Tomorrow is Father’s Day , and if Mother’s Day causes me to feel ambivalent and mournful , Fathers Day enrages me.
My father was a petty and wantonly cruel man , frustrated with his situation he expressed his rage in violent outbursts directed at his terrified brood. My mother perversely would boast her husband didn’t beat women but boy he knew how to beat children.
His punishments were decidedly corporeal , unpredictable and communal , in so much if one of my six siblings aroused his displeasure , we were all summoned to drop our drawers , and await the blows from a studded belt purchased specifically for his “justice”. From teen to toddler we took it , silently , I believe silently out of pride . My mother , deep in her own madness , stood silent as well, a mute specter .
Surprisingly , my being the eldest, I somehow escaped the brunt of his wrath. My father like many macho Latin men could smell a faggot a mile away and he instinctively recoiled from my presence . He beat the shit out of me , particularly if I betrayed a fey gesture , but his concentrated brutality was upon my far younger and far sweeter siblings .
One such incident was deeply profound and it severed figuratively and literally my relationship with my father. My baby sister Kat, left to my care after my mother’s illness left her unable to attend to her needs , was participles adorable and particularly precocious . I adored her sparkle .
My father found it aggravating .
She was just a toddler , acting out , impotently I tried to hush her , frustrated , my father rushed from the kitchen table and just slammed her full force into the wall . Her little head hitting the unforgiving surface with a heartbreaking sound . Without thinking I rushed to the utility drawer and pulled a pitiful and most likely , dull , paring knife. I went after my father , and in romantic reflection I want to believe I stabbed him, but what I do know is , in a bit of Fruedian genius my father pulled out his far larger hunting knife , effectively ending the fight . My mother , the ever present yet silent ghost , witnessed my mortified retreat .
Hence today’s painting from 2015,”The Castration of Uranus”. According to classical tradition , the Earth Mother Gaia provides her son, the Titan Cronus with a “great stone sickle” with which he castrates his brutish , sibling devouring father. Alas my mother provided me with no sickle and I lacked the ability to smite my father.
Soon after I was on my own, I haven’t spoken to the hateful man in well over thirty years . I’ve heard, like old Nazis , he has mellowed , but I harbor memories of his unjust power .
Often, like my depiction of Uranus, my father held court , in his briefs , legs apart, for like many of his Italian American friends he was unabashedly proud of his endowment . That he chose to flaunt his “family jewels” ( as he called them ) in front of his children befuddles me to this day. But I was taken aback when revisiting this painting that I had expertly captured that haughty pose , granted now deflated .
So if I hadn’t the power to vanquish my father with a paring knife , I have the power with my brush . My father’s greatest gift to me is empathy , I cannot bear brutish cruelty towards those unable to defend themselves. My passion for the rights of animals stems from past lived experience . For that I’m grateful .
Happy Father’s Day ( seriously ).
4 thoughts on “Daddy Issues”
What a deeply moving post Leonard and thank you for having the courage to shine a light on your experience of childhood abuse and parental mental illness. As someone who had a father who became ill with a bi-polar disorder, when I was a teenager, I read your post on mother’s day with empathy and understanding. I wanted to tell you that you show a compellingly attractive inner spirit in all that you do, even though I only know you through this virtual world. I wanted to take this opportunity to share this observation with you.
There is a saying: “it’s never too late to have a happy childhood” but I think this should be rephrased to says it’s never too late to stop a difficult childhood turning us into unhappy adults. A difficult childhood may set up a series of behavious and responses that leads us to repeat those same patterns in our adult lives, but this does not mean we have to continue those patterns. You are proof positive that a different path can be taken. In a bleak week for the world, it cheered me immensely to see you celebrating 20 years with your husband David and I wish you many more years of happiness together.
Like your good self, poetry, art and literature are what I seek out when I need to make sense of a sometimes difficult world. There’s a lovely quote from Alan Bennett’s play “The History Boys”, which sums up what I mean :
“The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.”
Thank you so much Sarah, that touches me deeply particularly as I value your intelligence and opinion . Like you mentioned , though we haven’t met one another ( nor have I met our dear Clive or Phil) I feel your gentle hands reaching out .
Recognizing mental illness for what it is and its impact upon my life is really the only way I could move forward . I still struggle with bitterness I fear but posting honestly helps . That and being married to a psychoanalyst 😁. And thank you for the well wishes .
I like Bennet’s reference to the hands of the past reaching out in a spirit of kin. Like you, literature and art were my primary solace . I was reminded of that yesterday by the work of a marvelous and sensitive artist I saw here in CA at the Museum of Art and History in Lancaster . Lancaster is a provincial place far removed from progressive LA yet this artist , Andrew Frieder flourished creatively here until he died very young at 55. He had suffered from schizophrenia for much of his creative life yet built an amazing body of deeply empathetic work , often inspired by classical literature and Old Testament figures .
I left feeling this Blake of the Desert placing his hand upon my shoulder .
You might like looking into his work , I posted a few images on my FB feed .
I close with appreciation for the kind and encouraging words , we all struggle I know with moments of self doubt , it is a tender and good thing when a friend encourages you on your journey .
With warm affection ,
I am so floored by this post, first by the image which instantly caught my eye, especially the belly with the children peering out, but then by the writing, which is immensely moving. I am sorry that you have memories like these and am a little afraid to ask if Kat recovered? I am once again amazed at your vividly wondrous works, full of meaning and depth. Full of characters, too, which I have always thought is a strong symbol of empathy, that your tales cannot be told without myriad living views filling them out.
Thank you 🙂
Hoping you are well and thank you for compassionate words.
I am happy to say Kat, who is a gem, has no memory of this moment, so that is a positive. She is in fact raising her opposite of how new were raised, that is with keen attention, love and support.
I like your thoughts about characters, I love making them yet I have been criticized about them from time to time. I appreciate your understanding them to be indicative of empathetic observation. I may borrow your argument in the future!
And thank you .