Note from Head to Heart: Some Bridges Can’t Be Mended


“Father and Daughter” Victoria Rhodehouse

I guess I am a mystical kind of person.  For the past two weeks, I have been dreaming of my Grandfather and I always take that to be some kind of sign, you know, from heaven I guess. In my dreams I could smell him, see his lumberjack red and black jacket and he was trying to tell me something.  I thought I knew what it was.  I thought he was telling me that I needed to reach out to my Father and try to mend bridges.

Once upon a time, I was the biggest daddy’s girl you had ever met.  I was fiercely in love with my Dad, the way that most girls are.  He always wore dress shirts and smelled like good cologne.  He always shaved (except this weird phase where he briefly rocked a short beard).  My handsome Italian daddy would make all the girls swoon.  He was strong too.  Good with money and finance, and people liked him a lot.  He was the life of the party, but also serious, driven and contemplative.

I loved my father more than my mother.  I know now that my mother has some psychological conditions.  I spent a lifetime trying to “save her” or have the kind of relationship I wanted with her; but she didn’t like me.  I think it was intimidating for her to have this lucid, smart ass, super smart kid who made her feel stupid.  I never tried to.  My mom can’t write three sentences without anxiety, or twenty spelling errors.  She left high-school I think at grade ten, and worked factory jobs her whole life.  She never felt good enough to her own mom, an inheritance and replication of relationship models I can definitely relate to.

And so, for people I love, I am a cheer leader.  YOU ARE good enough.  It’s how I am raising my step-son’s too, because I know what it is like to crave approval, and never get it, or feel it, from a parent.  There is a certain emptiness you feel when you never measure up, and it never goes away, despite what the therapist tells you.

So back to the bad dreams.

I’m missing home terribly, this third Christmas away from my family and best friends.  Turns out I failed to read some of the fine print, and getting a passport while your Green Card is up for renewal is not possible.  I was to try to go in January, and be there for a marketing event for a Toronto client, and then (in a lovely planned coincidence) be there to celebrate my sisters birthday on January 19th.  I was saving and planning a great visit with the most important people in my life; cousins who are like brothers and sisters, a sister I haven’t hugged for years (in the same room kind of hugging, not like… Skype hugs).  In all my relationship with Diane, which is now more than ten years old, I have always talked her head off.  Now, when I am feeling low, I imagine myself sitting in her kitchen, watching her cook and just listening.  Listening… and listening to the sound of her voice, watching her move with the expert skill of an Iron Chef (girl can cook!) and saying nothing at all.  Sometimes I close my eyes and I can see her whole log cabin, the big fire place and the red velvety couch I love so much.  With blankets on it, because the cats shed.

There are many people in my father’s world that he was able to push around.  Or, more evolved humans, that were capable of asserting their own opinion and disregarding his huffing and puffing (he likes to be “right”).  Really, your average Italian man.  For whatever reason, and maybe it was because of my unique relationship with him, I rebelled.  I challenged his opinions.  I assured him that I was entitled to my own, while respecting his.  I didn’t let him “boss me” and that pissed him off.  He liked to dominate.

Back to my Nonno and misleading dreams.

I’ve been feeling like a horrible person.  I mean, what if there is something wrong with me, that doesn’t allow me to make friends here in Texas?  How can I explain that I have permanently deleted my own biological mother from my life, for her toxic, abusive and frankly psychotic lifelong treatment of me?  Forgive me the Marlboro’s right now (I’m trying to quit again).  I try not to let so many things derail me, and one of them is feeling like an orphan.   The only person I talk to about it, is Kevin though.  I don’t expect a “pity party” (wait I tell Diane too!), and if you throw me one, I won’t show up.

I don’t have empathy for myself, let alone the capacity to tolerate it from others.  Which I am sure… makes it hard AF to get to know me, trust me, or build a relationship with me.  I need the walls to hold my shit together… I’m aware that they also keep people out, and make me feel lonely.

I’ve wanted to call my Dad for years.  I’ve blogged about it, ramped up and tried to do it so many times.  Talked to my sister about it about a million times… “Do you think he misses me?”, or “Does he actually want to talk to me?” and the big atom bomb that was the blow up in our extended family after my Grandfather’s death comes up, over and over and over and over and over again.

The summary: “My Aunts and Uncles didn’t trust each other with the stewardship of the property and financial details of my Grandmother’s estate after my Nonno died.  And shit hit the fan.  And all the kids were dragged into a World War III scenario… where we were told to choose sides.”

I couldn’t.  But I guess my actions were interpreted as choosing a side, when I refused to go against my Aunt.  You see, during every bad time in my life, when my parents were fighting, divorcing… there was my Aunt.  I knew her house better than my own.  I would cry when she would spend the time with me, talking to me about life, and giving me all the things I was lacking in a mother.  She made me feel “good enough”.  She made me feel “protected and understood” and she made me feel like I mattered.   My parents didn’t have much use for us after they got remarried.  Craving roots, I had my Zia Antonietta and my Godparents who gave me what I needed most.  Love.

Was it surprising that I refused to go against them?  I guess so.  I guess my distant, critical father who seemed embroiled in a fight to end all fights with his brothers and sisters, was more interested in the war, than in keeping us clear of it.  Us being the kids.  My cousins, my sister… we all have the exit wounds.  And they still hurt.  But I am proud to say that perhaps the experience molded us into better people.  I can say for all of us, that my cousins and sister are caring, loving and generous people who prefer peace than conflict.

And they are raising their kids the same way. Relationships matter more than money.

So today I called my Father.  It didn’t go as I hoped it would go.  I tried really hard to focus on a pleasant conversation about “the here and now”, explained that he has grandsons that want to know him.  Told him I loved and missed him terribly.  I told him about the dreams.   He was upset.  Angry.  Accusatory.  And I guess I know where I inherited my spiteful argument style from, because he threw out something that Kevin doesn’t think is true, but it sank into me like a dagger.

“It’s been 13 years and now you call me? If you want the truth, I haven’t missed you at all.”

“It will be seven years in May.  I know.  I’ve been counting.”

I went numb.  Got a frog in my throat and a buzzing in my ear.  I lose sound when someone hits me full on with something that painful.  Haven’t had my heart broken in a few years.  I guess I was over due.

And I thought it was God nudging me.  Or my Grandfather nudging me.  But it turns out, I was just a girl missing her Dad, whose subconscious mind played a game on her, and spun a fantasy that maybe, if I was brave enough to try, that I could fix something that wasn’t my fault.   That I could rebuild a bridge.   The angry, spiteful part of me I expected to come roaring back after the call, still hasn’t an hour later.  I just keep hearing that sentence over and over again. And I can’t stop crying.

And when he asked me “Why now???? Why are you calling me now???” I simply said (doing a shit job at choking back the tears)… “I love you and miss you.”

I want to be angry.  I just can’t.  I didn’t give him wiggle room to be a revisionist of history, and he hates that.  But I am me.  I’m clear on what I saw, what I did, and what I said.  And how it felt to have my family collapse into dust around me, leaving me alone.

So I guess the important lesson for me today is knowing that loving someone, doesn’t mean they will love you in return.  The real kind of love is a rare thing; actionable, not just words.  And when I find myself sliding into that place where I pine for my Father, I have a sentence to pull me back to reality, and remind myself that what I feel must be the most cruel kind of illusion.  I’m a writer.  Most of the things I hold on to as ideals and wants, are really just in my head.   And maybe I’m just not good enough, or magical enough, to make them real.  Ever.

I guess a relationship with my parents was never in the cards.  So head said to heart “Stop pining for the impossible.  Life goes on.”

But my heart couldn’t be reached for comment.