Happy Father’s Day! I love you. You Motherf**ker.

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This, too, is the Dharma.

My dad grew up in an isolated, rural community on the high plains, the eldest of six. His own father was absent for the first two years of his life, off in Belgium and Germany fighting Nazis and facing horrors as a POW that he rarely spoke of while he was alive. My dad didn’t know his father at all when he came home from the war in 1945.

My grandfather severely abused my dad physically and emotionally throughout his childhood. My dad used to tell my younger sister and me stories of that abuse that seemed surreal to my young mind. Even though my grandfather loved me very much, I never grew that close to him; I always held him at arm’s length. I had heard too many of my dad’s stories of a painful childhood and adolescence. I loved my dad very much and I was always angry with my grandfather for hurting him.

Perhaps because of the abuse, my dad learned to be extremely self-sufficient growing up. He would escape the pain of home regularly by disappearing into the smoky hills and windy bluffs of southwestern Kansas. He also had many stories of adventures along the many creek beds around his hometown. Sometimes he would be gone for days at a time, especially once he was old enough to drive. He fished and hunted for food. His knives and guns were his lifelines. He knew which plants were edible and which were poisonous. He tanned hides and built fires without a match.

My dad was a scrapper and a survivor.

He sought solace with his paternal grandparents who lived in the same small town. They knew their own son’s penchant for narcissism and anger and they took pity on my dad, putting him up and feeding him for weeks at a time during my grandfather’s many extended rampages. My dad loved his grandparents more than his own parents. They were kind and supportive, nurturing in a way his own parents were not.

My dad never respected his mother. He told me so on many, many occasions. In his stories of growing up he often expressed disdain for her because of what he saw as her impotence in the face of his father’s rage. It was clear to me from a very young age that he bore much anger toward her for not stepping in, for not being the mother he desperately needed as a child. He rarely had good things to say about her.

As a child this confused me. I loved my grandmother with all my heart. I thought she was the greatest grandmother anyone could have. We always lived far away from them and only saw them once or twice a year. As a child I longed to go to grandma’s house and literally grieved when we would leave. My grandmother loved me unconditionally and doted on me whenever we were there.

Over the years, my grandparents changed a great deal. My grandfather frequently expressed regret to me over the way he had treated my dad all those years ago. My grandmother expressed sorrow and shame for not defending my dad more from my grandfather’s abuse when he was young. But for my dad, it was too little, too late.

My dad married my mom when he was nineteen, she eighteen. I came along a few years later, my sister three years after me. Both my parents were high school graduates, my dad coming close to being valedictorian of his class, just missing it, though, because of a rebellious streak that frequently landed him in the principal’s office. He played hookie an awful lot to be outdoors, raise hell and chase girls. He always seemed very proud of that.

My dad was always infinitely capable, forever indomitable. His self-sufficiency was at once a necessity for his survival and his “fuck you” to a world that was hostile and to people who were never there for him. He didn’t need anyone and he had no qualms about saying so. My dad was a man’s man of the first degree, and most of the rest of the world was weak and stupid. Growing up, it was clear to me that you didn’t have to do much to end up in the ignominious club of the soft and reviled. My dad didn’t suffer fools lightly. Common sense was always more important to him than book smarts. You might not be able to quote Chomsky, but if you had a sense of adventure, an eye for the ladies and could survive alone in the wilderness with nothing but a Buck knife, a few fish hooks and some twine for a week, you were worth your salt in his eyes.

Growing up, my dad inspired awe in me. I looked up to him and respected him above all other men. He could take the worst of situations and turn it around for his family. Despite not having much money, we never lacked anything. I had a magical childhood in my dad’s shadow. He was affectionate and never afraid to say I love you. He was supportive and protective and gave me my freedom at the same time. He was masterful at comforting us after a loss.

My dad instilled his values in me and taught me many of the skills he had learned as a boy out of necessity. To this day I can hunt and fish. I can build a lean-to in the woods. I can rappel down the face of a cliff and I know which rope knots to tie to ensure my safety. I know how to coax a channel cat out of shallow waters with just the right bait. I know how to walk silently in the woods and how to prepare cattails and dandelion greens with wild onions for a delicious, nutritious meal. I can skin a jack rabbit and a rattlesnake. Drop me into any wilderness, and I’ll find my way out. I am the best navigator I know.

Some of my fondest memories are of the days he would take me bow hunting in remote areas of Routt and Moffat counties on Colorado’s western slope. We would start the day before sun up at Daylight Donuts on the west end of Steamboat. I would always have a bear claw and a chocolate milk. He would take his coffee to go. We would drive for what seemed like an eternity, park the GMC Jimmy and hike into the wilderness. We’d spend hours on hilltops looking into ravines with binoculars for mule deer and elk. Those days with my dad were like a real-life Wild Kingdom, full of every mountain creature imaginable.

During all the hunting trips I took with him, I never once saw him take a shot at anything. Once, toward the end of one season, just before dusk when the sun shone low through fall aspens, casting a golden aura across the entire world, we came across a doe, completely unaware of our presence. We had gone the entire season without bagging a deer, and my dad asked me if I thought he should take a shot at it. I said yes.

My dad drew his bow and took aim at the doe. He was ready to release his arrow when a fawn slipped out of the underbrush behind her. I cried out for him not to shoot, and he lowered his bow to the ground. We both breathed a sigh of relief and set out for the truck to go home. That was the last hunting trip I ever took with him.

My dad wrote poetry and played the guitar. My dad taught me how to be a man. He taught me how to think. He taught me how to question what others accept at face value. My dad taught me that a forest clearing is just as good a church as any cathedral, probably better. He taught me to take risks, but not to do so haphazardly. He taught me to be conscious of the results of my actions and how to think strategically. He taught me that I’m going to get hurt sometimes, and that all wounds heal. He told me once he thought I would make a good Buddhist. My dad’s favorite saying: it’s a good life if you don’t weaken.

When I was thirteen my dad began traveling abroad for work. His job was to bring power to places in the world that had never had electricity. It was his dream job. My dad spent the rest of his life traveling to exotic lands far from civilization on every continent, learning new languages, traversing terrain a mountain goat couldn’t climb to build steel towers and string high voltage electrical cable. He earned an amazing living for his family by being an adventurer. He also took us many places with him.

Thanks to his air miles, I traveled alone around the globe when I was nineteen. At one point on that trip I met up with him in Indonesia and followed him to remote regions of Java to train crews of men to maintain electrical high lines without shutting down the power. Dangerous work, for sure. But what else would Superman choose as his career?

I met him in El Salvador on two occasions in the 80s, traveling to once war-torn areas, to ancient Mayan sites, to pristine, undeveloped Pacific coast beaches. He visited me once while I lived in Costa Rica for a year, too. We traveled to an active volcano and explored the jungle together along the Pacific coast.

During my college years my mom and dad lived in east Africa for two years. I got to live with them for a couple of months the summer before I went to grad school. My dad was working on a long-term project to electrify remote areas of Tanzania, taking advantage of hydro-electric projects financed by the IMF and the World Bank. The three of us went on safaris. I filmed a lioness killing a zebra from the rooftop of a Land Rover, not 30 feet away. I stood atop that same vehicle in the bottom of a gigantic volcanic crater surrounded by a herd of wildebeest that stretched as far as the eye could see in all directions. We traveled to Zanzibar where I explored the ruins of a sultan’s palace now claimed by towering mango trees.

During my brief stay with them I fell ill and wound up in a Nairobi hospital, subjected to tests involving blood draws, injections of dyes and x-rays. My dad was by my side the entire time, looking out for me, worrying about me, telling me how proud he was of me and that he loved me. I recovered and was able to set out again on new adventures.

I hiked to a waterfall at the base of Kilimanjaro. I witnessed a flock of flamingos take flight from a salt marsh at Lake Manyara. I followed herds of elephants and families of giraffes as they meandered in an endless search for the greenest acacia leaves at Ngorongoro.

My dad nursed my mom back from the brink through two bouts of malaria while they lived there. He built a water tower and filtration system for their expat house and three others on the same compound. They enjoyed the cleanest, safest drinking water in the entire town. He worked doggedly day in and day out to come home to his wife and a beautiful, rustic house at the foot of a mountain that supported an ANC military training camp. The two of them survived cobras, green mambas, dysentery and potholes the size of craters. They were the happiest I had ever seen them.

My dad was beyond compare. He occupied an unreachable place in my mind. He was the ultimate, my hero. He was the die I would cast myself from. His was the standard to which I would hold all other men. He was the man of steel, beyond reproach, indefatigable and larger than life. He was self-made and followed no one. I loved him with every fiber of my being. I love him more now than I will ever be able to express.

My dad hasn’t spoken to me since 1997.

That was the year I came out to my family. I had gone to Naropa to get a second master’s degree and was living in Boulder. By this time my parents were living in rural central Missouri. My dad continued to travel abroad, only now he had formed his own company and was working for himself. I came out to my mom first over the phone. My dad was in Spain at the time. I couldn’t tell him myself because I was too afraid, too ashamed. I made my mom tell him for me. She resents it to this day.

You see, my dad is his father’s son. He can be prone to anger. He doesn’t go on rampages like my grandfather. Instead, he goes inward and seethes in his rage, fleeing the scene when it becomes too much to contain. His career of foreign travel has always served as a convenient excuse for him to be alone. Sometimes he’s gone for up to a year at a time.

My dad will be 67 this September. His body has begun to betray him. Decades of hard physical labor and even harder self-imposed exercise regimes have taken their toll. He has skin cancer, kidney problems, a chronically painful and debilitating condition in his lower spine and now, according to my mother, he’s developing macular degenerative disease.

I haven’t been face-to-face with the man since 2000 when my grandmother was dying. Watching her die in their home was surreal enough. To top it off, my dad refused to interact with me the entire time I was there. I had just started a new job in Boulder and had to come back home and get back to work. She died the day after I got back. My dad was alone with her when she passed.

Since ‘97, my life has been about reconciling the ideas of the loving dad I knew as a child and the dad who has abandoned me as an adult. That contradiction informs everything about me to this day. When he dies, I’ll go to his funeral. But it will be a unique experience for me, to say the least. I’ve been grieving the loss of him for thirteen years now. The rest of my family hasn’t had as much time to get used to the idea of him being gone. I don’t know what that day will look like, but I’m sure it will change me profoundly. I feel that sea change welling up inside of me already.

Every Father’s Day brings me another opportunity to go deeper into reconciliation with the idea of my dad. He was an amazing father growing up. He has been a heartless, cruel bastard since I’ve been an adult. It’s impossible to convey completely the complexity of family dynamics in such a short piece, but you get the gist of my experience. I love my dad more than I’ll ever be able to express. I also want to pound his face into a bloody pulp for abandoning me. Those two extremes exist side by side in me. I never would have imagined they could.

This seems to me the ultimate in human contradictions; it has certainly informed everything about me for the last thirteen years. Contradiction has shaped the man I’ve become. Growing up, my love for my dad was always punctuated by not a small amount of fear. He beat me as a child (albeit infrequently), sometimes with implements. When I became a teenager he was very clear that there would be no more spankings. From that day forward, he would hit me with a closed fist when I deserved it. I tested him on that claim once. Just once.

My dad is a man of his word.

I don’t have children of my own, probably never will. I’ll be the branch that fell off my family tree. I’m okay with that. My sister has provided my parents with four beautiful granddaughters. They live very close to each other. My sister spends her weekdays working in my dad’s home office. They share a large tract of land in the country where they have horses and can hike and fish. I’ll admit I experience a pang of jealousy when my sister tells me about the latest arrowhead they’ve found along the creek. Arrowhead and fossil hunting was always one of my favorite things to do with my dad.

Things aren’t easy for my mom, my sister or my nieces in this mess. They endeavor to maintain a relationship with me while trying not to piss dad off too much by bringing up the whole gay thing in conversation. He won’t speak about it and shuts down when forced to. For the next year he’s in the Middle East. He won’t have to confront it or any of us for quite some time. That seems to make him happy.

He loves my mom, sister and nieces, and he can’t be around them for too long. He loved me more than life itself when I was younger. Now I don’t exist. That contradiction is the air we all breathe.

I’ve had my theories about his vehement reaction to my coming out over the years. I’ve invented all sorts of stories in an attempt to make some sense of the senseless. In the end, none of the stories matter, though. Just like my dad, the events of my life have forged my personality. I am where I am because of them. As a Buddhist, I have obsessed on the karma that led me to this place of contradiction. That kind of obsessing has never gotten me anywhere good. It just leads to more suffering. Over time I’ve learned to choose how I will react to my world, to act in a way that hopefully sows karmically positive seeds for the future. Meditation has taught me how to sit in the midst of contradiction and allow it to be what it is.

My dad is an awesome man, and I love him more than words can say. He’s also a cruel, abusive asshole I’d like to see groveling at my feet for mercy some day. I love you, dad. Happy Father’s Day. And fuck you, motherfucker.

It feels good to say both those things. It also hurts. I won’t pretend it doesn’t.

This, too, is the Dharma.

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anonymous Jun 21, 2015 11:21am

Sadly, your writing touches me in many ways – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Those of us that long for the relationship with our father's seem to always be searching for it, though I know I will never have it. Dad died fourteen years ago of alcoholism, loving his alcohol more than he could ever love my brother and I.
All I am left with is my scars, and the knowledge that it just wasn't meant to be. Hugs to you.

anonymous Jun 21, 2011 3:54am

I’ve recently become estranged from my abusive father after many years of trying to love and accept him. I find that I just can’t do it anymore. I have great guilt that I have decided to cut him out of my life. Everyone I know tells me what a great person he is and I just smile and say yes. He is the ultimate illusionist but I know the truth that lies behind the carefully constructed image that everyone else believes in. It’s hard to mourn someone who is still living that society holds dear and expects one to still care for. Years of alcoholism are starting to degenerate his mind and body and I fear the day he gets truly ill or dies because I will not be there to say goodbye, out of choice, and I know I will be judged by so many who do not understand why I have made this choice. That doesn’t mean I won’t feel loss or pain though.
Every day I question my decision to reject my fathers behaviour and abusive treatment of me. He has said these very words “I will not change who or how I am for you”. I feel so deeply sad that this is the how things are and there is no way to change them. He has absolutely no understanding or recognition of how his attitude and things he says and does causes so much pain to others.

Thankyou so much for sharing your story. There are so many of us who live in this strange vacuum space in relation to our parents. It’s good to hear that voice so I know Im not alone and don’t have to feel so darn awful or guilty about it.

anonymous Jun 20, 2011 5:38am

I know the feeling of loving and hating my father. He died when I was 25. and I have traveled from one side of the spectrum of grief to the other over the loss. May you find peace in the joy YOU create in this life. May you always know that you are enough, exactly as you are.

anonymous Jun 20, 2011 12:52am

What a beautifully honest story of the hurt and pain of love and betrayal.

anonymous Jun 19, 2011 9:55pm

well written story. that line " he hasnt spoken to me since 1997" was a total punch in the gut. it grabs the reader and makes us want to read more.

anonymous Jun 19, 2011 2:26pm

Kert, This is one of the most powerful, honest and moving stories I have ever read. To have the courage and insight to allow your heart to remain open to both the pain and the joy of being this man's son is amazing to witness. Bless you.

anonymous Jun 19, 2011 11:01am

Kert, our dads were cut from the same pattern. He wanted a son but got a daughter instead. And by god, I was just like him. I was the adventurer, the diver, the sharpshooter. My brothers who came later had no interest. I determined years ago that I would surpass him in his efforts and I did. He never said a word to me and we didn’t talk for 20 years. It wasn’t until he knew he would die soon that he made contact. We never talked about anything but race cars after that. He died this past April. And it all still hurts but I have had a great life myself and intend to live a lot more.

anonymous Jun 19, 2011 10:42am

Wow. Thank you for sharing this with us, Kert. I may have complaints about my parents, but I am newly appreciative of the fact that this could never be them. I wish you hope, and if not, then peace.

anonymous Jun 19, 2011 10:06am

Kert, what a powerful and amazing story. Thanks for the courage and willingness to share it. I bow to you.

anonymous Jun 19, 2011 9:56am

Thank you so much. I am going to share this with my three living sons whose father changed totally after brain surgery 2.5 years ago..divorcing me and disowning two of them. The one he hasn't disowned (the father of our grand children) is not allowed to talk about me or his brothers! My husband had been a wonderful father when they were babies, children and teens though, as a farmer (with an abusive father) he was a hard task master and they all worked in the field from a very early age. We also live on the High Plains in Colorado. My sons are 37, 35 and 30 (one of our 4 sons died in 2007 so never saw his father change) and are struggling to deal with the man their father has become. Ironically my husband..ex husband I should say..is a buddhist.

anonymous Jun 19, 2011 3:58am

Impressive, honest and so boldly shared. Thank you! I had just been thinking about Father's Day and how difficult my relationship is with my father. I was feeling guilty for not feeling like celebrating Father's Day but somehow your story made it okay to not do so. I can still honour him for all that he did do but I do not need to pretend it was all good or that we were like the Brady Bunch. Again thank you!!

anonymous Jun 19, 2011 2:34am

Great article! What an amazing perspective you have on this life. In case you don't know it, you're every bit the "man / superman" that he is, plus one.

Wishing you peace,

Eric

anonymous Jun 18, 2011 10:04pm

You just made me cry.

anonymous Jun 18, 2011 9:35pm

Incredible article, Kert. I can relate in some ways. I don't have a relationship with my own father whom I once thought was the greatest guy in the world. As a father myself, what I do now is use him as an example of how NOT to be. It makes me a better man, and a better father to my own two young boys. I hope that if one day you do become a father, you can draw upon the great things he did for you and also remember how NOT to be as well. You would make a great dad.

anonymous Jun 18, 2011 8:56pm

are you my brother? I swear i coulda written this!

anonymous Oct 2, 2010 7:46am

Though not from the point of view of 'coming out', I related to your post. Keep in mind, it's not over. One of the great tricks of time is the dispelling of years of pain and anger in the time takes to lock eyes and embrace. Regardless, your Father is proud of who you are…what Father wouldn't be? It sounds as though you are very much alike. My Father and I had a very rough go of it, though as I crossed into my teens there were things in common. Still it was a warzini during those times we were in house. We had 5 minutes of reconciliation when I was 17. He said he knew I could take care of myself. That type of connected genuine talk was unprecedented. It was likely our finest moment. Then he got on a plane, played a concert, walked off stage, and died.

It was only then, dealing with the deluge that death brings, that his friends showed me what he had been unable to. The pride that he had in me, pictures, medals he took with him on the road, my writing…all things I never knew he shared with anyone or frankly was at all cognizant of. It was a consolation of sorts, but that 5 minutes was everything.

One last tidbit, (forgive my hubris) and I hope you don't read anything into it except as a shot in the dark to bring together two men who obviously love each other-you mentioned that your Mom told your Dad. Being the Man's Man type that he is, it may make a difference if you look him dead in the eyes and tell him. "I'm Kert, your Son. I'm Gay. I love you. Pass the potatoes." If nothing else, it gives a stubborn Man something to hang 13 years of emotion on…so that he might say. "About time" Essentially a false rationalization to move on…don't misunderstand me- I disagree with your Dad's treatment of you. It's crap. If your kids are happy, healthy, and loved-what more could you want. In any event, Good Luck. You're a very lucky man.

anonymous Jul 5, 2010 6:41pm

Thank you for writing this, as I have been through considerable disagreement and unpleasantness with my dad since I moved back for similar reasons, including his disapproval of my lifestyle choices and moving to California and so on. I appreciate your candor.

anonymous Jun 21, 2010 7:20am

Amazing post. I can’t imagine how this feels. I simply hated my father and resented him when his body started betraying him because I had to be the dutiful daughter and rush to every emergency. To fall from grace like this though is obviously incredibly confusing and extremely painful. And he’s missing out on so much and sounds like he’ll never realize it. I’m sad for both of you but happy that you are finding ways to work it out rather than stuffing it and/or perpetuating the anger and abuse.

anonymous Jun 21, 2010 11:32am

Wow! What a intensely touching article. I had many of the same feelings for my father. We were able to make peace before he died and enjoyed many years of closeness, but I always had the same kind of conflicted feelings around Father's Day. Those cards that said, "Thanks for always being there for me" or "You've always loved me" just weren't true. He hadn't. I still, 16 years after his death, feel great grief and pain at the sadness of his life. Thanks for sharing such intimate thoughts about your father. It's a beautiful, sad story.

anonymous Jun 21, 2010 5:20am

Not being a Buddhist, I won't comment on what is or isn't Dharma. It never ceases to horrify me, though, to see the effects of homophobia on otherwise loving parents.

anonymous Jun 21, 2010 3:40am

I can identify with a fair amount of your story, kinda flipped over – my grandfather was actually the caretaker of my dad, who was 14 years younger than his siblings, but reserved no doubt due to his time fighting in WWI (yep, I"m younger than you and my Bumpa was in WWI). My dad's mom died before I was born and I've never heard a sympathetic word out of my dad's mouth about her (also due i suspect to her experience in WWI (she was British and lost 4 brothers and her first husband there). My parents were not physically abusive, but they were distant and erratic, and too busy dealing with there own stuff to really worry about us + nasty divorce. My dad is not a tower of anything except his height and his love of history. I can't identify with your coming out story, but i can identify with the sometimes seemingly endless struggle to reconcile your experience with your parents, the need to do so despite egregious acts or words which may never go recognized, and the hope that things get easier.

anonymous Jun 21, 2010 1:16am

What a lovely post. I completely understand. Went through the same thing with my Mom. She died in 2001 without ever accepting me. I found out about her death in 2004. Like you, I don't focus on the karma aspect of this. The experience taught me to go deeper with forgiveness meditations and to realize that in this case, forgiveness means grieving the loss, as well as not letting her fear and ignorance affect my life potential. God bless you all.

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Kert Hubin

Kert Hubin is a ‘Friend of Dorothy.’ He finds great satisfaction in popping other people’s zits. Good grammar and a cogent argument are his preferred aphrodisiacs, second only to humility. He thinks a really great pair of shoes is a treasure. He believes Björk is a musical prophetess and, therefore, not appreciated in her own time. He thinks it’s fun sometimes to make yourself up, put on a ridiculous wig, go outside and scream at the top of your lungs. He often wants Lindsey Lohan to hand off her chihuahua to her friend so he can punch her in her slut face. Then he sits with that idea until it changes into something else. He likes pickles. A lot.