Lawyers have been hired, papers have been drawn and I am to pick a parent. Pick a side. When it comes down to it, I side with my mother because she raised me. She was faithful and loyal and loved me more than one person should ever love another. I owe her all of the time she put into me and more. I owe her my allegiance.
But I am my father. Somehow, despite the countless months of his absence in my home and my childhood, she brought me up to be the person she can no longer stand. I guess that’s the irony of this whole mess.
“But you’re different from him in all of the right ways,” my mother says.
“I know I am,” I lie.
I have a stronger sense of right and wrong than he does, she says, a trait that comes from living through his mistakes, his weakness. But I have slept in the arms of a man with a girlfriend. Though he vowed they were no longer together, that he wanted me more than he ever did her, I knew the truth when he left the room and I found that photograph. Two smiling faces, bodies bare, laying on the bed in which I had just spent the night. I should have walked out, but I simply turned the picture over, lay back down and waited for him to return. So in that way, I am my father.
I have more of a filter than he does, she says, one I learned the importance of through watching his friends fall away one by one as he carelessly voiced his every uncensored thought. A writer, he is a man of many words and his abrasive candor makes it hard to stay his friend, his wife. But there have been times I have said too much. I have on many occasions called a friend something terrible only to shrug off their shock and wait for them to get over their sensitivity. I rarely apologize. In that way, I am my father.
I am more truthful than he is, she says, something he never quite understood the importance of. She believes me with the trust of a child, my mother. There is truthful, and then there is believable. I am nothing but an impeccable liar with an innocent smile. In that way, I am my father.
I am less dependent on drugs than he is, she says, but I’m getting there.
My father and I lay on the floor of his home office as I wonder aloud whether or not she really needs another him in her life. He doesn’t say a word, for he knows who he is. Who we are. He rolls a joint on an old family photo, a false memory of a seemingly happy time. We have done this so many nights before, but tonight’s different. Tomorrow, he is gone.
As we listen to Ray LaMontagne and watch the smoke linger overhead, I confide in him. I remind him of our shared flaws and her broken heart. I ask, I beg, for advice. He takes a hit. Thinks. “Be who I couldn’t be for her,” he says as he exhales, “She deserves the her in you, not the me.” He passes me the joint. I take a hit. He smiles a smile quite like my own and I realize she is someone I do not know how to be.
“We’re not so bad, though, you and I,” my father says.
“I know we’re not,” I lie.