Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Sins of The Father

I never ask for help.

Whether it be to ask for directions, need help with a work project or dealing with personal crisis I am completely self sufficient. I will begrudgingly accept help if offered, but only if I'm in way over my head or to appease the person offering the help, to make them feel better. As a kid in my neighborhood during pickup tackle football games or sandlot baseball games I was always a captain in charge of picking one of the teams. I would purposely pick an inferior line-up because it always felt better to win (or keep the game close) with less talent than to dominate over a weaker opponent.

I grew up with an over inflated ego. This was not due to constant, undeserved praise or coddling, but because from a very young age I knew that the adults in my life were fucked up and could sense that I was more in control of my emotions and reactions than almost every adult that I knew. My parents were an absolute mess. They never possessed an ounce of emotional regulation. The smallest of issues became huge fights in which ensued tremendous physical and emotional abuse. They divorced when I was seven, but my father was no where to be seen the last couple years of their marriage. He was around enough to knock her up a few more times, but soon disappeared into the selfishness and self-absorption of the 70's.

I don't talk about my father to anyone. Some of the things I witnessed as a young child are best kept in far recesses of my hippocampus. I don't have any regrets about my relationship with my father. To say that I have regrets would be to say I could have done something differently to change the situation. What I have concerning my father is more pity possible bordering on empathy. He never had a chance to enjoy his first set of children (he had six children with my mother, remarried and had another three, there could be others out there according to family lore). He never got to experience the unconditional love that comes with being a parent (my sisters profess to have loved him as they developed a relationship with him as adults, I doubt it was unconditional). He died a guilt ridden, painful death (my sisters tell me that he was calling out for me and my brother Greg during his last minutes on earth, although we have the same name, so the selfish bastard could have been calling out for himself).

A long time ago, while I was in my teens, I knew that I would never get an explanation as to why my father abandoned his family. My father was a low level criminal who was as full of shit as the day is long. He was a compulsive liar. Even as a seven year old I knew that he wasn't just embellishing a story to make it more interesting, he was an outright liar. My mother wasn't blameless in the situation, she had a myriad of emotional and mental health issues on her plate. In hindsight it was a good thing that they didn't remain together.

Of the many sins my father committed there are only two which I can't forgive.

The first is that he left my mother to raise five children (my brother Derek died at two months) with zero financial or emotional support. She had a stroke at 34 years old which left her paralysed on her left side and caused numerous other health problems until she died at 52 years old.

If he had helped her out financially even a little, at Christmas.

If he had taken us for weekend visits, once a year.

If he had been available for us kids to call him, to vent and receive validation.

Then maybe her burden would have been lessened just enough to keep her petite, frail body strong enough to raise her children to adulthood and maintain her sanity.

The other sin I will never forgive my father for is the fact that by not maintaining contact with us he robbed me of a relationship with the side of the family for which I am named. I never got to know my Uncle Tommy, his son Jimmy or his wife Connie. I never got to know my Uncle Jimmy. I did meet my Grandpa Sullivan a number of times, but never did anything with him, just sit in his apartment on Washington Street in Roslindale watching him and my dad smoke cigarettes. My Aunt Lorreta and her kids, Joey and Joanie kept in contact with us even after the divorce, but my father and mother were running so much interference with the situation that the relationship soured. My father went as far as to lie about our location to his sister. She didn't realize that we were still in the state until she read about my Grandma Norton's passing in the Boston Globe (I read this in a condolence letter she sent to my mother that I found amongst my mother's possessions when she passed). My brother's and sister's could have used all of the support possible when my father left, but instead we were left only with the Sullivan name.

This weekend I saw my cousin Jimmy for the first time in 40 years (read Jimmy's story here). I made contact with him August one year ago after seeing names on the grave where my brother Derek is buried and doing some Internet research about the Sullivan side of the family. I found Jimmy's (aka Suldog) blog and started reading. As I read stories about his life and some concerning family members I had never met I became angry. Angry at my father for denying me the chance to know my family, good or bad. Angry at my mother for not maintaining relationships for the sake of the kids. Angry at the Sullivan's for not wondering or caring about their nieces and nephews and their well being, knowing their brother had committed one of the worst crimes a man can commit, abandoning his offspring.

Moments and people from the past loom over our psyche and get bigger by each passing year.

When I got out of my Jeep after a two hour drive down the Mass Pike to Boston on Saturday I spotted my cousin Jimmy standing in front of the movie theater at Cleveland Circle, our rally point. As I got closer to my elder cousin I realized he was much smaller than I imagined. I am 6 feet and 200+, so most people are smaller, but in my mind he was my older cousin and I expected him to be bigger. I had the same feeling when I saw my father for the first time in over a decade at my sister Chris's wedding. I was 24 and hadn't seen my father since I was 13. When he introduced me to his wife Marie I barely looked at her, but was sizing him up. I promised my sister I would not pound him and it took every ounce of self restraint to not ruin her day (my brothers took the same oath and to this day we still haven't received any props). He looked frail and much smaller than I remembered. He had a tentative, frightened look in his eye. I wondered if it was the same look that I had when he broke down our front door during a fight with my mother. Jimmy had the same tentative look in his eye, but there was no fear or guilt. It was more the look you would have on the first day of school or a new job.

We walked up Chestnut Hill toward Alumni Stadium and a Boston College football game. We talked about our families, our lives and the sins of my father. After 40 years it was good to know that I had a connection to my surname and that there was another Sullivan that I could relate to. The sins of my father are buried with him. May they rest in peace.


Mushy said...

All I know to say is that I'm sorry it all had to happen that way. Seeing your profile shot, and you holding your son, gives me relief that you broke the chain, and provide the kind of love a family, especially a boy, needs.

Thanks for being strong and not letting the past gripe you and make you into something you would not be proud of David.

Suldog said...


It's almost 5:00, I'm sitting here with a miserable cold, and I probably won't be in tomorrow - thus, no reply, since I can't post from home.

Point is, I JUST NOW popped over here and saw this. I'm printing it out, to read at home, and I'll comment later. Just wanted you to know I wasn't ignoring you or anything :-)

David Sullivan said...

Thanks for the kind words Mush.

You learn from the past, you don't live in it!

Suldog said...


I was really touched by your post. I don't know that I have words to express what it made me feel. I felt good that I made contact, of course, but I also feel really sad that it didn't happen sooner. Suffice to say that we'll be in touch, in person, soon, as our schedules allow, and I'm looking forward to it.


KIKI said...

Wow! I honestly have to say that I think you're probably better off with him not being around. Of course, every child wants to have the love & support of both parents. But what type of influence do you think he would have had on you if he had stayed? Would you have picked up his violent ways or selfish way of thinking?

Like you said...learn from it & let it go!
(((HUG))...and oh yeah...giving maaad props that you didn't get before. Good for you!

CapCity said...

I've heard & like the phrase that Man's rejection is God's protection. Posting such personal history takes a great deal of strength. Thank U for sharing, David.

David Sullivan said...

Cuz: 'Nuff Said

Kiki: This is the first post I've written concerning this subject. Things are usually ALOT lighter in nature!! Thanks for bringing your "sexy ass" over, LOL!!!

Cap: I would expect nothing but the spiritual from you.

Forgive, but don't forget.

You learn from your past, you don't live in it.