I woke up yesterday cranky and resentful. I felt hungover. I scanned my mind to see what could be bothering me and found it: Tina Fey. I read her memoir the night before and there was a line in it that didn’t much bother me at the time of reading, but overnight, had brewed and festered into a full scale resentment.
Here is the line: “A coworker at SNL dropped an angry C-bomb on me and I had the weirdest reaction. To my surprise, I blurted, ‘No. You don’t get to call me that. My parents love me; I’m not some Adult Child of an Alcoholic that’s going to take that shit.'”
I took personal affront. Biatch!
My pop was a drunk. He was a car salesman and a wild man and he loved his scotch. And he called me the C-word on a regular basis. Like from the age of ten or so. As well as Super Bitch, Hell on Wheels, A God-damned Pain in the Ass, and he would threaten to sell me to his customer, the King of the Gypsies, as a child bride. I kept a poster in my bedroom with a ballerina on the front with the aspirational saying, “Dream it and Become it.” On the back of it I wrote down all the names he called me as evidence.
“Fuck you, you stinky twat,” he’d say.
“This isn’t normal,” I would scream at him, Sharpie in hand, as I made permanent record of his transgression. “Normal fathers don’t call their daughters stinky twats.”
“What do you know of normal?” Floyd answered. Floyd and I fought like cats and dogs.
But how dare Tina Fey suggest he didn’t love me.
The first time I saw “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” I had a flashback to my childhood. It was how we lived, Floyd and I. We screamed and yelled and ranted. That movie felt like home. Except I wasn’t Liz, matching him drink for drink (that followed years after he died); I was a member of Barbara Bush’s ‘Just Say No’ crowd and stayed up late waiting for him to come home from the bars so I could berate him for driving drunk at 3am.
“We’re gonna lose everything, Floyd!” I’d say. “Killing yourself would be the best case. If you kill someone else, they’ll sue us for everything we have.” Momma Bean would be sleeping in the waterbed in the master bedroom while I paced and screamed at him. He would cook liver and onions and call me a Ball Buster. Which, for a 12-year old, I kind of was.
It took me a long time to get over this. I used to cry every time I’d see a loving father and daughter going feeding the ducks or just sitting talking over a bowl of ice cream at a restaurant. I was unkind to the men in my life because it took me decades to understand that men have feelings too. (Trust me, they do.) I hired shrinks, went to support groups and conferences where you cry and strangers hold you after you fall backward into thin air. I opened a hotmail account in Floyd’s name and sent myself fatherly letters from him in the afterlife. (Read: Hey Kiddo, It’s your father. Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke. Now get off your ass and get back out there. Love, Floyd.) It worked surprisingly well. I don’t cry when I see good fathers out on the street, and my husband is a very loving father to our daughters.
Last year I was following said sweet husband around our house, harranging him for something, he finally turned to me and screamed, “Shut the fuck up,” as loud as I’ve ever heard anyone yell. It shut me up and for a moment I had the strangest feeling. I’d not been cursed at for so long I forgot how it felt.
And then I collapsed in laughter so hard I thought I would pee. Claudio stared at me as I slapped my knee and thrashed about laughing. “That’s a good one,” I said. “Shut the fuck up! I love it.” It took me awhile to calm down and he watched me with an odd expression on his face, no longer angry.
It took me some time to figure out why I was laughing so hard at something that could have sent me into righteous anger at Claudio. In that moment I felt a kinship with Floyd; I got him for one second. I’m not saying he was right for calling me names all those years, but in that second I finally saw how my harping at him may have felt. I empathized with him. I saw my part, even though I was a kid and he was the big Adult. No, no, no, he shouldn’t have called me names or tried to break my spirit, but I gave it right back to him. I loved the fight. And after he was dead I missed having him to scream at.
Claudio, by the way, has never cursed at me again.
The other day I asked Sofia what the worst word she could think of was. After a furrowed brow and long thought she said, “The baddest word is Shut up! And No Christmas for You!”
“Whoa, those are doozies. I know I’ve slipped a shut up now and again, but where’d you hear the Christmas one? We don’t say that in our house.”
“I read it in a book. Do you think a kid would really just get a lump of coal for Christmas?”
“Not on my watch.” I said.
I have great compassion for the little girl Kelli who was called all those names, and I have great compassion for Floyd, who didn’t know how to live happily and at peace with his family or himself. Being an alcoholic is hard. I dare say it sucks. It was harsh on our family. But if it’s true that children get to pick their parents before we are born, then I chose well. He was the perfect father for me. I had to figure out my own way to be at peace in this world, and I don’t think I would have paid so close attention if he were not my dad. I noticed my own problem with alcohol much sooner than I could have with a “normal” dad. I would not be as grateful for my life now if I didn’t have Floyd in my childhood. I wake up grateful and awed at the fact that I’m alive.
He used to tell me, “I hope you have two little girls and you have to put up with the shit I have to deal with. Karma’s a bitch.” I think of that a lot when I’m with my little girls. Karma. This karma is such a dreamy bitch.
And brings me back to Ms. Fey. Her book is a good read. You’ll laugh. The lady can write.
Read a slice of it here: