Monday, April 6, 2015
When Do You Decide It's Time To Let Go?
My dad wasn't a very nice man. Actually, I should strike that statement, because truth be told, I'm not sure who my father really was. I know he was an alcoholic. I know he had some severe anger issues, and took them out on the walls, the furniture, and my mom. I know that 90% of my memories of him are negative. I know his full name was Michael Allen Groff, and I know that he is dead.
I still remember the day I found out that he had died. My mom had divorced him, and we were no longer living in Minnesota. We were actually visiting family in Wyoming, and my grandparents, who still lived in Two Harbors, showed up. I knew it was an unexpected visit, and at six years old, I wasn't sure what was going on, but I knew something was wrong. My Aunt Jenny actually took me for a walk, and let me know that my father had killed himself. I still remember that I really didn't react, I didn't cry, and I'm not even sure I felt much of anything. As a matter of fact, I did not cry until I was a Freshman in high school. At one point in time, we had moved back to Two Harbors, and I walked by, on a weekly basis, the cemetery he was buried in, and never thought about him. The idea of visiting his grave, which is still unmarked, never occurred to me.
As I got older, I became really damn angry. I couldn't understand how he could do the things he did. The strongest memory I have of him is the day he took my mom out to the back yard, threw her against a brick shed, and hit her, repeatedly, with a 2 x 4. I can still see myself, standing by my younger brother, crying and feeling powerless. I don't know if I tried to stop it or not, but I couldn't understand why it was happening. I remember coming home and there would be fresh holes in the wall, and broken records on the floor. He was the man who took a shot at my mom, and actually did shoot my dog. He never laid a hand on me, or my brother, but what those memories did to me as a teenager, was almost worse.
By the time college rolled around, some of that anger dissipated, and I entered a period of time where I really wasn't sure what I thought of him. I started to think of the time he took me fishing, and I got pulled into the lake because I wouldn't let go of the pole. I can remember being in the car with him, and loving the time I was spending with him. He was my dad, and despite everything I saw him do, I loved him. College was the first time I visited his grave, and for years afterwards, I put him and my feelings behind me.
That's not such an easy feat for me anymore. At 38 years old, I'm still wanting my dad's love and approval. Even if he couldn't deal with the fact that I'm gay, even if we didn't have a relationship right now, the fact that I will never know eats at me. Like any kid, I want my dad's approval, I want to know that he would be proud of the man I've become. The fact that the option of having a relationship with my father was taken away from me, and in the matter it happened is something I'm still struggling with. He allowed alcohol, anger, and the shitty childhood he had at the hands of my grandfather, influence the man he became. He chose to deal with his issues the only way he knew how, instead of getting help when my mom, and others, begged him to do so. He made the choice to not be a father when he was around, and he made the choice to leave two young kids without a father for the rest of their lives. I know it's not that easy, that he was probably suffering from depression, and when you mix in depression with his other issues, there isn't a lot anyone can do if he's not willing to get help.
I know he didn't fight the divorce, that he didn't fight for custody or visitation, that he didn't pay child support, and that he really didn't spend time with me or my brother that much after my mom left him. When I talk to my mom about him, she says it was because he didn't care enough, or that he didn't love me. And maybe he didn't, maybe she's right. I would like to hope that wasn't the case. I would like to think he thought he was doing the right thing by giving us up, that he knew what he was putting us through was wrong. I would like to think that he was trying to get his act together, that he wanted to be a father, but the truth is, I really don't know. And that uncertainty, is what's keeping me from letting go. More than anything, I want to ask him why I wasn't enough, why I wasn't good enough for him to get help. I want to know why he chose alcohol over me. I want to know why he didn't pick me.
I don't have a picture of my dad teaching me to ride a bike, or him showing me how to drive a stick shift. I don't have one of him at my high school graduation, or when I moved into the dorms. I will never have a picture of him in a tux, attending my wedding, assuming I ever have one, and assuming he would have come. I don't have pictures of the two of us together during the holidays, or even of us taking a nap on the couch. I don't have any of those pictures, but even worse, I don't have any of those memories.
I have the memories of a six year old who loved his dad, and was scared of him at the same time. I have the memories of a teenager who could only remember the bad, and did everything he could to convince himself that he hated his dad. I have the memories of a twenty-something who was just started to deal with his conflicting emotions, and wasn't quite sure what to think. And now I have the memories of a 38 year old man, who would give anything in the world to have his dad back. It may not be the relationship of my dreams, but at least it would be my choice, not his. He may not accept the fact that I'm gay, he may not be proud of the man I've become, but if he was still here, it would be a decision I had a hand in. I would be the one to walk away if he couldn't accept me, but even then, I know I would always be hoping for the day he would come around.
So maybe the question I should be asking is not when do you decide it's time to let go, but rather how do you let go? How do you let go of the fact that the choice wasn't yours, that someone else made the decision for you? How do you let go of what might have been and what should have been? How do you let go of the pain and anger? But most of all, how do you let go of that want? How do yo let go of the need to have your father's love?