Friday, May 18, 2007

Mom's Legs, Dad's Sense of Humour


Mom and Dad at their wedding in 1972.


Dad, Rick, and Me in 2004

Mom and Dad will share air tomorrow for the first time in 20 years.

I’m glad it’s Rickie’s wedding and not mine. He’s always been braver than us. TJ and I both cowered from our mother’s rule. But Rickie always made choices regardless of mom’s approval. I admire him for that.

If you saw my mom now, you’d never believe she was married to my dad. She’s so proper. He has skin like leather, scars all over, and does tapdances in public.

Growing up, Mom was our rock. We were very poor but she dressed us in winter coats and toques over our pajamas for nights when the heat was cut off. We never went hungry. We didn’t balk at porridge for dinner either. Other than a few memories of Dad drunk, stumbling, and cursing, my life was very stable and secure.

Mom had high expectations of me because I did everything early. I spent my elementary and high school years being pushed to succeed. She scolded me when my grades were lower than A’s.

She plotted with my teachers to make me try harder. They put me in a class with a very high achiever. But I wasn’t hungry for academic glory.

In Grade Six she had me tested for giftedness just to prove to me (and everyone) how smart I was. Please let me be like everyone else, I begged. I don’t want to be smarter or better.

Needless to say, she was disappointed when I became an exotic dancer at the age of 23. She accused me of doing it just to hurt her. She reminded me of my abortion the year before and other painful memories, saying I had done them all to hurt her. When she came to town she visited my brother and didn’t even call me. I was devastated.

Dad and I switched roles at a young age. I took care of him and scolded him. He said ‘sorry’ and looked abashed.

Dad once yelled at me when I came home excited to show him my math quiz. I had two questions wrong. I added instead of subtracted or vice versa. He didn’t know it was a timed math quiz and I had gotten the best score in the class. He told me I’d made stupid mistakes. I was 7 years old.

He yelled at all of us if we ever said the word “can’t.” I mimic him now with his deep, scratchy voice when my kids say “can’t.” “I don’t EVER want to hear you say that word again. The word “can’t” doesn’t exist in our family,” I repeat from memory. I can still hear him so clearly.

Dad got me doing handstand push-ups against the wall when I was five and bench-pressing weights lying across a board spread between two kitchen chairs when I was eight. Dad taught me how to make a fist and aim for about two feet behind the head of the person I was punching. I was only allowed to fight people bigger than me. (Now I know it was meant as a joke – EVERYONE is bigger than you when you’re in my family, we’re short.)

I took on two and three older boys at a time. Never lost a scrap. Had a few close calls when I was in Grade Seven and Ten – those bitches pulled my hair. I’d never learned to fight like that.

Dad taught me the rules about fighting too. Back then, there were rules.

Fight one-on-one or you’re a wimp. If you use weapons, you’re a wimp. Once you get him on the ground, you stop. One time I beat up a boy, Chad, who was picking on Rickie. Chad got up and came back for more each time I put him down and walked away. Three times I had to beat his sorry ass in front of everyone.

Once Rickie was old enough to come out and play, most of my fights were in his defense. I knocked out two teeth of one very big First Nation’s kid. I’d told him to leave my brother alone and he’d said – “Try and make me.” So I made him.

Rickie still tells a story about how a neighbourhood boy had jumped the fence and was beating him up in our backyard. When I saw what was happening out the window, I ran outside, held the kid’s arms behind his back and yelled, “Punch him, Rickie! Punch him!” He stood there crying and punching that little red-haired bastard who’d hurt him so many times before.

*

Mom finally escaped from the misery of her marriage when I was in Grade 5.

Dad had cheated on her several times, spent all our money on alcohol and drugs, and had generally been a drunken asshole. It had gotten so bad I was hiding money from him for my mom. “Don’t even tell me where it is,” she said. “Just hide it and give it back to me when he’s gone.”

Every few months Mom would dress us in our shabbiest clothes and take us down to the welfare office. “Don’t tell them Dad lives with us,” she’d remind us. He didn’t contribute much even when he was working. Mom raised three kids on welfare – before and after Dad moved out.

I went through my various stages of pain, anger, and acceptance after Dad left. Pain because I missed him. Anger because he didn’t come around. And later acceptance because I realized his choices had hurt him just as much as me, even more.

Dad would call every couple of years out of the blue. He’d be very drunk and tell me all about what he’s doing for work, how I was the only person in the world who loved him, and how it was me and him against the world. “No other man is your father,” he’d tell me. “You’re mother’s a jerk.” I’d assure him that he was the only father I had and I loved him. And yes, it was me and him against the world. Sometimes I would even believe him. Then I would hang up the phone after a painful goodbye, with Dad saying one more thing, one more thing, one more thing. I’d sigh with relief to get off the phone. Five minutes later he’d call back and we’d repeat the entire conversation. He had no idea he’d just spoken to me.

When I became a stripper, Dad was supportive. He knew he had no right to disapprove. He was also supportive when I called him to say I was born again and wanted to sing a song I’d written about God to him. “Lay it on me, Darlin’” He’d said. And when I was done, his voice was brimming with pride. “That’s a great song, my little Darlin’!” And he chuckled in his deep, drinker’s voice.

*

Dad hasn’t changed after all these years. He isn’t doing hard drugs anymore and his choice of alcohol is very specific – Extra Crisp Apple Ciders because everything else upsets his stomach. How that man is still alive after all the abuse he’s put himself through in his life, I do not know. I half expected he’d be dead before it ever came to inviting him to my own wedding.

I’ve dreaded the day, assuming I would be married first since I’m the oldest, that I’d have my mother and father in the same room while I dedicated my life to someone. What would I do? Would I even invite Dad? He might get really drunk and embarrass me. How about a dry wedding? Now I know better. Dad has his own stash at all times in his coffee mug that he carries with him everywhere. (Yep, imagine Julian from the Trailer Park Boys.)

Luckily, it won’t be my day. But I’m still feeling a great anxiety. How will my stepdad feel to see me with my dad? How will my dad feel to see me with my stepdad. Will Mom and Dad say “hi” to each other? Will people judge my Dad? Will he get extremely drunk and do something shocking? Tapdancing is fine, but please don’t fall down on the Bride.

“We are family,” I tell my children. “Family love each other no matter what. Like my dad, for instance. He has a drinking problem but I don’t care. I love him anyway.”

“So do I!” says my 7-year-old daughter emphatically. And I’m warmed to hear it. She will never doubt my love for her no matter what she becomes in her life. (Stripper or drunk included.)

“I tell myself that you kids got the best of both of us,” Mom says. Dad says, “Well, Darlin’, now that you’re all grown up I can see that you got your mom’s legs and your dad’s chest.” It’s a good thing I got his sense of humour too.

2 comments:

Ryann said...

*clap clap clap*

beautiful post.

Trina Ricketts aka Annie Temple said...

Thank you, Ryann. :)