My father and I had never shared any physical contact before I was fifteen. As I was growing up, he had never said any word that indicated his feelings toward me, my mother, or any other family member for that matter. I guess I was used to it, never paid attention or thought much on his lack of words. Here I am, writing about fathers once again on a whiskey-filled night, thinking about what the fuck would happen if I ever become a father. Then I stopped thinking when the thoughts became too scary for me to comprehend.

My father was a mean-spirited man. He treated people like tools he pulled out of a shack and his family like a facade to make himself look sane in front of the world. Before bedtimes when I asked mother for stories, she would whisper by my bedside about how she was too young, stupid and naive to see who my father was, and she made me promise I will do whatever I can to keep myself away from becoming my father. Many nights I fell asleep to my mother’s words, and many more to the sound of my father viscerally screaming at my mother whenever she came home late, accusing her of sleeping with other men. I honest to god thought that was what happens in a home, people fighting like they are each other’s eternal pain.

Because of the man my father was, my family turned me against him. He was the man I most feared in my early years; for most of my childhood I never dared to talk back to him, and sometimes I couldn’t even stare him in the eye when a question came my way. After school every day, he was the last person I wanted to see waiting in the car lane.

My father never talked about himself, never once he told anybody how he felt, or how he had been. For as long as I can remember, he always had a look of pain and constipation behind the scruff on his face. The wrinkles on his forehead took all the attention away from the slightly kind-looking eyes and his Buddha-like shape. The man drank liquor like water, sometimes he wouldn’t even have a meal without some help from his little friends. The worst was whatever came after the drinking, the intensely emotional and manipulative conversations with whoever hung around the house. My now gone grandfather was one of the biggest victims of this abuse. Once, he got so mad and bothered about the accusations against his daughter that he slapped my father right across his fat-filled face. A seventy-year-old man used up all the force he had to defend his daughter’s honor against the foul man that is my father.

For many years, he was on the bottom of the list of who I wanted to become. I tried to avoid the way he would do things on almost every conceivable level. After years of school away from home and away from him, I thought I was cleared to be free from who he was to me. That thought lasted only for a while, until I ran into many problems in my own adulthood. Women, work, passions got me trapped under a rock more often than I could imagine as a thirteen-year-old watching pornography under the sheets. I drink almost every night, smoke like a fiend and happen to find myself in a lot of situations where my aggression overcomes the kindness that exists deep down in my heart. I find myself pretentious, snobby, and often condescending to others. I am hard to crack and penetrate emotionally, and that has ruined countless relationships I had with women, friends and even family members. The thing that gets me is not that I am the way my father was—it’s that I see who I am becoming very clearly, against my better judgment and more and more so every day. I can’t divert myself any other way. My mother realized it, I realized it, but my father didn’t. I guess it’s harder to find fault in yourself than others, until the mistake becomes the end of you.

 

Leo Zhang’s personal essay “Song For My Father” won third prize in the Sixth Annual School of Visual Arts Writing Program Contest. Leo is a sophomore majoring in Film who aspires to have the life of a chef.