Bastard

I ruined my father’s life.

No one ever told me this. But somehow this understanding became a pervasive part of my childhood, and I cannot remember a time that knowledge wasn’t firmly rooted in my soul. My parents fought to do the right thing, when they found out I was about to exist. My father, the honorable man who asked my mother to marry him immediately. My mother, afraid to enter into a marriage with a man she hardly knew, who said no.

My mom said no to a lot of things, including her own mother, who wanted her to have an abortion.

I am glad she said no. In both cases.

But my parents agreed to move in together, to see if they might be able to create a family, there was, after all, something that had stirred that initial attraction. Eventually, months later, my mother asked my father to marry her.

Of course, he said yes.

My mother would tell me this story to reassure me, I think. Our family was a very open one, even if I hadn’t been precocious enough to understand a wedding anniversary three months before my birthday meant something. Yet her story presented questions too scary for my young mind to resolve. Of course he said yes, I would think, afraid I would make an observation she couldn’t possibly have considered. If he was going to do the right thing before, wouldn’t he still want to do the right thing later?

It’s just the kind of man he is. The kind of man a daughter is proud of, and looks up to. The kind of loving father who makes time for his children, who coaches soccer teams and science clubs. A man I’ve always thought of as honorable, and intelligent… and trapped. Trapped because of my mother’s extreme health problems. Trapped because he dropped out of school the year my mom became pregnant.

Naive, thinking she hadn’t thought these things already. I’m sure she has.

He could have achieved so much more in life, but he settled for me. That’s a lot of responsibility for a child to live up to, though they never intended it to be. Hard to believe that being loved that way is bringing to light all these personal struggles I’ve had since … well … infancy.

And when, at times, my mom had a flare of jealousy for me, for dad taking my side, or catering to something for me – or that I behaved better for him – I noticed. Her insecurity, became my insecurity. My fear.

My behavior – model child. Rarely lied. My greatest faults were bossing my siblings too much, tattling on their poor behavior, and wearing too much dreary clothing for which my mother was often blamed. At 14 I was proud of my babysitting jobs and other odd ones I found, because I would be less of a financial burden if I could buy my own things.

I’ve always felt like a burden.

For whatever reason, a part of me believed if I didn’t behave, I would lose my father’s love. I would lose him. That he would throw up his hands, and give up on the life he and my mother had created. Because he was funny, and brilliant, and deserved so many greater things than life had given him. I didn’t want to be another disappointment in a life marked with such things.

Even now, as an adult, I push myself to do things because of a desire not to disappoint. And specifically so as not to disappoint him. Including staying in my marriage longer than I should have, because I didn’t want to let him down. Because he had been in a difficult marriage with my mother for so long, with her health issues, by giving up on mine it seemed like I was telling him he should give up on our family too. Especially while it felt like my husband was dealing with an illness. (Which he was, but he had a lot of choices, too, and he made quite a few abusive ones.)

I don’t know that either of my parents did anything to make me feel this way. Rationally, I think they did everything in their power to try and make me feel loved and valued. And still, I’ve carried these things around for years. Now, I know they love me. But that ingrained desire not to disappoint my dad lives on. Not a bad thing, I suppose, but I can’t keep living my own life for other people.

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