The reason I didn’t.

Yesterday, everyone I knew was celebrating one of the many overly-commercialized holidays that fictionalized, crotchety old people usually complain about. That’s right- it was Father’s day; the day that invites the general populace to bust out their telephonic devices and buy last minute gifts for the men who brought them up. There was a constant flood of reminders for me- I was with my boyfriend when he called his Dad, I saw the obligatory social media posts- hell, even Snapchat got in on the action and sent me well-wishes (despite my lack of children and male-identifiers).

For once, I was less festive than Snapchat.
(On an unrelated note, Dogs are already covered in fur, Snapchat- you don’t need to give one whiskers to make it more butch.)

I know some of you reading this are looking suspiciously at the tone this post has taken; some of you are frowning deeply at your screens thinking ‘here comes another ungrateful millennial’, while others could be filled with second-hand pre-emptive guilt/regret as you don’t have a father to call today. You’re hoping that this is one of those sentimental posts that declare a solidarity with all partial/full-parental orphans out there- the posts that always pop up on those holidays or the days following. Maybe your last ditch hope is that it slipped my mind despite the aforementioned reminders.

It didn’t.
My biological father is very much still alive.
I still identify him as ‘Dad’ in conversation…
but I did not call him.

Before you being ostracizing me from this society- a society run purely on festive action and tradition- let me explain. I have a complicated relationship with my father- I always have. My Mum used to laugh uncomfortably while I asked questions children should never feel like they have to ask, and insist that he and I were too similar- that ‘he tells [her] all the time that he’s proud of [me]’. She used to assure me that he loves me.

It’s because of that assurance that I tried So Hard to be a kid he could be proud of, despite our ‘similarities’.

When I was little, I’d watch my Mum’s chiropractor closely when she was getting her back fixed because I knew my Dad had back problems too. I learnt what the Doctor did to manipulate shoulders, spines, and ribs- after all, my Dad worked often, for a time exclusively in a manual-labour-based job, and refused to seek help when he wasn’t working- maybe due to money constraints, maybe due to machismo.
I’d been tagging along with my Mum to this office since I was about 2 years old. I asked the Doctor questions, and watched everything he did with eagle-eyes (I didn’t need glasses until I was in grade 10). In hind-sight this was probably approaching a malpractice case, but I was eager to learn and un-endorsed by an insurance company. Lawsuit-free since ’93.

I was about 4 when I started giving my dad back rubs. I’d spend hours pressing my small thumbs into the stiff muscles of his shoulders, asking him questions about whatever came to my mind (if he wasn’t reading). This was one of the only times he’d be relaxed enough to listen to what I had to say. When I was helping him, he wouldn’t be yelling at me. Don’t get me wrong, my thumbs would ache (I was never a physically strong kid, and I’m only a little stronger now- my sister calls me noodle-arms) but I wouldn’t stop. Why? Because he cared when I helped- because when I was done, he’d say I did a good job.

“Doctor Mont!” he’d beam, rolling his shoulders back. I would mask the pain I was feeling in my hands and asked how he felt, which usually got me another smile and a “That’s much better!”

But that’s not why I didn’t call.
It wasn’t because he failed to acknowledge me in the same way he saw my sister. It wasn’t because he’d only listen to me if I made myself someone he would like- it wasn’t because I tried so hard and hurt myself along the way.

It’s because I wanted a Dad.
It’s because I didn’t get one.

I’d always ask my Mum he liked me, or even loved me. I would say I love you to him to make sure he would say it back. I would get up early every father’s day and try to make him a breakfast and a coffee before he got up. I would make him cards telling him I loved him so he would know I was there for him whenever he wanted to finally show me he was there for me.

I’d always get a cut-out answer. I would always be told we didn’t have the money for the smallest favours I would ask (a ride down the street to my job in the middle of winter, for example). I would always be told that the father’s day meal ‘was good’ before the ‘but there’s a bit too much…’. I would always be there when he threw out my cards and pictures as he cleaned his desk for his guns. I would always tell myself I did something wrong- that’s why he wasn’t there for me the same way he was for my sister.

I don’t want this to sound like I’m pleading for approval- I’m not. I’m not that lonely kid anymore. I have a boyfriend who loves me, and a far more stable life… I think this is just my way of trying to heal- trying to realize that my Dad was right last year when he told me ‘all of [his] ties to Ontario are gone’ after my Gran died.

And yet at midnight (about 10pm in Saskatchewan- where he lives), when he messaged me asking about a job I’ve had for weeks- I felt sad. I hadn’t talked to him in weeks- haven’t seen him in years. I knew he was planning a trip to Ontario, but he had said nothing to me about a visit or meeting up.
And again… I felt sad.

But I didn’t message him back.
Because I don’t want to hope things can be different.

I know he is damaged in a way that makes him incapable of caring for me- I know because he’s given me that damage since I was a child. I want to feel good about not calling him. I want to feel bad about not calling him.
I just feel sad.

In any case, I don’t want to end this post on such a low note so- Happy Father’s day to those special Pops! I hope that everyone was able to get together and exchange ties or whatever else the holiday approves of.

I hope I don’t become a crotchety stereotype.

-Jessica Dixon

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Stay Cool, Pony Boy.

Mental illness has always played a part within my life. Whereas most people remember spending their childhood days running around like mad/semi-drunken fools, kicking their friends into the dirt as they ate as much junk-food their grubby baby hands could carry, I remember mine as being far more stressful. Admittedly, I probably ate enough raw sugar to drown a small herd of cows, and kicked my friends so many times that it is a wonder they weren’t permanently crippled, yet it is the style with which I accomplished said tasks that was strange. My behaviour could be described with one word: nervous.

My mother’s stories surrounding the attitudes and behaviours of my siblings and I usually follow a specific pattern; my brother was a kid who deserved more credit than he got, my sister was “tough, big-hearted, and stubborn”, and I, the youngest of the three, was “easy to raise”. The reason for this comment makes that less of a compliment, and more of a case-study.

I was a child who was so terrified of breaking the rules that if I were to break any house rule, I would find a punishment for myself. For example: if I were to swear, I would wash my own mouth out with soap. Why? Because my mother had once told me that this was what happened to her as a child. I would take the punishments she described as having been inflicted upon her, and assume that it had bridged the generational divide like a regal title.

Not only had I a constant fear of parental law, but I was horrifically indecisive. When my Father would ask me to choose (out of 2 places) where I wanted to get coffee, I would take quite some time to decide. Wrapped in abysmal indecision, sweat shining upon my pre-pubescent brow, I would finally plead for him to choose instead. When I talk about these trips now, he laughs. Apparently he had once asked me why I had such a hard time making a choice and I replied, “if we [went] to Macs, the doughnuts at Tim Hortons [would] know and get mad.”

This feeling of dread has remained constant throughout my life in one form or another. I remember staying up most of the night before my first day of grade 9 worrying about what I wanted to major in for University, and thinking that if I didn’t figure it out that night I would fail in life. I was in a constant state of anxiety throughout high school, and oftentimes found my mind obsessing over the ‘what ifs’ of my day-to-day. It was only when I got to University that I realized perhaps this had gone a bit too far.

In 2013, about the time I was diagnosed with ‘General Anxiety Disorder’, an estimated 3 million Canadians (11.6%) aged 18 years or older reported having a mood and/or anxiety disorder (Government of Canada). Although I had always known that having a mental breakdown over what to choose on a menu, or crying for seemingly ‘no reason’ was not normal, it had taken me until I was almost 20 years old to get help.

Mental illness is invisible, and because of this it is highly stigmatized. When someone has a broken limb they are given treatment and compassion. When someone has a ‘broken’ mind they are given the cold shoulder, and told to “calm down”. I will not speak for everyone, but when I am told to “just relax” in the midst of a panic attack, an inner beast awakens (an inner beast that is frequently just two steps away from clawing out the eyes of the well-intentioned speaker). Sadly, people have been left in the dark  as to how they can help those experiencing mental illness. It is not necessarily the public’s fault either; our entire culture is based on the “Conceal, Don’t Feel” format of interactions. If someone is able to discover your inner ice-queen, you are seen as already having lost. That is why it is so important to talk about mental illness; if we talk about it, then the mystery is gone.

I encourage you, dear reader, to go from this humble blog post and talk about that which should not be the ‘Dark Lord’ of our society (Voldemort, not Trump). If you are suffering from a mental illness, know that you are not alone. More and more people are coming out of the fold to speak about their own experiences with mental illness, and we are slowly eliminating the stigma associated with getting help. You do not have to to be alone in this. The more we talk about mental illness, the closer we are to sending the Mystery Gang back to unmasking ghosts instead of complacently patting Shaggy on the shoulder and telling him that he should “just stop worrying”.

For information on how to help someone you know who is suffering from mental illness, go here. If you are suffering from a mental illness yourself and do not know where to turn, call 1-866-531-2600 (if you are in Ontario), or find a number that can help you here.

-J. Dixon-

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