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Sharing the Soap

January 21, 2010

When I was a little girl and my father would drink, he would trap his children into listening to his stories. His children were all that was left after the company went home and my mother had gone to bed with a final parting shot, “I’ve heard them all before.” One by one, my brothers would slip out of his grip along with my sister. I always felt obligated to stay. The man did provide for us after all, regardless of how meager those provisions were. Unfortunately the stories were either too dull, over my head, or a bunch of words my young brain could not apply enough meaning to, to be interesting. The gist of most of his stories was typical of most men, he was the hero of some situation or he was the victim. Of course, when a man is a victim it is not victimy-victim stuff as when females are victims, —-it is injustice!

As the nights grew darker and I no longer proved to be enough of an audience, he would get out the address book that was kept close to the phone. In the early years, I was happy to stay in the room when he made those telephone calls. It made me feel good to know that he was talking to people that we had not heard from in some time. I liked catching up on the latest. However, I would not be put on the phone because children did not do such things. If anything, I was the target of whatever verbal snipe he needed to make to counter any offense he felt from the other end of the phone.

As I got older, around ten or eleven, those phone calls became painful. Painful because even though I did not have words for my feelings and was annoyed that my mother would leave my father in the dining room alone, with phone book in hand, I could sense something else happening. I was able to understand that my father was drunk and was calling people who did not want to talk to a drunken man.

Soon I grew too old to be patient with him any longer. By the time I was twelve or so, and my father would ask for the address book, I would leave the room in pretense of looking for the book. Then I would hide until enough time had passed and he was in bed. I could not take one more time of hearing him answering someone on the other end of the phone asking, “Mike who?”

*Title’s allusion. Do keep up!

8 Comments
  1. Mary Sunshine permalink
    January 21, 2010 8:42 pm

    Kitty,

    I know that alcoholic father thing. The shame, the pain. 😦

    Our fathers sound like the same guy. I also hated sharing the soap with him, or going into the bathroom after he had just gone out.

    {{{ Kitty }}}

    • January 21, 2010 8:57 pm

      I can laugh at it now. It was all so silly. I was lucky though, because that was the extent of his drinking, unless of course we get technical and calculate how better things could have been done with his time and money. I do like exploring why it was me, out of all of his children, who felt the need to not abandon him. Why did I feel so obliged? He certainly never paid it back in kind. I cannot remember one comforting or encouraging word from him.

  2. January 22, 2010 2:59 am

    It is so painful to watch people embarrass themselves. I think there’s sort of a society-wide expectation that families will be embarrassed by the male head of household, though, that it’s part of the role of the father to embarrass his wife and family while still exacting their loyalty to him and their silence around the shame. It seems like every sitcom out there makes use of that trope.

    My dad (I alternate between calling him stepdad and dad because he’s been in my life since I was born although he did not contribute the sperm to my conception) was a gambler. And my mother would always preempt his being flat broke by keeping money from his knowledge. He’d drag my mother to casinos, where she’d idle away the hours playing the same $10, losing a dollar, winning it back, in the nickel slot machines, while he wasted vast sums (in proportion to our family’s funds anyway) of money at the tables. And she’d never speak of the embarrassment she felt when he’d drag himself back to her to publicly proclaim that he’d lost all their money and didn’t even have enough to fill the gas tank for the trip home. She just covered for him.

    And, Mary, I hated going into the bathroom after my dad, too. Talk about a foul stench. Years after he left my mother, you could still smell his odor in the towels.

  3. January 22, 2010 3:52 am

    I relate to much of what you say in this post. and as an obsessive-compulsive person on the cleanliness front, I don’t even want to share the soap with *myself* – I lather up a washcloth and use that on my body instead of the bar of soap directly. Fat lot of good my clean freak streak is – I am sick yet again after ONE WHOLE DAY of feeling healthy, Monday. Sorry for off-topic-ness; my actual point isn’t solely self-pity but is really that I wanted to say I’m thinking of the people I love who write and frequent this blog, hopefully I’ll be a real participant again soon. And hope you’re all doing okay, or great, whatever’s possible. xoxox

    • January 22, 2010 3:57 am

      Oh, we always used washcloths, too, Joan. For the longest time, I thought only white folks rubbed the bar of soap directly on their bodies. And I was only aware that white folks might do that because of the soap commercials where they did that. Ha.

      Even with the washcloths, though, you couldn’t have paid me to share a bar of soap with my dad.

  4. JenniferRuth permalink
    January 22, 2010 12:27 pm

    I feel you, Kitty. 😦

  5. January 22, 2010 5:33 pm

    Looks like a pattern here. Alcoholic dad embarrasses the family, spends all the money, mom has to constantly bail him out. That’s my story too.

    Kitty I can identify with what you wrote here, I too felt ‘special’ to be sitting up with my dad as he would talk about nothing, and everything while drunk/high. I especially liked it, as a child, because he would tell me stories about my grandmother and his brothers and sisters. His family moved to where I grew up when he was about 5, and so there are family members scattered about throughout the country and the western hemisphere as well. As I got older I began to realize my mother wasn’t the “selfish controlling bitch” he claimed she was in his drunken fits. The truly selfish person was him, as he drank, and smoked, away all the money my mother earned (he did not work and still doesn’t) for his addictions. It was terribly difficult for me to weed through where mom “allowed” him to be financially irresponsible/abusive and where it was solely his fault alone. As a kid I maintained the belief that men can only do to you what you allow them to do. As an adult I hold some of that to be true and realize it’s rubbish! They will do as they damn well please and you can either “get with the program” (something dad would say to mom) or not.

    And OH Margie talk about the smell… He was the only male in our house. Between just the natural funk of maleness (lol) and the liquor many days I just wanted to die. I hated having to share soap with him. I would actually save whatever little coins I “earned” for being a good child (=cooking, cleaning, watching younger siblings, walking kids home from school so mom could work and dad could smoke/drink/party with other males in our house. They were quickly ushered out before mom got home, though.) and would buy and hide my own soap. The day I thought of that was the sweetest day ever for me. The first day I had something of my own, mine alone, ever, was the day I bought that little bar of ivory soap. 🙂 I still look back on it and smile. At the time, when even my own thoughts weren’t my own, having that bar of soap in a sandwhich bag under my mattress was damn sweet.

  6. January 23, 2010 6:33 am

    I love getting soaps, too, Mary. I eagerly await the day when people give me gifts of soap as a matter of course, instead of all the socks I don’t need and cameras I don’t know how to use.

    Soulsis, your story is too cute. I like thinking of you ferreting your soap away under the mattress.

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