My father killed a man.
That’s not right.
My father murdered a man. At least one man.
When I look in the mirror, I see his face staring back at me.
I’ve written that a thousand times and never gotten any further. My father is a murderer. My father is a murderer. We haven’t seen each other in two decades but it repeats in my head like a mantra I cannot shake. If half of me is him and he is a murderer, what did I inherit? Who am I if I am some of him?
I heard a poet say once that “we are our father’s sons and daughters but we are not their choices,” and I wonder how accurate that is.
My father dropped out of high school and left home as a teenager. He told me it was because he didn’t feel he was loved in his parent’s home, that they loved his brother more. I don’t know if that’s true. They were both adopted and split up when he was a kid so I don’t really know how all of that works. He enlisted in the Air Force but was subsequently dishonorably discharged for selling coke to airmen.
He got into selling and running drugs. Not just weed either. We’re talking cocaine and crack and heroin. We’re talking scheduled ones. In the course of his attempt at being a narcotics impresario, he murdered a man. I’ve heard different versions of the story. That he was high and the guy broke in and a fight happened. I’ve heard that it was a deal gone bad. I’ve heard he knew the guy was planning to hold him up and so he hit him first. I don’t actually know which story is true, but knowing my father it is some combination of all of those. What I know is that he served hard time behind bars. He got his high school degree in jail. He learned how to work with leather as a trade while in jail; or technically, in the penitentiary. He made belts—belts he later use as an educational tool and discipline instrument when I lived with him.
He got out of jail and started working for an escort service. He wasn’t a pimp. He drove prostitutes to their… meetings… and made sure everything went smoothly. Escorting can, after all, be a dangerous game. He lived in an apartment complex where he met my mother—a recently divorced single mom living in a city where she had no family—and struck up a relationship. She would babysit the kids of the escorts when they had dates and the two of them would get drunk and high together. My mother liked that my father could not exist in polite society.
I am a product of this.
My father was not a good significant other. He was a liar. A cheat. A manipulator and an abuser. He followed my mother across the country and put his hands on her one too many times and she kicked him to the curb shortly before I was born.
My mother swears baby me met him. Says she has a picture somewhere of him and I and my brother—who is not his son—together when I was a baby. But I don’t remember him. I have no memory of him until I was in elementary school and he got back out of prison for a parole violation. I remember visiting him in an apartment that he lived in with a woman he had married just before he got sent back to jail. She was significantly older than him and didn’t like me. Her kids were all grown. She had a grandson my age and had no desire to be a mother again.
I ended up living with them when my mom’s drug addiction got bad enough that she couldn’t take care of me. At first, my older brother came with me but he ended up back in Indiana soon and I was left alone with my father. He was purportedly a changed man. He ran a residential painting business that occasionally dabbled in commercial work. He was “sober”. He wasn’t really sober. He just pretended to be.
It was two and a half years of hell.
My father and stepmother had a… contentious… relationship to say the least. She resented me and took every opportunity she had to make sure my life was miserable. She refused to get me any materials for a class project where I was supposed to be a living museum version of Davy Crockett. Allowed me to be humiliated in front of the entire class for being the only one without anything.
My father saw and did nothing to discourage me. He only drank more. And if I back-talked or was displeasing, I would get reacquainted with the skills he developed during leather working. There is a scar on my left hand where he decided I would make a great ashtray. My arms and face are a patchwork quilt of his handiwork. He will deny he did anything. He won’t remember it anyway. It always happened when he was drunk and she left to stay with her daughter and I was left behind because “I wasn’t her responsibility.”
When I was thirteen years old, my father looked me in the eye and said he didn’t love me. That being a father wasn’t in his plan. That my mother should have aborted me.
He doesn’t remember this conversation. I do.
When I was fifteen, he moved from Indiana, where he had been living to be closer to me after his wife left him for hitting her too many times, without telling me. He was here one day and then gone the next. I haven’t seen him since.
He called me just before my high school graduation, but after my birthday, to give some song and dance about where he’d been and why he hadn’t called. He was clearly drunk and I told him I didn’t want to speak to him. He told me I wasn’t a man, that I’d never be a man and he was ashamed of me.
I didn’t talk to him for seven years. I tried to make peace. I heard he had cancer and reached out to him and we talked for a little while but then another drunken conversation where he insulted me and my mother ended that.
I won’t speak to him again.
But I see his face every time I look in the mirror. I don’t drink because I am terrified of who I might be with alcohol in me. Am I my father’s son? What do we inherit? I am not his choices but I still flinch at the crack of leather. I rub my middle finger like the fire is still burning. I can still smell the skin.
My wife hates the sound of podcasts. My need for noise. To fill the emptiness. How do I tell her that I can still hear his voice? That the noise drowns out the demons.
What kind of man would I be had he not been my father? What kind of man would I be if not for him? Who did he kill to make me?
My father is a murderer.