When our son was two, my dad gave him an electric motorcycle on Christmas eve morning, the kind little kids motor around on at like 1.5 mph. I felt irritated by it, I thought, because it has several types of loud, working sirens, it's made in China, there's nothing creative or open-ended about it, you get the idea. I buy sort of Waldorf-inspired things for the kids, and books. Nothing even remotely like this. He didn't even mention he was thinking about getting it, because he didn't think about getting it - he bid on it at a charity auction.
When my son opened it, he lit up like the 4th of July. Within 5 minutes he was steering around the furniture way beyond what I knew him to be capable of, with a look of pleasure so deep he couldn't even crack a smile. I've only seen that expression a handful of times. That's a really special one, one I want tattooed on my brain. And so after that, I accommodated the motorcycle, because I thought it would be Grinch-y of me not to.
Last night, I realized that wasn't really the problem. The motorcycle, per se.
The problem was that it was Christmas Eve morning. My dad didn't ask me, my son's mother, if it would be okay to bring such a loud, noisy, uncharacteristic toy into my home. He didn't think about what we want for our children. He was hobnobbing at a charity auction and he saw the motorcycle, and it was fun to win the auction in front of colleagues and coworkers, since he happened to have a grandson.
And he didn't once think about how broke we were that Christmas and how it would frame the gifts we'd gotten him and the gift he would get from Santa if he gave him the most over-the-top gift at 11 am on Christmas Eve. He never gave one thought to saving the best for last, for my son's sake or for mine. It was his pleasure to give, and it would only be ungrateful to complain.
This is what I've realized. This is my relationship with my dad, distilled into one moment.
As a little girl, he doted on me to the extent that relative strangers commented to my mother about me being "the other woman." We went on "dates" and trips, hot air balloon rides, he bought me fancy clothes, fur coats and gifts, we went on TV together several times on local shows, and he confided in me about all kinds of things, but especially about his unfulfilling marriage to my mom. We had quite a lot of money growing up and he was happy to spend it on me when he wanted to, because it made him feel good.
As far as I can tell, there wasn't ever a single thought about whether or not it was good for me. There wasn't any thought about how resentful my mother was becoming or the ruinous and estranging dynamic it built between me and my mom. And there definitely wasn't any thought given to how on earth I would ever be ready for a romantic commitment with another adult when I was grown.
The paradigm I've worked with all these years was built on the feeling that I'd opened the best gift first, and that that gift came at an enormous price.
And so now, seeing all this for the first time at nearly 32, I look at all the difficulties I have had with my childrens' dad, and though I know lots of them have been legitimate, I start to wonder if it even matters. Because I don't know that he, or anyone for that matter, could ever make me feel as loved as my dad did. The therapist I've been seeing the last couple of months says that a child believes, "What ought to be, is." My dad loved me wrong, but I believed it was right. I believed it made me special. Now I see it was selfish and abusive for him to use me in that way, and yet somehow still I feel as if my sparkle is gone. The shimmer I loved was poison, and having removing it doesn't feel like health, it feels like a really heavy absence that can't ever be satisfied.
I miss him more than I could articulate and I never want to see him again, and feeling all that simultaneously is a little bit horrific.