I found out today that my father died in an accident back in October, 2008.
As you will no doubt assume from the fact that it was a year and a half ago and no one has tracked me down to tell me, I never really knew my father. He and my mother married in January 1966 and had me in 1973. Ten months later their marriage was over and I didn’t see him again until I was 15, when my Aunt and Uncle (on my mother’s side) accidentally came across him when they where holidaying up the Queensland Coast. While my mother and I were struggling to survive, at not yet 50 my father had semi-retired to an idyllic stretch of Queensland coast where he ran a caravan park with his brother and his third wife and third child seemed to be holding on to him (he had left his second wife and second child when that child was about 10mths old, too – as far as I know.)
During my consequent visit to this sub-tropical idyll (surreally, via a visit to EXPO ‘88 in Brisbane because my mother thought we could have some FUN on the way???), my father sat me down to ‘discuss’ what had happened between he and my mother. Much more rationally than I had expected, he said that the truth of what happened will always be “somewhere in the middle of everyone’s stories” and said that they had once loved each other very much (something my mother had never said) but that he had tried but couldn’t live with her and that it wasn’t my fault (the exact opposite of what my mother had always said). Then he began to describe what it was like living with her. And it struck me – he KNEW.
You see, all my life my mother told me that she’d never had a temper until I was born. That her rages were caused by a child that had “come out angry.” I never quite understood how that worked, but I knew all my life that her rages were my fault and that was why no one else seemed to know the same woman that I knew: I brought it out in her. I realize, only with clarity now, that I had always either assumed, or maybe hoped, that that was why my father had left me with her – because she hadn’t been a violently angry person around him and he just didn’t KNOW. But he did.
That day back in 1988 he described to me the enormous mood swings, and the ranting which built to violent rages and right then I wanted to ask: “WHY did you leave a ten month old baby in the hands of a woman like that?” But I couldn’t get the words out. At 15, I was still living with her and tied up in the “don’t tell because then everyone will see what a bad/insane girl I’m dealing with and they’ll put you in an institution” that I grew up with, and believed. The only thing I managed to ask was why there had been no child support for all those years – to which the answer was that there had been till I was 2 when my mother apparently flew into a rage on the phone and told him she didn’t want his money anymore. The rage part rang true and, later, my mother admitted to the fight, but said that, at 2yrs old, I had run into the room and hung up the phone right at that moment and she hadn’t been able to get back in touch with him (yeah, I know, that’s when I finally started to realize who the insane one was.) However, even if it was true that my mother had told him not to send any more money, frankly, that was no excuse for never again checking whether I had a roof over my head and food in my belly – I often didn’t. A few months after that, I did try to escape my mother by asking to move in with him and, to his credit I guess, he did say I could come, but the idea was soon nipped in the bud by my mother and some more masterly mind-fucking.
Almost ten years later, in 1997, when I’d been away from my mother for seven years and was starting to recover from an illness which had kept me housebound for several months, I was trying to deal with some of the issues from my childhood and I decided to visit him and finally ask that question. I went up and almost every moment of every day I was there I tried to get the words out, but I left without asking. Now, I’m left with the knowledge that I will never have the chance to ask him why he abandoned me to the care of a woman he knew was unstable and prone to violent rages, but I also finally realize why I never asked:
I knew the answer, but I couldn’t face hearing him say that he just didn’t care.
So, as I read the farewell in the newsletter of the bushwalking society for which it seems he was secretary, as they talk about what a sweet man he was and what a good husband and father he was, I am glad that my half-sister and his third wife got a good father and husband (assuming it’s true) but I find myself desperately sad that I didn’t and, to be honest, not a small part bitter because it seems he never felt any consequences, positive or negative, from having had his eldest daughter, let alone abandoning her. Having me seems to have been like hitting a possum on the road, feeling the bump and moving on (though, it seems from the bushwalking club, that he so loved nature that he probably wouldn’t have just left a possum to die by the side of the road – perhaps I should have been born a cute native animal and he may have cared what happened to me.)
So, I post this on my blog in the hopes of both alleviating that feeling of impotence that all children of bad parents probably feel when the parent dies without confrontation, and proving to myself that I no longer suffer the disease of secrecy that goes along with an abused childhood, and say publicly: Farewell, Peter, you failed me utterly.
At least now I can stop asking myself that question.