My father was born to be a fly on the wall. He wanted the drama of life without having to emotionally invest, not an uncommon trait and one I fight hard to resist, substituting by filling the void with fantasies that have helped to keep me emotionally infantile and wanting since 1961. Of course, I have managed a molecule of maturity over the years, moving one step closer to full maturity, but, I’m afraid, genetics will beat me to the grave.
My Dad was a natural observer and a dedicated listener. He could seduce a mountain of personal data from an individual in seconds. His attentive stare gave the other party a feeling of inclusion and comfort. He would even fabricate lies of his own to move the story along, prompting personal tid bits from his host that he could store up and use as his own private back drop. He didn’t seem given to gossip and the only reason I knew of his lies was due to the nature of his occupation. He was a real estate appraiser. He would go into people’s houses after measuring the outside, check the interior of the house structure then sit and talk. Of course the home owners wanted a high evaluation and therefore were friendlier than they would normally be to a stranger. During the course of his career in our small town friends of mine would hear him talking and share some of his conversation with me. There wasn’t anything mean or malicious about his fabrications, but I thought it was strange that he would make anything up at all; after all, he did have a real life. And, of course, after hearing about a few of the lies, I had to wonder, what other lies were there and really…why?
This mystery became something I wanted to solve, for reasons that extend into my relationship with my father and my own personal development. I needed to figure out how a man could be so interested in the personal landscape of strangers and at the same time have a complete inability to handle the emotional closeness of his own family.
I do know that, even though my parents’ relationship showed no display of physical intimacy, at least not in front of us, they do love each other. So, I guess, my father is capable of love, or at least their agreed upon version of it, or not so agreed upon, I am never sure. I don’t think there are ever rules for this. Couples just develop patterns, which become the norm, for better or worse. Maybe, then, my father wanted more, and was emotionally unable to get it. Maybe mining the histories of other people and harvesting his collection was a way of finding a purpose he must have felt somehow (deluded) him.
This remained a harmless activity until he moved his mind sport in our direction. In a way it was always aimed at us, listening to our conversations, from a distance, turning himself into a by-stander of his own life. What I found particularly strange, was his need to find evidence of our failings. For some odd reason, as I grew up, his secretive observation of me seemed bent on finding horrible character flaws. If he felt he found something awful he would almost hold it up as trophy to my mother, as if to say, see, here, I told you he was up to something. Eventually these “discoveries” were twisted into the form of weaponry and used as justification to keep his distance. In fact, I think that was the main purpose of his family directed exploration. It helped him to insulate himself, guilt free, and as a result made him into the families’ lone wolf. Eventually during my teen years life with my father reached an absurd level of paranoia. Phone calls being listened to, when he heard enough you’d hear that tell tell sign of a click in the background, conversations overheard, even wild accusations to friends as he would enter a store and demand to check the basement for my pot smoking where abouts. These stories would always come back to me and then I would confront him to no avail, I had become the enemy, or maybe I always was. He wasn’t looking out for me; he was fishing for proof, proof of the corruption of my character, a character he never knew to begin with. But then his was a world he felt free to edit. I couldn’t be a good person, he didn’t write the script that way.
Years later, after I left home, decades would pass till I started to confront the real possibility of my father’s odd behaviour. Like a pioneer discovering the uncharted frontier of my own brain, I soon realized what a frightening often hostile world this grey matter could be. This new process of self discovery eventually lead me to understand my father’s strange moods and my own crippling similarities. It appears I create my own world too. I have found it easier to construct my own playground then to go play in someone else’s. It is also easier for me to be an outsider and not risk the emotional damage inclusion can bring.
I had learned to be a Pee a Boo artist. One who hides and comes out only on my own terms. Of course, this doesn’t really work and as time goes by the fantasy world I developed grew wings of its own and like the family my father forced himself out of, I was reject by the very world I created.
But my father did have a tangible connection to the world at large and that was us. My mother always drew us back, one way or another with the tentacles of her love. So, as a family, we stayed close, through guilt, though need, through love, though suffering through the obvious and the invisible. My father managed to stay attached, on the peripheral, mostly looking in, and sometimes now and then participating. I learned to deal with my father’s odd behaviour by keeping a safe distance and deliberately re-casting myself from a major player to a bit part. A cameo performance was all I needed to stay in touch. He could watch from the side lines, heckle every now and then and retreat. I still had to deal with telephone eavesdropping, that disturbing click sound I would hear after my mother and I had talked long enough and he was no longer interested. He was still looking for bad news, something to justify his isolation.
Years later, as my father lies in a half paralyzed state, forcing us all into full time roles. He smiles through a cocktail of drugs with half a brain left. He seems almost content now. His choices limited if not completely removed. He joined us finally in a fit of dependence.
He is mute and still, he can hear, he can see, he can point…but he can’t change the channel.