Our Father which art in heaven…
My dad hated when my siblings and I misbehaved in church; the House of God as he would refer to it in order to make our actions carry on a more sinful weight. In that stuffy environment full of boring people trying to stay awake, all I wanted to do was anything to distract myself from the holy minutiae bleating out of the preacher’s mouth onto the flock.
My dad would threaten us, “Just wait ’til we get out of here.” Then, once out, he would ask, “Do you know why I’m hitting you?” I always did, nodding up and down with watery red eyes. I preferred my dad’s style of corporal punishment as my mom’s went overboard to borderline abuse. I didn’t enjoy it, but I appreciated it as this was one of the few times that he showed any real interest or concern for me. I liked that.
Hallowed be thy name…
Aside from the occasional corrective beatings he’d bestow upon me, the most detrimental and damning action his hands ever inflicted on me was when he wrote in a name identical to his in the box “Name of Child” on my birth certificate.
His name thrusted upon me his criminality and the shame that accompanied it. My family automatically fashioned a path for me in their minds, one similar to his, one paved with drugs, lies and perdition. “He’ll probably grow up to be just like him.”
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven…
My dad wasn’t a mainstay at our household. If my childhood were a sitcom, he would’ve been a recurring character. However, when he was home, he felt like he was the star of the show, a king and demanded that my mother, my siblings and I do as we were told. Do whatever made him happy.
Even though he was unemployed and unemployable, he felt that any money that entered the house–whether through his wife’s paycheck or his kids’ allowance or birthday money–was his to claim. He was the husband after all. It was his divine right. He would smack my mom and us around if we went against this holy decree. He slapped my sister square in the face when she told him to “get a damn job.” According to him, his job was to take care of us, but the way we saw it, the only person we needed protection from was him.
Give us this day our daily bread…
The money that he did manage to weasel out of my mom was squandered on things that were not bread. He didn’t fit the role of provider very well. The food that stocked our pantry and refrigerator came from what little money my mom made. We often went hungry for whole days. That never seem to bother my dad. I remember telling him that my siblings and I hadn’t eaten all day and that we were wondering if he could pick up a pizza for us. He asked if my mom had given us any money to pay for it. I said no. He told me not to worry, that he would find a way to buy it. He left the house in a hurry. I couldn’t help but to worry.
One hour turned into two and then three and before I knew it, it got late. My siblings and I fell asleep with empty stomachs that night. Then, around 1:00 a.m., he came in empty-handed and told us that he had forgotten to buy the pizza and that he would buy us one later that day. I don’t know if it was the fasting or the fact that he had made too many false promises before, but I was beginning to see everything with more clarity. I didn’t believe him anymore.
Whenever my siblings and I would ask him for anything, he would scoff and shame us by saying “At your age I was already finding my own food and cooking it.” My mom hated my dad’s methods and when we would tell her about what he said she’d say, “That’s because your dad and his brothers were raised like animals.” He wanted us to fish without having taught us to do so. When he himself wasn’t.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors…
Most of his money came either from the sale of controlled substances, primarily Schedules I and II, or from selling our family’s things; like my rare can collection, letting his friends “borrow” my social security card or asking me to pee in a cup for his buddy. He’d entice me to give him these things by saying “Don’t be stupid, don’t you know that I can give you a lot of money?” Whenever I would ask him to pay me the money that he had promised, he would simply laugh and say “I don’t owe you anything. You owe me your life.” I don’t think anything that came out of his mouth irked me more than that simple truth. “How much is that worth?” I asked, “I want to pay you every single penny, so that you can never say that again.” He laughed. “You can’t pay me back for that. I’m your father.” Scratch that. The latter fact was what truly pissed me the fuck off. He enjoyed having that unrequitable debt over me. It was the one thing he couldn’t sell. Or at least hadn’t tried to yet. His last claim to any shred of dignity.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…
One would assume that a person who deals in illegal drugs would have considerable to a fair amount of monies. But not in the case of my dad. He was bad with finances and would often take other forms of payment, such as clothing, CDs, video games and even eye wear. Sometimes right off of the person’s face.
One of his favorite forms of requisition was sending us to school with strange men. His loyal customers. He was mostly carless, so in a sense, he was killing two birds with one stone: making sure his kids went to school and shielding them from seeing him and his buddies get high on his own shit.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
In the end, my dad was the perfect one for me. Because of his bad example, he inadvertently swayed me away from ever wanting to be like him. Had he not been the irresponsible, unreliable and perilous presence in my family, I may have not realized the importance of being a good person.
Through his absence, he taught me the importance of being there for people. And through his lack of affection, that of expressing your love for those you care about.
I thank him for being my father because he taught me what it truly means to be a good parent.
Father and son on bicycle [Photograph]. (1938). Shades of L.A: Jewish Community , Los Angeles Public Library, Los Angeles.