My Beautiful Wickedness

August 8, 2007, 10:26 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

This one’s about me. It will sound like it’s about someone else, but it winds up being about me.

There’s a girl in Kid’s dance class that is very gangly and sort of a winsome goof — lovely smile, gentle personality, sort of a dreamy kid. She’s Kid’s energy opposite — Kid showers the room with energy, with Gentle Girl sort of sidles in as though she’s afraid she’ll take up too much space. GG’s parents are sort of typical second-gen Irish-Catholic working-class people (if there is such a thing). They are gruff, no spare emotion, not going to say much good about the kid to the kid, but working hard to give the child clean clothes, nice toys, some opportunities — but, you know, not going to let it go to the kid’s head or nothing. The father is not, shall we say, down with feminism. He parents grudgingly. Today, GG was late for dance class after having been late in returning from her day summer camp and it was about a million degrees. Dad had to wait in the car and then take her to dance class, which put him in a foul mood. GG was her dreamy (exhausted, thirsty) self and took a very long time to get her dance shoes on because jazz boots are hard to put on hot sweaty feet. Long story short, Dad wound up popping the little girl in the face with a water bottle (not hard, more just to be an asshole than with intention to hurt her) and made her cry. I jumped up and got between the now-crying kid and her dad, ushered her away until her mom (who had just arrived from her nursing shift) got to the floor to soothe the child. GG remained anxious for the rest of the dance class, pretty much until she realized that she was riding home with her mom and not her dad. GG’s mom was embarrassed and furious and like all women in those situations, tried to make a bunch of excuses for her husband that alternated with furious “just what the hell did he think he was doing?” I guess the mom and dad argued out in the parking lot before she came back in. Anyhow, he was nowhere in evidence when I stopped seeing red. (I did have to get out of the studio and go for a brief walk to get rid of some adrenaline because I wanted to climb his tree and knew that wouldn’t help matters.)

My daughter wanted to know why I had not confronted him. I told her, simply, that I was more interested in helping GG than I was in correcting GG’s dad. I let her know that if I had really thought that GG was being abused on an ongoing basis, I would have protected her even more strongly by getting GG some help right then. I refused to make excuses for GG’s dad and told her that hitting a child in anger is always wrong, but also told her that none of us want to be judged by our worst moments. “GG and GG’s mom need our friendship and our compassion and her daddy needs our careful observation.”

But in truth, it was more complicated than that. In my judgment, to confront him might have made life worse for both the mother and the daughter. And, as I know all too well, adult women often draw away from those women who make a public stink about their husbands — no one wants to admit that they married an asshole that takes his shit out on a little girl from time to time. At some point, that woman might need to talk to somebody and I’ll be there when she needs to do so. I also believe, really believe, that he knows this was stupid behavior and I have confidence that his wife is completely capable of setting his shit straight without any put-in from me.

Ok, here’s where it’s about me. I had one of those kind of fathers. The work every day father whose ideas of love never included much affection or mercy. The patriarchal rough-hewn man. The guy who thought that taking a pop at one’s kids now and then was a right that came with the territory of fatherhood. The truth of the matter is that not every man is going to be a great dad and father. It wasn’t a Hallmark way to grow up. But was it abusive? Or was it just somewhere on the continuum between “complete shit” and “ideal,” admittedly falling somewhere farther to the left. I turned out ok, except for some sporadic rage issues that I’m working on. I had people who protected me and I am certain GG has people to protect her as well. But as I found out today, one really does have an inner child that never gets over that feeling of helpless embarassment and confusion you get when your father hits you in anger. It wasn’t GG I was trying to protect. It was me.


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Comment by Nick Dupree

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