Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Dancing in the Dark

I don't trust my father.

These five words have come to define my entire relationship with men.

Sitting as I am these days among complete families - dysfunctional sometimes - I see so many young women who adore their fathers. I see so many fathers who are irritating, embarrassing, even downright silly - but undoubtedly deeply loving of their children. And in the midst of all that, I see in their relationships the confidence that regardless of what life throws at them, fundamentally nothing really can go wrong.

It's likely that I'm crediting healthy, normal father-daughter relationships with too much value. For anyone who has been in a family where the only communication between dads and moms has been screaming and anger, the biggest wish has always been that the parents will separate. I want to clarify here that this post isn't about mom and dad relationships but about parent-child ones.

The other day, I celebrated my father's birthday. It's rare that I get to see him that day, and my brother and I decided to take him and his wife out to dinner. I walked into the restaurant, late as always, and he gets up off his chair, happy to see me. He takes me in his arms, and we dance a bit of a mixed up waltz together to some honkey-tonk music.

It was one of those perfect movie moments that show a deep and real relationship between a father and his daughter.

And all that time, I couldn't look at him. It was such an alien feeling to have my dad hold me. And when he pulled me into a dip, I let his shoulder go, to hold on to a nearby bar stool for support, making him kind of superfluous in the situation. I trusted a piece of furniture to hold me up better than my father. I could just as well have been dancing alone.

Which is what I think I end up doing anyway.

My dad told me a long time ago that I should stop being this cliched "child of broken family" and hanging all my issues on his shoulder. The thing is, I don't care about the fact that mommy and daddy couldn't stand each other. The real betrayal, I want to remind him, was the 5 years of emotional and mental trauma through disappointment-filled letters and phone calls exchanged between the two of us - a 45 year old man and a 15 year old girl. Each painful exchange chipped away at the fundamental belief that nothing could possibly go wrong so long as daddy was around.

Maybe I've been singing this song for too long already. But I can't help but think that if perhaps I'd gotten used to my father dancing with me over the years, that if I'd seen up close and personal that despite the mistakes one makes while learning to dance, one still sticks around to finish it, that dancing is about learning the steps and not everyone is a perfect dancer to begin with but they do become better with practice - it may have been easier for me to accept a real-life imperfect partner.

Instead today, I don't go dancing unless I have a handy bar stool nearby. Often, I just sit on it and watch and wonder at the ability of the people around me to trust another human being to not drop them. And usually, even in a crowd, I dance alone.

Oh man.