.  I'm hoping I can pass something on to the newest batch of parents.

Be the father you wish you had as a child.  Don't expect anything from your child.  Instead, let them surprise you.  If you are the father you wished to have for yourself, then you will experience a miracle.

I will end this with a link to a very powerful article written by Andrew Vachss that first appeared in Parade about twenty years ago.  Mr. Vachss is an advocate for the rights of children, as well as pretty damned good fiction writer, and this article hit me hard.

It's time to stop playing that role, time to write your own script. Victims of emotional abuse carry the cure in their own hearts and souls. Salvation means learning self–respect, earning the respect of others and making that respect the absolutely irreducible minimum requirement for all intimate relationships. For the emotionally abused child, healing does come down to "forgiveness"—forgiveness of yourself.
How you forgive yourself is as individual as you are. But knowing you deserve to be loved and respected and empowering yourself with a commitment to try is more than half the battle. Much more.
And it is never too soon—or too late—to start.

Written by Andrew Vachss, Parade Magazine, August 28, 1994.

In the end, my own Epic Mythological Tale might be dark, but judging by the work I've already done and the progress I've made, I'm thinking it will have a happy ending.

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