“You have big hands, I never realized.”
The better to strangle the patriarchy with, I think, not wanting to bother with telling my father that he’s a member of a bygone machine that’s about to blow up either at the hands of anarchists or from simply spouting bullshit for too many centuries. That kind of thing can wear and tear on a machine, after all.
The worst part about this comment toward my physical appearance as I try my best to shrink myself into the wall while eating the meal he has prepared me (which makes my contempt for him all the worse as he now has “license” to insult me for the favor he’s done) is that he only puts it out there as a means to fill the silence between us. The chasm that is our disconnect. Not only as father-daughter, but as millennial and baby boomer. It is in this case, as in so many others, that awkward silences are preferable to stuffing the noiselessness with something to say, no matter how negatively affecting to the psyche it might be.
In this spirit, I remain silent as I continue to eat the eggplant portion on the plate, the thing that has “allowed” him to say whatever he wants to me. I fed you, therefore I still sustain you–I can do or say anything I want to or about you.
It’s times like these I wish I had learned to cook for myself. Not that he would have let me in his presence anyway, being that nothing I did was ever on par with what he could do, let alone any stranger on the street. At the same time, he still told me I was capable of anything. It was that bizarre parenting method of whipping and petting–assuring and then negating all dreams. It was a lifelong mind fuck that had remained with me, evidently, well past childhood. Except I never seemed to be aware of where it could possibly stem from until reunited with Father. Maybe, in his own way, he only wanted what was “best.” Maybe, in another, he only wanted what would, in his mind, be the best reflection of himself. And that certainly wasn’t me, who most of the time felt like either Julia Roberts as Daisy Araújo in Mystic Pizza or Julia Roberts as Vivian Ward in Pretty Woman, you know, uncouth and inadequate-wise whenever I was around him.
One would suppose that was the psychologically underlying reason for why I had decided to move to Melbourne, a place where he would have to try very hard to reach me if he really wanted to prove how much he loved me. The evidence was, thus far, rather sparse in the ten years I had lived there, this being the first time he had ever deigned to come Down Under. I myself was feeling down under in terms of being in the bell jar from the moment he arrived to flash me that signature look of his, the one reserved just for me that tended to combine the appearance of constipation with having just taken a Klonopin. It was because he tried so diligently to mask his disgust with me, his “product,” but it was impossible to do so. This was probably where I got my own inability to swallow shit. Fucking heredity kills your life plans every damn time. And yes, the personality traits inherited are far worse than the physical ones. At least I didn’t get my mother’s cystic fibrosis, likely the final nail in the coffin of my father’s decision to file for divorce (well that, and the girl twenty years his junior he had managed to convince he was virile enough to “be with” despite having very little to offer in the way of “money to burn”–chalk it up to the shocking conditions permitted by the “straight” male to female ratio).
So no, I, too, could not hide my distaste upon seeing him again for the first time in two years (the last one being the final Christmas that he and my mother pretended to be “happily” married). This is why I found myself looking away from him whenever possible, finding “little distractions” to focus on, excuses that required my extreme “concentration” in such a way as to never be able to have to make eye contact. Like driving. I offered to drive quite often over the duration of his too lengthy stay, even to places that might be considered walkable from my house. And yes, I had a house. Something he couldn’t even be bothered to remark on in a complimentary way. After all, it was such a millennial novelty to actually own property, but I had managed to achieve the impossible in finagling a payment plan that would imprison me for the rest of my days in Australia (in this way, for me at least, it remained an island for criminals and rejects). The house was on St Kilda Road, right near Albert Park Lake. This prime geographical location, of course, meant nothing to Father, so forever enmeshed in the meaning of the cartography of Brooklyn and therefore completely unaware of the beneficial coordinates of any other milieu.
Maybe it was also his sense of place, forever trapped in the U.S., that contributed to our gulf of differences. I had been out of it for so long that I forgot what it could do to a person’s priorities. Then again, Australian racism was probably far worse, it just wasn’t a subject that needed to come up as frequently due to the general lack of diversity on the continent. It seemed, in point of fact, that the extent of “diversity” extended to me being the only female senior producer at an ad agency. This, too, my father showed no signs of pride or respect for. Instead, upon entering my house, he was quick to remark, “So still no boyfriend, huh?”
“Na,” I returned quickly and tersely in the hope of shutting the conversation down. It did not work and I should have known better.
“When are you going to get one, eh? You know they only want you before a certain age hits.”
I slapped his bag down. “Oh? And what age is that?”
Father, sensing my combative tone for once, left well enough alone, segueing into how nice the view was from my window. Finally, some fucking validation even if it wasn’t directly about me.
We got through the rest of the day without incident until this comment about my big hands late that evening when we decided that we must both surrender to our hunger (though in truth, I think we were both hungering for something else, like another father or another daughter–or at least another father-daugther dynamic). And as I sat there chewing with the rage of a lion and delivering the death stare to him as only I can and as only he can invoke from me, I grasped the full weight of just how much patriarchy begins at home. And that if I was ever going to stub it out, it would mean recognizing that my big hands probably only seemed so to a gender with such a naturally small heart. Again, a woman must remind herself the way men never have to: don’t take it so personally, even when it’s your own father cursing and condemning your imperfect existence.