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His Hate Taught Me to Love

June 23, 2020

Originally, I set out to paint a portrait of my dad. I think it ended up being me instead.

My father is a racist. Luckily for me, he was also a deadbeat.

Since I only had to see him on holidays and the occasional weekend, I was only subjected to an endless string of racial slurs a few times a year.

Nobody ever talked to me about race when I was a kid. I mean nobody ever really talked about anything with me as a kid. I think I was an unfortunate accident. My parents married in 1969, divorced in 1970, and I was born in 1971. According to my math, I was the result of a Valentine’s Day booty call. I know he didn’t really want me. He made that clear the time he called me to tell me I needed to tell my mom to have child support to get off his ass. You see, she got cancer and had to file for welfare, which made the State of Ohio aware that he’d never paid child support. So, he told me to tell my mom to call them off or he would say I wasn’t his kid. That moment is like a cement block that’s permanently tied to my ankle. As his words fell into my ear through the phone line, all I could think about was that last birthday card he had sent that he signed “Love, Dad.” I remember going to my room after that call and putting that card in a safe place, in case I needed evidence.

As I sit here writing this, I try to think of a good memory of my dad. I can’t come up with anything other than that one year that he got me the Evil Knievel doll with the motorcycle and ramp. Man, I loved that thing. But more often than not, my memories of him are about sadness, fear, and disappointment. He looked a lot like Willie Nelson, and at one point, I had convinced myself that the reason my dad was never around was because he was Willie Nelson and he was out on tour making other people really happy with his music. It’s inconceivable at times to try to grasp the lengths the human brain will work to reconcile cognitive dissonance. That was my childhood.

He used the N word a lot and when he used it, he said it with such hatred and vitriol. Not long after Michael Jackson’s Thriller came out, I remember I had this black faux leather jacket with lots of zippers and I had adorned it with Michael Jackson buttons. My mom dropped me off on his doorstep for a rare overnight visit. When he opened the door, he looked down at me in disgust and said, “You’re gonna have to take those N-word things off your jacket before you come into my house.” I remember turning my head and seeing the tail lights of my mom’s Ford Elite driving off in the distance and feeling scared, standing there on his porch in the dark and the cold, stuck there for what seemed like an eternity and being forced to take those buttons off my jacket before I could go inside. I was 11.

Now at this same time, I spent a lot of time with my Grandma who lived in a neighborhood that was predominately black. All the kids played with each other and became friends. We didn’t care about the color of each other’s skin. Matter of fact, I think the only other white kids in the neighborhood were the two girls who lived across the street and their step-dad was black. Mr. Stone frequently took us to the city pool and picked us up after a long day in the sun. He also had the sweetest ride on the block and I felt special on the occasions I got to ride in the backseat of that brown Cadillac. It was the first time I’d ever sat on real leather seats.

So on these forced weekends with my dad where he often left me alone or with his mother, I couldn’t understand the hatred he had for the other people in my life who I spent a lot of time with, who showed me more love than he ever did, who spent long summer days playing with me, or their parents who took me places, fed me cookies, and never turned me away. How could he hate these people he didn’t even know?

Our haphazard relationship held on by a very thin string for many years. Months would pass between awkward phone calls. He seemed more interested in me after I had kids; perhaps he thought being a grandpa would be cool. I’d hear from him on Christmas and Easter, when he wanted to bring my kids presents and be the cool grandpa. He stopped into my office in May of 2013. I told him my oldest was graduating from high school soon. I wrote the date and time on a post-it and tucked it into his shirt pocket. I never heard from him again.

I used to be mad about having a father who didn’t care about me. After I had my own kids, I couldn’t even understand how someone could be so indifferent to a human being they created. Now that I am older, I realize his hatred was so deep, he couldn’t love anyone. Not even me.

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 28, 2020 1:57 am

    I came to this page through your Twitter handle. It breaks my heart about your relationship with your dad. At the same time I am glad that you didn’t poison your life or took it out on your children. Of course I can’t even understand what you went through and go through but I know you made this world a better place for your kids and people around you and I am glad his hatred and ignorance and just utter stupidity didn’t ruin your life. This is also beautifully written and really heartfelt.

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