This something I’ve been meaning to write forever. It looks like I first tried to write this last June and I’ve come back to see that I only wrote two sentences (and I’m not even going to use them). I want to write more about fatherhood in general, but I figured it would make sense to start with me and my father’s story.
But it starts before I even got here. My mother and father don’t agree much on the details of how they met but from what I can gather, my mother came to California, met my father and they fell in love. Like for real love, they got engaged and bought a house. Then my father messed up big time (“groupies” according to my dad and drugs, bad combo) and my mother left him. After she had me, she moved back to Connecticut. And since my father loved both of us, he followed. Since he didn’t know anyone in CT, he couldn’t get drugs and so he got clean.
For a while we all lived together with my grandmother. My mother’s work required her to travel a lot, so I spent most of my early years with my father and my grandmother. Eventually my mom was able to spend more time in CT, enough to buy a house and we were a “regular” family. I’m not sure what happened, but my father moved out but we still hung out all the time. I was the ultimate daddy’s girl and it was awesome. He spoiled me rotten and I loved it. Whatever I wanted I got and I got used to it.
When I was nine, my mother told me she was going to have a baby (with her husband, not my dad). That’s when my father decided to tell me that he had just had a baby with some woman I never met and that I had a six month old brother.
Somewhere along the way my dad started doing drugs again. His visits became more sporadic and when we hung out it was sometimes with real shady people and sketchy situations. I was also getting older, so I was more aware of what going on, but for the most part everything was cool.
Then my dad started going to jail. The first time was devastating. I remember hiding in the closet and crying. But after that, I began to look forward to my dad going to jail because when he was in jail he called and wrote all the time. And when he was out, he was gone.
During another stint in jail, the woman he had my brother with had a little girl. She was born addicted to crack and was placed for adoption. I only met her once, the day after she was born. And then she was gone.
Though I was getting frustrated with my father around this time, I was not done with him. I figured eventually he would clean up and get his life together. He had kids and all these mistakes had costs. But my father couldn’t clean up. My breaking point came when he missed my high school graduation. Later he told me that he was high and didn’t want to see me in that state. But I didn’t know then and that was the first time I cut him off.
Through all of this, mother has always remained calm. She never says anything negative about my father and his shenanigans. And whenever I talk crazy about his, she reminds me that he is my father. I’ve always admired this about her because if some man was driving my children crazy, it would be all over for him.
I don’t remember how, but we reconciled. I didn’t trust him and I barely liked him but I still loved him. My mother made me invite him to my college graduation. He came and was so proud you would have thought he had anything to do with my success there. It infuriated me.
The next few years were strained. I was going through my own stuff and didn’t want to deal with my father’s. I can’t remember now what happened, (I’m sure it had something to do with the truly awful man that I was dating) but I decided that I needed to deal with my father and our issues before it ruined any chance I had at obtaining and maintaining a function romantic relationship. So I wrote him a letter. It said three things: 1. You don’t know me, you haven’t made an effort, so I’m going to tell you who I am, 2. You’re either in or out. I’m not going to continue to chase you around and beg you to act like a father. You either do it on your own and leave me the hell alone and 3. You are not going to be the reason I don’t get married.
To be honest, I didn’t expect an answer. But my father, ever full of surprises, wrote me back and sent a packet of other stuff. He said he was sorry. He said he had been clean for a year and was diagnosed with PTSD. He had been in therapy and was back to drawing again. He sent me all the information he had about my sister. He sent me info about veteran benefits for children (way too late as I was 25 but it would help my brother). And he said I was right. I was finally able to forgive him.
He started to call me. If we had plans to meet, you better believe he was there. And for that I am grateful.
Our relationship now is not perfect but it’s much better. I have accepted my father for who is. I can see who he is. And I am ok with that. He’s never going to be Bill Cosby. He’s never going to be the man to financially bail me out of situations. But he is the man who will come down to to New York year after year and move me to different apartments, even mice filled ones that scare both of us. He’s the man that tells me I’m beautiful, smart, funny, insert positive adjective here when I need to hear it. He’s the man that helps me calm down because he’s incapable of not seeing the bright side to a situation. He’s the man that makes me laugh. He is my father.
I’ve been watching a lot of Oprah’s Lifeclass and Visionaries and essentially everything else on OWN, and two messages constantly repeat themselves. One is dealing with fear and the other has to do with success. In terms of fear, that’s something I think and write about all the time. But when I think about what would I really do if I wasn’t afraid, the answer is write. Write the book, write the screenplay, write on this blog. This morning I was watching the webcast of one of Oprah’s Life Class with Iyanla Vanzant and she said that unless you’re living to the point where you’re so scared that you have pee running down your legs, you’re living too small. And while that’s extreme, it’s not a total exaggeration. And then she ended with, the worst thing that happens is that you’re right back where you started and you already know how to deal with that. And that’s some real talk I can get with. Worst case, I’m right back here writing every day in private and sporadically online.
The second has to do with success. Last night I was watching James Cameron’s Visionaries and he was talking about how he didn’t get into movies (or any of his other endeavors) to make money and that he’d still make movies/advocate/scuba dive even if he didn’t make money. I’ve heard this over and over, especially on this network where I think people speak much more candidly. So many crazy successful (and now rich people) all say they started doing something that they love and then the money came. This isn’t surprising to me, I guess it’s that I don’t know many people in real life who are doing what they really love to do. I know a lot of people who are doing things to pay the bills or who are doing things because it’s what they’re “supposed” to do, but I know very few people who love what they do.
This is becoming increasingly important to me as I focus more on my own happiness and am approaching a time in life where I have to decide what I’m going to do next. Yes I’m going to need to make a certain amount of money to pay bills, but for the past two years I’ve been thinking of my next job only in terms of money. I’ve even said “I will do anything to make enough money to pay my student loans off.” But the more I think of having another job that I hate going to and resent, the more I know that it’s fear that has me talking crazy and that I need to take a step back and make a smart decision here. I haven’t exactly figured out what it is just yet, but I have started to change the way I think about it (which I suppose is the first step).
So this morning I went to get a trash bag under the sink and then I saw them – mouse droppings! Immediately my heart sank. I can’t do this shit again, like I seriously can’t. Last time I noticed mouse droppings, it was already too late. And the only reason why I noticed them was because I had so many mice in my apartment that they couldn’t hide any more, and so they became bold and just took over my apartment. I ended up having to break my lease and move from Washington Heights to Brooklyn. It was not fun and it was not cheap. It was not an experience I wanted to relive.
And yet here I am, Eva vs. the mice part two. I figured I was lucky because I haven’t actually seen any mice. I might have heard them – but this was after I watched Paranormal Activity 2 (I know, I know, why in the world do I keep doing things like that to myself?) the other day and was just scared and thought I saw things moving and kept hearing stuff, so it’s very possible that it could have just been my imagination.
Anyway, I called my mom first. I knew she’d have the appropriate reaction that I needed. Her response, “You’re bummed, huh?” Uhm, yeah. She was more chill about it than I was. I called the super and he said he’d send someone. About an hour later a guy comes with the caulk. I laughed and told him he’d need more than that. Oh I haven’t mentioned there’s a gaping hold under my sink that any medium size animal could fit under and I was convinced the mice were coming through there. It didn’t help that whoever lived her before me and tried to stuff the hole with plastic bags.
So my not super came through, confirmed they were mouse droppings, cleaned them up (god bless him) and then tackled the hole. In the end, the mice weren’t coming from there, they were coming from a hole by the sink. He plugged that bad boy up and said he would talk to the super about fixing the big hole under the sink. I felt better.
Later I realized that he hadn’t clean all the mouse poop, so I swept up the rest. It was hard, which makes me think they hadn’t been there recently, although I swear there was no mouse droppings when I moved in last month.
For now I feel confident that no mice are running around at night. It will be nice to sleep well. But the thought that this situation might be like my Washington Heights life scared me so bad. It also jarred my sense of self-reliance. Of course as soon as I’m by myself everything falls apart and I can’t handle it and I have to move again. I’m glad this time I didn’t try to fix everything on my own. Asking for help right away definitely made this experience a lot less stressful than it could have been ended with a solution I would not have thought of.
I normally hate asking for help, even when helping is someone’s job (a la the super) but I’m glad I sucked it up and did what I had to do. Growing up, meh, it’s not always fun. But at least this time I beat the mice and got to keep my apartment.
I think that’s the unofficial name of the apartment. When the landlord told me about it, he said it was small. So I was prepared for small. He gave me the keys, and after escaping a homeless man almost running me down because he was being chased by people he stole from, I made it to the building. I walked in and the first thing I thought was, this IS small and this isn’t a one bedroom, it’s a studio. After opening a few doors, I found the bedroom, which was larger than the living room (and which I now constantly consider turning into the living room so I can fit a couch or something in here). Anyway, the landlord was right, it was small. It was so small, but it’d finally be alone and I could stop my futile search for a roommate who would not only apply with the landlord to be my roommate but who would also show up and sign the lease (and not call and bail at the last minute like the others). I learned this is much harder than I anticipated – in spite of having an awesome apartment with balcony and an amazing view and free parking. I mean, I still cannot believe I couldn’t get someone in there.
Anyway, another flaky potential roommate and the threat of only having one day to decide if I want the apartment, lead to lots of tears and me signing the lease on the new place. I’d get the keys on Monday. That Friday I had drinks and a packing party with Mo, which meant that we got drunk and did not pack. Saturday I went to a bartending class and actually started packing. Sunday my mom came down and Stacey came over, so we actually did pack. On Monday, I got the keys and my Mom and Chris helped me move many, many boxes over. Upon entering the apartment, it seemed even smaller than I remember, I start calling it Teeny Tiny.
On one of our numerous trips between my old apartment and new apartment, my old super asked where I was moving. Oh I’m moving into 565. ”Oh you’re in the small apartment?” My mom laughed, I cried. And so it continued.
My new super sees me and asks which apartment I’m moving into, the small one? My mom laughs some more, I cry again. Damn, does everyone know that I’m moving into the smallest apartment in the world? Weak.
But it’s yours! Everyone’s response is “but it’s yours.” And I know that that should be enough. And that in spite of a kitchen the size of my dresser, I should be happy because it’s mine and because I have been going on and on about how I didn’t want another roommate and wanted to live on my own again. But this is not what I wanted and these are not the terms I wanted it on. I’m moving because no one wanted to live with me and I’m moving into an overpriced shoe box.
But it’s mine. And two weeks of funky attitude later, the place is growing on me. There are quirks I’m going to need to work with (the fire alarm goes off any time the stove is set over 350) and sacrifices to be made (only a tomato, a pepper and my basil made the cut from the awesome garden I had). I’m viewing furniture placement as a challenge a la design star. And I’m finally being forced to purge the obscene amounts of paper I have in here. Pretty early on I recognized that living in the apartment would be a really large test in being happy with what you have. I also recognized I was utterly failing in that regard and that was frustrating. Having what you want and still being unhappy is the worst and I didn’t want to be one of those people always searching for more when I knew I already had enough. Slowly but surely I am growing to love this pace and am excited about it’s potential. And in the end, I know I’ll look back at this whole experience and have a hearty laugh.
I’ll admit, I didn’t think much of Steve Jobs until I took a moment to look at what he did and to listen to why he did it. All over my facebook and twitter feeds I’ve been seeing links to his 2005 Stamford commencements speech, How to Live before You Die. This is one of those speeches that is filled with some many quotes that hit you sock you right in the heart and motivate you to keep doing what you love (or figure it out if you don’t know). And on a night like this, I am especially grateful to have heard it.
I have this friend at school, let’s call her B. B is easily one of the smartest kids in my PhD program and is super nice. And she was a total bookworm, putting school over relationships. Last year I consoled her through her first major relationship, which basically meant I kept assuring her what she felt was normal and ok. I’m ok with that because most of the time, what you are feeling is totally fine. Anyway, relationship with first guy ended and she had conflicting feelings about it which she felt terrible about. I listened and told her what she felt was normal and ok and that made her really happy.
Anyway, B and her boo break up. She’s fine with it, we both continue to work on our PhDs. Then one day B comes in my office and tells me she’s met someone and she likes him. He’s also a student but in a different school within our university – actually in religion, which is totally not B’s thing. She also tells me he has a history (read: marriage and a kid). I clutch my pearls, I mean, this would be her second major relationship. But she’s so happy, which makes me so happy. She says “It feels right,” and I smiled. I mean, what would I have said anyway, she was so happy. I keep my doubts to myself.
A few weeks later and her boo is in my office. Official introductions are made even though we both heard of each other already. He’s cool, I approve, we joke about baking cookies.
Fast forward a few weeks, and B walks in and announces she is going to marry her new man. I laugh and say “ok.” But the look in face tells me it’s more than an empty assertion, she is going to marry him. “In September.” Uhm, that’s like two months away, but hey, who am I to tell her what to do with her life? They’ve talked it over. She admits that yes, it sounds crazy, which comforts me because at least she gets why I’m giving her the crazy eye s.
She tells me of plans to bring him to meet her parents and how she will meet his parents in the upcoming months. Everything is moving right along. After visiting her parents, they decide to postpone the wedding until December. And even though December is still way within a calendar year of them meeting, this seems much more realistic. She’s still really happy, there are no problems in love land. I think to myself, this never happens in real life.
Another few weeks and she’s met his mother. Her mother and his mother get along, she loves the family, all is great in the world. She announces that she’s getting married next Tuesday, they’re back on the original time line. In fact, they’ve already filled out the first part of their marriage license paper work. They are ready to go.
I ask what happened, why the change? And her response was so simple, “What am I waiting for?”
In fact, most of the time when we talk about him, she often asked “What am I waiting for?” And I started thinking about my own life. I’ve been mulling around with an idea to write a book but procrastinating on that. At that point, I clearly wasn’t writing the paper that I needed to be writing. I kept putting everything off because I felt like I needed to wait for something (I still have no idea of what I’m waiting on most of the time), but I had to ask myself, what in the world was I waiting for?
I couldn’t think of a good answer, so I got going on what I wanted to to do. Started the book, finished the paper. And it felt good. And it feels good.
B got married to her boo that next Tuesday. I saw her that Thursday, she was talking to my boss about a paper they were writing together, I couldn’t help but noticed how relaxed she was. I couldn’t contain my excitement and was trying to be cool because I didn’t know who she told, but I busted in and interrupted their meeting.
“So did you do it?”
“You know, what you said you were going to do on Tuesday?”
“What did I do on Tuesday?”
“Fool, did you get married?!”
“Oh yeah. I got married! (to me) I got married! (to my boss, who just laughed because this scene is now totally ridiculous).
So B got married, I finally turned in my paper (and passed my class, praise baby Jesus) and I’m working on the book, which I’m sure you’ll hear a lot about this year. And we all lived happily every after.
All that worrying had gotten me was less peaceful sleep, when I could, and that was starting to mess up my skin and the last thing I wanted to do was start the week with messed up skin. Besides, I had been worrying for a little over two weeks faithfully and nothing was really changing.
I was worried about a paper that I had all summer. In the beginning I thought “Hey I have all summer, I’m going to take a little time to relax and then I’m going to bust this bad boy out.” By July I start thinking “I’d better get cracking on this paper.” Then disaster struck, well disaster by dissertation standards – my results were totally not doing what I wanted them to. I had to go back and check what I had actually done and think about how I can salvage my intro and lit review. Although the paper with the funky data wasn’t the same paper for class, it used the same data set and most of the same variables. Surely my class paper was going to be ruined too.
When I finally stopped worrying, I ran the data for class and that worked out fine. Now to write the paper. Ugh, the hard part. So I started and then came to the part that actually mattered to the class – interpreting odds ratios (aka the results section). This was when worry turned to panic. I began to imagine getting my first F ever in life in grad school. I contemplated dropping the class (but I’ve never been a quitter). Or doing something that is totally logically but that I never do. I asked my friend A for help. After about 5 minutes, I knew what I had to do and turned in the paper. I spent all of labor day weekend working on the paper – aside from a brief break to Saturday Morning Cartoons (hands down the best party of the summer).
I finished the paper around 11:30 on Monday night. Classes for the fall semester start the next day. I turned the paper in and avoided email all morning.
I had finished the paper but turned it in so late could he even give me a grad? Wow e. you’ve really done it this time.
Long story short, he got the paper and I got a B+ in the class (Praise sweet baby Jesus).
On crisis down. Another crisis that had not been solved with worry but with action.
I have another crisis left. Finding a roommate. Yes, I’ve been actively looking for 3 months down. 3 chicks who have confirmed they were moving in and then disappeared later, I have resolved to not solve this problem with worry because it doesn’t help. I’m going to do what I have to do and talk to my landlord on Monday. But I will not spend an entire weekend alone with my worries. No way.
and then realize 20 minutes later that this is just life and I need not be a drama queen about it.
In my defense, I didn’t start the day thinking anything was happening. It all started when my aunts suggested I read Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties. A request I initially scoffed at like “Psst, I’m not having a quarter life crisis.” After talking to my friend, it became ”I’m not having a quarter life crisis… am I?” But then I kept coming back to “I’m not having a quarter life crisis.” and the definitive “I’m just (grad school) broke.” But for twenty minutes, I had a mini quarter life crisis wondering if I was actually in the middle of an actual one and didn’t get it. I don’t feel like I’m going crazy. This isn’t a crisis, this is life.
Anyway, my friend described her quarter life, which was acting crazy for her (and embarrassingly normal for me). The drinking, the partying, the ahem… yeah that’s what I normally call Summer Eva and that’s how I have spent most of the summers of my adult life. My friend described how her friends had to stage an intervention and how she was so angry because she didn’t think anything was wrong then, but now, she looks back and calls shenanigans. I commented that if I ever had a quarter life crisis it was right after college and I coped with it in all kinds of bad ways, but the worst was men. I did a fairly good job of concealing it (if you didn’t read my xanga, which most of my friends didn’t), so no one knew how out of control my behavior had become and no one staged an intervention to bring my back to myself, mainly because no one knew… or I guess even if they did, they didn’t think it was that out of character. And now, I find people encourage that behavior because it’s fun. But that’s a different post.
Then I talked to Jose, who very knowingly said something to the effect of “No you’re not having a quarter life crisis, stupid. Now get to writing.” This snapped be back to reality. I realized (remembered?) that I wasn’t having a quarter life crisis just as easily as I had dismissed it earlier. I am not in a crisis, not even financially even though I complain about it all the time. It’s more that I’m at a crossroad. At this point in my academic career, I have so many options, it’s a little scary – but not crisis scary. More of an exciting-and-I’m-lucky-to-have-this-”problem” scary. What my friends have started to call “first world problems.”
I’m guessing it’s because I have so many options that it looks like I’m out of control. There’s nothing wrong with options in my opinion. I know my boss and family would probably sleep easier if I would just commit to a path, but that’s never been my way. That doesn’t mean I’m in a crisis, it means I’m embracing an opportunity. I’m taking my time making a really important decision that has multiple right answers. I’m taking some pretty major risks, but I’ve always done that. Even when I’m acting crazy, I’ve always landed on my feet. Maybe I’ve tumbled a little upon hitting the ground, but I’ve always been able to dust myself off and get back up again. That’s what life is about.
This weekend my mother came down to help me declutter and to stage my apartment so I can get (yet another) roommate. I figured it would be all work and no play since I have a ton of stuff and we hadn’t planned any activities. In fact, I felt bad that all we could do is hang out with each other. But it turns out that was exactly what we both needed. We actually ended up chilling way more than working but it was so fun. Some of my best friends came down to hang out with my mom or just meet her for the first. We ate well, we drank a lot. We watched rom coms and talked about happiness and our dreams for the future. When it was done, I realized that this was easily the best weekend I’ve had all year and runner up for the most fun I’ve ever had in New York.
And it was all so simple. And that is so awesome. Just spending time with people that you love, that’s what it’s all about. And that’s what I love about New York. It’s not the night life or the shops; it’s that most of my favorite people in the entire world are here. And that it’s close enough for my mom, another one of my favs, to come down for the weekend.
And when it was over, something very strange happened. I missed my mom. Like really missed her. It was more strange considering I had just seen her the weekend before and I can very easily see her this weekend. I can talk to her all the time, in fact, I do. But after this weekend, I missed her. I still do.
But back to the subject at hand, this weekend reminded me that is really is all about the simple things. What a pleasant reminder.
Now honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about this film. On the one hand, I’m glad there is a film portraying how young women feel when their fathers aren’t around. And I really like that he shows the fathers how they make their daughters feel and I’m hoping the filmmaker tries to connect the father and daughter in the end. But what I do not like is a full minute of daughter’s crying, breaking completely down to get the point across. I think it is crazy exploitiative to have a film full of children crying and asking why their father doesn’t love them. And most, if not every, documentary of fatherlessness that I’ve seen uses this.
I am not saying that it’s not painful and that children don’t feel this way. I know they do because I used to feel that way. But there’s a fine line between showing a painful experience and exploiting it. I feel the same way about the documentary Dark Girls which only shows the most hurt of all darker women and portrays this idea that all dark women feel ugly and less than.
For fatherlessness documentaries, I agree that is important to show that it hurts children. I think it is also important to show that it doesn’t have to destroy them. Growing up without a father does not have to be a life sentence of pain, poverty or loneliness. Even if you don’t have a surrogate father to give you what you think a father should have given or taught you does not mean that you can’t have or learn certain things. Thus far in my interviews with adult women who have grown up without their fathers, there’s this profound sense of loss. This feeling that fathers hold a secret to love and to life and that they will never learn them because their father wasn’t there. And because they never learned it, they accept all kinds of grief in their lives because they believe they’ve missed out on some special gift, for lack of a better word, that only a father can give.
That’s not true. And that’s what I see in this film and it makes me sad. Yes, I think it is important. I will most likely support it financially and tell people to watch it. But I hope in the future, these types of documentaries will evolve and show that while it is painful, it is not the end of the world. You can grow up fatherless and be successful and happy and feel loved.