This reconiliation business is hard: not just emotionally, logistically.
As I ease into 2013 armed with resolve to rekindle a relationship with my father, I find the need to understand the barriers between us.
My father lives in the same house I grew up in. Vincentown, NJ is a tiny town in southern New Jersey that is an easy 90 minute drive from here. He does not have a computer but he does have a telephone.
Why don’t we communicate more? Quite simply, I hate talking on the phone. And, he doesn’t know how to text or email. My aversion to phone conversations is for another post.
Why doesn’t he come here? My father spent his life driving. He was a “business man” as he would proudly tell us. This meant hauling thousands of pounds of imported Middle Eastern goods in the back of his unmarked van across hundreds of miles every day. Now he is old. He no longer has his “business van.” This white behemoth was identical to ones often seen in news clips as the chosen vehicle of pedophiles complete with the ever crooked magnetic sign advertising “Le Mediterranean Gourmet.” My father had this impression that throwing a french word into titles made them more desirable. So why not the french article AND the word “gourmet?” As his once booming business shriveled, the van became an unjustified expense. It eventually found its final resting place on cinder blocks in his driveway. Now he drives a bare bones minivan that smells of cigarettes and rotten cheese. At any given moment, his car is in need of tires, inspection, oil change, or a new transmission–none of which he ever seems to have the money for. His knees lock up, his cataracts make night driving dangerous and his social anxiety is at an all time high. An anxiety that was once tempered by the heavy consumption of alcohol is now completely unfettered by sobriety.
So Dad certainly has valid reasons for not coming to me but what keeps me from going to him? My relatively young eyes, cured of my God-given asigmatism by LASIK, are fine at night. My knees don’t crack and my top of the line SUV is as comfortable and reliable as they come. I don’t go to him for one reason and one reason only: the house.
207 Ridge Road can be described to the uninitiated or by an enthusiastic realtor as a cozy split level nestled on two secluded acres. The expansive back yard is home to an inground pool perfect for those summer gatherings. A circular driveway provides room to easily park half a dozen vehicles. Inside, the finished lower level is home to a functioning wood stove ideal for those cold winter nights. This one of a kind fixer upper is just begging for some elbow grease and a little TLC.
To us, “the initiated,” The Ridge Road House (it did not get its numerical address until a few years ago) is a shabby two story abode that has not had an ounce of maintenance since the 80s. The yard is in fact wooded and secluded –thankfully. For a dozen years the pool was a giant tadpole farm rivaling that of any research facility. Now it is a concrete hole as barren as the house it adorns. Any unused furnishings, tools, business vans, and appliances are stored in that circular drive. The woodburning stove was, in fact, perfect for those winter nights. It sat flanked by two kerosene heaters ( reminiscent of Christ on Golgotha–at once belittled and worshipped by the thieves on either side.) This stove emanated a natural warmth that was often overwhelmed by the stench of the partially burning kerosene. When the house was freezing from lack of oil, my father would announce with an irritation that exaggerated his accent ”Those stupid delivery men–again, they forgot us on their route.” My sister and I would share knowing looks—no, he didn’t pay the bill–again.
When money was scarce, as it often was, the broken clothes dryer would sit unused for months. We were still in grade school when we figured out that the kerosene heaters were warm and also served to dry wet clothes in a pinch.
It’s only now as I frantically shield my kids from all house hold dangers (fireplaces, uncovered outlets, gas stoves) that I shudder at the thought of that house. Young girls have no business filling and lighting kerosene heaters much less desperately drying clothes on their blistering surfaces.
My father is piercingly intelligent–some would say he was a prodigee. To his credit, he was years ahead of his time. With $200 American and a limitless imagination, he left his native country. He started an import business that brought Middle Eastern food to a neighborhood of immigrants like him. His limitless potential quickly drowned in gallons of Johnny Walker and disillusionment.
Years of neglect and flagrant abuse have left the house decrepit and sad–much like my father himself.
As I write this, we are working out a “visitation” schedule. He will drive in the afternoon and stay over night leaving our house before the sun starts to set. This arrangement will allow us to see each other and him to see his grandkids. And I will not have to set foot in that house. That is until I find the courage to roll up my sleeves and put some elbow grease into it.