My father died twenty years ago today. The date usually passes without notice, but my mother and I had a funny conversation the other day in which he was mentioned (which is rare, as we never talk about him), and it got me thinking. I started thinking about the characteristics that I share with him, which is also rare, because I have always defined myself negatively against him.
What happens to your identity when half of your genetic material comes from someone who you watched drink himself to death for the first ten years of your life? When the majority of what you remember is yelling, physical violence, and just feeling terrified to do anything that would wake the beast?
I've spent a lot of my life being angry at him. Angry at the way he treated my mother. Angry that he loved my brother more than me because he was "the boy." Angry that he continued to drink and smoke even when the doctors told him that he would die if he didn't quit. Angry that I had to watch him hemorrhage and waste away in a hospital bed for ten days. Angry that he left us to struggle in poverty after he was gone.
Then, a few years ago, I started feeling sorry for him. I wondered what made him the way he was. Was he severely depressed and self-medicating? Did living in a foreign culture and speaking a language that wasn't his make him feel alienated and alone? What makes someone so miserable that he would drink himself to death at the age of 38? I don't know. But it makes me feel sad for him. And for me. Because I never really had a father.
God, I think this is only the second time that I've cried while writing an entry. Give me a minute.
So, yes, it makes me sad. And there are times in my life that I feel the loss more than others. Like when I graduated from high school and university. I wanted him to be there. I wanted him to be proud that I was the first person in my entire family to get a degree, against all the odds. After everything, I still long for his approval and love.
This loss leaves a big hole that never goes away. It affects my relationships with men, it affects my ability to sip more than one glass of wine in a night, and it even affects my life choices. At one point, I dedicated a huge chunk of my life, almost obsessively, to an organization that he had supported when he was alive. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was doing it because it made me feel close to him, and because I knew he would be proud.
If it affects me that much, then I can't just focus on his negatives. I can't be living my life to please someone who was nothing more than an abusive alcoholic. So, I have to think about the things he left me that are good.
I kind of look like him. We have the same Roman nose and full lips, and big almond-shaped eyes. We also have the same hands, with long fingers and strong nails that can grow as long as we want them.
He was incredibly smart and could pick up foreign languages easily. Even though English wasn't his first language, he spoke it perfectly, without a trace of an accent. French, too.
He was a charismatic public speaker and loved to be in front of a crowd.
He wanted a better life, so he left his home country, family and friends to move to a foreign country. He followed his dream here.
He loved old Marilyn Monroe, Elvis and Clint Eastwood movies. We used to watch them together. Some people told him he kind of looked like Elvis.
He had a love for authentic Italian food and taught my mother how to make it all - fettuccine, lasagna, chicken parmesan - you name it, from scratch. She then taught me.
He was incredibly attractive and women used to hit on him all the time. As far as I know, he never took them up on it.
In the end, he realized everything my mother had gone through for him. When he was in the hospital dying, he said to her with tears in his eyes, "You know that song, 'Stand by your man'? You really did that." She's carried that with her ever since.
Rest in peace, Babbo. I'll have you know that I successfully convinced mom not to make the homemade fettuccine and meatballs with condensed tomato soup. (Apparently, the folks at the care home like it just fine like that. Um, hello? We're not care home residents: we're Italian!) She claimed not to remember how to make tomato sauce. I taught her again - just the way you would have. It turned out really nice. I think you would have been proud.