A Good Man / Un Buen Hombre

La versión español está después de la versión inglés.

I WROTE THIS LAST WEEK AFTER an especially bad day (in my head). At first I thought I’d share it with you. Then I thought I wouldn’t. And back and forth I went until, here I am. I’ve written before about my problems with clinical depression. It helps me to be honest and share my experiences, something I wasn’t always able to do. In addition to the catharsis I experience, I always hope someone might read my “confessions” and feel a bit less alone, a bit more hopeful (I always survive) — a bit less crazy. Maybe it will make a parent more aware of the impact of their words. I’m not rock bottom. That’s the way it goes. Anyway, I wasn’t really rock bottom that day, just at a low point. I’ll share something light and cheery tomorrow. Cats, perhaps?

ESCRIBÍ ESTO LA SEMANA PASADA, después de un día especialmente malo (en mi cabeza). Al principio pensé en compartirlo contigo. Entonces pensé que no lo haría. Y de ida y vuelta fui hasta que aquí estoy. He escrito antes sobre mis problemas con la depresión clínica. Me ayuda a ser honesto y compartir mis experiencias, algo que no siempre pude hacer. Además de la catarsis que experimento, siempre espero que alguien lea mis “confesiones” y se sienta un poco menos solo, un poco más esperanzado (siempre sobrevivo) — un poco menos loco. Tal vez hará que un padre sea más consciente del impacto de sus palabras. Ahora no estoy en el fondo. Así es como funciona. De todos modos, no estaba realmente en el fondo ese día, solo en un punto bajo. Compartiré algo ligero y alegre mañana. ¿Gatos, tal vez?

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WHENEVER I SPEAK about my father, I seem to begin with the statement: My father was a good man. 

My father was generous. Responsible. Hard-working. A good provider. He was well liked. Men and women admired him. As children and as adults, my friends and my cousins adored him. He and my mother loved each other. Other children would tell me they wished we could trade parents. Mine were so cool. And so attractive. I saw two childhood acquaintances when we lived in San Francisco. A brother and sister I hadn’t seen in more than 20 years. They both had disappointing relationships with their parents and couldn’t stop talking about how much they had always envied me my perfect family. I wanted to be just like my father. Handsome, popular, manly.

If I were to continue speaking about my father, I might then explain that he wasn’t the same person with his own children. He had a short fuse, a vicious temper. And, although he was not physically abusive, he was so verbally abusive that he permanently damaged the psyches of both my sister, Dale, and me. My mother was more passive aggressive. But they were both good people. And they adored each other.

Dale had the misfortune (in my depression, I first wrote good fortune) to die of cancer at the age of 29 after an illness that lasted more than three years. I finally saw how much my father adored her in the moments after she died. He was destroyed. I hope she knew.

He managed to reign in his rages and cruelty with The Kid Brother, who, having been on the sidelines, still knew to respect his power. With Dale and me there was no restraint. As I got older I discovered that, although I didn’t consider myself handsome, manly, or popular, I could mirror my father perfectly in my anger.

By the time my father died 33 years ago at the age of 60, all I could see in his face was regret. But, by then, we couldn’t fix it. I worked for years after to lose the angry part of him that had grown so strong in me. I’ve been mostly successful.

I’m 65 years old. On my bad days, I can still hear my father’s voice raging at me (and Dale). Out of control, biting off every furious sentence.

When I was 11, I asked my mother why my father didn’t like me. She replied, “It’s not that he doesn’t like you; he’s just disappointed in you.” I was a good student, had some talents, was devoted to my special needs brother, never got into any trouble. So, I assumed it was because I wasn’t “manly” enough. Then again, why didn’t he seem to like Dale either? But, thanks, Mom. You were supposed to say, “Oh, he loves you, he just doesn’t know how to show it.”

I can remember exactly where I was sitting at the kitchen table, what was in front of me (the green re-used prune juice bottle filled with ice water from the refrigerator, the tall glass with the regal, gold and rust-colored pattern encircling it), and where my mother stood that day when she made the wound deeper.

Many years later, after Dale and my father were both gone, my mother was visiting San Geraldo and me in San Diego and we were with close friends for dinner. One shared her coming out story with my mother. My mother then told us all that, when I was about 5, my parents were watching from a window as I played outside with some neighborhood kids and my father turned to her and said, “…in disgust, ‘That kid’s a fairy!’”

Surprisingly, my father couldn’t have been more supportive when I came out at the age of 27, after Dale had died. It’s the first time he hugged and kissed me in my entire adult life. As a matter of fact, I don’t ever remember a hug or kiss during my childhood. My mother wasn’t as kind when I came out. But she finally came around and was exceptional. 

After my father died, my mother would regale me with unflattering stories about my father’s parents. She had always made it clear she didn’t like them. She said my grandfather was cruel to my father and never gave him credit for being able to do anything right. She said, “Imagine a father being like that.” I said, “I don’t have to imagine. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.” She just continued talking. 

In recent years I saw a second-cousin I have always adored and who’s significantly my junior. I was stunned when she told me she was afraid of my father. As far as I knew, no one except Dale and me was afraid of my father. My cousin remembered when she was young, less than 10 (so I was already in my 20s and out of the house), and the entire extended family was at a party hosted by my parents. She was passing the long hall that led to my parents’ bedroom when she heard my father’s voice raised in anger. She said he was in such a rage that it terrified her. She has no idea who was with him. He left the room and his facial expression was one she’d never seen before. I think she called it “frightening.” And then, just like that, it was gone. He returned to the party and smiled and joked and charmed. But she never felt the same about him. That revelation was so important to me. I thought it might even be “the cure.” It wasn’t. 

Since childhood, when I would make the slightest little mistake I would hear my father’s voice in my head whether he was there or not. I secretly began to slap myself in the head. Hard. I continued throughout my life. It’s not something I could ever admit to anyone, not even San Geraldo, until it happened during a major depressive crash in Sevilla about eight years ago. I hadn’t done it for such a long time. But that instance was understandable. After all, I had made the tragic mistake of dropping a sock from the clothesline into the courtyard three stories below. “Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!,” is what I said as I slapped myself hard in the head. I don’t know if I was trying to knock my father’s voice out of my head or simply hitting myself as hard and as hatefully as I always imagined he wanted to.

A number of studies have determined that verbal/emotional abuse in childhood can often have more damaging and lasting effects than physical abuse (that is, of course, if a child actually survives the physical abuse).

The other day, while in a depressive slump, I carelessly stepped on something I didn’t know was on the floor. San Geraldo said, “Oh, be careful.” That’s all he said. A tiny plastic piece, of no consequence, broke off. But I immediately heard my father. His voice was so loud I was sure SG could hear him, too. Anyway, he took one look at my face and he knew. He soothingly said, “It’s nothing. I’m not your father. Don’t listen to him.” Still, I walked out to our utility room and made my head hurt.

My father was a good man. And that made it all worse.

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CUANDO HABLO DE mi padre, parece que empiezo con la afirmación: Mi padre era un buen hombre.

Mi padre fue generoso. Responsable. Trabajo duro. Un buen proveedor. El era muy querido. Hombres y mujeres lo admiraban. Como niños y como adultos, mis amigos y mis primos lo adoraban. Él y mi madre se amaban. Otros niños me dirían que desearían poder intercambiar padres. Los míos eran geniales. Y muy atractivo. Siempre quise ser como mi padre. Guapo, popular, varonil.

Si continuara hablando de mi padre, podría explicarle que no era la misma persona con sus propios hijos. Tenía una mecha corta, un temperamento vicioso. Y, aunque no era físicamente abusivo, era tan verbalmente abusivo que dañó permanentemente las mentes tanto de mi hermana, Dale, como de mí.

Dale tuvo la desgracia (en mi depresión, primero escribí buena fortuna) de morir de cáncer a la edad de 29 años después de una enfermedad que duró más de tres años. Finalmente vi cuánto nuestro padre la adoraba en los momentos posteriores a su muerte. El fue destruido. Espero que ella lo supiera.

Se las arregló para reinar en su ira y crueldad con El Hermanito, quien, al haber estado al margen, todavía sabía respetar su poder. Con Dale y conmigo no hubo restricción. A medida que crecía descubrí que, aunque no me consideraba guapo, varonil, o popular, podía reflejar perfectamente a mi padre en mi ira.

Cuando mi padre murió hace 33 años a la edad de 60 años, todo lo que pude ver en su rostro fue arrepentimiento. Pero, para entonces, no pudimos solucionarlo. Trabajé durante años para perder la parte enojada de él que había logrado heredar (y tan perfectamente perfecto). Ha funcionado principalmente. Excepto contra mí mismo.

Tengo 65 años. En mis días malos, todavía puedo escuchar la voz de mi padre enfureciéndose contra mí (y Dale). Fuera de control, mordiendo cada frase enojada.

Cuando tenía 11 años, le pregunté a mi madre por qué a mi padre no le caía bien y ella respondió: “No es que no te gustes; solo está decepcionado de ti”. Yo era un buen estudiante, cuidaba a mi hermano, nunca me metí en problemas. Entonces, sabía que era porque no era lo suficientemente “varonil”. Por otra parte, ¿por qué a él tampoco parecía gustarle Dale? Pero, gracias, mamá. Ella siempre fue sutil.

Puedo recordar exactamente dónde estaba sentado en la mesa de la cocina, lo que estaba frente a mí — la botella de jugo de ciruela reutilizada llena de agua helada del refrigerador; el vaso alto con el patrón real de los colores oro y rojo; y dónde estaba mi madre ese día cuando hizo la herida más profunda. Se suponía que debía decir: “Oh, él te ama, simplemente no sabe cómo demostrarlo”.

Muchos años después, después de que Dale y mi padre se fueron, mi madre nos visitó en San Diego y estuvimos con amigas para cenar. Mi madre nos contó que, cuando tenía unos 5 años, mis padres estaban mirando desde una ventana mientras jugaba afuera con algunos niños del barrio y mi padre se volvió hacia ella y le dijo: “… disgustada, ‘Ese niño es un maricón!”

Sorprendentemente, mi padre no pudo haber sido más solidario cuando salí del armario a la edad de 27 años. Es la primera vez que me abraza y besa en toda mi vida adulta. De hecho, nunca recuerdo un abrazo o beso durante mi infancia. Mi madre no era tan amable. Pero ella finalmente dio la vuelta y fue excepcional.

Después de la muerte de mi padre, mi madre me regalaba historias poco halagadoras sobre los padres de mi padre. Ella siempre había dejado en claro que no le gustaban. Ella dijo que mi abuelo fue cruel con mi padre y que nunca le dio crédito por poder hacer algo bien. Ella dijo: “Imagine que un padre es así”. Le dije: “No tengo que imaginarlo. La manzana no cayó lejos del árbol”. Ella solo siguió hablando.

En años recientes vi a una prima segunda que realmente amo y que es significativamente menor que yo. Me sorprendió cuando ella me dijo que tenía miedo de mi padre. Hasta donde yo sabía, nadie tenía miedo de mi padre, excepto Dale y yo. Mi prima recordaba cuando era joven, menos de 10 años, y toda la familia estaba en una fiesta organizada por mis padres. Estaba pasando por el largo pasillo que conducía al dormitorio de mis padres cuando escuchó la voz de mi padre levantada de ira. Ella dijo que estaba tan furioso que la aterrorizó. Ella no tiene idea de quién estaba con él. Él salió de la habitación y su expresión facial era una que ella nunca había visto antes. Creo que ella lo llamó “aterrador”. Y luego, así como así, desapareció. Él regresó a la fiesta y sonrió, bromeó, y encantó. Pero ella nunca sintió lo mismo por él. Esa revelación fue muy importante para mí. Pensé que incluso podría ser “la cura”. No lo fue.

Desde la infancia, cuando cometía el más mínimo error, oía la voz de mi padre en mi cabeza si él estaba allí o no. Secretamente comencé a golpearme en la cabeza. Con fuerza. Continué durante toda mi vida. No es algo que pueda admitir a nadie, ni siquiera a San Geraldo, hasta que sucedió durante un episodio depresivo mayor en Sevilla hace unos ocho años. No lo había hecho en mucho tiempo. Pero ese tiempo fue comprensible. Después de todo, cometí el trágico error de tirar un calcetín del tendedero al patio tres pisos más abajo. “¡Estúpido! ¡Estúpido! ¡Estúpido!” Es lo que dije mientras me abofeteaba hasta que me dolía la cabeza. No sé si estaba tratando de sacar la voz de mi padre de mi cabeza o simplemente golpearme tan fuerte y tan odiosamente como siempre imaginé que él quería.

Varios estudios han determinado que el abuso verbal/emocional en la infancia a menudo puede tener efectos más dañinos y duraderos que el abuso físico (es decir, si un niño realmente sobrevive al abuso físico).

El otro día, mientras estaba en una depresión, pisé descuidadamente algo que no sabía que estaba en el suelo. San Geraldo dijo: “Oh, ten cuidado”. Eso es todo lo que dijo. Una pequeña pieza de plástico, sin consecuencias, se rompió. Pero inmediatamente escuché a mi padre. Su voz era tan fuerte que estaba segura de que SG también podía escucharlo. De todos modos, me miró a la cara y lo supo. Él dijo con dulzura: “No es nada. No soy tu padre No lo escuches”. Aun así, salí a nuestro lavandería e hice que me doliera la cabeza.

Mi padre era un buen hombre. Y eso lo empeoró todo.

The video clip is from “American Beauty.” When we saw this, people in the audience laughed. I felt shame. (Although I slapped my temples, not my face.)
El video es de “American Beauty”. Cuando vimos esto, la gente del público se echó a reír. Sentí vergüenza. (Aunque me abofeteé las sienes, no la cara).

Author: Moving with Mitchell

From Brooklyn, New York; to North Massapequa; back to Brooklyn; Brockport, New York; back to Brooklyn... To Boston, Massachusetts, where I met Jerry... To Marina del Rey, California; Washington, DC; New Haven and Guilford, Connecticut; San Diego, San Francisco, Palm Springs, and Santa Barbara, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Irvine, California; Sevilla, Spain. And Fuengirola, Málaga..

38 thoughts on “A Good Man / Un Buen Hombre”

  1. Oh Mitch……I am in awe of you sharing this very personal part of your life. You are very effectively bringing that ‘pattern of abuse’ to an end. I so admire your strength and compassion. I know it is not always there when you need it….but is always there for you to hold on to.
    The ‘hug’ incident rang true for me as I am sure it did for many out there.
    Thank you for sharing this.

    1. Jim:
      I had a major debate with myself but I’m glad I finally decided to share it as I wrote it. Thanks for your kind words.

  2. You are good, you are bright, you are talented, you are manly, you are loved, you can out-write the best of them, you are handsome, (you have taken good care of yourself.) I call these the ghosts of the past, for me it is mostly my mother, I still don’t have the strength to talk about the contradictions that she could be. Origin is not destiny, we are just fine as we are.

  3. I am also 65.5. I have managed to silence the voices that for years told me “you’re no good, you are stupid/dumb/ugly, you will never amount to anything.” 4 years of therapy, a case of cancer, a better second husband all helped. “divorcing” the parental units helped a great deal; have not seen/spoken to them since 1988. no more negative energy from those “people”.

    I AM STRONG, I AM INVINCIBLE, I AM WOMAN HEAR ME ROAR!

    1. anne marie:
      Good for you. Yes, you are wise! Yes, you’ve paid the price, but look how much you’ve gained!

  4. Scars from childhood emotional abuse run very deep indeed. It’s often the work of a lifetime to overcome them. I had a Jekyll-and-Hyde father too. Always so charming to everyone but his family. I feel your pain, Mitchell.

    1. Debra:
      I think we find a lot of kindred spirits here online. Thanks. I’m glad you’ve survived yours, too!

    1. larrymuffin:
      Thanks for reading and being so kind. It definitely helped me to tell yet another story.

  5. I’ve been through similar things, exacerbated by a precarious economic situation growing up. I never came out to my parents when they were still alive, simply because I couldn’t even come out to myself (despite having “experimented” time and time again.) Some day I may write something autobiographical, but for now I want to write a novel about people much bolder than myself, those involved in the early 1970s Gay Liberation Movement. Speaking of autobiographical, this comment is becoming that, isn’t it? This is supposed to be about you, not me.

    In the 1990 Kurt Vonnegut novel Hocus Pocus, a man who lived through the atom bombing of Hiroshima as a child and somehow survived, tells his story to the novel’s protagonist, who can only reply, “Thank you for sharing that with me.” Afterwards, the protagonist informs the reader that he thinks the expression originated in California. Wherever it originated, that’s what I now say to you.

    1. Kirk:
      No, this is not supposed to only be about me. Thank you so much for sharing a bit of your story! I came out in ’81 when so much work had already been done by others, but it still wasn’t always easy. SG came out in the early ’70s. He was very involved in the gay rights movement, volunteered at a crisis center, and had so many powerful experiences. He’s been writing about those experiences. I would love to read your novel.

    1. Anonymous(?):
      I decided a long time ago that I would never have kids because I was so afraid I wouldn’t be able to avoid being like my parents (who really did care and meant well… but…). I also thought that after feeling like I had raised my brother, and always being told he would be mine when my parents were gone, that I couldn’t cope with the thought of having a special needs child of my own. I made the right decision. I taught briefly and could regularly see that anger and frustration bubble up. It continued in my work life for years. I’ve got the right temperament I think now, but it’s much more fun being an uncle/friend.

  6. YOU are the good man Mitchell! The cycle stopped with you. Like anon said above, no doubt you would have been a great parent.

    Hearing the voices of not just one, but two of my mama’s husbands in my head, I always comforted myself with the thought that my “real” father wouldn’t be like that. That was my way of coping.

  7. Oh, Mitchell……………… thank you for sharing that with us. I hope that doing so lightened the load just a tiny bit for you. Because you are among friends here, and loved. I am in awe of your strength.

    Hugs to you, my friend.

    1. Judith:
      I too am so glad I have Jerry! I know my father never meant to hurt us the way he did. By the end I could see how much it had hurt him. If we could talk now, we could heal a lot, but 30+ years ago I wasn’t ready to forgive or face up to it (or him).

  8. I don’t know how I missed this one, perhaps my head cold, but thank you so much for sharing this story, no matter how painful.

    I can relate because I, too, had the so-called perfect parents, and while they were good people, they weren’t always the best people. And I have learned that none of us are, but we have to pick ourselves up,and try again. Mt relationship with my father has gone from being mostly ignoring one another and not really speaking–and definitely not listening–to one of closeness and friendship. I like my dad now, but I remember the distance.
    It’s not my fault, and it’s not your fault.
    You deserved better and then along came SG.

    1. Bob:
      Yes, and then along came SG! It warms my heart to read about your current relationship with your father. I hope you’re feeling a lot better… and that Carlos is being very kind.

  9. Not Uncle Davey! I guess I was lucky in that I only saw the fun side of him.

    This Be The Verse
    BY PHILIP LARKIN

    They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
    They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.

    But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
    Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.

    Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
    Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.

    Philip Larkin, “This Be the Verse” from Collected Poems. Copyright © Estate of Philip Larkin. Reprinted by permission of Faber and Faber, Ltd.

    Source: Collected Poems (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2001)

    1. thekenoshakid:
      Just about everyone only saw that fun side of him. He had better relationships with all my cousins than he ever had with me… which made it feel even worse at the time. But he truly was a good guy. And thanks for the verses! I saw that several years ago and loved it. (And, fortunately, took that advice before I ever read it.)

  10. I too had a father who was a bastard, fortunately he left my world at age 6 and took off never to pay child support and left Mom with 2 little kids in a country that they had moved to together and where she had no one to help her and no family. I am so glad he wasn’t around in my life to berate me. I pretty much had zero relationship with him after he left. Abuse of any kind is not to be excused. He may have appeared to be “a good man” from the outside, and may have regretted things later in life, that doesn’t take away what he did to you and Gale. These things leave permanent scars on our souls. Nothing to be ashamed of.

    1. Cheapchick:
      So sorry to learn a bit of your story and so glad you, like me, found your way and a loving relationship, as well. And thanks especially for your kindness!

  11. Many hugs to you my sweet.

    When you get to a place where you have to go to the utility room to make your head hurt, stand in the doorway and say to yourself.. Snoskred says I am awesome. Snoskred says I am a great Cat-Dad, and so do Moose and Dudo say that. Snoskred says I have great style and an ability to police the terrible fashions seen on my streets. Snoskred says I am a fantastic partner to San Geraldo. Snoskred says I am good to my plants and the balcony birds. Snoskred says instead of slapping myself in the head, I should wrap my arms around myself and give myself a hug.

    You can paste that into a text editor and print it out, for when you need it.

    If the word Snoskred and your not knowing quite how to pronounce it does not get in the way of your requirement to slap yourself and make you laugh instead.. well that is my hope for you there. 🙂

    Because you are NOT stupid. We all do things badly from time to time. My other half put a screw into a water pipe last week. I dropped 24 mini cupcakes into the oven – which badly needs a clean FYI, they had to all go in the bin. None of us deserve a slapping for that. We get to forgive ourselves, laugh at ourselves, fix the hole in the pipe, go back and make 48!! more cupcakes.

    Walk down and pick up your sock, and forgive yourself on the way. You didn’t deliberately throw it! But even if you did choose to throw it, that would be ok. We are allowed to throw a sock from time to time.

    *hugs* from the land downunder to you.

    1. Snoskred,
      Can’t quite find the words to thank you for your message. I’m already practicing “Snoskred says I’m awesome”! Thank you!

  12. First of all, thanks for posting such a thoughtful and personal essay. I think this kind of writing DOES help everyone to understand their problems are not their own — that we all have issues we’re dealing with. You’ve told this story sensitively and skillfully. I think you were correct when you told your mom that the “apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Abusive parents learn to be abusive, usually from their own parents.

    Having a gay child is sadly never easy for parents — or I should say it wasn’t when you and I were children. (I doubt it is now, either, but at least the world is more accommodating.) That doesn’t excuse the cruelty of some of the things our parents said, but I try to remember that they were struggling with their own prejudices. Like your parents, mine eventually came around.

    1. Steve,
      Thanks for your insight. I do tire of people saying it was generational. There have been loving parents and abusive parents in every generation and, as you say, many abusive parents learn to be abusive from their own parents. And many I would guess, like my father, never intended to be abusive. For my father, it took his daughter’s death to make him more gentle. Unfortunately, it seemed to be more because he had given up.

  13. Everyone said “it all” ~ I don’t think my 2 cents will add much more to the way people feel about you and love your way of thinking, doing and being ~ massive hugs, kisses and more.

    Ron

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