Room for Love
Things were looking up. The combination of exercise, therapy, antidepressants, and writing was making my life feel something like…well, a life. Jack and I were having fun, growing closer for the first time in a long time. We wanted to grow our family. I felt a deep urge to have another child, depression-free this time. I was enjoying my son more than ever. Why shouldn’t I have more? I was almost ready. It seemed that part of my recovery from postpartum depression was still tied up with my history, with my father. I had already made peace with my mother. It had taken her a long time to break free from her relationship with my father, but we had forged a deep connection as survivors of his abuse.
I had ended all contact with my father six years before, At the time Jack and I were living together and about to get married. I simply lost the energy and will to participate in an abusive relationship that showed no signs of improvement. I needed the room for people who supported me.
The final straw with my father was a phone conversation we had several weeks before my wedding. I had tried to limit our contact to rare phone conversations but he hadn’t responded well to that. He had been leaving messages on my answering machine weekly, expressing an increasing anger that I didn’t have time for him.
One day, fed up and heart pounding, I picked up the phone.
“Hi Dad. Listen, about the messages you’ve been leaving…”
“Hi Becks! Listen, I need to talk to you about Marc. You need to disinvite him.”
Marc had been best friends with my parents for over thirty years and a second, safe father to me and my sister. I couldn’t believe it. It took a second to sink in.
“To the wedding? Dad, why? I don’t think I can do that.”
“Oh, you have to. He isn’t a good friend to me. He’s interested in your mother. Marc’s an asshole.”
I tried not to provoke him, not to let the fire building in my head show. “Look Dad, you are going to have to tell him yourself. I’m not getting involved.”
“My reasons are none of your concern. Just disinvite him. He’s a creep and an asshole. A real con artist. There are a lot of things you don’t know about. A whole history. You know that successful business he has? He made all that money in his travel business. Well, I came up with that idea. He edged me out of that whole thing. Right around the time your grandfather sabotaged my whole business career.”
“Then tell him yourself about the wedding.”
“Listen, I’m your father. I’m helping pay for this wedding. Call him.”
I sat down and violently kicked off my shoes. I stood back up. I was sweating. He knew perfectly well that Jack and I were paying for the wedding. And that it had been years since he had done any real “work” for the salary my grandfather paid him. “I’m done talking about this. The subject is closed! I’m done talking to you.”
“You are just like your mother. You women are always against me. She’s really an asshole too you know. Butts her fat ass into everything. Tries to control everything.”
“Dad, this conversation is over. I need to go.” Now I was crying.
“What the fuck are you talking about? Oh you’re crying now. You need to get a thicker skin. You know, you are always trying to manage me, tell me what to do. Why are you so rigid? I know you have your own personal problems, but you’re letting your psychological problems affect our relationship. I’m just making a simple request. I’m your father. You owe me this”
“I’m not doing this. Not anymore. Fuck you!” and I hung up, sobbing. Jack had heard the yelling and came in to the bedroom where I was, with my hands over my face.
“He’s crazy! He insisted I disinvite Marc and made all these bizarre accusations. I’m at the end, really the end. I don’t know what to do anymore. He’s so awful. All I’ve done since college is try to get through to him, try to come to some sort of peace with him.”
Jack put his hand on my shoulder. “I want you to do something. Come over here and look in the mirror. Look.”
I did. My face was swollen from crying: ugly, worked over, red, and tired. I looked into my own eyes, the only part of my face I recognized.
Jack said “You’ve spent your whole life trying with him. Look at yourself. It’s okay to be done. Be done, Becca.”
I wasn’t ready to tell my father not to come to the wedding. Even though he had become increasingly unstable and abusive, if he wasn’t there, my whole extended family would focus on his absence. He would hide it from them anyway. We had kept such a big secret from them for so many years, I didn’t want his absence at my wedding to be the forum for revealing the man my father was. So Jack and I came up with a solution.
A few days after the argument with my father Jack called him and told him the only way he was invited to the wedding was as an appreciative guest, and that he would be asked to leave if he caused any trouble.
Miraculously, he faded in to the background and our day was our day. The ceremony was small and intimate. The moment after we kissed, our witness presented us with a glass to break. It was a somewhat sexist tradition, as the man was always the one to break the glass, but somehow it didn’t feel like a Jewish wedding until the glass was broken. It had taken Jack and I awhile to find a way to keep it in.
At first, I fantasized about breaking it myself, and slipping on a combat boot to do it. But I realized it wasn’t a guerilla theater performance, it was a wedding. I wanted to wear my own shoes, a pair that matched my sundress. Finally, we decided to get a long champagne flute, one that would allow both of us to break the glass, together. My maternal grandmother still talks about the moment when she saw my “little foot fly”. It was a first for our family, a truly independent woman. The reception was a dream-time. The crowd lifted us up on chairs as we danced to Hava Nagila. Love seeped in like heat through my skin.
Days after the wedding, I wrote my dad a letter ending all contact with him. A couple months later we moved to San Francisco so I could pursue graduate work and Jack could grow his start-up. The letter to Dad did not include my new address or phone number. In the days after I sent the letter I felt safe, free.
Now, I see that saying goodbye to my father was my way of letting the idea of becoming pregnant into my heart. I needed to embrace that scared girl, make her safe, to let a new life in. Conceiving a child is not just a physical act– I needed to make room in my mind and heart as well as my body. I wanted to be free to experience the love I was beginning to see could be a constant in my life. A year later we were pregnant with Simon.
Now, as my postpartum depression was becoming a memory, I wanted to be ready to let life in again. I felt stronger. Strong enough to dream about welcoming another baby into the world. Maybe it was time to take another step forward. To put my relationship with my dad to rest and let my life expand into the space I was creating.