Today is the day after Father’s Day, and this is the first year that I thought I would get past it without having an emotional meltdown.
I’m married to a nice guy, and I gave up meat, a diet change that opened my spirituality in ways I never thought possible, and I decided that this is the Year of the Book. Actually, the Year of Two Books, if God says the same: one poetry book and one novel.
And yes, I’m determined to finally clean all this crap that I’ve been accumulating for years out of my house, too. I’m not saying my house looks like an episode of Hoarders, but I am saying that when the service man came a few days ago to install a new thermostat, I was truly embarrassed.
I followed him around the house, kicking things out of the way with my foot, and making wistful excuses. He told me, he’d seen worse, and I felt sorry for him, because, like, I hadn’t seen worse, and I truly prayed I never would in this lifetime or the next.
Sidebar: Don’t hate. Y’all know somebody out there is giving me an “amen” and an “ashé.” You ever try to write everyday and keep a clean house without a full time housekeeper? If you have and you’ve succeeded, shut up because I resent you very much. I say that with all the love I can muster.
Recently, I realized that a really big breakthrough for me, artistically, emotionally, spiritually and every other way was beginning and fully entering the process of forgiving my father, who sexually abused me.
Let me explain that, for some people, they need to get a dictionary and look up what “forgive” means.
Forgiveness does not mean that you pretend that the transgression against you never happened. It does not mean cheesing in some lowdown person’s face and showing all your teeth. It doesn’t even mean that you still don’t experience pain. It means, you set aside bitterness and you don’t expect the person who hurt you to make amends.
For me, the “not expecting amends” thing was easy because my father has been dead over twenty-five years. But the hard part—the extremely tricky part—is that I still have “cloudbursts” of pain, all the time, while I’m go letting of the bitterness, piece by piece. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m not bitter about my father, but I will never get to the point where I’m going to pretend he was a good guy. To do so would be to lie.
My father was not a good guy, by any stretch of the imagination. For some people, my saying that is not forgiveness and it’s not healthy. To those people, I will say this: I have finally gotten past hoping my father is rotting in Hell. That’s pretty healthy.
And I have finally gotten past needing to dismiss the good things he gave me. Yes, believe it or not, there were some good things he gave me, like a great smile, a brilliant brain, a love of books, an ability to eat healthy, organic food without gagging, and a fearlessness when it comes to discussing issues of race in mixed “race” company.
Considering that I grew up with a fear of the dark and the horrors that it brought, a distrust of men, and a sense of emotional isolation, I’d say my embracing the good things about my father and no longer wishing his torture at the hands of Beelzebub and Them constitute “healthy forgiveness.”
I had no intention of writing about my father today, as I did a while back on another Father’s Day. I wanted to let the “good African American fathers” have their day. The black community gets a lot of shade thrown its way, and especially around the subject of absent fathers, so I didn’t want to spoil yesterday. But when I sneaked on Twitter, I kept seeing hints about the not-so-good black fathers. In fact, the founder of For Harriet, the black feminist blog, tweeted yesterday that she “most certainly wasn’t turning down blog posts about good black fathers”; she just hadn’t received any yet.
Yesterday, I tried to keep it classy for African American community solidarity. No snarky comments about deadbeat dads in general, and no specific comments about my own father who, ironically, had great credit and paid bills in our household, and never once denied his paternity of his children. (Though God knows, sometimes I wish he had.) And honestly I had no intention of writing this particular blog post in this way.
Originally, this blog post was supposed to be about writing, what I needed to give up in order to Finally Write My Books. I even made a list:
#1 Get rid of bad eating habits, because eating badly leads to bad health and that leads to feeling badly and that leads to lost pages.
#2 Stop checking my email before my writing session, just in case someone sends me something upsetting.
#3 Stop answering my phone during writing time, because I know I like to talk on the phone.
#4 Stay off the Internet, except for a very short period every day. (I changed my personal Facebook page to a public page because I found that I was spending literally nine-ten hours a day on Facebook. I could not stop checking to see if someone had clicked “like.” Twitter I can control. Of course, this is also what I say about chocolate, so I might be in complete denial.)
#5 Avoid drama, because that leads to either my ending up in bed in the fetal position, depressed, or it leads to #1, “bad eating habits.”
I had the whole “writing” blog post mapped out—then about two hours ago, I received an email from a family member, discussing my father. (Please refer to #2 concerning the checking of email before beginning a writing session.)
I sat down in front of the computer with the intention of writing for several hours, having completed all my rituals in preparation: a shower, the brushing of my teeth, completion of my morning prayers, and the brewing of tea. I put on my “Writing Anxiety” music playlist that I had carefully compiled, songs that soothe my spirit and remind me that I am a blessed child of God and I am living a purposeful life.
My family member meant well. I know she did. She didn’t mean to hurt me, and to take me back to a bad place, but all of a sudden, after her writing me about my father, I felt dirty, ashamed, and helpless. I started weeping. Clearly, I had not followed my “#5 writing advice” about avoiding drama.
I had entered full-blown drama. Avoiding drama isn’t just about not cussing people out in the middle of the street, though that’s a good beginning. It’s about understanding that, no matter how well-meaning people are, they’re working with what makes them happy first, not what makes me happy first. That’s just human nature. And since I’m working with what makes me happy first, too–which is admitting my father was a child molester and an abuser of people with less power than he had– there’s going to be conflict. Clearly.
My family member was being sweet in her own way, trying to include me in a “celebration” of my father, a man who was a very successful professional member of the black writing community. It never occurred to her that by “celebrating” my father, she was calling me a liar by implication, for how could I–of all people– logically “celebrate” a man who made me afraid of the dark and who damaged my sense of self-worth?
Just like many other Father’s Days, I felt ashamed to be the daughter of a man who had done these things to me. My shame, not his–because guess what? He’s dead and I’m still here, fighting to keep things together in the aftermath of his breaking fool in the dark.
I felt as if, once again, I had transgressed against my family and by extension, the black community, by refusing to lie and say that my father was a good man. Once again, I asked myself, why couldn’t I just lie about him? It would be so much easier. Why couldn’t I just keep my mouth shut?
Y’all know that recently, I got married. My husband is Senegalese, and he told me a proverb: “You can’t chase two hares at one time.” I’ve thought about this a lot in the past few months, repeating this proverb to myself. Just this morning, before I checking my email, I thought about it.
Could I really do all the things I wanted to do: have a good marriage, lose weight and improve my health, and arrive at a creative place I’ve been walking toward for the past nine years? And could I do all that and live in truth? That seemed like a lot of hares to be chasing, and since I broke my ankle a few years ago, I’ve got a steel plate in my ankle and I can’t even run no more. Not that I could even before I broke it, okay?
This morning, around the same time that I received my family member’s email, I received a notice of a blog post from one of my favorite new blogs (or, new to me). It was a post about “letting go of toxic relationships” and it was right on time. (If you’d like to read it, click here. I loved it.)
I’m not saying that my family member is toxic. That’s not the relationship I’m talking about. My relationship is actually with my guilt. I have to stop feeling guilty about claiming what I have to claim, in order to be a healthy person. I have to stop feeling guilty about telling the truth. I can’t lie about the pain of my past, but I have to find a way to acknowledge it without feeling dramatic, ashamed, and a freak of (family) nature.
Surely, it’s a struggle, but my husband is right about those two hares. I can’t chase my happiness—which involves a bunch of things—and chase drama at the same time. So I’m not going to and that’s that.
I guess this year was a good Father’s Day, after all. And I’m going to try not to have chocolate today. I’ll let y’all know how that works out.