My father’s success can be measured by test results. It is confirmed many times over on the plaques adorning the walls of his study. It is studied by students and colleagues all over the world. My father is beloved by those in his field. His greatness is worshipped by the lab coat gods. His name will be repeated for lifetimes, long after he has passed and his name is etched in the stone over the science complex at the school.
He is a horrible father.
It isn’t that he can’t show affection. He can. He is a man clutching lab partners, beaming in photographs. He is the tall, dashing figure fixed in a tuxedo, his wide smile spreading to fill the frame. He is lauded for his sacrifice, his time and efforts to heal those who have no hope.
His words to me are short and direct, thawed on occasion by holidays or ceremony. He might hug me tonight. Under the influence of power, he may throw one arm around my shoulder, lean in for a quick kiss to my head. But our silence will creep back tomorrow. It will live in the shudder of appliances, in the turn of a page in his study, the thump of a cork as my mother finds her refuge.
Sometimes I see him looking at me, not as a father regards his daughter, but like he’s forgotten just how or why I came to fruition. Then he turns away.
I am a problem that needs further research.
Since I was young I’ve known he is special, but he’s never known much about me. Since I could read, I’ve followed his successes through papers and notes, piecing together a man bigger than humanity. When rumors of the big awards came in, the door to his study closed. I listen through the door, how since this award his voice has taken on a new octave. At first I thought he had company in the room.
I’ve never done anything, remarkable or otherwise, to get a rise from his voice.
I am not worth researching.
When I was younger, I used to find ways to touch him. In the kitchen, in passing, just reach out for him, to touch this man who was healing the world. Now I have that urge to touch him again. He is after all, about to be named Person of the Year. That means he is a person.
His acceptance speech has him concerned. He’s crossed through and revised several times. Most of the early drafts listed his team and the sponsors, his mentors who’d helped shape his earliest works. The later drafts are more self-serving, bolder, with side notes about the meaning of life and overcoming failures. His cure. His work. How he’s answered the call.
I think about his answers. His work and his cures. I think about the children in those photographs, in his grasp, under his gaze, the way his eyes are warm and understanding. How science is his family and yet biology is a riddle to him. It is always about the children, never about the child.
I sit alone, undiscovered, only the whir in my brain as I sort through his belongings. A hint of aftershave between pages, the rungs of many mornings that line his coffee mug. His scrawled notes. He’s chosen his work over family. And yet, I’m helpless in my selfish desires.
Someone else could find a cure and win awards. And if not, let them keep their disease. I would rather those children die if it means I get him to myself.
I know, it’s horrible. My mother makes excuses. That his life’s work is one of sacrifices. That we should be grateful for all he’s accomplished. Although she doesn’t fully believe this, the things she says between sips of Merlot, between blinks of eyeliner. She is living a double life anyway, she’s lost hope and found her own ways to handle abandonment.
So we get dressed, to meet the Person at the banquet hall. We ride alone, beneath the cold shadows of the sky scrapers to attend the ceremony. To sit next to the Person of the Year. Because that’s all they are, people. People who will die and be buried under stones. Mother has her boyfriend. My father has his work and awards.
I have this whir in my brain that won’t let me go.