“Come sit down beside me,” my father pats the floor commanding my presence as he would a dog. I hesitate. The glass in his hand tilts dangerously, threatening to spill the amber contents, and his voice slurs slightly. A dangerous scenario.
“Have I told you lately that I love you?” He reaches a hand out towards me, and I know it is useless to object. I accept the invitation, settling in at his feet. He pats my head, absentmindedly stroking my hair.
“I am proud of you, Squeegie. Did you know that?” I have an idea. I’d overheard Mom and him talking the other night and he’d said as much, but he seldom says it to my face, unless he’s been drinking: a double-edged sword.
“My father was a brilliant man, you know.”
I nod my head. I’ve heard this story before. “I never got his brains, but you did.”
“Oh, that’s not true, Dad, you’re very smart.”
“No, no. Not as bright as you are. There isn’t anything you can’t do in this world if you set your mind to it.”
“Thanks, Dad.” Where is this going? I wonder. Last week Dad chastised me for only getting 96% on my math report. How does anyone miss four percent? he blasted. Sounds like you were careless, to me!
“The thing is, Veej, it’s not enough just to be smart. You have to have goals and ambition. You have to work hard. Me, I wasted my life. I let my demons take over. Don’t make the same mistakes as me.”
I never know what my father wants from me when we have these conversations. I feel more like his confessional than his daughter. “You haven’t wasted your life Dad; it’s not too late.”
“Oh, yes it is. I have been weak; a fool.” Looking up I see the tears forming in my father’s eyes.
I remain silent. This really isn’t about me, I realize. My father is seeking reassurance. I pat his knee, and let him ramble on, my mind glazing over. The thing is, I’d actually built my hopes up for a moment, thinking that my father was going to praise me. Of course, he wasn’t; it’s not his style. I should know that. Day after day, I watch him debase my mother, cursing her ineptitude. Then he turns that venom on us children, yelling about our incompetence, and reminding us how we will never amount to anything.
“You do love me, don’t you?” Dad’s winding down. This is my signal to break free.
“Of course I do, Dad.” I rise and gently kiss his cheek.
He catches my wrist and pulls me towards him. “Look me in the eye and tell me you do, Veej. Tell your old man you love him.”
“I love you, Dad.” Pity floods me, temporarily whitewashing the underlying anger.
Later, I lie in bed letting the numbness of disappointment overcome me. Praise never comes without a hitch in this house.