Are you ashamed of us,” he asked.
A part of the issue is, I’ve never been able to communicate with my parents. Dad never made it easy. If there was something to be said, he always managed to say it in the most negative way possible. It’s just the way he is. As a result, I learned to protect myself by not saying anything all, even when something should have been said. It’s a bad habit I still carry today.
One day, out of the blue, Dad asked me, “Are you ashamed of us?”
It didn’t shock me that he asked. It unnerved me that he just spit it out right in the middle of the void of silence. Dad has always hated silence.
I know why he asked.
As a young man, I didn’t bring girlfriends around to meet the parents. One reason was because many of the girls were girls I knew they wouldn’t approve of. Why put myself through the lectures? I just went about my business and let them go about theirs.
They didn’t meet many of my male friends either. I tried hard to keep my personal life from interfering with my dysfunctional relationships.
On top of that, I didn’t visit them very often even though I lived only an hour’s drive from them throughout my twenties and thirties–the hey-day of my life. Like I said, I was busy doing things they wouldn’t approve of, and that was certainly more fun than listening to the negative talk, which mainly consisted of how I would never amount to anything. What reason Dad had for that pronouncement I could never figure out. Maybe it was his way of projecting his own fears and failures onto me. I knew I didn’t like it, and I knew I wanted to avoid the endless confrontations, which I thought were just attempts to control me. I’d have none of that.
So what was I doing that was so bad, that Dad would not approve of?
College was one of them. I attended. After all, I considered it a mark of good character to want to better oneself. I still do today.
Unfortunately, I dropped out of college just before my senior year because I found it increasingly more difficult to make ends meet when my veteran’s educational benefits ran out. Employers didn’t want to work around my course schedule. And I had made a couple of bad career and financial decisions, allowing myself to get sidetracked. I felt ashamed and didn’t want Dad to know that.
Avoidance became a habit. There were things I wanted to say to him that I couldn’t find the courage to spit out. So I said nothing. I went on about my business of trying to be somebody. And finding myself. Trying to wash the redneck out. I never did succeed at that last one.
Sometimes I think back on that sunny summer day in Texas, when I raised up from an afternoon slumber on the sofa in my parents’ living room and Dad plopped himself onto a chair in front of me. “Are you ashamed of us,” he asked. I said nothing.
I wanted to. I wanted to say, “No, Dad. I’m not ashamed of ya’ll. I’m ashamed of you. I don’t like you.”
But I didn’t say that.
I looked my Dad in the eye and said nothing. If I’d said what I wanted to say, it would have led to a fight. Dad could never take negative feedback. He didn’t mind dishing it out. But me, I wanted to avoid the hassle of having to defend myself against the man I thought should have been my biggest advocate.
I was nearly 40 years old the first time I heard him say he was proud of me. Too late. I didn’t need to hear that then. And I couldn’t tell him. I could never tell him. And I don’t know why.
write your memoir?