Thursday, June 8, 2017

Cat's in the Cradle

My dad died.  I found out yesterday, though he died on the thirty-first of May.  We are, or I guess were, estranged.  He left when I was three.  He and my mom maintained a kind of forced visitation campaign for a while and we would see him a couple of times a year though he lived merely miles away.  We took a couple of vacations with him to the lakes of Michigan and to his hunting lodges.  The beautiful old cottages fill me with love, but all I remember is fear when I think of the time we spent in those places.  Guns, alcohol and violent yelling.  Fear.

We moved to Georgia when I was ten and the few hours we generally saw him a year were basically reduced to none.  It was too much work.  I remember some point when I was fourteen or so when he rolled into town in this big, navy sedan that he had given a name.  Old Blue.  Something like that.  My brother and I visited him at some motel and we were left there, awkwardly hanging out with dad.  Things continued to taper off.

I called him once when I was twenty-one, during a very low point.  I told his girlfriend off and somehow ended up on the phone with him at one of the hunting lodges.  I just wanted to know who he was and cannot speak of the things that might have happened if I hadn't called.  Nothing really came of it.

My brother had a massive falling out with my mom and sister when I was twenty-eight.  Alec and I had left for a year-long trip through Asia, trip of a lifetime, and everything fell apart while I was gone.  I heard little bits and pieces of it via Hotmail, of all things.

I came back and tried to be diplomatic, though I thought my brother and his wife were wrong.  But, I wasn't there, yada yada, keep the status quo, I'm not much for breaking up with family.  But, it pissed me off, because I don't think they were fair to my mom and sister and I constantly felt like a pawn, used to justify their behavior, give them legitimacy....."Hilary is okay with're the one who is crazy.....".

My brother and his wife reached out to my dad, pretending that they had always been "kept from him" by my evil manipulative mother.  I was induced to meet my father at my brother's house around fifteen years ago.  I went alone.  It was surreal, my dad and his wife (former girlfriend that I told off), speaking loudly, gregariously, drinking, smoking.  Talking about hydroponics like a twenty year old, cocaine, car crashes and poaching, wild random stories.

We kept in touch for a little while after that.  I would send him birthday cards and post cards from wherever I was, which was everywhere.  My brother told me he collected them proudly on a wall in his winter apartment in Florida.  He sent me birthday cards with his amazingly skilled cartoons inside, just as he did when I was a kid.  I wasn't sure where I wanted to go with the whole thing, but I was okay with the correspondence.  I moved to Madrid in 2004 and I remember getting a card sent to my address at school, having been forwarded several times, with a cartoon inside from my dad.  Once, back in my apartment in Atlanta, I clicked on our answering machine to hear a labored voice wishing me a happy birthday.  My dad had had a stroke and could barely talk.  I saw Alec in the doorway, watching me with alarm.  "That's my dad...." I remember saying.

My family made up with each other at some point, but after I returned from Madrid, the wheels were turning again.  My brother and his wife were making critical noises and my mom skipped out of the situation.  And, so did I.  I never told him off, I just didn't talk to him anymore.  I didn't want to be used as a justification and felt like I was selling out by standing by with a frozen smile on my face while my brother and his wife were awful to my mom and sister.

Things have crept along for probably more than a decade.  About a year and a half ago, my maternal grandmother died.  I noticed that my mom and my sister were increasingly agitated by the prospect of some weird family showdown at my grandmother's funeral.  Of some awful, uncomfortable scene with my brother and his family showing up.  I decided to take the bullet, not to be a convenient bystander and I got my brother's phone number and texted him, requesting that he come alone to my grandmother's funeral, simply so that my mother could bury her mother in the most stress-free atmosphere as possible.  I was surprised by his snippy response, but felt like I had adult-ed for once.

So, I got a text yesterday from my mom that my dad was dead.  I was surprised to read a text like that.  My brother had sent my mom a message via Facebook.  All the details were unclear, so I Googled my dad's name.  I found his obituary.  He died a week before my brother sent my mom a message.  He never sent me anything.  He never even mentioned that my dad was ill.  He waited until two days before my dad's funeral to tell anyone that he was even dead.  And the obit, oh the obit.  Survived by:  my brother and his wife.  Not me, not my sister, not his granddaughter Emma, not my cousins.  I found it cruel.  We don't exist.  Our biology is gone, we've been un-familied like the Facebook version of unfriending.

I thought of trying to go to the funeral for some sort of closure.  I found myself thinking of looking for flights to Michigan, should I fly into Flint?  Or, I could drive, it would be cheaper.  But walking into that place almost seems like asking for a fight.   I can't believe going to my own father's funeral would be an act of aggression, that I am not even allowed that, that I feel like I'd be walking into hostility.  And I will never forgive my brother.  Never.

So I've been crying.  And not sleeping but when I do I am dreaming, weird dreams where my dead friend Margaret was explaining things to me that I can't remember.  I've been crying for a solid day.  I don't know why.  Thinking of my paternal grandmother greeting my dad in some way, but her face is put back together again and not splattered everywhere from a self-inflicted gun shot wound.  Did she meet him?

I think of him showing me the cucumbers he grew in his backyard, proudly.  The perfectly sculpted grass, the vines that grew upward.

Sun bleached sky and emerald grass, Jack Purcells and dad. 


  1. Darling Hilary, I would take your pain away if I could. I didn't realize his speech had been affected by a stroke. He was a handsome,charming man and you share a lot of his family's physical characteristics and surpassed him in artistic abiity. Know that you are always wanted in my life and I treasure all that you are, whether Wagner, Strutz, Morgan or Hanley. You are unique and awesome.

  2. To be very frank with you, I must tell you that after reading your blog I feel amazed and it was quite fascinating the way you portrait your blog, which shows the dedication towards your work and also inspires others to do a brilliant job.
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