Dead-Inside Dad

Juliane Bergmann
4 min readJun 19

My father gave me his glass knees and dark sense of humor.

His hazel eyes with the gold flecks on green.

His love for books and good food.

He told me to stop looking in the mirror so much, because vanity was a sin. He never left the house without ironing his shirts and slacks, shaving, trimming his fingernails, cleaning his shoes, and walking through a cloud of expensive cologne.

He told me to drink hot tea in the summer (because it would cool me down more than ice water) and dry between my toes (so I wouldn’t get athlete’s foot) and stop wearing make-up (because it would make me break out). I didn’t believe him when he was right.

He told me I shouldn’t bike too much (or else my ankles would get too big and no man likes big ankles) and never cut my hair (because it wouldn’t look feminine) and read about the Illuminati (because I didn’t know how the world worked). I often believed him when he was wrong.

He hissed You are just like your mother in a way that made me hate both of them. He called me munchkin when I was little and bitch when I was a teen and intimidating when I was grown. But he was always the one I was the most scared of.

I never knew he was terrified of me, too.

Only after his death, I saw a picture of him as a little boy, wonder and beauty and joy practically beaming out of his face. I crumpled over my desk because I’d never known this boy. Never caught a sideways glimpse of that life in my father. When he became my dad, he’d already been dead inside for so long that I spent my life surprised he was still holding on, day after day, decade after decade.

When he actually died, I wondered what had been the point of his life. I had no idea if he’d found joy or meaning in anything. I couldn’t remember the last real conversation we had. Or I could, but it had been so long that remembering it was painful.

Fifteen years ago, I was standing in my garage with him when he visited after I had my last baby (because that’s where he hid his alcohol). I was at a low point, which I’d tried to conceal from my dad, but either I wasn’t as good of an actor as I thought or my father was more perceptive than I gave him credit for. We were both hiding from each other like…

Juliane Bergmann

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