Tuesday, February 17, 2015

How to Love a Ghost: Making Peace with my Long Gone Father

                        When you are estranged from your father, every day is Father's Day. 

           Father’s Day is always rough for people who have had difficult relationships with their fathers.    But this year was particularly difficult for me because of Facebook.
            First, I posted my daily haiku as part of a challenge I had take on January 1st to write a haiku a day for a year.    Here is what I posted.  I called it Father’s Day.


   Petals dripping blood.
   Thorns could not protect the rose
    From he loves me not.

            My post stood out like…  well like drops of blood among flower petals as post after post came through my newsfeed with pictures of daddies with their adoring daughters or fathers being thanked for being role models to their sons.
Shirley and Bill Rosenzweig, 1949
So I shed some tears yesterday for Bill Rosenzweig born in 1926, died in 1997,  who met my mother Shirley Perlstein in 1947,  married her in 1949, had their first child,  a daughter ( me ) in 1952, another in 1954, a son in 1956 and left his family for another woman in 1963, November 1963 to be exact, the week before Kennedy was assassinated and his children watched in horror as the country’s falling apart mirrored their family’s demise.
More terrible things happened than I want to say.  Betrayals. Beatings.  Blame and recriminations.  Erasure. 

          This is all old territory for me.  I have walked it so long and so many times that my feet have worn trenches in the ground of time I have remained stuck in the past.
            Something shook a little though yesterday.  A friend of mine had written one of those lovely Facebook tributes to his father – a kind, loving, spiritual man who died way too young when my friend was only nineteen.     
            And I told him that what he’d written was so heartfelt and beautiful.
            “I know you will be reunited with him in the afterlife,”  I said hoping to comfort him.
            And he said,  “So will you Marsha.  You will see your father there too.”
            What happens between an estranged parent and a child in the afterlife?
            Now there was a question I could wrap my head around. 
            So I did what I always do when I have question.  

            I googled it.

        I wanted to know, would we be the same age or would we be ageless with no bodies, only our spirits?  Would we be as we were in life – distant and unable to cross the distance between us?  Would he still be stubborn?  Would I still be surly?  Would he be sorry for the time he refused to sit next to my mother at my Bat Mitzvah even after I begged him to so we would look like a normal family to my friends?  Would I be sorry that I kept my promise to him – the one I had screamed at him the last time he’d hit me that he’d never see his grandchildren?  Would he be sorry that his wife had barred me from his funeral and  did not include my name in his obituary? Would I be sorry that I told him when I was fifteen that he wasn’t a real man?

            Questions begetting questions. 

            So I kept googling.  And among the links that appeared was a site written by a Christian minister for parents of estranged adult children – written with the heart and spirit of the estranged parent in mind, offering solace, sympathy and suggestions for if not healing the rift between parent and child, at least assuaging the wound caused by separation, regardless of the cause.
        My mother used to tell me that my father adored me and that I was his favorite child.  This was never said to me in a comforting way.  It was more of an accusation.  And it only made me feel worse.  How could his love for me have turned so far the other way?

             In Jungian analysis,  when you come upon a place of deep psychological complex and conflict,  one is taught to engage in active imagination where you place yourself in a scene in your mind, bring in the person you need to talk to and then let the conversation happen.
            I did that yesterday.   At first I saw myself as a little girl playing catch with my daddy.  And then the scene opened up into an entire scenario for a play a screenplay or novel.
There is a man who has written letters to his estranged daughter every week for twenty years.   And when he dies, his step son finds these missives, and after realizing what they are, stacks them inside a cardboard box, addresses the box to the old man’s daughter and drops the package off at the post office. 

            Adrienne Rich has written,  “Invent what you desire.”
            I can write this, I think. 
            Maybe I don’t have to wait until the afterlife to reconnect with my Daddy.

Bill Rosenzweig. US Army 1945

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Watching the Superbowl: Deflated Balls and Domestic Violence

There was a very special commercial sponsored by the NFL during the Superbowl XLIX.  It was a public service announcement against domestic violence.  It was a pretty chilling spot and it was very effective too.  Only thing is, not that many people saw it.

It aired right before the halftime show, immediately following Seattle's touchdown with 2 seconds left in the second quarter that left everyone I was watching the game with screaming for joy or in disgust, depending on which team they were rooting for. 

But I saw it. 

I even heard it, moving close to the television making sure not to miss a word.  I didn't get the full effect until later when I viewed it again on YouTube - the controlled voice of a woman pretending to order a pizza while calling 911 - the physical evidence of a violent rampage in the house,  furniture overturned, items strewn.  The dispatcher realizes that the woman is in trouble and tells her an officer is on the way.  The commercial ends with the following graphic:

Before viewers could have a chance to process what we'd just seen, a new graphic appeared on the screen - a cartoon of a blue face on a ball ( get it? blue ball??) which says in a very snide and snarky way,  "I heard that guy's BALLS were deflated!" 

Way to go NFL, NBC and Cure Auto Insurance, the perpetrator of the blue balls commercial, all coming together to undermine - no MOCK the message against domestic violence.   This is the same NFL with its deplorable record of reacting to the violent behavior of their players, the same fucking NFL that recently conceded that one in THREE players will experience brain trauma from getting their heads bashed weekly in what can only be seen as a dangerously violent blood sport. 

But hey.  At least their balls aren't deflated. 

And if people saw those pre-halftime show commercials at all, I would bet that more remember the snarky blue ball. 

And if they saw it, they probably didn't hear it. 

But who hears about domestic violence anyway, unless someone is killed like Nicole Simpson, or caught on tape being clocked in the head by her future husband like Janay Rice.

Most of the time nobody even knows and much of the time, when I was growing up, at least, it wasn't even considered unusual. 

It fact it wasn't until last night, almost fifty years after my father pummeled me because I had gotten "mouthy" with him did I see myself as a victim of domestic violence. 

I don't even know how to tell this story right now.  I've always told it a particular way, one that made sense for me -- one where I stood up to my father - a small dyspeptic man who had left my mother for another woman,  abandoned his three children and went to court to cut his child support payments - but who still felt he had the right to "discipline" his fourteen year old daughter because she's become "too big for her britches."   And sexual. That too.

He used to hit me often, for all kinds of infractions.  But this one time,  when he came barreling into the house he'd left and demanded respect from me or else, I stood up to him.  I told him he had no right to touch me and that I wasn't his daughter anymore and that infuriated him and I watched the little man's face turn redder and redder as he hit my adolescent body harder and harder. 

I was surprised by the calmness that came over me at the time and I stood my ground and found my voice saying, "Do you feel like a man now?  Hit me again if it makes you feel like a man." 

Which of course made him hit me harder and with more abandon. 

Years later I understood what happened next.  I dissociated.  But at the time,  all I knew was that I felt myself split in two and the part of me that could feel pain, floated to the top of the stairs and watched as the little man hit the girl wearing my clothes several more times, his glasses flying from his face. 

He stood there shaking as he pulled himself away.  He groped around the floor for his glasses and put them on slowly before turning quickly and walking out the door without looking at the pile of clothes on the floor at his feet. 

The phone rang 10, 20, 30? minutes later. When I answered the phone I heard his wife scream,  "What did you do to your father you little bitch??  He came home crying  What did you do???"

To this day I can still smile with satisfaction remembering how I hung up the phone, my own voice echoing in my ears. "Does this make you feel like a man?" 

My father and I became estranged as I became a woman.  He died at age 71 in 1997 of prostate cancer which had spread to other parts of his body.  But before that happened, it spread to his balls. 

The inside of his testicles were surgically removed, and replaced by something resembling styrofoam. 

Deflated balls. 

Brains on fire

Masculinity measured in body blows.

Daddy, do you feel like a man now?  Do you Daddy? 

Seems I knew more than I realized at age fourteen. 

My poor father. Trying so very hard to live up to the expectations of being a man.