“Tell them you still play the piano. Make sure you don’t tell them about detention. Don’t tell them about that math test. Tell them about the paper you did for English.” That was just some of what my mother would say every time we saw family. We always put our best foot forward, but we also hid our worst foot behind us.
My mother’s sister or brother or both visited every couple of months, more often once Yaya moved in. Before every visit, I’d get a briefing on what and what not to say. I didn’t understand why we’d want to have them over if we couldn’t talk to them. They did pretty much the same thing, though, so the grownups’ conversations were limited to three topics: “You like this shirt? I know a guy;” gambling in Atlantic City, the Bahamas or Vegas, depending on who brought it up; and discussions of any “inferior” non-Greek (xeno) race.
It was worse when we visited my dad’s sister. My mom hated her, so we were even more guarded. When I took a year off from college, even though I was working in a restaurant and considering cooking school, I had to tell the family that I was attending community college. That lie left me with little else to discuss. I couldn’t talk about my job or my plans and the recreational drinking and smoking I did in my off hours was never appropriate, so my tongue was tied. I just kept quiet.
And now I’m going to visit my father. I never thought it would be this way when I called the shots, but I can’t tell him much about my life either. Funny how that happens. He’s a very private person. He never talks about anything real, and in turn, I don’t talk about anything real with him. Instead of “I love you,” he ends every phone call with, “I’ll be talking to you,” I just say, “Ok, bye.”
My father would freak if he knew about all the personal stuff I write. I won’t talk to him about the blog. I won’t talk to him about the memoir. Thank God for the children’s book because at least I can tell him something about my writing. If he thought I didn’t work, he’d insult me at every opportunity.
I can show him some stories in a national magazine too, but none of it will buy me any credibility. It’s ironic, really. I tell him I’ve got a publisher interested in the children’s book and he asks, “So, do they pay you?” I say of course. He says, “Ohhhh, so it’s legit then?” He said the same thing about my magazine articles. Yet when he asks me what kinds of magazines I work for, his measuring stick is a self-published right-wing supermarket newsletter that the writer delivers himself. In my dad’s opinion, I could learn a lot from that guy. I suppose the guy could teach me to sell some advertising.
Well, you reap what you sow. My dad colluded with my mom on all the lies we told the family for so many years. He used his own lies to maintain a huge barrier between himself and other people. I think that he expects honesty from me, just because I’m his daughter. But he doesn’t get it.
Telling those lies hurt me. They kept me from developing relationships with my family. They made me go against the honesty that comes naturally. They also kept me from trusting my parents, and in turn, the people around me.
I can’t break the cycle, though. After a lot of work on myself, I can be honest with other people, but I can never be totally honest with my father. Part of it is because he’s critical and he doubts my abilities, but the other part is that he wouldn’t approve of my work. And because of that, I have to keep my distance. We never connected while I was growing up. It’s too bad we can’t connect as adults. He’s chosen his path and I’ve chosen mine. And, I’m afraid, those paths will never meet.