Friday, June 14, 2013

In The Name Of The Father

“What about Father’s Day?” a response from a friend when I mentioned that I was aching to write something but having a hard time finding any inspiration or subject matter. “Well, I don’t really understand it” my reply after spending several minutes trying to find some pang of something; emotion, sentiment, rage, disappointment…anything when letting the word father swim around in my head, bang about in my chest. Nothing, or more confusion, more wonder then anything else. I’ve seen plenty of fathers, devoted and strong, loving and playful, terrifying and admirable. I’ve seen it, maybe touched it a bit being witness to the job Carl has done being a profoundly wonderful father to our son but to know, to truly know what it feels to have a father? Absolutely no comprehension….

“How was it this time?” my mother’s voice strained, painted with palpable panic and concern as I hooked my little fingers to the doorframe of the car before giving my lower half a wide swing which would lift me off the ground, giving my back a midair twist before sailing into the passenger seat, the thud from my wee rump just hard enough to force the air from the seat cushion and making a little queefy sound that always, always made me giggle. The knot in my tummy tugging at my insides as I did my best to boldly lie to my mother’s face, “It was fun! What did you do last night? Did you finish your book? What did you have for dinner?” my words rapid fire in her direction, a defensive offence of sorts as I tugged at the car door pulling it shut. How could I tell her? How could I look into those big sad blue eyes, the ones with the semi-permanent lake of tears that always seemed to be pushed up right against her eyelids, just waiting to be set free. How could I tell her that I spent the night pressed firmly into the corner of the dusty and herby smelling couch in my father’s living room watching as he every so often pulled his affected head off the dining room table, bits of pasta and tomato sauce still stuck to his face from when he slipped off into his needle induced happy place during our father daughter dinner…watched as he rose, made those awful guttural sniffing sounds before scratching his neck and resting his head down again.

I remember a fierce sense of guilt with being at my father’s, which only happened, as I can recall anyway, a few times. The drive over was thickly coated in wash of absolute dread, not mine but my mother’s. Her fear, anger, anxiety and likely jealousy, making even taking in a breath in that VW Beatle a laborious task. I would twitch, sweat and stammer away with five year old nonsense to try and lighten the load…my load. From the second I stepped into my father’s apartment I could feel my mother’s ache, her heart stabbing pain and seething rage, the twist of the heavy lock on his front door no match for her voice in my head and the layer of culpability that left its indelible stain on me. The only thing able to jolt me from my heavyhearted sense of guilt, the terrifying sound of teeth clamping down too hard on a fork, the eye lids too heavy to keep open, the nod and the deafening sound of cutlery crashing against a porcelain plate, an upturned glass, my heart creeping up my throat and into my ears, pounding against my eardrums as I leapt from my seat across from him and ran to that corner of the couch, looking back just in time to see his head of long hair land halfway on his plate. Pulling my knees tight to my chest and humming as I rocked myself back and forth to stay awake, and to quiet the screaming silence. How? How would I tell her all of that? Why tell her that, she was hurting enough. The rocking, the couch, the thuds and heart beats, the lies she needed me to keep telling her, those I could take, spaghetti on the other hand, never took that again…

“Well he got on the bus. He didn’t look good, I don’t know if he’ll make it to rehab.” My sister updating me on our brother, the only one we have and the one she had just shipped off to some state in the middle, away from us and near his daughter. He had one job to do in order to keep a roof over his head, not live on the streets and be given food and guidance, don’t use, drugs or alcohol, he couldn’t or wouldn’t do it. My sweet sister hearing the same excuses and being subjected to the same accusatory and defensive bullshit I’ve been hearing my whole life…her heart maybe less damaged, or just bigger, she keeps listening, I on the other hand, am done watching him try and kill himself…seen this movie already, hated the ending.  I knew the last time I saw Mike, frail frame weighing less than 100 pounds and looking like he was seconds from dying in a hospital room, I knew from the brief look we gave each other that we would never see each other again. I made whatever kind of peace you can with that heavy bit of sadness and walked away…now I find myself thinking of him more than I did before he left, not about him as much as his daughter. A sinking feeling really, that he may bang against his plate in her home, in her heart, and I can only wish the best, for the both of them. I chose to let him be….let him go long ago.

“Let me guess, the salad bar” Mom in a semi-playful tone as the server at Marie Calendars asked for my order. She was right, it was salad bar, was always salad bar whenever it was an option. I used to tag it on to whatever sandwich or gawd awful steak at The Sizzler, neither of which I would eat, (big arguments those) because I was stuffed to my lobes, (I have ‘em but you gotta flip me over to find them) but eventually I skipped the pretense and boldly, excitedly answered the, “And what can I get for you?” with a loud, “I’ll be having the salad bar!” and got my sassy, swishy walk on, long “Oh look at me go” look over my shoulder back at the table as I made my way to the long treasure chest of cold and crispy goodness while the others sat and waited for their stoopid, warm, and made for them food. Chose feeling fancy and in charge….

Goes way back my love for the bar of salad, so far back in fact that I can actually remember my mother having to take me, rest me on her hip and let me point to the various items I wanted. Kinda weird thinking of that now, can’t remember another time I was held in my mother’s arms, not that she didn’t want to hold me but because I was uncomfortable being scooped up, held, off my feet or off the ground with someone else in charge of moving my parts around, even then. Salad bar, there was a place, a magic place full of unlimited food, (an idea so alien to me that it took years to not feel like I was stealing when I went for a second plate) that I could float around, high off the ground and high on the very idea of me picking what was about to happen. Sort of the only time it happened that picking for myself stuff. The only time I can remember filling myself, both actually and emotionally, with my choices back then…million miles away from upturned glasses, funny herb smelling couches, palpable Volkswagen anxiety and spaghetti.  

Mounds of fresh green lettuces, firm and tangy beans, spicy hoops of red onion, bouncy and flavorful hard boiled eggs, sweet and sour strips of pickled beets, briny black olives, garlicky croutons, earthy sunflower seeds, a sparse smattering of shriveled but sweet raisins and a generous blanket of creamy, sharp, nose widening blue cheese dressing. Me, this was me in charge of my moving parts. In charge of what was going to happen even if it only lasted the 40 or so minutes it took to get through dinner. The sadness in the car, the tummy sickening nod, the guilt, the thuds and nights with my knees dug deep in my chest, the given parts of a life I walked into…this bar of salad business a glimpse…a hint of what can and will happen when I get to choose and just how refreshingly sweet it could feel.

“Sam, come taste this wine” Randy’s boomingly warm voice both a source of welcome and absolute fear. The way he called me to taste wines, the way he smiled off my brisk and rather shitty responses to his continued efforts to share wine, his love, with me. That first glass of Zind Humbrecht, golden, sweet, powerful enough to rest me upon its hip, Randy’s hand in the small of my back as he lead me to the salad bar. The oily textured white wine filling and awakening my palate, his face always across from mine as I worked my sassy, swishy walk across the globe of wine. I don’t know father but I now know nurturing. I now know passion, dedication to work and relationships, utter devotion and pride. I know a world of food beyond the crunchy bits stuffed into the ever vanishing bars of salad, I know how to feel good about myself, feel proud of myself and that I learned from that warm Randy paw in the small of my back, that big smile and the occasional bite of, “Quit being a dumb ass” he gives me when he sees his “little girl” stumbling or being an asshole. I chose Randy…..or maybe he and wine chose me.

I don’t understand Father’s Day. Maybe don’t get what father really means, least not in a context that fits into traditional definitions and expectations. I’m okay with that. Might have missed some stuff but now, now I have this willingness to be hoisted up, carried around and lead to the next thing that is going to make me work my sassy swish walk. Thanks to Randy’s warm smile and repeated choosing, his banging heads with me drowning out that heart stopping clank of silverware against porcelain. To feel so safe, wanting to please but safe, to be in love and alive in a way that couldn’t have been fathomable before him, shan’t be forgettable because of him. The people I’ve met, the voices that are now in my ear each and every day…this voice of mine he helped me find, the flavors, scents, sights, moments that caused me to suck my breath deep into my chest with shock, awe and sheer gratitude. The pride I get to wear each and every day I walk in the store he lets me be and intricate part of, the one he lets me sass and swish away in the front of….well I don’t know what father feels like but I know what true love is, I chose this and would over and over again. From the very deepest part of this silly heart of mine, I thank you for that Randoo…

Not sure that I will ever be on board or acutely aware of tradition, not sure if that is a curse or a blessing but, I keep thinking about a very late night, heavily booze soaked conversation with a rather Fancy Pants man, one that most would crave swapping life placement with, his smirk digging deeper lines in his tanned and lived in face as I goofily stumbled through our chance meeting. His deep eyes swallowing me in big thick hunks, my awkwardness shedding with each sentence as I scrunched up my face, went mug to mug with this renowned expert and only backed down when his honey soaked voice said, “Miss Samantha, you are delightfully unbound by convention”….exhale. 

I choose

All of this

My life

My husband

My job

Our store

My son

My voice

Your willingness to hear

Cheer me on

Come here and visit me…

Randy, Michael, Carl, Ron, Jeremy, Eric, John, Charlie, Thomas, Anthony, Kermit, Alfonso, Wayne, Winey, Don, Joe, Kevin, Bill, Ed, Andy, Rinaldo, Jason, Stephen, Robert…all of you fantastically loving and supportive men, (And yes, I know I left like 100 of you out but don't think I don't think of you) I want you to know, own and know, just how much you mean and have changed my life. I wouldn’t be me without you and each tiny piece of you I get to touch is like fingers dug deep into my spine, pushing me to boldly blurt out what I want, sachet about and feel like your little princess, in thickly muddy boots. Never in a million years thought I would love that feeling but…it’s my crunchy bit of chosen so thank you.

Happy Father’s Day all

I love you..

I know how to love because of You…..
Salad eater


Waynegrape said...

Deeply, profoundly honored to be mentioned in that list.

Do Bianchi said...

Samantha, wow, I read this as Georgia P was having her breakfast. It's 6 a.m. in Texas and Tracie P is still sleeping. Your words made so many memories rush into my mind. Visions and sounds from visits to my father's apartment in the years following my parents separation. The situation was the different. And the situation was the same. I can still hear my mother telling me, like it was yesterday, "it doesn't mean that he doesn't love you."

And beyond the memories of our shared dadless southern California in the 70s and early 80s, it reminded me of something I read last month in the Times.

In an op-ed on "social nostalgia," historian Stephanie Coontz noted that

The psychologist John Snarey has studied men who had very difficult childhoods because of their fathers’ poor parenting. Some of these men replicated the same problems in their relationships with their own children. But others were able to use the memory of what their fathers did wrong to chart a different course in their own parenting. What separated the two groups was that the successful ones neither idealized their own fathers nor focused on their shortcomings. Rather, they placed their fathers’ failures in context, turning their anger “into a sense of sadness for and understanding of the conditions under which their own fathers had functioned.” Their unhappy memories became a guide for avoiding bad behavior rather than an excuse for it.

Here's the link:

Your parenting has been an inspiration to me as face the challenges and embrace the joys of being a parent myself.

Thanks for this post... It filled me with emotion on an early Friday morning as Tracie P and I prepare to become parents for a second time.

So glad to be part of your life and so glad that you are part of ours.

Sending a lot of love from Texas this morning. Georgia P would love to share her breakfast taco with you sometime and so would we...

abbraccio j

Thomas said...

Thank you, Sam, for the mention and for the Father's Day wish, although I have never been a father (not knowingly, but that story is not for the Internet).

Because of a decided lack of one from the age of six, and because I was the last of ten children, the need to be a father never struck in this soul. In fact, the need not to be one remained strong. Luckily, I finally met a woman who had the same feeling about parenting and so, we have no Father's Day and we have no Mother's Day--we have each other.

One thing I can count every year at this time: the roses in front of the house always bloom the week of Father's Day--it's been that way for the thirty years that we have lived here, and for who knows how long before then.

Alfonso Cevola said...

Thanks Sam

Nevermind about the Rombauer Chardonnay - I got a K&N air filter from my son for my new (old) car



Charlie Olken said...

More than anything else, it is about the children.

Sometimes it is ourselves. We never stop being the children of our parents. Sometimes it is our kids, and, now, for me, it is about my grandkids--children of a broken home that I never knew.

Sam, I am proud, honored, flattered, moved to great joy and a the unstoppable tear as I read your words. They will add to my joy on Sunday when my family gathers around me--knowing that your wonderful spirit will be there too.

I will love the day, yet I know, in reality, it is not about me, but about the children. It is that message, lovingly, hauntingly told, that reaches into my very being and makes me so happy to be part of your world and to have you in mine.

Winey The Elder said...

I must echo Waynegrape's sentiment.

Growing up, I knew nothing of fatherhood: I had eight of them and their collective value wouldn't equal one bottle of 3 Buck Charles. My first real understanding of "father" was at the birth of my son. I looked into those new searching eyes and I knew in a moment that no matter how fucked up my life had been to that point, I did this! and my life has never seemed meaningless since. That greatest moment in my life I can now see in my son's eyes, as he looks at the new son that graces his.

To paraphrase Terry Thiese, Lot's of wine writers, many of them good wine writers, let you taste the noise. But only the best let you taste the silence. This moving story, Sam, brought me to the silence and I am so grateful to you for that.


Ed Hodson said...

Loved this piece. Was almost gonna cry, until at the very last moment I noticed that between Carl and Eric, you'd managed to insert Ron Jeremy, and that made me smirk just a little.

Then, as I read on through the paragraph, I teared up anyway.

We are all so grateful for the you that you have become, Sam. And there's a big part of me that wouldn't be there without you and the things you've shared with me and taught me. And I love you, too, very much.

webb said...

Beautiful self-understanding from you - no surprise there. Methinks you have a wonderful father - he just comes in many, many pieces. It's always a wonder to me that you can open your heart and soul the way you do.

Happy weekend. Hope you get to spend time with your son.

Samantha Dugan said...

Well I am always moved by your willingness to read and praise me. You are just the sweetest.

I remember talking about parenting with you in Italy. The things you went through because of your parents and the kind of parent you yourself wanted to be, could feel it instinctively, I knew you would be a wonderfully loving and supportive father....and look at you know about to have baby girl #2! I'm so happy and excited for you...and I would love to share some breakfast tacos with that sweet faced Georgia! I'd even let her have all the beans.

I too was on the "never" train about having kids, I just got derailed. The thing I didn't want to happen with this piece is that people think or feel as if my feelings for them are paternal per se, just my idea or sharing of people that have been in my corner, support and care for me, and you dear man are very high on that list.

I still can't believe you called and made me get up to see if we had Rombauer Chardonnay. Butthead. Adorable butthead but a butthead still. xoxoxox

You my fine friend have become such an important and loving part of my life, my family really, that I simply can't imagine my life without you in it. I do love you so much and I am sending you and your loving, loved family all my heart for Father's Day. I miss you!

Kind of funny that I know so little about you but have come to place such value and knowing you are here, in my life and in my camp. Just goes to show how articulate you are with your words and your heart and I feel lucky to have you here. I can tell you are a wonderful Father, I can feel it from here. Happy Father's Day to you.

That was the difficult part about this piece and I think why I went with the silly salad bar thing, to try and illustrate that my idea of a meal might now be what someone else's is, just like the idea of father is not really paternal to's about love and nurturing, of which I get far more than my fair share. I am indeed a very lucky woman.

Samantha Dugan said...

You can't know how much your support of me, my wines and my writing has meant to me over the years. You simply can't and I am not a powerful enough writer to explain it. What I can tell you is that I am forever grateful and profoundly moved. Thank you and I adore you.

Marcia Macomber said...

Loved this piece! I was lucky enough to have a very present dad as a child. So my experiences were very different from yours. (The salad bar story is utterly fascinating....)

Reading this was like being on a river adventure: It started with unexpected twists and turns, a few bumpy rapids, and then the curves and violence of the river began to level out and make more graceful, comforting turns to relax with. Beautifully done, Samantha.

Samantha Dugan said...

Well I really thank you for the kind words. Just got an email telling me that I should be ashamed of myself for dragging my family through the mud to further my career....sort of a stab in the gut I have to confess. Even told me that my father was probably rolling over in his grave at what an ungrateful child I turned out to be. Feeling pretty shitty even though I don't regret a damn thing, so your words were especially tender, and timely. Hugs to all of you and thanks for getting me!

Charlie Olken said...

I wonder if the critical email was sent anonymously.

No matter what, the fact is that your writing is your writing. You are able to share with your readers in a way that most of us could not--and we are richer for your writings--and your love.

Forget the naysayers for they are afraid in their own hearts and are incapable of understanding.

Methinks they must drink Gruner and like it.

Samantha Dugan said...

Thanks sweet man. I was way more hurt by that stupid email than I should have let myself be, it shows in my comment here and I am now thankful that I deleted the email to stop myself from responding to him. It wasn't anyone I know so why should I let myself be hurt by comments from an angry and hurtful stranger? No way, not when I have all you lovely people in my life which was the intent of this post in the first place, to thank you people....not dwell on the ones that don't or haven't enriched my life. I love you Charlie and I hope you were surrounded by love and adoration yesterday and every day.