Today, I received an email from my brother. The subject line read: Bad News. Living now for nearly three years outside of the US, if bad news arrives at all, it usually does by email. Several months ago, a close friend of the family emailed that my grandmother had passed, then a month later, my uncle. This morning, it was my father.
I hadn't seen my father in many years. To be precise, we met last in 1992 when I was still in the army, which makes it 14 years ago. In some ways, we were estranged. Male role models never played a formative part of my life (I've had three fathers: my birthfather, my adoptive father and my stepfather). In each case, they took a one-way ticket and left. My father, Roger, left when I was five and from that age until now I may have seen him maybe a handful times. That figures in around 5 times in 30 years.
I remember writing him letters on childrens stationary with stickers and crayons telling him how much I missed and loved him. I fantasized moving to Wyoming to be with him, working as a cowhand on some dusty ranch. Me, the 10 year old bronco swilling beer and branding cattle. Then I grew up a bit and slowly came to realize that there really may have been something wrong with my father.
My mother has always been forgiving towards my father. She recently once admitted that she always loved him. He was certifiably mentally ill, diagnosed with paranoia and schizophrenia. It sometimes became so bad that I would get letters in the mail from his alter ego, Rusty Stone. It sounds funny, but it's really the worst thing not to hear from your Dad in months or years and then a letter arrives and it's just not the same person. I eventually decided to not take it too hard and that's when I began ignoring him. Not with any malice, but because I was both busy and that it was just the simplest thing to do. That started when I was in high school and continued to this day. Now that he's gone, I have mixed feelings. I didn't mean to be the son that wouldn't speak to his father, as if it were some made-for-tv script. In fact I only found out he had cancer in the last couple of months. No one shares this news with us, so I guess it goes both ways.
I always felt concerned for my younger brother, who was in fact my Dad's natural born. I remember when Dad was around the house, but my brother was just a year old when he left. It seems that the male line of Streitmatter's have had a medical history of mental illness. But Joe turned out strong and he's a brother I'm extremely proud of.
A month ago, Mom forwarded me a letter from him. He indicated nothing was wrong with his health. He asked me to believe in Jesus, to keep my US citizenship. He wondered if we have ice cream or monkeys in Vietnam and if I'm ever going to write him. He said, now it's your turn to write. And the other half of the letter was from Rusty, who wrote me a poem. Rusty saw a Korean adoptee and that boy reminded him of me and he began to realize that he missed me.
He wrote: "In my bible it says come unto me, you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. I'm resting."
I imagined my father's death countless times. It was a good way to get out a cry, like a method actor. Where would I be? What would I feel. As with my grandmother, it was always clear: She loved me and knew I loved her. But with my father, its not as straight cut. Did I really love him or was I simply obligated to love him. Perhaps I sympathized for him as much as I loved him, and I certainly feel both today. So with that, I love you Dad. I hope you understand where I'm coming from.
I feel that I'm zoning out...
Posted by on May 24, 2006 1:59 PM | Permalink