Saturday, November 2, 2013

What Happened When I Read My Father's Will

Imagine you’re the favourite and only daughter who flies across
two states to visit when the three sons living close by barely bother.
Imagine how tall that pillar of marble is you’ve had him on for the last 50 odd years. Imagine the stupid stuff you’ve done trying to earn Dad's approval and just ended up doing stupid stuff.

Dad's 1968 Passport - now a small art quilt.

I’m visiting from Sydney. I’m odd jobbing, because five years after
a messy divorce his life is still in cardboard boxes. I’m getting his dial up dinosaur, of a computer running again. Dad can get emails, shop for car parts and surf for porn. That’s it. I know he surfs for porn because I had his password and it wasn’t pretty.

A card I wrote to Dad when small - now part of a stitched story.
A card I wrote to Dad when small - now part of a stitched story.

Imagine your trying to get those images out of your head by tidying up
his boxed bombshell office. File cabinets spill open at nose height
and there, at the front, in big letters: “last will and
testament of ….MY DAD”.

What would you do?

Working on the stitched version of dad's passport.

You’d totally read it, right?

You wouldn’t? Then go to the nice well bred corner of the room,
because in it he wipes his daughter out completely. Expunged. Extinct.
In a meticulously created impenetrable trust fund.

It was a work of legal genius, with notes in the file from Mr. Double Barrel
Surname lawyer at the bottom say things like, “Not going to be good with the children.”

Ya think???

Dad's Stitched Passport in 1968.  Yep - it says, "Infants- NIL". I was 8 at the time.

I snooped.
It’s not the money.
It’s the deed.

How does a father manage to pull off this final act of fuck-you on a daughter
who has remained in his corner of the ring forever?

It’s not like I had warning. The “your dad is a dick” song has been on high
rotation since he walked out in 1965. His sons barely tolerate him, both
ex wives detest him. He is a social pariah at the car club.

My father's grade school book, altered, by grrl+dog
I altered Dad's 1940's learn to read book to suit.

Thanks for the heads up, Dad. I won't be wasting tissues, but I will enjoy the
stunned faces of my siblings when the time comes. No, here's my real gift,
here's what he left me: When the shock wore off, I could see a pattern emerge,
and answers to a long lost puzzle.

Altered story book on play blocks by grrl+dog
Altered child's blocks now tell the story of my dad.

As Dad's marble pillar crumbled away, it revealed a person in clear light. Like that scene 
in "Being John Malcovich" -   I saw how his real self had turned up in my life.
As his true personality, he was many early dud and cruel boyfriends. 
He was disguised as business partner whose smooth talking embezzled thousands. 
He was the first husband who was only ever half there, and he was every betrayal
I'd ever felt. I'd had him - the real him- threaded all through, yet wondered why 
there were so many dick heads around. 

The altered play blocks that tell the story

I booked the first flight out of there, and never went back. I snivelled so
much on the way home, the flight attendants gave me extra vodka.

So what do you do with that kind of information? I mean after the tears and
having it haunt you,* with many nights laying awake?

play blocks with text..

You make art. Lots of art. 
And you make a story, and here it is.
Grateful to break throughout to a carefully concealed truth and begin to recast
the characters in my life.

That's him with me as a baby, on the cover of my assemblage box

This is Dad's passport from 1968. I found it going through the boxes.
See the bit where it asks how many children he has?
I was 8 at the time. More to come when this piece finished.

I’m glad I snooped, glad I know now, glad I discovered more about myself,
even if it was the hard way. Glad it won't be me with a stunned face when the time comes.

But that's enough about me, what would you do?

* Haunted for real - A nasty ghosty thing came into the house because I was so furious, but that is another story.

 P.S. I did ask him why. Several times, but there was no answer. There is no why, just like there is no spoon.


  1. Firstly, wow, your dad is a piece of work. Secondly, if I had your dad, with the ongoing background tune of everyone elses responses to him, I'd do exactly what you did. I don't have any of that with my Dad, but if I did, I would look. I probably wouldn't have the guts (I'm a bit of an introvert) to be so open about it afterwards, but I'm glad that you are, because I think it will help. I think the art will definitely help. Thanks for sharing your story... p.s. Um, hi! I read your blog because we were both stallholders at a market last year, and I like your work. :)

  2. Wonderfully honest blogpost Denise. Glad you were able to process it all into some beautiful art. I'd have looked. My Mum didn't leave a will but going through her things this summer I've found my Grandparents wills which revealed some interesting insights. I am fascinated by social history revealed through ephemera. It can be hard though when so close to home.

  3. Oh. Fuck. Ing. Hell.
    Create some more. It mends. (I do that when I hurt too..... comes out in collage and glue and paint.....)
    And a squeaky hug from the mouse too.

  4. I would have read. I would read if there was one. I doubt there is. There's nothing left to leave. But I love how you have processed it. How you have expunged it from your soul in art. Because, hey, art, that's what it's all about right, your soul. You are a truly brave and admirable person. To open up like this adds another layer to your soul. Stay strong.

  5. It is so hard when a parent isn't emotionally there for us. (I've been there too). We keep looking for that emotional hole to be filled. Walking away means letting go of hope, yet searching for that support brings more disappointment, more pain. And .. I had (and still have) the other parent (when I make myself go see her) telling me what I feel isn't valid. It's shitful. In sympathy, Valerie.

  6. It's weird how your childhood image of your parents can remain intact despite the strongest evidence to the contrary: after nearly 40 years of being convinced that my dad was the good guy out of my parents, my husband (someone who has no time at all for bullshit) has made no bones about what a strange and selfish person he can see him to be, which for me has been a lifting of that childhood veil and at last I can see him for what he truly is and it's damn cathartic to be free at last from that faulty image! Thank you for this post and I'm glad you too are free :-)

    1. Ah, so you know this tale - glad your partner had eyes to help you see.

  7. Excellent and congratulations!!!!
    I can relate on so many levels, for both my parents -
    Hard to love anyone who never takes the time to know their kids -
    Anyway, great piece and take care = Cheers!

  8. What stories we have to tell. Glad that you can turn it into art, but so very sorry you have to.
    How sad that pain can last so long and how hurtful that your father denied you.
    Heartbreaking stuff.

  9. Another strong post. Great art coming from the pain. Why are our parents so cruel? Some people must have good parents? Surely?

  10. Replies
    1. Ms Pearl, Oh yes I did - and there was no answer. We had a huge argument, as you may imagine, but in the end, there was no reason.
      I have my ideas, though, and that is a story that is much much darker than the one I tell now.

      I've learned that no matter how much you crave the answer, sometimes you have to find closure in other ways.
      Thanks for hanging in and reading, pressing "POST" on this one was scary!



    2. Shame on him and good on you. x

  11. Denise, this is such a beautiful post. I am sad to hear your Dad is such a complete wanker. I understand well as have similar said Dad. I love your art, and heart, and I love the way your are processing this and making fantastic, strong ART. love x

  12. Oh yeah, GRRRL, you are my hero! I might have confronted him, I might have stabbed him in the eye. You are so cool- taking that bastards shite and creating ART- fabulous art- we all win...except for him. You insprie me so much!!! LOVE

  13. Can't say what I think in public. I would be arrested.
    I had one of those but he was never anyone I wanted to be near.
    We'll talk later. xo

  14. How sad for you. A complete betrayal. Hard to really ignore it, but you seem to be getting there. Good luck with the journey. Hopefully he'll go straight to hell...


  15. Denise, Hello. Drop me an email if I can do anything to help the process. Hugs

  16. you actually got me crying! i am gutted for you and so understand that need to make art to process it! the art is beautiful, your dad is the rat! the passport was heartbreaking...really how could he! hugs and good for you....i would have read it and i too would be making art! the art by the way is awesome! sometimes real life gets really friggin nasty but that art sings xxxx hugs x

  17. My gut aches for you. I'd have wrestled with my conscience, read the will, and then spent the next several weeks grieving the betrayal of it all. But I think in the end I'd be ok. And he'd still be a dick.

  18. Oh my god, oh my god. I would have done exactly the same thing. I won't even begin to tell you the story of my mentally ill mother and the path of devastation she created in MY life...including all those partners I had, and employers, et al. who were JUST LIKE HER. You might never get over the rage you feel -- just don't let it tear you apart from inside. Making art is a terrific balm to pain like that, but time and your own aging are the best medicine in the end. Warm hugs.

  19. A terrible story makes memorable art - the page from the reader. I need that photo for my files. When we stop the tap dancing, and stop making the miserable choices because that's what we learned how to do, there is more energy, there is more oxygen. Who are these people? How do you not love a child? How do you value anything above the love for that child (or children)? You have macheted (yes, I think it can be a verb) a new and walkable path for yourself away from dickdom and selfishness on a monumental scale. You are one brave grrl. I love you. xo

  20. The art is powerful! You are awesome and an inspiration. Thank you.

  21. Words fail me to express how I'm feeling.
    I have only 2.
    His loss.

  22. Wow, Denise, terrible story but incredible art. You are an inspiration.

    Your Dad sounds like a total dick and you deserve a medal for trying to love despite it all.

    Sometimes with family, the Kenny Rogers mantra comes in to play....'know when to hold 'em, when to fold 'em, when to walk away, when to run...'

    I reckon this horrible painful incident will (eventually eventually eventually) show you how WHOLE you are, that there is nothing missing, there is nothing that needed to come from family or other people.

    Thank you for another courageous and heart-opening piece of writing.

  23. wellllll you've turned the lump of coal into a diamond... you've created stunning work in response to a whole world of pain.... I don't really know how what else to say (I have the exact opposite experience -- parents who are almost saintly in their unconditional love and support for both of their kids and all their grandkiddies..... )
    yes I feel doubly blessed whenever I see/read how folk are less fortunate. I trust you will move ONWARDS TO MORE ARTYNESS!

  24. You were meant to find it now and you were meant to read it. It was time. Time to really know the truth. Time to let it go and let yourself be free of it. You are brave enough, You are strong enough. You will do it. You are loved. xxx

  25. I've just lost both my parents and my husband's step mother in less than a year. Wrenching process....filled with the full gambit of emotions....Time has altered it a little. I am deeply moved and grateful for your posts...esp. this one. Your art makes perfect sense to me as a means of dealing with staggering pain. I think you have the power to not only make your life move forward with powerful purpose....but to help move mine as well. I am grateful that you shared your words and art. Very grateful.

  26. So sad that people live their lives in such a way........
    They miss out, their family misses out, there are no winners.

    You've always made great art Denise, now you've stepped it up and moving on.

    Claire x

  27. Unfortunately, the world can't stop #@%holes from breeding, you and I do not belong to an exclusive club!
    But, fortunately for us, your father managed to produce at least one wonderful thing in his lifetime…YOU!!!

  28. This comment has been removed by the author.

  29. Sorry Denise I wanted to change it,

    I feel for you. I have had similar experience with my mum over the years and for two different reasons. My mum suffered a lot of emotional pain silently in her life which we kids paid for in several different ways. Threats, emotional blackmail and silence were her main doings with me and my sister for years. I feel sad that she died without ever having resolved any of it. That generation never looked inwardly only outward to take it out on their kids, I am thankful that like you I have done some hard work on these issues and try to come to some peace, I love the way you blog and your artwork is amazing. xxxxx Ursula

  30. I am so sorry to read about your unhappy family connection with your father.. heartbreaking. But making lots of art is healing and you seem to be coping somehow.

  31. Reminds me of work by an artist I saw earlier this year at the Stroud International Textiles event - Mother Love by Ingrid Hesling and Jenni Dutton. I can't find a good link but Ingrid expressed in stitch on household linens left when the step-mother died, her deep-seated feelings about growing up with her step-mother. <3

  32. I was lucky to have a great father. Others get only sperm donors sadly. Maybe you are actually lucky and the yuk DNA was on his Y chromosome you missed. You have wasted enough life trying to be something to someone who wasn't worth your time getting to know. Forgive,forget and know he missed a great relationship with his daughter. Too bad for him-some people are too selfish and self centered to interact with those around them.

  33. Ooof... that's tough stuff... Good art though!

  34. Wow. Good for you.
    You know how people wonder and wonder how a kid turns out so bad when the parents have done everything they could to raise them to be good? How some kids just are bad, even when they are related to good people?

    Well some kids are good, no matter what dicks their fathers were. I should know.

    Something coming in post. Hope your addy hasn't changed!

  35. May the truth set you free...You did the right thing because now you can heal as you deal with the pain. My father is very similar and it has taken me 50 years to come to terms with his awful behaviour and move ahead without it tainting my life. Hard to believe that a parent can be that way but just because someone can procreate doesn't mean they have the tools or inclination to be a parent. Your art is brilliant!

  36. You have such a way with words Denise. A brave post. Here's wishing you the strength to follow what's right & true for you without being too battered by outside interference. x
    (P.s. come to England & have a play date!) :D

    1. Mandy Pattullo is coming to Hope & Elvis in May, Jessie Chorley in June.
      Just passing it on...

  37. Wow, well done you. How good that you found out then and not later. It's your dad's loss, you are amazing! X

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  38. Oh Denise - you are a lotus - so beautiful and whole floating on the water and your long tap root goes down to get nutrition from the muck on the bottom. You spin gold of dross. You make it good. I was talking to a friend the other day and said that in all my years of being a psychotherapist (and a friend, relative etc...) I had never seen any correlation between parenting (or lack of) and sanity. That some of the most blazingly wonderful people I know came from the most fucked-up families and the correlative is also true.You took whatever good was on offer and made a life of it. Must be terrible to be stuck in his head.

  39. So glad you read it. So glad the realisation has come to you now, before he goes. You are forever more stronger and wiser for knowing, you can see it now. I've had a similar experience with a parent - and once I put the puzzle pieces together I can no longer be hurt, no longer be used, no longer be messed with.

    I adore your art. It speaks volumes.

  40. Thank you for this post and thank you for the wonderful commenters. Very very insightful and inspiring.

    Unfortunately my daughter does not realise her dad is a selfish fuckwit. My sons had come to their own conclusions on this matter and agree with me (about the fuckwittage). I have to make sure she is not around when having a whinge.
    I know there is pain in the future, either hers when she is hurt, or when/if I have to tell her*; or mine if she takes sides when the inevitable happens (I leave) and goes towards him.
    Susan x

    * He did not want another child, abandoned us in hosp when she had open heart surgery at 9 yrs (I found out whilst she was still healing that he was pissing about with another woman and then realised he had pissed about with others for oh about 20something years), and puts going out with mates above collecting his teenage girl from a motorway service station at night (thanks to my bruv for help). She does not know any of this and I really don't want to tell her but she defends him which breaks my heart because when I finally, finally come to my senses and leave - she is the reason I stayed - I will be the bad guy.
    PS - I love your art and can't wait to see it completed.
    PPS - sorry for the much ramblings.
    PPPS - my mum made my dad the bad guy in our family, luckily I realised that he wasn't and we had some time in his last illness to connect. I miss him.

  41. All I can say is Thank God my mother was an angel because I needed an angel to help me bear the pain my father caused. I have yet to use that particular hurt in art. How inspiring to see how you are working through the pain by creating beautiful art.

  42. Your story... this part of your story, it resonates, and it speaks to me. I'm sorry he failed to grow, and I am glad you make art. Keep making... I like what you do.

  43. you made beautiful art from this. I guess one positive is that you found out now and had the chance to talk to him about it. what other people choose to do is out of our hands. I'm glad you make your own way and your own fun - that's more important.


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