Day Sixteen: Distant
Dad had always been hard to reach. Even when we were kids we knew we could only get so close. It wasn’t a walking-on-egg-shells situation – he never raised his voice, never got worked up, never stormed around in a rage. He simply had a way of going real quiet. He would withdraw into himself, and we would withdraw to the other rooms to play our games. He never had to say a word.
April Landers’s dad did storm around and raise his voice, and all she could do was get in the way. I was there once, after school, when it happened. ‘April you’re a pest!’ he’d roared, jockeying to get his post-work cocktail. It wasn’t said without a hint of love and affection behind it – there was a note of it there. Later, when he watched while she pranced around the living room in her dance costumes, showing him her routine for the company show, I could see that he was proud of her. Coarse words were forgotten by both parties.
Conversely, Julia and I never really knew Dad. And he never really knew us. I think he thought we were just tiny curious people who shared a house with him. When I came out at sixteen he seemed to look straight through me, got up, went for a walk, came back, and not a word was said. I knew he wasn’t angry or disappointed. But he also never really acknowledged me – me or the enormous thing I had told him. We just carried on as before.
When I was in college and brought my first boyfriend home for Thanksgiving, Dad engaged in conversation, was perfectly polite and interested. I left after the weekend feeling disappointed.
What was I hoping would happen? That he would yell and look confused? Like he hadn’t heard what I’d said that winter afternoon when I was sixteen and I’d asked both my parents to have a seat in the living room?
I just wanted something – a reaction of any kind – that would tell me he was paying attention, that he noticed me.
I could have acted out – Julia and I used to concoct elaborate schemes that might finally draw attention to ourselves: everything from running away to taking Mum’s gardening shears to the curtains in the living room.
But we never did that. We weren’t those kinds of kids. We had been weaned at the feet of a silent master and in a way, the fear of the unknown kept us in line.
But when I was thirty-two, Dad died suddenly from a heart attack (why such a calm and quiet man should go in such a violent and painful way – I’ll never know).
It was after he died, that we really got to know him.