On Fathers

This is probably the last blog post that I’ll write from the holler. The epilogue to my book is titled, “The House in the Hollow.” That is how much this house has affected me. It has been a good place for Reed, and for me, to grow. We have lived in seclusion, in peace, and it has been beautiful, but now, we’re moving into town, and I’m ready. I’m ready to open our lives up to more.

Reed home

Our new house

May is the month of Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day is hard for me, always.

I still have all of my Mother’s Day cards from Caleb. The ones where he told me how wonderful I was, how much I loved our son, and how lucky he was to have me as the mother of his child.

I don’t know why I keep them.

Caleb forgot my first Mother’s Day. It wasn’t his fault. We were moving in with my parents for the summer. Reed was so small. We stopped on our drive and bought my mom a hanging plant, but Caleb didn’t think about the fact that I was a mother too.

I was hurt that he had forgotten me, and my own mother told me not to overreact. She was right.

She was often right, but also, often so very wrong.

Caleb ordered flowers for me that we couldn’t afford and they were delivered days later. When the florist delivered them, she said, “Keep that vase. That vase is Blenko glass. Your husband must really love you.”

Everyone in my hometown is poor, you see?

Blenko glass is made in West Virginia, but that bouquet was delivered to me in Idaho.

I didn’t yet know that West Virginia was my future.

All I knew was that the flowers felt like a gesture, and I had wanted something real.

Last year, at this time, I was preparing to go to a writer’s residency in Belgium. I was going to spend the rest of the summer in Idaho and at my favorite writer’s house in San Francisco.

I stayed with River Guide the night before my flight. We were just “friends” by then. Still, I sat close to him on the couch, and then, he put his arm around me, and then, I slept in his bed, and I could have loved him, but he didn’t feel the same way about me, which was something I had to live with because I wanted something real.

I am going to two writer’s residencies this summer. I received a full fellowship and stipend from the Vermont Studio Center, and I received a scholarship from the OU English Department to attend a residency at Mineral School, which is located at the foot of Mt. Rainier.

I met a friend for a beer tonight, and I told him that my regret is that I won’t have the time to go backpacking with my father this summer. I said that my father is a stoic and quiet man, and I feel like our backpacking trips are the only times that we really, really, talk. My friend told me that he had wanted to tell me for a while that, when I had read a chapter from my book a while ago at a reading series, he had resonated with the descriptions of my father. He said that he could feel the tenderness in my words.

I teared up, and my friend said “Maybe this was not the time to tell you that.”

My dissertation advisor wrote in his feedback to my book manuscript: “I know you worry about portraying your parents.  I think you’ve done an admirable and fair job. Your father seems human to me, not bad.”

Before that, my advisor had sent me an email that said that he had read for two hours longer than he had anticipated because he couldn’t put my book down. He said, “You have done an amazing job.”

A while ago, I admitted to my advisor that I don’t have a very tender father, and some of my faculty mentors have stepped up and taken on that role for me. I admitted that he (advisor) has become a kind of father figure to me, then I regretted that admission because I didn’t want him to feel old or fatherly, but he seemed touched, and I was glad that I said it.

Above all, I earnestly want to grow as a writer and academic, which I believe that he knows.

One of my favorite male faculty members voted for the sexual predator in my department to keep his tenure. It was hurtful to me and so many others. Someone recently told me that the predator was the best man in this faculty member’s wedding, but I still can’t wrap my head around this faculty member’s decision after the 80 page report that was released.

All I can think of is that his vote was symbolic. Everyone knew by then that the predator was going to lose his tenure. So what did those symbolic votes that supported the predator achieve?

The vote was supposed to be anonymous, but we know. We know how people voted.

If there is anything to be learned from this, maybe it is that “anonymous” voting is never actually anonymous in such a cloistered setting.

Also, maybe faculty members should have to stand behind their votes. Maybe they would vote differently then.

Also, if they “anonymously” vote to support a sexual predator, then they are still supporting a sexual predator.

Also, that we grad students don’t give a fuck if that vote was supposed to be “anonymous.”

Also, we only give a fuck about our safety and the safety of our students.

Two of my favorite faculty members asked me recently if this stuff in the department is going in my book. My response was, “No, this is going in my next book.”

Still, it is not my story to tell.

There are two young, very brave, survivors who can tell this story, and I will not steal it from them.

Caleb’s new wife is due to have her baby in a week. Reed told me “She could have the baby on dad’s birthday!” which is May 22. I restrained myself from saying, “Or on our wedding anniversary,” which is May 21.

And then, I thought, “Oh god, please don’t let her have the baby on our wedding anniversary.”

The symbolism would be too much.

I talked to a friend the other night and said, “I don’t care anymore about Caleb, but I feel sad that he is having another baby.”

My friend said, “Well, he gets to have another baby, and you don’t. He can have a new family, but that is something that you will never get to have.”

And then I started crying.

Because she’s right.

I love being a mother.

I wanted to have another baby, and that is not a wish that will ever be fulfilled for me, but Caleb gets to live my dream with someone else.

I still live other dreams. I go to writer’s residencies in Belgium, Vermont, and Washington. I spend time in my favorite writer’s Victorian house in San Francisco. I write a book, and my dissertation advisor says that I have done “amazing work.”

But I am alone for all of this.

When Reed was tiny, I nursed him and memorized all of the details around me so that I would never forget.

Already, I think I knew that he would be the last baby I nursed.

My mother told me once that she had struggled with postpartum depression after my brother was born. I had expected her to have been depressed after she had me because she had always, so obviously, favored my brother.

Leaving Caleb revealed the fractures in my relationship with my parents. Maybe they weren’t even fractures. Maybe they were caverns.

Maybe we will never be able to traverse this distance.

Recently, my mother said, “You were not an accident. We waited for you. You were planned. You were always wanted.”

And I wondered what it would have felt like to have always felt wanted.

Which leads me to this: Will I ever be able to forgive myself for not forgiving my father?

My father didn’t believe me. He didn’t believe me, and I don’t know how to move past that, though I’m trying.

My parents have done the best that they could, and they are good parents. I know this, and I love them. I am aware that not everyone has loving parents.

It is so difficult to be a mother, yet seems so easy to be a father, though I know this can’t be true.

Last summer, my father, brother, and I backpacked in the Sawtooth Wilderness. We hiked 23 miles in three days. At the summit, I kept trying to take panoramic photos. We were at almost 10,000 feet. I held my phone and swept it around, but the photos kept coming out shaky.

The only constant was my father. No matter how shaky the photo was, he still stood there looking into the distance.