I was a fourth grader who escaped through Luke Skywalker. I wasn’t even aware of what I was trying to evade. When my siblings and I were in bed at night, we would jump on the mattress, and shout Star Wars one-liners until my father would barge in our room with a belt strap in his hands, threatening to give us the beating of our young lives. They were just empty threats, most of the times. On the rare occasions where the leather would spank our buttocks, he would cry and apologize.
I imagined him wearing a cape and a helmet, I could hear him breathe hard through his mask; he was a Sith, and I feared my father the way Luke feared Darth Vader. If I ever had kids, I would never be like him.
“I’m turning out just like my father
Though I swore i never would”
I grew up running away from fatherhood. I lived a life of debauchery, detached from responsibility. Whereas a kid I lived vicariously through Luke Skywalker, as an adult, I channeled Han Solo. I charmed women and men with my debonair attitude. If a woman would share my bed, there would be no tomorrow, and there would be no children. Ever. Being Han Solo meant I wasn’t the son of a dark lord, a man I didn’t want to love.
Throughout my life, I would run away from him, from his legacy. If there was something I knew—something I didn’t want to admit—it was the power of the Dark Side. I was familiar with passion and violence, and easily lost my temper. I indulged into fights, I enjoyed taking a beating as much as I enjoyed connecting my fist on my adversary’s face. Feeling the bruises on my knuckles after a fight was exhilarating. There was so much rage, and the best way to protect children from my anger was to never have kids.
“Now I can say that I have a love for him”
As a kid, when my father lashed out at us, verbally or physically, I never understood how he could suddenly turn around and hold us tight, crying and asking for forgiveness. As a kid, once his wrath had fallen upon us, I couldn’t suddenly switch my emotions from “I hate you so very, very much” to “you are the best dad in the world.”
As a kid, we weren’t told about his past and his childhood. We were sheltered from the horrors of his life, from living in poverty and being a victim of sexual assault. We were protected from the ugly truth, which in return didn’t protect us from him.
“I never really understood
What it must have been like for him
Living inside his head”
In my thirties, the drinking and the drugs and the darkness took the best of me. I sought professional help. I lied to my first therapists, and got away with it. I met a woman, we were careless, and a child was born. I couldn’t run away from this. I found a new therapist who saw through my lies. We spoke about my father, his and my violence, his and my poverty. We spoke about the good man who lost his ways, the man who succumbed to the Dark Side. And we spoke about me, his son, his legacy, and how I was now breathing through the same mask he once wore, the one I rejected, the one I feared, the one I swore I would never hide behind. My therapist spoke my language, and I will never forget these words, “You’re no longer Luke or Han Solo: you’ve become Darth Vader. You are your own enemy.”
“I feel like he’s here with me now
Even though he’s dead”
There will be a day when I will tell my kids about their grandfather. They will be told the story as I remember it. There will be a time when I will tell them about their own father, before he was a father. They will be told my story, the one I do not want to forget—it wasn’t an easy childhood, but it was my childhood. We are not necessarily condemned to an existence as nothing more than the product of our upbringing. We are more than the sum of our parents’ parts. But understanding where you started is essential in knowing where to go next.
* Title and excerpts are from the song Things the Grandchildren Should Know, by Eels.
** Featured image: “One Day Son” by Slinkachu.