Content warning: domestic violence and child abuse
My father left when I was 2 years old. Actually, my mom and I left. I remember it like it was yesterday. He was shouting. My mom was shouting. He hit my mom. My mom hit the ground.
And we hit the road.
When I was about 6 years old, my father decided to come back and have a custody battle with my mom. After months of litigation, my father came out with custody every other weekend and alternating summers.
Most of these visits were pretty memorable. We rode bikes together, and he laughed at me when I crashed. We would go on walks together, and he hit me for dragging my feet. One of my fondest memories was the time I broke my finger after getting hit with a crutch. Instead of taking me to a doctor, he rubbed what he called “herbal water” on his hands and squeezed my broken digit.
Wouldn’t herbal water just be tea?
I was dreading my first summer with him. Instead of getting to hang out with my friends in Los Angeles, I was interned at my father’s San Diego apartment.
I only slept there at night, though. My dad sent me to beach camp for the entire summer.
I was kind of looking forward to spending time with him, to be honest, but I guess the feelings weren’t mutual. Don’t get me wrong — I had a great time at camp, but it didn’t make sense. Why would he fight so hard for me to be with him just to send me away? Did he even want or like me? Or was he just trying to hurt my mom?
Fast forward to Father’s Day 2015, I was at my father’s apartment. Imagine stale and humid air — the salt water simultaneously nauseating me and drying my face out. I could feel the condensation forming on my face, the moisture in the air attacking even the appliances, rust polka-dotting the sink.
Imagine a father, wearing nothing but a towel, approaching his son and screaming.
“Kino, did you burn my sink?”
So you may be thinking, how the hell do you burn a sink? I was thinking the same thing, so I responded with,
“How the hell do you burn a sink?”
He explained, tonally addressing me as a fool, that the sink was chipped and orange. He then explained that, because fire is orange, that meant his sink was burned and that I must have done it.
My father continued to berate me for the rest of the night, even through Father’s Day dinner at his favorite restaurant. During dinner, his wife pleaded with him to stop, beginning to cry when he refused to even acknowledge her.
He finally stopped at some point and went to sleep. At around 4 a.m., however, he came out of his bedroom, the towel replaced by a pair of stained sweatpants. I mentally prepared myself for the incoming verbal attack.
He called me a coward and a liar, just like my mom. He called me “nothing” and incapable of being anything else. He told me that he doesn’t tell his friends he has a son.
As he was yelling, I wondered what being “nothing” could possibly be. I imagined that it looked something like screaming at your son in nothing but a towel.
He told me to get out of his house, sending me away like summer camp. So I went to the train station, explained to the ticket salesman why I should be allowed on the train despite being an unaccompanied minor trying to ride the train at 4 a.m. and went home.
And I haven’t seen him since.
Looking back at the memories with my father, I’m reminded that while you can’t choose your parents, you can choose your family. A rusty sink may not seem like anything special, but it allowed me to truly understand what family means to me. While I may always be linked to my father through blood, I more than likely won’t have a bond with him as family — as my dad rather than as my father. Family doesn’t kick each other out at 4 a.m. Family doesn’t send you away when you only have so much time together.
Much like how he’s chosen to not have me in his family, I’ve chosen to include people in mine — my mom, my best friends of more than 10 years, my cats. We stay up until 4 a.m. to make sure we’re OK. We keep each other close because we know we only have so much time together.
My father didn’t show me a lot of things. He didn’t show me how to ride a bike. He didn’t show me how to shave. He didn’t show me love.
Luckily for me, through his callous parenting, the one thing he did show me was how I want to love and be loved. I want to counteract the hate that he’s put out.
I want to clean off the rust and shine.
Thanks for showing me that, dad.