Although “love” was just a word that excused the torture he endured, in the end he was listed as his father’s “first beloved son.”
Intellectually I understand that obituaries are never the place to air family dysfunction. But emotionally, this one trips all my triggers. My father’s obituary is, in the end, a final sweep of the horror that has ended up under every carpet in my house since I was a child.
This obituary exaggerates his accomplishments and reminds me that there are parts of his story I have not fully processed. I am triggered yet again by the mention of his days coaching young children, and know I have more work to do to fully incorporate the pain I feel as I imagine him leaning over young boys and girls—ostensibly to help them better hit a baseball.
My dad died quickly in rural Virginia of cancer that overtook his increasingly frail body. A family member broke ranks and let me know that he had been losing weight quickly over the previous months. He entered the hospital with an optimistic but misguided vision of treatment before slipping into a coma and dying.
A scramble to say final goodbyes ensued when he was admitted to the hospital. It included a few friends and all of my brothers except me.
I had been erased from the family long ago, by mutual consent. My mother and brothers sided with my father although his alcohol-induced violence stretched way beyond just me. The family protected my father, and in the process, protected the family institution and the Breslin “brand” at the expense of his victims. Siding with victims would mean that my kin would have to ask hard questions about how they, as brothers and mother, enabled all this to happen.
Such accountability requires more courage than any family member can muster. It’s much simpler to blame the victims, as most victims can sadly attest.
Sweep sweep sweep…
The obituary glosses over the family break and reintegrates me back into their story at the expense of mine.
I am listed as the first beloved son.
Love, of course, baffled me until I was introduced to the meaning behind this previously confusing word by my wife of 26 years. Until then, my father offered his “love” after he unleashed his hate on me sexually, physically, and emotionally.
Love was the word bandied around to make it all better as the scars settled.
Sweep sweep sweep…
My mother would tell me, “He is your father, he loves you.”
Sweep, sweep sweep…
I still see myself sitting wrapped in an enormous blanket in a green chair on Christmas day in 1982—as far from the family and the Christmas tree and the video camera as possible. The blanket hid the scars of a ferocious beating that occurred when the lights went out and heads sunk into the pillows that cut off the sound of fists and cries of a boy alone with a monster. Bruises to ribs, groin, lower back, and pride as my father was a master of hiding his masterpieces.
That year’s Christmas video captures me hiding in a blanket, trying to disappear into a chair, as far from everyone as the room would allow, being mocked by father, mother, and brothers as presents accumulated at my feet, unwilling to open presents saying “Love Dad,” unwilling to emerge from the blanket that hid the scars.
Sweep, sweep, sweep…
That video became legend within my family, pulled from a secret place every future Christmas and played when the endless runs of “A Christmas Story” on TBS no longer entertained. Brothers roll on the floor in laughter, father laughs so hard that tears fall from his reddening face, and mother buckled over in hysterics as the horror of that beating and my pain play out on TV.
My dad would always see me retreating from the room and, between laughter and tears, would find enough air to tell me he loves me.
Sweep sweep sweep…
He always said he loved me after he sodomized me. He always said he loved me when he beat me. He always said he loved me after crushing me emotionally. And he professed his love for me in his final moments, through an obituary.
My mother always swept.
My healing journey has been long, tortuous, and profound. I discovered to my surprise that I had to sit with all this once again when I read his obituary, and was able to actually stay with the confusion I felt instead of running for cover.
Emotions collided as pain and some hidden fear that I thought was gone reappeared and eventually evaporated. I found myself struggling emotionally with lingering feelings of inadequacy, as I never quite understood why the violence was so relentlessly directed at me. I found myself yet again grappling with my mother’s indifference and her relentless focus on preserving the family brand at the expense of her eldest. I let the conflict between the reality of his violence toward me and its lingering aftershocks dance with the contradictory, seemingly stupid, emotionally childish, but deeply felt desire to have had a dad who cared just a little. Deep inside I wanted parents who cared, who actually matched the oft-stated word “love” with actions that did not require a sweep.
I belong to a wonderful church in Denver made up of beautifully broken people whose pastor teaches that we are truly loved in the darkness that we find ourselves in and in the darkness we create. My father’s minister reinforced this profound spiritual worldview with me during a call where I believe I finally closed the book on my relationship with my father. I wished my father well on his journey, said goodbye one last time, felt a new forgiveness for myself rush through my heart, and listened to the sound of the broom being silenced forever.
Photo: Getty Images