After a few weeks of relative peace, I received another call from my father. I had gotten out of the habit of reaching out to him, mostly because it was stressful for me to talk to him and our conversations always left me feeling angry, frustrated and generally confused. Our last conversation was no exception.
I leave my cell phone on silent nearly all the time. It stems from a habit I have at work, but after I leave for the day, I don’t have much need for it to make noise, so I leave it on vibrate. So, when my father called, I was out running errands and it went to voicemail. Still, my spidey-sense was tingling, and sure enough, when I checked it later, I saw had missed a call from him.
I went into the baby’s room to call him back, as it is the calmest room in the house. He began by saying he hadn’t wanted to “bother me” but was “worried” because I hadn’t let him know if the baby had arrived. Since my son was still firmly entrenched in my belly, with no sign of leaving, there was no need to call anyone. I told him that he hadn’t arrived yet only to be given a guilt inducing comment that I implied I should have called him anyway to let him know he wasn’t born yet.
Then, he asked me to confirm that my estranged mother was still not aware of the baby. I had suspected that he was probably in contact with her on the very subject, and practically blurted out that she’d know “only if he’d told her.” He denied having contact, even though my brother had told me otherwise. But he did take the opportunity to comment about how “sad” it was that I couldn’t have her involved in the process, but I pointed out how destructive she can be and hurtful she behaved toward me when I was getting married.
He then went off on his tirade about her, which I thought at first might make me feel better about the decision to keep her out of my life. However, as the rant went on, his interpretation of things has evolved over time to make him look better. His convenient omission of pretty messed up behavior that he was directly responsible for was upsetting. For example, he seemed to forget all about the years of his own alcohol abuse, during which he would intermittently beat me and my brothers without explanation or get lost in the stereotypical drunken ranting about how crappy his own childhood was so we had no room to complain about our home life.
While he ranted about my mother’s drinking, I did point out that his alcohol use was no picnic either. And, while I was ready to point out the many occasions that I recalled as the sober observer, he seemed to relent. It was the closest he ever came to actually recognizing bad behavior when he said the following: “I feel bad and I hope that whoever I may have hurt in the past can forgive me.” Hmmm…
Interesting, I thought. Was this supposed to be an apology? I had trouble recognizing it because it was as vague as saying “mistakes were made” or “the official position is apologetic.” Never in the statement did he use the words “I’m sorry” nor did he even address them to a specific action or person. It was like throwing the vaguest statement out into the universe, expressing some sort of regret, and therefore, no one is allowed to be angry at him from that moment on, because he feels bad. Guess who else feels bad, though: the people that were actually harmed by your actions. Oh, but I’m sure that pales in comparison to the pang of vague regret you have from a blur of drunken nights and cancer-affected oxygen-deprived brain.
I’ve always felt that an apology should be sincere, addressing the specific action in which the other party was wronged, and never ruined by an explanation. In other words, it should never contain the words “if,” “and,” or “but.” In my home growing up, we were never given any kind of apology when we were wronged. Egregious painful experiences were simply ignored as though they never happened. If you were angry with someone, you had to immediately get over it, because the happy illusion of status quo was so paramount that no one was entitled to feelings to the contrary. In fact, when I began to point out the dysfunctional dynamic after I began seeking therapy, it wasn’t the bad behavior itself that drew the attention, but me for being the asshole to point it out.