I was 11-years-old when my father jumped into the New York City subway tracks.
“Hold her.” Those were the last words I heard as he handed me off to a stranger. After that, all was screaming. White hot screaming reverberating off the tiled walls.
We’d watched as the mother had turned her back. We’d watched as the baby’s stroller rolled slowly and then tipped off the platform’s edge into the tracks.
My father jumped in after it without hesitation and gingerly navigated his way across the four rows of local and express tracks to retrieve it as my screaming shook me and my body stiffened, straining against its captor. The scene tilted in my view; the stranger’s grip tightened around my chest as she pinned my arms.
On this occasion, as on so many others, my father was like a super hero to me.
It’s difficult to pinpoint when our relationship started to fall apart.
Was it when my adoring childhood gaze was replaced by the withering one of a judgmental teen? Did he loose interest in me as my ideas about life began to differ from his? Or was the source of the discord something I never could have comprehended when I was young; That my dad is kind of f’ing nuts. Not simply eccentric, or unconventional as I used to proudly describe him, but really sort of batshit crazy.
Dad wasn’t the kind of crazy where you might wake in the middle of the night to find him sitting at the foot of your bed fingering the business end of a kitchen knife, whispering “Shhhh… Go back to sleep.” Nor the kind that could necessarily get him arrested. And honestly, he wasn’t always crazy. His bizarre priorities, spates of extreme unkindness, shocking narcissism and abandoning nature were punctuated by a dark and wildly clever wit (that you hoped was never used against you), a razor sharp intelligence, and many moments of real love and genuine warmth.
The result of having a dad like this is a daughter who attaches herself to one emotionally retarded man-child after another (not all of you, exes, and definitely not you, present hubby), who accepts table scraps of affection and calls them a banquet.
“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!” So sayeth William Shakespeare. But it cuts both ways, Bill.
Five years ago, after ages of a perfectly functionally dysfunctional relationship, which worked largely because of my constant efforts and willingness to withstand unearthly amounts of ridiculous emotional abuse, my father very abruptly decided he’d had enough. Immediately after the birth of my son, he stopped responding to me; my letters, emails, or calls. He just…stopped. His reasons are unclear to anyone who doesn’t reside within the confines of his skull. His explanations are as rooted in reality as Harry Potter. His coldness is epic.
The pain that’s come from my father exiting my life- rejecting me, my child, our history together- has been tremendous and hard to successfully convey, even to the most loving friends. The healing has been slow and reliant on hours, months, years of expensive therapy.
They call this process “ambiguous grieving” and it just sucks. As does, I’d imagine, all grieving. Still, ambiguous grieving doesn’t have the benefit of benchmarks of recovery or the support of social constructs. There is no formality to it. Friends and family don’t know how to appropriately support you because they don’t actually understand what you’re going through; the signifiers are not obvious. And, like for the parent of a kidnapping victim who is never found, there is no distinct end to the process.
I imagine that what will happen is that my father will eventually simply fade away. One day someone will inform me that he’s died. Or that he died a year earlier. There will be no body to bury, he’s donated his to science. There will be no funeral for me to attend as he doesn’t care that I do and won’t arrange for it. I’ll simply…never see him again. And with him will die the hope of a reconciliation, deathbed or otherwise.
He’s a hoarder, so I imagine by the time I hear about his death, his landlord, desperate to get him out for decades now, will have backed the dump truck up to the front door. There will be no opportunity to search through possessions, picking out long-loved items that remind me of my childhood with my parents. That silly clock painting with the waterfall in it at which I recall staring, endlessly intrigued, as a child. The photo albums that house memories of my first seven years; the years we were a family. All gone. Disappeared into the ether.
Gone so completely that I may wonder if they, as well as he, were all just figments of my imagination. Whether my entire childhood actually happened the way I thought it had. Whether the father I so loved, so admired, ever existed at all.
This Father’s Day, as the past five without my father have been, will be hard. I firstly want to say bravo to all the good, consistent, tireless, kind and dedicated dads out there. I see you. I know who you are. I live with one of you, after all.
And to those of us who find father’s day very difficult- those for whom it is a reminder of loss, who will find themselves melancholy and blue this Sunday, June 15th, I just want to say that I feel you. And that on June 16th, things will likely start to look a bit brighter once again.
This happened back at Mother’s Day, but hey, it’s been a busy time and I’m finally catching up. I was so excited about this pick that I wanted to add it now. The Motherlode Blog by The New York Times is a great source for thought provoking articles. This year, editor and lead blogger KJ Dell’Antonia made Momma Love her #1 MOTHER’S DAY GIFT PICK FOR 2013!! Then she went ahead and ordered a bunch of copies for her pals! That was DAMN satisfying! What a thrill.
Check out the list of the best gifts to give your mother here.
MommaLoveTheBook.com is now set up to take international orders from several countries! If you are ordering from a country not listed, just email firstname.lastname@example.org directly.
Get your copy of the book that Gloria Steinem calls a gift to moms, that was named The New York Times‘ Motherlode Blog’s #1 Mother’s Day Gift Pick for 2013, was featured on the front page of The Huffington Post, and that just won a Silver IPPY from The Independent Publishers’ Awards!
A little after the fact, I wanted to share some pix from a beautiful Momma Love celebration at BOBO Restaurant that Jessica Shyba of Momma’s Gone City threw to celebrate the release of my book! Actress Amy Ryan was the honorary momma and she had some really sweet things to say about being featured in Momma Love.
Moms (and everyone else), if you don’t already know about BOBO, you should! They have a private garden in the back that makes you forget you’re in NYC! It’s ideal for private parties, showers, birthdays… and the staff and food couldn’t be better!
Donna Bell’s Bake Shop provided delicious southern desserts, and Anne Kilcullen at Blade NYC made the space even nicer with her beautiful, one-of-a-kind floral arrangements. (Blade NYC is starting a section of their business that will be geared specifically towards children’s parties!). Moore Brothers Wine Shop- my favorite wine store in NY because of its selection, sweet staff, and it’s children’s play area (YES!)- sent over a dozen bottles of sparkling wine for the toasts!
All in all, it was a great sunday evening!
(all photos ©Amber DeVos and Rita Cheng)
I’m thrilled to say that Princeton University has asked me to talk at an “Author’s Lunch” Monday, May 6, 12-2pm. Reserve a seat at the table with us by calling 609.497.1777. $60 per person Includes delicious lunch, and proceeds benefit local scholarship fund, The 101: Fund, supporting need-based college scholarships for local high school graduates.
COME ON DOWN! Let’s chat!! I’ll also be selling and signing books just in time for Mother’s Day! (Cheaper than rush shipping!)
After 12 years and an emotional roller coaster ride, Momma Love is now for sale at MommaLoveTheBook.com. I’m shipping books daily for Mother’s Day! If you want your’s, waste no time.(Please note that media mail takes 2-8 days to deliver. There is also a priority mail option.)
Momma Love was 104% FUNDED last week when the Kickstarter fundraiser for it ended! Here are some pix of Momma Love rolling off the presses at SHAPCO Printing in Minneapolis, MN. SHAPCO is a “Green” printer, so that means that all waste product- paper, proofs, plates, etc- are recycled, and all inks are eco-friendly. Which is GREAT!
My rep Debi Bergerson has been an incredible person to work with there. She gets my vision for the book and is full of creative suggestions and solutions. (Plus she’s just very nice!) Owner Joe Avery came up with a perfect solution for the poppy title type I wanted! Wait till you see!
After 12 years of hard work and being thrown for a loop by a publisher who shut abruptly, taking with them the financial investment I’d made towards my book’s production, I’ve decided to self-publish Momma Love; How the Mother Half Lives.
Gloria Steinem says “Ali Smith has given us a gift with Momma Love; a fresh, eye-opening manifestation of motherhood’s contemporary realities.”
Please consider supporting Momma Love’s printing through my Kickstarter campaign. Any amount helps! Pre-sales of the book are available at a special discounted price as well as some other very cool perks!
The book will be released May 1st this year making it the perfect Mother’s Day gift!
In my quest to share these women’s personal stories and portraits, I’ve turned away from the industry and towards the community. I’ve turned to you. The heart of the matter.
Click here to support Momma Love on Kickstarter.
MOMMA LOVE image Kelly Pregnant Outside, which has had the honor of hanging previously at The International Center of Photography, is currently in a wonderful portraits show at The Center for Fine Art Photography in some very good company!
If you find yourself in Fort Collins, Colorado before March 23rd, stop in to see a great show.