This is my father. Handsome. Brilliant. Creative. Successful as both a violinist, a symphony conductor, a dean and college administrator who “invented” the concept of the Creative Arts Center in American Universities, and raised the money and the bricks and mortar for the Creative Arts Center at West Virginia University. I am immensely proud of him for this and for his talents.
He was also a loving, enthusiastic, supportive, and fun dad. I adored him. He pushed me to be the best at everything I did, and he loomed over me always as a judge of my accomplishments.
He was handsome. Of course, I never saw that; he was just Dad. But in the adult world, my father was a serial adulterer. This was something that was always present, just in the background, lurking, throughout in my childhood. His hints about how “many women loved him, but I love only your mother,” and as I got older, confessions tossed off as jokes: “So many women wanted to have a child with me, it was ridiculous.”
I think my anxiety disorder stems from this: my fear that one of these nameless, faceless women would somehow spirit my father away, and my sister and I would be left with my Mom, who was a ‘by the book,’ selfish, cold person. Of course, in hindsight, my father was probably the cause of her behavior.
Then, as a young mother, I got a call from my sister, telling me there was a third–that we have a half-sister. The product of one of my father’s affairs. I played with this girl as a child; we are the same age; and the moment my sister told me about her, I guessed her identity.
In this time of #metoo and the rise of women against sexual harassment, we see men like my father in a different light. Men who use women as sexual objects and feel that due to their talent, brilliance, or charisma, that they are entitled to multiple sexual partners–that the women they have affairs with are somehow enriched by the experience, of having had the honor to be chosen.
I will never know. My half-sister and I don’t have a relationship–she doesn’t want to, and I am ambivalent, myself. But just the knowledge that there is a woman out there, whom if we were to walk beside one another down the street, would cause people to say “Are you twins?” is unnerving.
This Father’s Day, I have nothing but a swirling kaleidoscope of emotions. It’s the same every Father’s Day. He was larger than life. Women seemed to adore him, despite the fact that he had a family. As I child within that family, I teetered on the abyss of my adoration and the fear that he would leave me. I tried to be perfect, but I wasn’t the best student or his prettiest daughter. I was awkward and outgoing at the same time. I had a lot of words, and learned early on how to string them together well. The only person in my life to suggest that I become a writer was my father.
I had and still have a hard time melding the two personas that were my father together. How he was the love of my life as well as the cause of my greatest pain. I may never succeed in this attempt.
So I struggle. As do all children of fathers like mine: The charismatic, the brilliant, the handsome, the sexual, and the non-monogamous. My father was an artist. Perhaps artists get a pass on faithfulness to their mates. But that certainly causes collateral damage.
Happy Father’s Day to all of you out there with fathers like mine. It’s a special club. But I wish I didn’t belong.