I love riding my bike. I feel awkward at first, moving so quickly without wearing any kind of seat belt, but then I begin to feel my chest and my breath expand. I suspect the reason I want to learn to ride a motorcycle is I imagine it will feel the same way except hopefully amplified.
My father was rarely around while I was growing up, even when I lived with him, but he did teach me to ride a bike. I don’t remember him taking the training wheels off and guiding me as I first learned, but I do remember riding around the townhouse complex by myself, with the sun shining and the ocean breeze blowing my hair behind me.
Here are my answers to a writing exercise from the book “Method and Madness: The Making of a Story.”
Things My Father Taught Me
How to drive a car
When I was 12 years old, he let me drive his Mercedes in a parking lot. He must have controlled the gas and brake pedals and let me steer because I think I was probably too short to reach both.
How to hold a grudge
When my father got angry with me during the last few letters we exchanged, he wrote hateful things about my mother from 20 years earlier, that even if they were true really didn’t matter anymore. My father never forgave his father, and while I feel like I’ve forgiven mine, I still feel pain and sadness, and I just keep having to accept it and let it go, again and again.
How to hide my anger
My father never hid his anger, he was quite comfortable yelling at any and everyone who didn’t give him exactly what he wanted when he wanted it. I however, was expected never to show my temper, especially at him.
How to accept blame
My father always used to say, “Everything I do, I do for you!” So, him breaking laws and getting arrested was basically my fault. It didn’t matter that I was only eight years old. Hell, I wasn’t even born yet the first time he broke the law, embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Things My Father Didn’t Teach Me
To give the benefit of the doubt
My father was paranoid, and for a long time I had difficulty trusting people. In his case, there really were people chasing after him, trying to bring him to justice for cheating at gambling.
How to let go of my anger without turning it in on myself
Whenever I felt angry at my father, I would feel guilty, since he taught me I wasn’t allowed to be angry at him, so I would get angry with myself. I blamed myself for not “saving” him. If I could have been the perfect daughter, he would have been able to turn his life around.
How to say, “I’m sorry”
My father and I exchanged letters for about four years while he was in prison the last time. I tried to explain to him why I’d been so angry with him, particularly about incidents in my childhood. He didn’t remember it the same way I did, and he didn’t feel sorry for any of the choices he’d made.
Not to give up
My father committed suicide in October 2012. I wish he could have had someone to help him get his depression treated. My husband helped me when I felt suicidal during my second pregnancy.
I’m embarrassed at how I seem to be whining in this exercise, but I feel like it’ coming from the eight-year-old inside me who’s still sad and hurt. My adult self feels disappointed at all the missed opportunities when my dad and I failed to connect. All I can do is make that much more of an effort with my own children.
What answers do you get when you try this exercise?