My father: my savior, my best friend, my confidante. Funder from afar of gymnastics lessons, giver of “kissies” over the phone, called me Princess, called me Peter Pan, photos of infant me sleeping on his chest, love of mine, I love you, dad. I call him with my good news, I call him with my bad. Picture him this way first, eyes squinting to nothing when he smiles. See his Vietnam photo with his hand raised like a wave or maybe saying stop, baby-man in combat, up all night forevermore drinking it away. Understand our lineage: newspaper clip from the early 1900s, Clem Bieker given ten lashes on his bare back for “wife-beating” but the whipping post did him no good. Say it runs in the blood, say it’s a generational disease, and it is, it’s all of that, our curse. Understand my father’s boyhood, hiding under tables while his father beat his mother. See him old now, body stooped, still unable to sleep, half a mind at war, ready for the next bomb to explode. See him hold my son with awe, hands shaking, hear him ask about my daughter, whole voice alight. See him this way first because it’s how I see him, somehow, despite everything.
After my mother left me when I was nine, I was made to give a testimony in front of a judge about our life and answer questions. I answered every single one truthfully. I don’t remember what I said, only that I was honest. That’s what my father told me to be. I was not in trouble. I just had to be honest. “Tell them what she put you through,” he said on our drive there. He had appeared the day before as if my desire itself had conjured him, picked me up and bought me new clothes for the occasion. Clean socks pulled up to my knees, a pale-yellow cotton shirt. Nothing smelled like me anymore, or like my mother’s cigarettes. There he was, my father, with me, there for me, saving me. He had flown to me from his job an ocean away, and it was time for the truth about my mother’s alcoholism. It was time to remove me for real, court approved. He had to make a grand gesture now that she had actually left, his letters with survival instructions at the bottom no longer enough for me to get through the dysfunction: If things get too bad there, remember—9-1-1. Read More