About five years ago I learned of my father’s double life for the first time. My suspicions, finally, affirmed.
When I was young I had a dream, yet it felt just as real as this moment, now. I can still recall much of the detail. My father had taken me to a house I didn’t recognize and I entered to see some strange woman standing next to the living room before us. He convinced me to stay put as he casually approached the stranger and began to kiss her. This was weird for me because 1) the woman was not my mother and 2) I had never seen him take my mother into his arms the way he did this woman. I recall her having a child, as well, and we were encouraged to play together. The kid acted like nothing out of the ordinary was happening. I think I may have had this dream.. or whatever it was.. twice. The other time my brother was there and he also acted like everything was normal. My dad was dressed in his Tide white work uniform. And I remember thinking, who would want to be with him? He smells like cheese and if she really knew him, she’d figure out what a jerk he is… what a liar and a cheater.
As a child I felt haunted by this “dream” which I put in quotation marks to stress how real the visions felt, how visceral the dream IF, in fact, that’s all it was. I even summoned the courage to approach my dad once by describing the house–yellow sided ranch style with a great big willow tree in the front, off to the side, swaying before an open field and dusty gravel road. It was summer time, the sun was shining. My dad had driven us there in his creamish colored Toyota station wagon which always smelled of fish from his weekend trips. I felt disgusting every time I found myself a passenger in it. The car was parked on the side of the road in one memory and in the other, up into a partially gravelled driveway next to the willow tree.
Of course, for the purpose of confronting my dad, I described the house as: yellow with a willow tree in front. He denied ever knowing anyone who lived in a house like that; I pretended it wasn’t a big deal. But it was a fucking big deal. It felt like having the right key in my hands, but not knowing which door it unlocked. I started “sleuthing”, looking for clues. However, all I ever found, which may have preempted the dream, was my dad’s “drawer”. My dad had one drawer in my parents’ dresser which was his sole territory. The assumption was that we left it alone. But I was despetate to learn more about the stranger I knew as ‘daddy’; I never left it alone. And I can only guess that my mom surely didn’t, knowing now what she knew then.
But I, on the other hand, didn’t know what it meant when I found pictures of other women that were signed “To Tommy” on the back of them. “Tommy?” I thought. I just tried to assume these ladies were from my father’s past. There were other things I had found scattered around, too. Perverted things that I felt embarrassed and confused by because that’s how I thought you were supposed to feel about sex. Things like a sketching (presumably done by him) of a naked “devil woman”. I never let on that I had seen any of it. Deny. Deny. Deny. Lie (to yourself). Lie some more. Do what needs to be done to cover your tracks. Don’t let anyone know you’re onto them. Because that could expose their vulnerability and hence your own. What you pretend not to know can’t hurt you, and it can’t hurt them, as long as you don’t talk about it. When you don’t understand something but you know that whatever it is, it’s going to be painful, avoiding the issue at hand often seems like the best “solution”.
So I pretended the pictures didn’t mean anything. I pretended to understand why my parents didn’t wear their wedding rings–my dad’s stuffed in his cluttered drawer and my mom’s conveniently left in the strawberry dish next to the kitchen sink which she later retired to the confines of her jewelry box on top of her dresser. It had two pearls intertwined with a tiny diamond between them. Simple and yet, it defined their marriage so well. They were the pearls and there was a wall as tough as diamonds between them.
I had been obsessed with the “irrational” idea that my father was having an affair. But what I learned from my mother five years ago is that my suspicions weren’t as absurd as I had once believed. I had reason to doubt my father’s loyalty to his wife and to his family. And I have every right to be fucking upset about it. But where am I supposed to direct that anger? My parents have never even talked about it, so confronting either one of them seems an impossibility at this point.
Furthermore, I feel naturally inclined to question the validity of the words spoken when someone says they love me. It takes time to process and accept that your father’s life and marriage was a lie, a sham, a meaningless pile of vacant words tied to a host of insecurities, leaving behind him a cancerous trail of unspoken betrayal and quiet indignation. Could he possibly know the damage he has caused? Could he possibly care? It takes time with a person to convince yourself that they won’t desert you like that, that you alone are enough for them, that they’ll love you and hold you above all others, forever and ever, as long as you both shall live. And even then, after years of being together and putting all my faith in someone, I was completely blind sighted by my own husband.
People make promises all the time. Sometimes words can harness all the power in the world. And sometimes they don’t mean shit.
So when someone’s staring you in the face telling you who they think you are and you know they’re wrong, what proof do they have to go by other than the action you take next? Do you back down? Or do you stand there and fight? I choose to fight, as hard as I possibly can. Because I guarantee, whatever you think about me is wrong. And though I may fight you now, ultimately I am a lover who believes very strongly that the world needs more love; every single one of us needs and deserves love, even when we forget. Especially when we forget.
And I feel compelled to believe that through the numerous women my dad slept with during my parents’ marriage, all he was ever looking for was love, acceptance, reassurance that the world was a safe place, perhaps, in the bossom of someone charmed by his false bravado. They say Don Juan slept with hundreds of women because he was afraid he could never be loved by one. He was afraid… he couldn’t be loved. Then so too was he afraid to fight for the only thing worth fighting for.