My Father Was Not Fred Rogers.
Man comes to me, says my name.
I say ‘what’ because I just heard my name, and the man is my father.
Father’s three times my size. He has always been a lot bigger and stronger than me. When I was a kid he grabbed me shoved me into the stairs, he pulled me back and pushed me into them again harder, he screamed a question into my ear, ‘Why do you do nothing but drive me so crazy?’, he asked. I was 10. I can still feel the heat of his breath on my ear with the little flecks of spit. I still remember the feeling of my body seizing up, frozen. And how when he threw me down for the final time I couldn’t move for a little bit. There’s other stories.
One time we got into an actual fight and I was able to overpower him. I was older then. He later complimented me on my ability to fight. He wasn’t all bad.
I know how much he hates me. He does not say so because it would upset mom, but little clues jump out. Like how I’d be the perfect actor for the role of a loser 30 something. But nothing overt, because you can’t upset mom. Mom, around whom I flinched every time she moved her hand, well into my 20s.
I don’t begrudge his disappointment. It is, in fact, reasonable.
To both their credit they have only ever loved their daughters. And I am hard to love.
He didn’t hear me, so I say ‘what’ again. Not loud, but with a little more volume.
Dad says I could be anything I want, so why this. Dad says I’m a leech on him still. Dad’s been helping pay my health insurance for years. If I don’t have insurance I die. Can’t afford it. Lifelong health problems. Nobody’s fault.
Dad tells me again about how he’s about to retire. Dad’s been working too long anyway. He reminds me that I have never contributed anything to the world. That I am a net negative on society and my family. My existence is weighted in the direction of burden, and heavily. To the point that the sister I bullied when I was a little boy gave me a piece of her body so that I could live. And how I didn’t deserve that.
On the other end of the conversation I agree because I know all this is true even though I’m supposed to defiantly insist it isn't. They are.
Father says I gotta stop just taking easy hourly jobs and make a career. Gotta stop just doing comedy all the time and pretending this will all work out. Gotta let go, move on. Go back to school, learn a skill.
I know why, but ask dad why anyway.
Dad says then I’d make more money. I could buy a house. Raise a family. Be an adult. Be responsible. Dad says I’d have more security. My own health insurance. Dad understands. Dad was a musician. Dad had dreams. He gave up and look where he is now. He had to, I was born. And now dad’s got a lot of money.
Ask dad what to use all the extra money for.
Dad says save up. Retire. Dad recites that same familiar lecture of his on the insolvency of social security. Says if I save up my money I could probably get by on easy hourly jobs and I could do comedy as much as I wanted.
I tell dad this story. Dad rolls his eyes and mockingly snaps his fingers like he just heard a poem.
He’s probably right.