May 27, 2005

Boundaries, Walls, and other Good Building Materials

My stepfather had surgery yesterday and will probably be in the hospital for a week. He had part of his colon removed and that's about all I know because I'm getting the news from my sister. Even though I live 3 miles away from him. Sounds odd, doesn't it.

The last time I spoke to my stepfather it was to try to convince him to come to a family therapy session, which he never did. He's an accomplished man. I would say that he raised me from the time my mom remarried when I was 12, but he didn't raise me. He financially supported the household. The toll that took on him -- leaving his semi-career as a very good artist and photographer for a "real" career at Xerox to support our household -- was obvious and devastating to him. I suppose I owe him a thank you, but there are extenuating circumstances.

I never saw him draw after he married my mother. His pen-and-inks were astounding, but he couldn't, I guess, divide himself into the corporate man and the artist. He bought a professional drawing table, which was relegated to the basement, but he never used it. He packed his camera equipment away after they married. At first he would bring it out at family events, but as family events became more trouble than they were worth, he packed up that artistic outlet and put it in mothballs as well.

When I first met him, I liked him. I was 10. I showed him my artwork, my poetry. He was really interested. He showed me his pen and inks, his black-and-white photography. Even then I knew he was very, very good.

By the time they married, he had already traded in his leather hat for a leather briefcase, a suit and tie, and I hated him. I hated him for the bait and switch, I hated him for the meaningless drivel about "the office" that they would discuss over drinks each night. I hated him until I moved away from home.

I found once I was away from him, I had compassion for him. I respected him for his business sense. He taught us a lot about business and how to apply talent for money. He could be a bastard in business. I needed to learn how that was done.

The last time he was in the hospital, I was there directing doctors and demanding quality care. I was his advocate. Not because I ever loved him, but because I am good at that. Because I owed it to him, to them.

This time, I am not involved because I have extricated myself from the truly unhealthy spiral that is that household. I think about him, in his cotton hospital gown, remember how unlike the corporate hero he looked the last time I saw him in one of those. No briefcase. No tie. He might as well be naked.

If I were to visit him this day, I would bring him his bottle of ink and his pen and a grand canvas. I would tell him I was sorry for the life he suffered through before he ever met this family, and after, that I was sorry he was compelled to give up his art to be the savior of our family. And I wouldn't leave until he started to draw.

But it doesn't work that way.

No matter intention, it cannot work that way. You see? If it could work that way, nothing would have been the way it was in the first place. This is the tragedy of wounded people pretendng.

Pretending and pretending until we can't pretend anymore, until our breath is gone.

This is my family.