Parents and their ideas

My father lowered his wrinkled hand to the ashtray and put the cigarette out in a cloud of smoke that made it look as if he conjured it from thin air. He didn’t look up at me but kept budding the cigarette though it was dead already. I felt sorry for the cigarette that it should suffer my offense.
“In love,” he said, “is such a rhetorical thing.”
The statement was senseless on so many levels to me that I refused to respond. Such phrases were typical for this man who thought each of his words were a breath to be caught and saved in a container that would only be opened on priced occasions when one needed consoling wisdom.
But his wisdom was rarely consoling and barely wise.
“In love is something we make ourselves. You can snap out of it,” he said. “It’s actually good to experience it so early so you can practice letting it go. You’ll be quite good at it before you know it.”
“I’m not going,” I said.
The smile was a crevice stretching through his face, a deep scar in a canyon. “Nonsense.”
I needed to interrupt before he unfolded his wings and wrapped me in their softness.
“No, you’re talking nonsense. I’m in love and that’s that – I’m not going ‘cause I’ll be with Ken and I think it’s sad and pathetic and immoral that you’d try to make me, what, learn to never love again merely so I can go say hello to your cousin? I barely know the woman!”
“She’s your godmother. You owe it to her.” My father still smiled.
“Then maybe you should’ve jumped out in front of a bus so I could’ve grown up there. But you didn’t. So there.”
We stared at each other for a while. I don’t think my father took any serious offense. It was a usual verbal brawl between father and son, something we engaged in often enough and with a distorted sort of pleasure.
But today it was merely distorted and annoying.
“It would make her happy if you came.”
I rolled my eyes and grabbed the edges of my illegal Calvin and Hobbes T-shirt. The image was one of Calvin as he shoveled snow and grumbled about how building his character always meant that his father got out of work. It wasn’t a coincidence that I’d picked this t-shirt for the occasion.
“You two would enjoy being black sheep much better on your own,” I said.
“We wouldn’t be complete without you and you know how lonely Erica has felt ever since her daughter completed her PHD. That girl’s practically perfect. It sucks.” He got a package of English liquorice out of his pocket and picked a piece. He offered me one. I reclined.
“Of course I’m the perfect child of her imagination,” I said. “The gay kid. You know, I don’t even think it’s that much of a problem.”
“It’s not because you’re gay we want you.” My dad snorted as if my words were the epitome of idiocy. “You’re studying sociology. If there was ever a thing to be ridiculed among scientists it is the humanities.”
“I’m glad you have such faith in my choice of career, professor.” I made my voice dry so he wouldn’t hear how much his words hurt me.
“No, don’t misunderstand. I think it’s a wonderful thing you’re doing. I’m sure you’ll be the bomb at nitpicking people’s problems. I mean, damn it, just look at what you’re doing to me.”
I rolled my eyes. “Ken wants me to come along to the beach with the others. It’s a really awkward situation, dad, and I want to support him. That’s important in the beginning of a relationship.”
“You think it’s important now? Bullshit. Right now is the moment you can be as negligent as you want and everything will be forgiven. So come with me and Erica.”
He got up and moved over to his computer. This was his way of saying ‘we’re finished, run off and play’.
I reached for the screen and pushed the button to make it go black.
“Look, it’s really bad karma to piss people off just for the sake of it,” I said.
“It’s a healthy way of letting out your aggressions,” my father retorted. “In some circles they call that kind of provocation art. Wait, isn’t that your circles?”
“You can’t make me go and you can’t convince me,” I said and put all the finality I could behind the words. “Isn’t it better that you just accept it so we could live with each other’s individual decisions? If it makes it easier I’ll do the dishes.”
“As attractive as that sounds I’m still not convinced you understand what you’re missing. You’re giving up a chance to prove a valid point for a construction. Something you think is but that really isn’t.”
The fact that my gut-wrenching, dizzying attraction to Ken could be a construction was so ridiculous that I laughed.
“It may not be love,” I said, “but you can’t fake hormones, dad. Anyway, what valid point are you talking about? You do nothing but piss the others off.”
He put another liquorice into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully.
“I thought you’d have realized already. Maybe you’re younger than I thought.”
“I do hope you got my birth certificate right.” My temper wouldn’t hold up with his mood much longer so I had to get out of the house before a catastrophe happened. I didn’t want an ongoing fight with him while the rest of my life was already a mishmash of confusing elements.
“The point is to create diversity,” my father said. “To show them another side to things. Because we’re family they’re forced to face us and a part of them will always try to accept us because they sort of view us as a part of them. What is it you sociologists call it? Dissonance something.”
“Cognitive dissonance,” I said.
“Right.”
“Right, but I don’t buy it. Dad, I need to go, okay? Are you all right for dinner?”
“Only if you come with me to the family gathering.”
“I’m not.”
“Then no, I’m not okay.”
I sighed. “Then order pizza. Bye.”
“Are you going to see that Ken guy?”
“Yup.”
“I could turn you out, you know. Or make you study math.”
“Math’s not that bad,” I said but felt my throat go dry. It was a real threat and it made me cold. “But what kind of dad would that make you? A dad who has to use threats to get what he wants. Isn’t love a better motivation for children?”
“You’re the sociologist, you tell me.” He laughed. “I like to think of myself as an assertive dad, a character to be respected.”
“You certainly are a character. Now leave me be.”
“I’m very disappointed in you, Nicholas.”
I smirked and leaned into the living room so only my head was visible to him. “That’s good, dad. That means I’m getting a very valid point across to you. Good-day.”
I felt his glowering as I slammed the door and walked into a refreshing drizzle of rain.

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