Photo: My father and me on Mt. Rainier in 1978.
It’s Yom Kippur today, or was: the Day of Atonement and the holiest of days in Judaism. I’ve been very sick the past two months due to the never ending monsoon where I live and its affect on my body due to Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, on top of other issues in my life. It’s been very difficult, painful, and depressing, so my mind has wandered to my father as I’ve sat for months in utter isolation, even though we are estranged yet again and have had no contact in months. Last night, before the sun set on Erev Yom Kippur, I sent him an e-mail.
This is a time for reflection: to think of where one has erred and where one can improve. I wasn’t expecting a reply to my e-mail; I just wanted to share my thoughts at this time. I was raised Reform and am not overly observant, but there are traditions I choose to follow.
I wrote in the subject line of the e-mail the traditional greeting on Yom Kippur: Good Yontif, my father—anglicized Yiddish for Good Holiday. The rest was highly personalized on purpose, as I know how to get my father to understand my point, if nothing else. So, I wrote:
My thoughts this Erev Yom Kippur:
My father taught me to be strong and tough, so I am.
My father taught me to be outspoken, so I am.
My father taught me to be responsible, so I am.
My father taught me to be the squeaky wheel, so I am.
My father taught me to be funny, so I am.
My father taught me to be a Jew, so I am.
My father taught me to be affectionate, so I am.
My father taught me to love doo-wap and Motown, so I do.
My father taught me to not let others disrespect me, so I don’t.
My father taught me about tzedakah, so I give back.
My father taught me business sense, so I use it.
My father taught me to speak up against injustice, so I do.
My father taught me to be stubborn, so I am.
My father taught me to talk down to people, so I do.
My father taught me that asking for help is a weakness, so I don’t.
My father taught me to hold grudges, so I do.
My father taught me to not rely on people, so I don’t.
My father taught me to cut people out of my life, and so I do.
I learned all of these traits—both good and bad—from you. I atone the latter: these horrid traits that go back generations. My mother taught me very little that I can recall going back to 1977 and I have few memories of her and so many of you, a man who is long gone now and who has no memories of my formative years. I have many traits that you don’t have and vice versa, but I am my father’s daughter, and it wasn’t from mere observation. You wanted me to be like the man you were years ago before you lost interest, and so that is what I became and still am, despite becoming debilitated and disabled so early in life. I don’t know who you are now, but I knew who you were back then: a father who, despite having many flaws, loved me and who I could always rely on, and who I loved in return.
May you be inscribed in the Book of Life this New Year.
My father replied to my e-mail today and let me preface this by saying that list was abridged and purposely focused on the good traits he taught me. He apologized for some things, which was unheard of, and made excuses for others, but then the e-mail turned sour and was focused on how my family had reached out to me and that this was the time to not be so strong and tough and to let others in, which is just absurd and completely false. I was also told I needed to learn how to apologize. To whom do I need to apologize—my grandmother who told me I was “the broken tile in our family’s mosaic?”
My father stopped talking to me, and by that I mean by e-mail, because I hinted at the fact that my physical therapy benefit was cutting out and as my income is mainly from SSDI—federal disability that pays for my prescriptions and little else—I would need help paying cash for my much needed physical therapy. My father was a successful businessman who lives a very comfortable life, so this was not asking for much.
I won’t even touch on the lack of emotional support from the bulk of my family in general or the verbal assaults thrown my way simply for falling ill due to a genetic disorder. As the day progressed, the back-and-forth e-mails got downright offensive and I was told to not contact him again—all for speaking the truth.
I tried and failed and the impasse continues, and on a day when things should be resolved, as is our tradition. I’m left with a heavy heart and am as frustrated with this relationship as I am with this disease, both of which are utterly incurable.