The One Friend Request I Can’t Approve

Here’s an essay about my Daddy Issues, and how I’m seeing things on that front, which will be included in the Essays@30 project. It’s kind of heavy on the family drama, you’ve been forewarned. Read on!


I have more than 1,500 friends on Facebook, a few hundred Twitter followers, a small but steadily building group of friends on Google+, and I’m the kind of person who adds anybody who sends me a Friend request. I’ve got nothing to hide (generally) and I don’t feel the need to hide my movements, posts, or thoughts. I’m all out there with the online presence, and I have no fear of my identity being hijacked, people stalking me, or people using my social networks against me because I’m just not important enough for someone to do that.

Seriously guys, the only people who get in trouble for their Facebook status messages are the ones who post stupid party pictures and then call in sick for work the following day. Otherwise, I don’t really understand the paranoia over online activity. If you’re not doing anything shady or stupid, why would you have to hide anything? And besides, if you don’t want people to know what you did, why would you post it online? Just saying.

So while I know people who are picky about who they let into their social networks, and some have paranoia levels that approximate the levels of conspiracy theorists, I’ve approved almost everyone, even if I don’t know them. If a student who is currently enrolled in my class sends me a request, I’ll just leave it there and wait until the semester ends to approve it. I’ll deny certain people who I’ve had bad experiences with. But there’s one friend request which I find very, very problematic.
It’s from my father.

He and I have not spoken since 1998, when I was a high school junior and he threw me out of the house. Literally. There were a few kicks and punches along with the throwing. I spent two weeks living with friends, classmates, and anyone else who would have me. When my mom finally found me and got me to go home (I did not want to, but standing at the street corner where she had caught me, her face crumpling in tears, I could not bear to let my mom keep crying like that), my father did not acknowledge my presence. I overheard him telling people that he did not have a son by my name (as if the name he gave me is so great, but more on that later in this essay), and that even if he did, that son would never receive any inheritance.

Unfortunately for me, I have already received my inheritance: I’m short, prone to being overweight, have a high possibility of cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and other wonderful complications that are embedded in the Javier genetics. And more likely than not, I will be saddled with my father’s debts once he passes. So yeah, getting disowned, no big.

I know that it’s common for there to be a lot of friction between fathers and sons. And it’s no new story that traumatic experiences can lead to people creating art (in fact I teach an article from The Onion for my humor classes with the headline “ Abusive Father Can’t Wait to See the Art He’s Inspiring his Kids to Create” which makes fun of the cliche). I still feel that all of those experiences are things that I inevitably have to contend with.

A history of abuse supposedly can lead to one’s committing those same abuses on his children, and that’s one of the reasons why I have been extremely careful about having kids. That tendency for violence is also something that can be frightening and that must be controlled.

I was recently told that when I was a freshman, I had gotten into a disagreement with a close friend and blockmate. I could not remember the incident, but that friend told me that I had chosen to resolve our differences by wrapping my hands around his neck and choking the shit out of him. This seems consistent with former behavior where, when I was in high school and going through a period of living with friends after being thrown out of the house, I attacked a classmate. He was making fun of how I had been wearing the same shoes and only two undershirts all week (hey, what can you do, right, when you’re out on the street or crashing with people it’s not like you can bring your wardrobe with you). I grabbed his collar with two hands, lifted him off the ground, and slammed him onto a table. He was lying on the table, arms up in surrender and in front of his face, trying to save him from the blow that I was about to bring down, until a PE teacher caught my hand from behind and said, “Javier, you don’t want to do that.”

If anything, having worked through the extremely difficult period of adolescence (difficult enough just being a teen, going through puberty, hormones, and all that stuff, without having to deal with abuse) has led me to try and be a better person than my father. I try extremely hard to be kind, courteous, hard-working, generous, and humble. I also think I’ve worked through a lot of anger, violence, and rage issues (though admittedly, I still don’t take failure or frustration well, but with these I often turn to the bottle and rhetoric for release). I like to think that I’ve moved beyond the immediate effects of the trauma and have found some way to sublimate some of it, and merely just live through and function normally despite it.

I spent years working through it, and I don’t understand if my father understands or even cares about any of that (probably neither). As a result, I have absolutely no idea what would make him think that I would approve his Facebook friend request. My interactions online, I believe, don’t really have much difference from the way that I interact and have conversations in the real world (okay there are differences, mainly that 1: I get to think through and edit things before sending it; and 2: I can more easily talk to attractive women when there is the filter of the internet). Since my online interactions so closely approximate my real world interactions, I find no conceivable reason why he would think that I would suddenly want to re-establish contact with him.

There are a million movies and a bunch of friends who are telling me now that I should find some way to reconcile with my father. All of these will point to the importance of family, to the idea that people can change, and to the notions that a reconciliation between estranged fathers and sons is the right thing to do. In my case it isn’t, at all.

Thinking about it all now, it’s very clear to me that my father disliked me from the moment I was born. I know that this sounds overly dramatic, but really, I have evidence for it.

You know how kids are saddled with terrible names? The parents think they are being creative or making their kid unique, or whatever dumbshit explanation it is. When in fact, it’s very apparent that these parents have forgotten the cruelty of grade school and high school, have not considered the problems that their kids are going to encounter by their being named thusly. I’ve seen a lot of these kinds of names as a faculty member, in my co-faculty’s and my class lists. (I wish I could list them here, but that might not be appropriate.)

I have a name that is problematic as it is (no one ever gets it right, and I am always tempted to change it, all that’s stopping me is that I’ve been using it for so long it’s hard for me to get up the gumption to do something about it), but my original name should have been much worse.

My mother was knocked out from giving birth and so it was up to my father to name me. The nurse asked for my name. Django, my father said. Thinking about it now, with the upcoming Tarantino movie Django Unleashed, the popular billiards player Bustamante, and the Western flicks character, and the father of Boba Fett, there might be enough cultural touchstones to make the name cool. But my father’s basis for the name was far from flattering.

He wanted to name me Django because he had watched something where the main character had a monkey, and that monkey’s name was Django. His father had named him after the Greek god of beauty and desire, and he was going to name me after a monkey. That’s showing some love.

What stopped this naming? Did my father suddenly come to his senses? Nope. The nurse spoke for me, my post-delivery mother, and all the kindness that should be afforded to someone who has just been burdened with a mortal coil. She told him that Django was not a proper name, and that she would come back and fill out the birth certificate once he thought of something suitable.

Sure, Carljoe is still problematic, in my passport it’s Carl Joe, sometimes I am Carol Joe, mistaken as a woman for Carol Joan, I’ll be misheard as Carly Joe, or some other permutation. The name is supposed to be the combining and Americanizing of the names of my two grandfathers, Carlos and Jose, but really, it’s just another mess that my father saddled me with.

I’m not the only one who has had to put up with my father’s general shortcomings. He was abusive to my brother, my sister, and me, but most physically towards me. (Just to illustrate, I once failed to put a pitcher of water in the freezer. To make sure that I would never forget to do that again, he grabbed a plastic pitcher that had frozen to ice and slammed it into my chest. I crumpled with the blow, and once I was on the ground he commenced to kicking me while telling me that I should never forget this. Most beatings came with regular sermons, and the beatings came with regular frequency.) He couldn’t hold down a job, and often refused to work. He joined a crazy religion which helped him to justify his unemployment while siphoning money from the family fund. He failed to put any of us through school (while I was in college I would be handing my mom money for my sister’s tuition, uniform, school bus, and other things). At a certain point he had given up on life and had decided that he would just let it all hang out; forget winning the bread, he let my mom handle that, forget other responsibilities, his god would provide.

Basically, my father was the ultimate sweatpants guy. I would be expected to head out every morning to buy pan de sal and the newspaper, and I’d get back and see him, smoking, drinking instant coffee, and wearing those green sweatpants. He’d spend the day grumbling about something or other, watching his favorite televangelist (who would himself give up on things, escaping to America after accusations of estafa and sexual improprieties), and waiting for my mother to arrive home so that he could give her an earful of what was wrong with her.

My mother ever-saintly would take it all, because that was how marriage worked, that was how love worked. She would secretly visit the church before heading home so that she could pray for things to get better. Often, she fell asleep crying with a rosary in her hand.

Once she barged into my room, crying. She lay down on the foot of my bed and tried to contain her sobs, her shoulders heaving violently. I turned the lights on and put on my glasses to see red marks around her neck. I picked up a barbell from under my bed with the intention of bludgeoning my father, just slamming it right on his crown and ending all of this collective misery. My mother stopped me, holding me back by hugging me and begging that I not throw my life away with a murder charge. From that point on, my room became a sanctuary for my mother and sister to escape from my father’s violence.

My sister, strong and rebellious, got in much trouble with him, which often resulted in public beatings. She has many stories of my father suddenly kicking or beating her in public places for small provocations. She was cagey in her revenge, waiting until our parents were sound asleep (until our parents left for the States, she had shared a bed with them) and then kicking him in his sleep. He would wake from the blow to see her with her eyes shut supposedly sleeping. She’d wait and wake a few times each night to get her kicks in.

I never got my own physical revenge. There was no satisfaction of us ever coming to blows and straightening things out. And rather than leave or give up I stepped up for my family. Up to this day I am still helping the family and taking care of my sister, accepting the role of father that my own would not.

Some people in our family joke about how we three siblings turned out. I am the family’s artist, the weirdo writer. And my brother and sister are studying to be psychologists. So I’m so fucked up I write books, and it takes two psychologists in the family to figure my father out.

At this point I don’t think there is anything to figure out. Whatever it is my father has been through, whatever it is he has decided to do (or not do) with his life, and however he thinks things are supposed to be, I don’t really care. He can get himself sorted or not. What I realize, at this age, with all of that behind me, at a point in my life when I am no longer recovering from or dealing with all the damage he dealt, a point in my life where I am trying to understand what it means and how to be a good man, is that no matter what I do I cannot change what has happened between us. I cannot make him a better person. And there is no way for him to atone for whatever damage he has done my mother, my siblings, or me. All that we can do is to work past all of that.

And so that friend request will forever be denied.


3 Responses to The One Friend Request I Can’t Approve

  1. I am floored by your honesty. And recounting these events in a public forum was a very brave thing to do… so brave, in fact, that I winced twice while I was reading. I am now officially your fan and shall commence buying your books. Thank you for the wild, wild peek at your life. 🙂

  2. R. says:

    This is so touching. You’re a survivor of child abuse. Congratulations.
    Sorry i can’t help it: You are not what your father said to you or did to you, no matter how horrible, so no need to repair the past for the damages it has wrought because you can start on a clean slate anytime you want.
    However, and I also can’t help it either, being able to relate to this in a far less grievous way, I wonder if you would give him an inch (of a chance) someday. What if he was also a victim of child abuse before and he was only loving you in the only way he had always known? Just thinking out loud. Sorry if I sound too avuncular.

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