April 5, 2009

My Dad Painted My Nails and other musings

I sometimes wonder if my dad could be a secret feminist.

Now if you've heard about my daddy issues in the past, you may be wondering who abducted me and brainwashed me to say that.

Here's the deal: as much as my father tried to be a good one, let's face it (or rather, I should face it and have), he verbally & emotionally abused me for a good portion of my young life. He drank and did drugs which only heightened his mental illness, he robbed my mother to support his habit for YEARS and in one instance actually broke into our house, snuck into my room and stole change off my nightstand/LP player (that he gave me and we could never make work) while I was sleeping. I was in the house alone because that was after the period I started "watching myself".

I can get into that story later as it's actually pretty interesting and really set the proverbial axe on our relationship at that point. It's a page turner. But that's it in a nutshell. I woke up, caught him, and he excused himself to the End Times but that pretty much killed it.

A few rare times he actually even put his hands on me. Not beat me or touched inappropriately, but certainly forcefully handled. For years. He was really one big ol' factor as to why my life was a living hell for quite some time.

All that, and we go back to my first statement. If you didn't know all that, you must be boggling. What the HELL is on my mind? Well, wait before you punch me through the computer screen or start writing down numbers.

Dad wasn't all doom and gloom, which in itself was a problem. He's been diagnosed as schizophrenic and bipolar and I can certainly see it and I'd call it narcotic induced. So that meant that along with those horrible downtimes there were some interesting up times too.

For instance, my dad has always had really interesting views on masculinity & femininity that he tried to pass on to me. I'd call him pretty revolutionary. I remember dad imparting to me once that men should be feminine in the home. I was about 15 or so and I just kinda "..." 'd him because my dad's probably one of the manliest men I've ever known. But he likes to be glamorous--I mean like gay-camp-drag-queen glamorous. His morning routine is/was insane, with all sorts of moisteurizers and lemon juice and rubbing alcohol (don't ask me, I have no idea to this day). He can't stand being slobbish, not showering, or not having his hair cut regularly and expected the same standards of me (minus the hair cutting). Dad is...rather fly.

So he takes care of himself very well, is that so revolutionary? Considering his age (50s) and background I'd say so. One of my favorite stories to tell about him is the time he taught me to paint my nails. I was...probably in first grade or so and wanted to paint my nails. Mommy did it and I thought it looked pretty, so I took some of her nail polish and tried. I couldn't figure it out for the life of me, but then dad comes on the porch, sees the mess I'm making, and paints my nails effortlessly. If I could have I'd have been like "Daaayum."

I tell that story all the time, up to this day, and the reaction is usually the same: "Is your dad gay/effeminate?" usually preceeded by a "WTF"? Hell, at the time I wondered the same. My dad did my hair, not my mom. Dad was a real homebody and thoroughly domestic--he cooked & cleaned without being asked. He demanded to cook. He taught me how. When he got stressed or worried, he'd clean or cook. I watched this all the time and it just wasn't...normal. Daddies didn't just get the vacuum and go round the house while cooking greens on the stove did they?

Mom worked nights and dad watched me, which turned out to be a blessing and a curse. I'd say just about all the things I technically should have learned from my mother if we're going by gender roles, I learned from my dad. It might seem bizarre but I don't think it is anymore.

So, if we're going by gender standards, would my dad be considered...a woman? Huh. But cooking, cleaning & doing hair a "secret feminist" doth not make, so what put that idea in my head?

Well, me. When it came to me my dad, again, had two sides. One side was the controlling, domineering father that was the face of all the abuse I listed out above. But the other side was the one that generally loved me, and usually just let me BE ME, which was an important aspect during my childhood.

Let me explain. All my life it's usually been my extended family that looked down on me. I wasn't girlish enough, I didn't wear dressed, I didn't like boys, I was too smart (yeah I know), I didn't go out enough, I didn't like playing with other kids, I didn't like anybody. All those things made me decidedly unfeminine thus somehow lesser in their eyes. Mom unfortunately usually caved into these pressures as she truly wanted a girl child and got me *rolls eyes* Dad would do the same at times but, as it turned out later, he probably hates his family 10 times more than I do for A) questioning his parenting skills and choice of baby mama (my mom) and B) practically bullying me to be what I didn't want to be. Dad couldn't stand it and for the most part let me BE ME. He didn't try to force me into dresses or socialize me as a girl. He let me do what the fuck I wanted for the most part. He didn't try to force those so-called gender norms on me to try to make me a girly-girl like it seemed everyone else wanted from me. He wanted me to be strong. He wanted me to be a fighter no matter how hard I wanted to resist. When I just wanted to sit in the corner and read he wanted me to be loud. The only thing he was really concerned about for some reason was my hair, which is just a post of its own.

He raised me not to take shit, and years later it eventually sank in that no, I don't actually have to take shit from anyone--little did this know, that included him. 

So would that make my dad a "secret feminist"? Probably not, perhaps just a good parent will do. I can't say that all his positive parenting cancelled out the bullshit he put me through because it certainly does not. The man made mistakes and lots of them, and for the most part he's coming to terms and owning up to them. In some regards he's probably one of the most genuine black men I know, and in plenty of respects I'm actually glad I had him in my life (you know, when he wasn't yelling at me and shit).

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