When came to my relationship with my father, the key word was “despite.”
Despite Gus being a poor excuse for parent, I still managed to turn out okay.
Despite his rampant hypocrisy in practice, he managed to instill within me a strong moral code.
Despite being pretty sexist in a lot of respects, he somehow managed to immunize me against the worst bits of toxic masculinity.
Despite all the shitty things he did and said to me over the years, I still loved — and occasionally admired — the man.
My father used to say that his goal as a parent was to get his sons to a point where they would call him out on his bullshit. He had nothing but disdain for dads who tried to turn their kids into obedient clones of themselves. We were children of the motherfucking whirlwind, and a little catastrophic destruction was a tragic but inevitable part of the process.
It wasn’t “abuse” or “neglect,” but a lesson plan for self-realization. This, too, was another line of bullshit to be seen through, although I doubt the old man intended it to be.
On an intellectual level, I acknowledge my upbringing was abnormal and horrible, yet it seemed “normal” to me at the time. Better than normal, even, because I was granted freedoms my peers with stricter (and sometimes equally abusive) parents could only dream of. It’s nothing I would ever subject a child to, but what it gave was roughly equal to what it (theoretically) had taken away.
And there were a lot of later adjustments to be made, the realization that just because I could cruelly fuck with people didn’t mean I should. One of the harshest assessments Maura can level at me is “that’s a Gus move.” I had to learn to let slights — perceived or real — drop. Or, failing that, to remove myself from the field of confrontation instead of escalating things to no beneficial end.
I am my father’s son, but that’s measured in as many differences as similarities. Gus embraced chaos, counting on his quick thinking to give him a leg up while everyone else was struggling to get their bearings. He loved adventure and crossing lines specifically because he was told not to cross them. He was outgoing and gregarious and loved being the center of attention, the wandering hero, the Chocolate Pudding Person.
(My mom coined the term “Chocolate Pudding Person” to describe how my dad would rush in with chocolate pudding or some other treat after she’d spent an entire dinner trying to get Lil Bro and me to nosh down some unpalatable but healthy foodstuffs. It became one of Maura’s favorite idioms after I told her about it.)
I’m not like that, at all, and the old man had a hard time understanding it. He thought I was too cautious, too preoccupied, too quiet, too “sensitive.” It never occurred to him — even when I stated it to his face — that a childhood spent in the wake of his chaos might have soured me on its charms. I didn’t have a choice to opt-out then, but I sure as shit did as an adult who saw exactly what it got my father — a widower at forty and forced to rebuild his life one small piece at a time.
His life made for some great anecdotes, but nothing you’d want to experience first-hand.
Fuck if I don’t miss him, though. It’s not a constant ache, just acute pangs which hit whenever some new development happens with the adoption process or I have a question about some bit of North Woburn lore. There won’t be anymore internal debates where I have to decide whether confirming a vague memory is worth a two hour phone call covering muscle cars, how much Republicans suck, and enough unsolicited advice to fill an encyclopedia. No more lousy puns and vile jokes followed by silence on my part and then a “What? Don’t think it’s funny?” on his. No more trying to triangulate what actually happened when he calls to complain about something my brother did.
I wished he’d lived long enough to meet the kid, but otherwise I have no regrets. He was a flawed and frequently infuriating son of a bitch, but I had reconciled myself to that long ago. I’m pretty sure he knew what I thought about him.
And if he didn’t, there’s fuck all I can do about it now.