Fuck. I sound so desperate and fucking pathetic.
He opens his mouth a little, but he stops himself and doesn’t say anything.
“I blame you,” I go on. “I really do blame you. Because if you’d been around for me, maybe you could have shown me how to . . . I don’t know—how to not treat people like shit. If I’d had a man in the house while growing up, maybe I wouldn’t be such a shitty person. If I don’t find some resolution for Tessa and me, I’m going to end up just like you. Well, you before you became this.” I gesture to his sweater vest and perfectly pressed dress slacks. “If I can’t find a way to stop hating you, I’ll never be able to . . .”
I don’t want to finish the sentence in front of him. What I want to say is that if I can’t stop hating him, I’ll never be able to show her how much I love her and treat her the way I should, the way she deserves.
My unspoken words linger there in the stuffy, wood-paneled study like a tortured spirit neither one of us knows how to exorcise.
“You’re right.” He surprises me by agreeing at last.
“Yes, you are. If you’d had a father to guide you and show you how to be a man, you’d be better equipped to handle these things, and life in general. I’ve blamed myself for your . . .”—I watch as he struggles for the words, and find myself leaning forward a little—“behavior. The way you are is my fault. It all stems from me and from the mistakes I made. I’ll carry the guilt for my sins for the entirety of my life, and for those sins, I am so, so sorry, son.” His voice catches at the end, and suddenly I feel . . . I feel . . .
Incredibly nauseous. “Well, that’s great, that you can be forgiven, but the result is how I am now! What am I supposed to do about it now?” I pick at the torn skin around my fingernails and note that my knuckles are surprisingly not busted, for once. Somehow that takes some of the anger out of me. “There has to be something,” I say softly.
“I think you should talk to someone,” he suggests.
But his answer feels insufficient, and the anger flares back. No shit I should talk to someone—you don’t fucking say? I wave my hand into the open space between us. “What are we doing right now? We’re talking.”
“I’m referring to a professional,” he replies calmly. “You’re holding on to a lot of anger from your childhood, and unless you find some way to let it go, or at least deal with it in a healthy way, I’m afraid you won’t make any progress at all. I can’t be the one to give you these tools; I caused you all this pain to begin with, and in your angrier moments you’d doubt what I had to say, even if it was helpful.”
“So coming here was a waste of my time, then? There’s nothing you can do?” I knew I should’ve hit the bar. I could be on my second whiskey and Coke by now.
“It wasn’t a waste of time. It was a really big step in your efforts to become a better person.” He makes eye contact with me again, and I can literally taste the whiskey that I should be drinking right now instead of having this conversation. “She’ll be so proud of you,” he adds.
Proud? Why the hell would anyone be proud of me? Shocked that I’m here maybe, but proud . . . no.
“She called me a drunk,” I confess without thinking.
“Is she right?” he asks, concern clear on his face.
“I don’t know. I don’t think I am, but I don’t know.”
“If you don’t know if you’re a drunk, you may want to find out the answer before it becomes too late.”
I study my father’s face and can see real fear for me behind his eyes. He has the fear maybe I should have. “Why did you start drinking in the first place?” I probe. I’ve always wanted to know the answer to that question, but I’ve never really felt like I could ask.
He sighs, and his hand moves up to smooth his short hair. “Well, your mum and I weren’t at the best place at the time, and the downward spiral started when I left one night and got drunk. By ‘drunk,’ I mean I couldn’t even walk home, but I found that I liked the way I felt, immobile or not. It numbed me to all the pain I was feeling, and it became a habit after that. I spent more time at that damned bar across the street than I did with you and her. It got to the point where I couldn’t function without the liquor, but I wasn’t really functioning with it either. It was a losing battle.”
I don’t remember anything before my father became a drunk; I had always assumed he was like that since before I was born. “What was so painful that you were trying to escape?”
“That’s not important. What’s important is that I finally woke up one day and got sober.”
“After you left us,” I remind him.
“Yes, son, after I left you both. You both were better off without me. I was in no position to be a father or a husband. Your mum did an excellent job raising you—I wish she hadn’t had to do it alone, but it turned out better than with me around.”
Anger churns and heats inside me, and I press my fingers into the armrests of the chair. “But you can be a husband to Karen, and a father to Landon.”
There, I said it. I have so much fucking resentment toward this man who was a drunk asshole my entire life—who fucked up my life—but who manages to remarry and take on a new son and new life. Not to mention he’s rich now, and we didn’t have shit while I was growing up. Karen and Landon have everything that my mum and I should have had.