The other day he called me out of the blue, the bastard, and apologized for not spending enough time with me when I was a kid. Sometimes, I think he is more innocent than I've ever been; he honestly has no clue. Once, he dragged me into the house in a rage, had me drop my pants for a spanking, and shattered a slat of wood against our (fortunately sturdy) piano bench. Then he held it in front of my face, and said, "this is what I want to do to you right now." As shitty childhoods go, mine was thankfully light on direct brutality, and that moment had an impact.
Most of the time, I try not to think of the fact that I have a father. A little of this is because of his progressive dementia, which has been a factor in his behavior since god knows when. More of it is because of the way he treated, and didn't treat, his children.
On some level, I really want to forgive him. I want peace, and to feel gratitude about the things he did give me. There was experience with greenhouses and gardens, which I mostly hated at the time but love now; there were endless nights laying awake and listening to the soothing cadence of his voice, reading adventure stories from Lloyd Alexander and C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Sometimes, we would go out into the mountains and cook dinner over a fire, singing in harmony all the way there and back; I loved the way the cold air made me feel alive, and how it swallowed all the noise and made the world seem silent even when people were talking. My father wanted his children to work hard, play hard, and to love books far more than he ever had. I think perhaps he succeeded.
One night when I was fourteen, The World Was Coming To An End. My parents didn't understand, and I couldn't explain it to them, but my father--in a rare moment of understanding--took me to the mall. It wasn't that we could afford to buy anything, but malls had a lot of mystique for me. Malls were at the center of my attempts to observe and imitate normalcy, and they offered hopeful contrast to home--a dark and dilapidated place that came to us with carpets soaked in moldy dog urine and bedroom doors which locked from the outside. On that night, the mall was already closed. I had given up, but my father pulled into the church parking lot and gave me my first illicit driving lesson. No child of his would face the world without learning how to drive a stick.
There was something about the way he would ask, over and over--did you like that? That story, that dinner, that anything? Even his finest moments as a parent were colored by his bottomless pit of need. I am not sure if my father has ever really felt loved.