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I struggled with how to handle holiday gifts this year. My father always makes a huge production about martyring himself for the holiday, “No, don’t send anything for me! I have no needs!” But then sends a check to us for money I know he can ill afford to spend and we actually really don’t need. (Frankly, the cashing of the check becomes it’s own dramatic dance, but that’s another story.)

I had toyed with the idea of framing one of my ultrasound pictures to send to father as a holiday gift. I bought a frame, but then decided I really hated the message (World’s Best Grandpa!) and wasn’t sure if I wanted to send the picture at all. In the end, I decided to simply include it with the holiday card I was mailing without a message. They went out late this year because I fell behind with getting stuff done and I wasn’t feeling well.

Anyway, I’m at work the other day and I get the call on my cell phone from my dad. I should have let it go to voicemail, but I closed my office door and took the call. (I’d have to deal with the awkwardness either way, so I figured I’d do it when the office was relatively quiet.) I immediately regretted it, because from my softened tone when I answered, I got the “What’s wrong?” from him.

I told him nothing, that I was at work and he immediately launched into the martyr of “OH, I’m SO sorry to bother you at work! I’ll call you back tomorrow!!” to which, I had to reassure him that if I were taking the call, I could talk, I just needed to keep it brief. He seemed satisfied with that, and went off about how much he loved the ultrasound photo.

Perhaps it’s just me being overly sensitive to it because of how my family makes me feel, but his side of the conversation was dripping with strangeness. He said the baby looks like him, which seemed weird to me.

Then he went off on his diatribe about how he feels we’re all descended from the stars (his very strange theory of the universe) and how his role as patriarch was now complete, as the baby marked the end of some kind of era where he could “tell me what to do.”

He also commented about “how much we’d gone through as a family” and how “proud of me” he was, but really, it didn’t seem authentic or about me at all. It really was about him, from the tone of it, he had no idea how I feel about the baby or what having him means to me. Frankly, it’s always been about him telling me what I should feel, and it’s always been rather condescending. He’s never once asked how I feel about becoming a mother.

Then things got really weird, because he began telling me about his hero, Mel Gibson’s movie Apocalypto. (Side note: my father is a notorious anti-Semite, so Mr. Gibson’s films really speak to him.) Anyway, I guess there’s a scene in the movie where the main character’s wife is in some giant hole in the ground, which is rapidly filling with water, trying to save her drowning son and then goes into labor.

It sounded horrific, to be drowning herself, trying to save a child and pushing out new life at the same time. My father was going on in graphic detail about the scene and how they must have shot it as she was really giving birth, because the baby and placenta seemed so real. (Yeah, insert eye roll here, because that seems more plausible than getting actors and using special effects, but whatever.)

Anyway, he goes on and on about this scene in the movie, with absolutely no regard for how upsetting it is to hear about. I’m already completely freaked out about giving birth and this is not doing anything to assuage my anxiety. If anything, it’s making it worse.

Then he asks if I’m going to have a “natural” childbirth. I’m confused, because it doesn’t seem like an appropriate question for a father to ask, but any question posed after him telling me about the movie scene would probably feel similarly awkward. I ask what he meant, if I was going to not have any pain management.

“No,” he persists, with a tone like I’m completely stupid, “are you having a c-section?” He asks with the implication that I could simply choose this over vaginal delivery, with the same frivolity as paper or plastic at the grocery store. I was a bit shocked that he’d ask, as though it were any of his business, but I told him I’d try to go the traditional route, but if needed, we’d have a c-section. He seemed very put off by this, I guess I let him down by telling him I wouldn’t be doing it in a rapidly filling jungle pit with a toddler balanced on my shoulders.

At any rate, then we talked about the usual other stuff, my brother (who he’s insistent is unhappy and needs to adhere to my father’s “plan” for getting him to work at his company), his girlfriend (who I loathe – and mysteriously isn’t answering her phone today, in spite of them having plans to see each other) and some other stuff, before I’d run out of time and patience.

I get off the phone with a rumbling in my brain and the baby in my belly stirring more than usual. It takes a long time for me to calm down. I feel like I’ve been poisoned. I think that’s what is most noticeable about interactions with anyone in my family. I always feel like the life’s been drained from me and that I’ve been injected with some kind of venom.

I’m wondering if I’m just being overly sensitive or maybe it really is me and I’m being too hard on them, but the feeling I’m left with can’t be ignored. I know I’m touchy and hormonal because of the pregnancy, but this feels bigger than that. Perhaps all that oxytocin in my brain is helping to see the weirdness for the destructive force that it is, and my revulsion to it is a last ditch effort at self-preservation and protection for my baby.