“Is Grandpa Dead?”
This is what I hear while I am in the kitchen, unloading the dishwasher. Two of the three Wildlings are huddled in the living room conspiring. I tiptoe around the corner of the kitchen to eavesdrop.
“I don’t know.” I hear Sam telling Marilyn. She is looking at him, searching his eyes. He bends over to pick up a My Little Pony and gives it to her. “Brush her hair next.” he says.
“But is he dead?” she asks again. Sam spots me. My cover is blown. He gives me his typical I-will-fold-under-questioning-please-don’t-question-me smile and says
“Hi, mama. We are playing with the ponies.” (He isn’t lying, he is omitting truth. Well played, sir.)
“Is Grandpa dead?” Marilyn says with the same tone she inquires about Mac and cheese. She will stand toe to toe with me, ‘Is it Kraft?’ she will ask with one golden eyebrow raised in scrutiny. ‘I wont eat it if it’s not Kraft.’
After years of abuse which ended in an epic explosion of family feuds (details withheld to protect my mom, who will undoubtedly pick this blog post to read even though she has never read another) my parents divorced.
My father left one late summer night, never having said good-bye, and didn’t return for a year. (And that was for a visit, and then he vanished again, but that’s another blog post.) Even though I tried to keep some semblance of a relationship with him. Hoping at some point he would turn into a human worth salvaging, but by then I already hated him.
Highlights of why I severed my relationship with my father:
- He missed nearly every birthday party, concert, event of my life. choosing not to participate in any graduation, father daughter dance or even keep a consistent address so I could send fathers day cards.
- He failed to think child support was necessary and as of this day stands tens of thousands in the red.
- He once told me on the phone, amidst what I would now identify as a psychotic break, that he had killed the kitten he had purchased for me. (I never met the cat, or substantiated the truth of the story)
- When I was mauled by a German Shepard at eleven years old, I spent a week in the hospital, received 400+ stitches in my leg, and spent a month in a wheelchair. He didn’t visit because it was ‘too painful’ for him.
- He wrote me a letter at 13 telling me he wished he had drowned when he was a child visiting the ocean.
- The same letter told me I was excrement. (No I mean it, that was his word choice).
- By age 15, in the deepest trenches of teenage angst and self preservation masked as self pity, I severed ties. When I told him I couldn’t do this anymore he said ‘If you push me, I will disappear’ and guess what? He did. I guess parenthood was more than he could handle. Lucky for him, he has five other kids to try to get it right with!
But back to the story at hand. My children have never asked about my father, until now. They have three other living grandparents and two great grandparents. My husbands parents are Amma and Zayde, my mother is MomMom, and they have never lacked for interaction with any of them.
I stare evenly at Sam, and then at Marilyn. Sam has his head tilted to the side. “She’s kidding” he tells me. Sam is one of the most empathetic human beings I have ever encountered. He picks up on what people are feeling nearly before they themselves know. Right now I am feeling like this is a cruel joke, where is my husband when these questions happen? Sam takes a step towards Marilyn and forcefully pushes another pony into a hand which already houses one. “Brush this ones hair, Nan-Nan” he says.
I feel back on familiar ground. Normally when they are conspiring it is about one of these issues:
- Who they are going to blame the latest fart on
- Who is in charge of the situation (that’s the one I was witnessing currently)
- Who is going to get to tattle on the other person first
- How they are going to beg for a popsicle/candy item
- How they are going to beg to go outside.
- How they are going to get out of bath time.
It’s never, are we or aren’t we going to ask about Dead Grandpa?
“Who is grandpa?” I ask carefully.
“Your dad” Marilyn says icily. She is the cold hearted assassin in this household. She will ask any question, make any statement, to anyone, at anytime. Remind me some time to tell you how she announced to an entire Target ‘My mommy has a bagina and my daddy has a PEEEEEENNNNNNIIIIISSSSSS.’ and the lack of hilarity that ensued.
“I see. Well. To answer your question… kind of.” I am stuttering, pausing for breath. Being a parent is hard. While all you expecting idiots go to breathing classes and tour your hospital (which you’ll never even see, outside of your room), take a minute and think about this. You need to be taking classes on how to clamp your hand over your daughters mouth while she sing-songs all the names for genitals while also holding the baby and pushing the cart and retaining some sense of dignity. You need to take a class on how to answer Earth shattering questions. You need to take a class on how to gracefully exit shit-on and vomit covered clothing without getting any (more) on your face, in a public restroom, while balancing a toddler on your knee. This is the baptism by fire kind of experience that parents don’t tell non-parents about for fear of decimating the future population.
“Kind of dead?” Marilyn presses me. “Like the kind of dead Fathead and Dada Cat are?” Now Sam is interested, and he asks about two cats that have gone over ‘The Rainbow Bridge’.
“Well.” I am suddenly very tired. I would like nothing better than a nap. I don’t know how to tell them that no, he’s not dead, he just chose not to want children after he had them. He’s not dead, but he’s mentally ill on a severe level, combining a serious mean streak with mental illness and adding alcoholism into the mix. No, he’s not dead, but he’s a bonafide asshole with a capital A-S-S-H-O-L-E.
‘It’s not exactly lying.’ I tell myself. ‘He could very well be dead, after all.’
I don’t know how to explain that sometimes families break up, and the parents who were supposed to guide your life, secure you to the Earth, be your tethers to morality suddenly decide to just Not. I don’t know how to explain that kind of a thing without inflicting sudden terror on my children. I can imagine them clinging to Joe’s pant legs when he wants to go to the post office. “Nooooo…” they will sob “You might decide to never come back!” or the nights lined up in a never ending domino set-up before me. One or both of them will be in our bed. “Just checking that you are still here.” they will whisper like little prison guards before going back to sleep, a vice-like grip secured to an extremity.
“Yes.” I tell them. “Unfortunately, Grandpa is dead.”
“Okay” they say in unison, and then, “I already brushed Apple Jack’s hair.” Sam bends down, searching amongst the ponies.
“I think you brushed all of them.”
“Okay.” Marilyn tells him. “We can play now.”
And that’s it. They are over it. There is no monumental shift in the dynamic of our life. They aren’t devastated, I didn’t ruin them. They don’t even seem to register that I am in the same room any longer.
So you’re asking yourself, ‘What’s the point of this? Is there a moral?’ and there is. The moral of this story is Don’t be an asshole or my kids will think you’re dead.