Writing About My Father, Day 21
I have written about my mother for years. She has been the bogeyman haunting my poems, my disappointments. But the truth is, for most times I have written the word “mother” in some lament or the other, I could easily have written “father.” It was easier to focus on my mother: we’re both women, I lived with her the longest, I look like her. It was easier to pretend my father was the “good” parent as he wasn’t around to prove otherwise. My mother has had a great deal of influence on shaping my body insecurity and my struggles with self-worth. And though I haven’t indicted him in anything I’ve written on those issues, my father bears equal weight for never telling me I looked beautiful, or merely that I was enough.
I was wondering what to write tonight (when I am weary of writing) and I came across an essay I wrote in graduate school about my body. Here’s an excerpt from it. It was originally written about my mother, but I’ve come to realize that they hold equal parts of responsibility. Neither my father nor my mother forced me to learn how to overeat to drown my pain, but I think I can hold them responsible for telling me the wrong stories about myself. And I can hold myself responsible for allowing the story they told me about myself to sleep in my bones long after I’d met enough people who’d told me it wasn’t true to know better.
I should add that this essay is a decade old, and I understand my parents more now than I did when I first started to look. It feels important that you know that because part of this is so bleak, but I don’t feel quite so bleak anymore. Not all the time anyway.
Excerpt from “Flipbook: A Self-Portrait”
What I see: A long line of women left behind. A long line of women with ample hips and extra-large asses, flat on their backs, children falling from them easy as sweat. A long line of women betrayed by the ache hips have when they’ve gone too long untouched by a man’s hands. I have been taught to want none of this. Each day, as my body bloomed, I was told to drape myself in one long skirt after another, blinding what lay between my hips, waiting. When that became not enough, my body became my hiding place.
What I do not want: To be loved. To be loved by anyone but [my parents]. To be loved by anyone who might show me that I can be loved. To be seen.
What [my mother] must want: Not to be reminded that she is a woman with ample hips and an extra-large ass. That she is a woman left behind.
What must be measured carefully: The distance between hand and page as I write this. The distance between the skin and the self. The distance between my true skin and the hands that might touch me. The difference between myth and mere exaggeration. The difference between the good kind of lying and the bad kind of lying. The distance between love and what I can bear.
The only thing I haven’t had to construct: [My parents] do not love me. If I keep myself un-beautiful, I can understand why. If I am beautiful, and still [they] don’t love me, then I have no hope.