It may seem odd, but I still speak to my father. Despite all that he put me and my brothers through, I still feel bonded to him. After all, he is my father. Yet he is perhaps the oddest person I know, simultaneously cruel and loving, able to switch between the two instantly.
What makes it so difficult to hate him is that he is so damn likable. The man oozes Clintonesque charisma. On one occasion, we had lunch together. He flirted with the waitress. After watching this performance, I asked him what he was doing. He said, “I’m making her day.” When my father paid for the check and pulled his final charming act the waitress said, practically on cue, “You made my day.”
Even my foster father agreed that my father is ultra-likable. He met my father once. I assumed that he would strangle my father on sight, but he was rather polite towards him. Of course, my father knew that my foster father knew about what he had done, so there was that tension, but it left quickly. Later that day my foster father joked that my father was so charismatic that “I’d let him fuck me.”
Yet for all his charm, my father can be cruel. He and my mother separated when I was a toddler. I still do not know the circumstances behind that. I got it into my head that my mother was dead. When I would ask my father about her, I always phrased it as “what did you do,” making it clear that I thought he had something to her disappearing. He would never answer, only smile. Over time everyone caught on that I thought my mother was dead. My father is a very smart man, so I suspected he knew as well. Years later he called me and asked me to meet him near a downtown park. I showed up and there was my mother. When he saw my face, he said, “What? Did you think she was dead?”
He was more overt with my younger half-brother. Shortly after my brother came to live with us he began asking about his mother. My father spent about an hour convincing my brother that she was dead. He did it in a matter-of-fact way, the way a person might explain away Santa Claus or Superman. Two of my uncles were there and they were pissed at him. My brother was hysterical. My oldest uncle tried to calm him down, but it did not work. A few minutes afterward my father approached my brother with a phone, dialed a number, handed the receiver to my brother, and said, “Talk to your mother.”
This is the same man who would argue with my grandfather over punishing his youngest brother, my uncle. My youngest uncle was only seven years older than me, so he got the same thing the rest of us did. Yet my father would try to protect him as much as he could. This same man would comfort my brothers and me if we got sick. This same man would rock me to sleep if I had a nightmare.
Of course, it is likely just pure manipulation. My father is the most manipulative person I know. The longer you are around him, the more likely he will try to play with you. It does not appear that he does it out of malice. He does it because he can and he is damn good at it. Of course, that would be the trait I picked up from him.
I think my father might have developed the trait for the same reasons I did: to be able to read people and protect myself. I can be incredibly manipulative and calculating. The moment I feel threatened I get the urge to play with people to see how they respond so that I know what to do if they become a risk. At times it is so unconscious that I never notice that I did it. One of my foster parents’ foster kids became a FBI profiler. When we first met he asked questions that I suppose I found probing. I caught the way he tried to get information out of me, and for ten minutes we toyed with each other until he realized what was happening. He apologized, but added that I would drive an interrogator mad and I ought to be a lawyer.
This is my father’s legacy. He would laugh, but I find it rather depressing. Everything my grandfather put my father through made my father a likable guy. Everything my father put me through made me unlikable and unable to think anyone should like me, yet ironically my father thinks more highly of me than he does himself.