Tuesday, June 9, 2009

My Father

Lately, my thoughts have been on my father.

When I was fifteen, I started to hate him. Too many reasons. My mother once said—You two are very alike. That is why you fight. The truest reason of all the countless reasons. When I still lived at home, and if the both of us were angry at the same time, it was unbearable for everyone. Among all my cousins, I am the first to go away to college—two hours away. And it was because of my father. I loved my family, but needed to escape my father. I hated him all the time we drove up to my university, all the time he helped me unload my luggage into my dorm room, all the time he kept giving me advice. And then we were standing next to the family van. Everyone else—my mother and my three siblings—were in the van already, and it was time for the family to go away and leave me in peace. My father stood next to me, and then started crying. Loud sobs, sniffles, a big mess. He reached out and hugged me. He whispered—I will miss you so much. Take care of yourself. I knew he was asking for more—he was asking me to forgive him for all the mean ways he had treated me. My anger and hate melted. I couldn’t say anything. How can it be that this is the only time I can remember my father hugging me? I was 19, and it was the first time my father had ever hugged me. Even though it took months, I learned to love and respect my father again.

Sometimes, people ask me if I love women because I hated my father so much when I was a teenager. No. I love women because I fall in love with women. What does my father have to do with it? I am not a man-hater. I have more guy friends than girl friends. If anything, I aspire to be more like my father because I respect the way he treats women. His whole life—except when he fought in the Vietnam War, his best friends have been women. I’ve never told him that I’m gay, but I don’t think it’s necessary. We talk about women very matter-of-factly. I ask him to describe a beautiful woman for me, and he does. I ask him to tell me about his relationships with the women he’s loved before my mother, and he does. I ask him about the best ways to treat a woman, and he does. One of the few ways that my father and I are different is that he can easily approach women and I can’t.

Sometimes, I wonder if I was meant to be a boy, his son, and then things would make more sense, but my father treats me like his son/daughter now, and I am content with that. He’s passed down his history to me, he’s slowly teaching me how to make a home a home, and with his life, he’s showing me how to deal with pain, disappointment, and loss.

I think—of all the people I know, I know my father best. And yet, he harbors more secrets than he’ll ever tell me. I have written more words about him than about anyone else I know. He is the villain and hero of my stories. He is the most complicated, complex person I know. Someday, when I finally publish my first book, it will be about him. By writing about him—his weaknesses, mistakes, prejudices, all of the ugly as well as the good—I have learned about myself too.

When I was younger, I would look at women I loved deeply, and I would say to myself—There, that’s a woman who I aspire to be. I admired women who were most unlike me. I admired women for their strengths without seeing any of their weaknesses. That sort of admiration is not something I can grow on. These women don’t show me what to do with my weaknesses, fears, self-hatreds. My admiration for these women was false, based on surface appearances. Finally, now, truly, I think that I aspire to be like my father. If someday I can give a woman and our children as good of a home as my father has given all of us, then I would have become as good of a person as I’m capable of being.

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