Bionic Mamas

you're not losing a vagina, you're gaining a son

I Don’t Know What To Say


Crossing the Mississippi in the dark again. The last time I was on this side of the river was exactly a year ago, heading north from my first Christmas with no mother.

My father was with us, invited to join us for a week with Sugar’s family in Chicago and Michigan. Since moving to New York, we’ve alternated, spending Christmas with one set of parents and the week following with the other. My dad was with us for the same reason I’d insisted he come with us on our Virginia trip at Thanksgiving: I was afraid he would kill himself if left alone. He and my mom met in ninth grade. They got married right after college. He’d never been alone.

A year ago today, he was next to me in a coach car of this train, he in the aisle seat and I, pregnant and ungainly, at the window.  I have a happy surprise, he announced. Love is blossoming between me and K, and old friend of my mother’s who had come from Alaska to the funeral.

Love. Blossoming.

At this point, my mother had been dead less than two months. I still spent a portion of each day sobbing, by which I mean not crying, which I still do, but the kind of thing that tears physically at your abdomen, the kind of thing that is screaming so hard in the shower that your throat hurts even though you haven’t let sound escape.

A happy surprise.

And at that moment, as I struggled to stay in control of myself long enough to stumble downstairs to the bathroom to sob some more (because he is my only parent and I can’t afford to alienate him), I lost all the patient understanding I’d tried to feel when there were no Christmas presents for me except the pajamas my mother had bought right before she died, the ones that hadn’t been meant for Christmas at all, since of course by then I was too big to fit in them. Nor did he wrap those, nor get anything for Sugar or the Bean, though we found things for them my mother had already set aside.

I know that the “happy surprise” this trip is to plan for their wedding. Dad wanted Sugar to tell me, but she told him to do it himself. He hasn’t yet. Supposedly, after he drove her from Alaska to Little Rock, after canceling his summer plans to see us at the very last minute for lack of time, she was getting her own apartment, but it’s been obvious that her dogs moved to his house immediately. (The Bean is terrified of dogs.)

I haven’t written any of this before, because how? In the very beginning, I didn’t think I should tell anyone at all, because they would be mad at him. My dad lived at my mom’s house for a summer as a teenager. Her siblings were so clear that they wouldn’t consider him lost when she died: how could I risk bringing their anger upon him? If they felt angry, as I did and do.

Wait, I have a picture for one of the posts on this subject I never found words to write:



Then I didn’t write about it because it was all too complicated. Yes, I want him to be happy. Yes, I get that this is not uncommon behavior. No, K is not a terrible person. But my father has a terrible tendency to find replacement people; I can name the people he’s replaced me with at various times. It hurts a lot to feel I’ve lost both parents at once, even as I feel guilty for feeling this way, knowing how wasted this time will feel one day. I can’t afford to be angry at anyone when people can just die with no warning.

And there’s something so infuriating and stifling about being really, soul-scrapingly sad in the company of someone with a pathological need for everything to be Fine! Great! no matter what. It is fucked up to segue from asking what you think we should do with my mother’s ashes to telling me how “wonderfully successful” your trip to Alaska was, how you are “living a miracle.”

I do cry every day, or nearly. I am probably depressed for real. I do get up in the morning, get dressed, go to work. I try not to be as short tempered as I am. I take care of my children and enjoy them, at least mostly. But no, I would not describe the events of the last year as miraculous. 

There are other problems, too tiresome to get into in detail. Money issues, broken promises. It hurts my feelings that there was no gift when Jackalope was born, except a pack of cheap onesies wrapped only with the creased but curled ribbon my mother must have taped on them back in October out of excitement, those sent too late to fit for more than a week or two. I don’t know why he didn’t get real birthday presents for the Bean, either. Or me, for that matter. We skype every couple of weeks, so the children can see him. The Bean loves him. I do, too. But I just don’t know what to say.

16 thoughts on “I Don’t Know What To Say

  1. Oh my. Not quite sure what to say on this one sorry. He sounds like a bit of a useless, mostly lovable, dreamer. What can you do really?

  2. Big hugs. 
    I’ve found myself in a similar situation. About a year after my mom died, my dad had a new partner. In a way, not a replacement at all – very different in personality and character than my mom. They got married way too quickly, six weeks before our own wedding. She never really warmed up with any of us kids, and my youngest brother feels so alienated he doesn’t come home anymore, not even for Christmas. It hurts – probably my dad the most, yet he seems unable to do much about it. 
    Like you, I want him to be happy. And I live far enough to not care much most of the time. But sometimes it is very painful to think just how different things could have been. 
    I have no advice, just lots of sympathy. 

  3. Oh, I’m so, so sorry. What a terrible shock when you’re grieving to discover your father can’t grieve the same way you do. Of course you love him and are glad he’s happy… but I understand the feeling of betrayal.

    I confess, I’m a lot like your father in the gift-giving department. Presents are NOT my love language, and it’s a terrible struggle to remember they’re important to many other people. He’s not willfully telling you he doesn’t care… Gifts probably don’t occur to him since your mother was always around to take care of them.

    I’m sorry your year has been rotten. Many hugs and love from WI.

  4. Oh Bionic, I am so sorry. I don’t know how to understand people, sometimes: I just want to be angry! Do they really believe they can outrun their own shadow? Just keep going and be “a miracle”? It must be so hard to deal with this in addition to the loss of your mother and all the no-joke hard work of being a mother of two small children, and all the worky stuff. So so sorry, dear heart. Better days will come, you’ll see. Hold on, hold on.

  5. Yikes. That does sound like a difficult situation. I’m so sorry.

  6. Many different kinds of HARRRRRUMMMMPPHHHH. Actually, I do have more to say: just because it’s common or normal – much like with children- doesn’t make it okay or not-annoying.

  7. Wow. I don’t know what else to say. It sounds like you’re clear that your dad’s behavior is a sign of his Issues. But that doesn’t really help that much, given that he’s the only dad you’ve got.
    And I hear you on the difficulties of being with people who are working so hard to deny the existence of any sort of unpleasantness. And of course that’s so much harder when Really Bad things are actually happening. In my own family when this kind of shit happens it’s rather crazy-making–starts to make me question my own perception of reality.

  8. I’m so, so sorry to learn of such deep pain, but I’m glad you posted about it. Even if he can’t/won’t acknowledge the power of this behavior to hurt you, your commenters can. Amidst great tragedy all we can do sometimes is react, and it is a complicated chain of reactions underway here. I hope that posting about it is an action that brings you closer to the peace and support you need in this difficult time.

  9. I am so sorry. I would cry, too. Wish I could give you a hug and all kinds of thoughtful, timely gifts to make it better, even though it wouldn’t. Love to you all, regardless.

  10. I can imagine doing something…ANYthing…to try to run away from the pain of having my spouse die. But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t still catch up with me and never go away. I can imagine, too, how difficult it would be to see a beloved parent try and be replaced (impossible) by the other one. Both tragic circumstances. Both understandable. I’m sorry.

  11. Big hugs first.
    My emotional me wants to offer you my shoulder so you don’t have to cry alone in the shower.
    My logical me is confused about the part where your father should not be left alone: was it the previous thanksgiving/christmas? But now K ‘s dogs moved in so probably she did too but for polite reasons we don’t say this?
    I’m not as emotionally smart as strawberry, I don’t understand the ‘why’ of your anger. I’m not good with anger myself. I only know it hurts to be angry with someone you love (and don’t want to lose). Broken promises hurt. Money issues hurt. And it is not as if you didn’t hurt enough already.
    I think you are an angel for setting your children up with skype. I wish my brother would, so I could see his children grow.
    Do you know if your anger and depression make each other worse? I can’t remember what my therapist told me….
    I’ll stop now saying things that are most likely emotionally stupid.
    Sending new year wishes too.

  12. I’m so sorry. My dad announced he was dating a woman about 2 months after my stepmom died, and now they plan to tear down the house he shared with her and build a giant house so that she will live with him. It hasn’t even been a year yet. I don’t like his new love interest at all. It’s so hard to navigate. Again, so so so sorry.

  13. Sounds very difficult. I’m sorry you are going through this.

  14. UGGH. I wish I could find something to say that might make you feel less alone in this shitty situation, but I find myself trapped in the same cycle you describe…trying to find compassion, nodding very hard with all your logical reasons why it’s not productive to feel anger, but feeling anger anyway. And when I think about how infuriating and distressing it is to see from the outside, well, I shudder to think. I just want to point at him and scream SELFISH! HEARTLESS! CRUEL! It’s really, really heartbreaking. I’m so sorry. And I’m also so sorry to hear that you are depressed for real, and that crying is still daily. Not “still” with the implication of “you’re still crying ?!?! You shouldn’t be”, but “still” in the sense of “that’s a fuckload of crying”. I don’t know, lady. Yeah, of course it’s not productive to be mad, or hurt, and there’s not a thing you can do (I mean, I’m guessing that telling him about these feelings isn’t going to change anything, because the whole “happy surprise” thing suggests a lack of empathy or sensitivity), but these actions are so hurtful! How can you not feel these things! I guess if it were me, I’d go about protecting myself as much as possible, starting with casting all expectations into the void, including not worrying about him killing himself. Sounds like HE’S going to be fiiiiine.

    And, you know, give yourself a lot of credit for how well you’re managing. I can’t be bothered to try to not be short tempered or to enjoy my children some days, and I’m not wading through the Slough of Despond.

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