To My Dad
By Grace Cuddihy
Discussed: violence and abuse
A short play about my relationship with my father.
My dad is neither tall nor short. He stands at 5’10” (though he insists he is 5’11”). He has long black hair down to his shoulders, with few gray hairs poking through and no receding hairline. His face is large and round, with some wrinkles around his eyes but otherwise smooth. Looking at him, you might not think that he was almost 60. He always looks very disheveled. His clothing choice is unique, to say the least—bright colors and mismatched patterns—not to make a statement but simply because he doesn’t pay much attention to the way he dresses.
My dad is fat, nearly 300 pounds, and he has a huge presence in any room he is in. He wanders through the world as an adult, with all the authority that comes with it, but he views himself as a teenage boy getting picked on in the school yard. He does not have many friends, and is not close with his family. He seeks attention from strangers to assuage his loneliness, overthinking every small interaction and expecting much more from people than they can reasonably provide.
He has a phobia of mice and alcohol (his dad was a drunk), but is not scared of much else. When he’s angry, he often shuts himself in his room and blasts rock music, scream singing the lyrics and drowning the world out. Despite his loneliness, he is a loner. His loved ones joke that he is nocturnal. He spends most of the day in his room in the dark, coming out only when everyone else in the house has fallen asleep.
Grace stands at 5’5”. Their mousy brown hair is down to their shoulders, always unkempt and wild. Their face is round and small compared to their frame. Their face is very similar to their dad’s, with the exception of his beard and brown eyes. They are 16, and look their age with sprinkles of acne decorating their face along with their freckles. Their clothing choice is muted, wearing black, grey, and white, not really because it’s how they would choose to express themselves, but more out of a sense of practicality.
They do not always like new environments and are often shy at first. However, once they are comfortable, they have a strong presence in any academic space. They are female-bodied and non-binary, as well as having a chronic illness that causes them to be very mindful of how they exist in spaces. They are not close with their family, but they have a group of very close friends. They struggle with depression and anxiety, always feeling anxious in their home environment.
They have a phobia of people in mascot outfits and are afraid of failure and disappointing others. They can be very combative, and are a very direct communicator. They see the world in black and white, as just or unjust, and injustice sparks a lot of anger and action from them. They view their dad and his behavior as a source of injustice, and are very angry about the home life they have to live through.
The Breaking Point
June 11, 2021. Grace is standing in the kitchen, slicing an everything bagel in half. Their back is turned and they are playing a YouTube video.
Dad enters the kitchen.
Dad: Hey. I just got back from the deli. I got you a bacon, egg and cheese.
Grace: (sighs) okay.
Grace is frustrated by Dad purchasing unsolicited food for them because he gets angry when it goes to waste.
Dad: Sorry I took so long, there was this crazy guy outside of L&M…
Grace: (interrupting) I don’t care.
Dad: God, Grace, how dare you?! You know, you really just don’t speak to me nicely. You’re so rude.
Grace: You’re going to say something racist and I don’t want to hear it.
He slams his bag down on the chair in the kitchen.
Dad: (yelling) I just wanted to say that I was late to getting back from the deli because there was a psycho savage outside of the deli who wanted to kill me because I was white. And you’re saying, “I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care” is so obnoxious. God!
Dad: (mocking) “I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care!!!!” Fucking bitch!
Grace continues to make their bagel in the kitchen, ignoring him. Dad, seeking attention, reaches up to the cabinet above Grace’s head and starts slamming it open and shut over and over and over.
The glasses in the cabinet shatter and glass spills all over the kitchen and the floor.
Grace freezes in the kitchen, as if they can’t move.
Dad exits. You can still hear him talking to himself and yelling from the living room.
Grace makes a phone call.
Grace: Please pick up, please pick up, please pick up…
No answer. They call again.
Grace: Hi, mom. Dad got mad at me and grabbed the cabinet over my head and started smashing it and then the glasses smashed everywhere and there is glass everywhere now and I don’t know what to do.
Grace still stands at 5’5” (sadly their hopes of a late high-school growth spurt seem to be fruitless). Their hair is still mousy brown and down to their shoulders, still stubbornly unkempt and wild. Their face is still very similar to their dad’s, not having grown a beard or brown eyes. Their fashion sense has not changed. Their clothes remain muted and focused on practicality. Their face is still dotted with sprinkles of acne and freckles. However, despite what their physical appearance may suggest, they are 17, and they are not the same.
Grace has a much better ability to accept circumstances that are unjust. They have more awareness of what battles are worth fighting and how to prioritize their own mental health over picking those battles. They have been able to release the anger that they have been holding in for so long. They still struggle with mental health, but their struggle has improved since they have accepted their environment.
They are still combative and still a direct communicator, however, Grace no longer spends so much time being angry with people for not being who Grace wishes they were. If someone is not meeting their expectations of behavior, they can let go of any anger towards this person, accept them at where they are, and decide how they want them to be present in their life without expecting them to change.
October 21, 2021. Grace is resting their head on the table of their history class. Their friend Gavin is sitting next to them.
Gavin taps them on the shoulder.
Gavin: Hey Grace, are you okay? You seem tired.
Grace lifts their head up from the table and looks over at Gavin.
Grace: Oh yeah, I’m fine! I was woken up at 6:00 AM by my parents yelling about their sex life, so I’m pretty tired.
Grace laughs to themself.
Gavin: Grace oh my god! I am so sorry!
Grace: It’s okay! That’s their problem, not mine.
Grace is fully sincere. They are not angry about their parent’s behavior anymore.
Gavin: Ugh I just…
Gavin pauses, searching for the words.
Gavin: How are your parents even together?!
Grace: My dad is a narcissist and my mom is toxically codependent.
Gavin: Just, like, aren’t you angry? This is so horrible that you have to deal with this!
Grace smiles at Gavin, trying to assuage his worries.
Grace: I used to be, honestly. But I can’t be angry forever that my dad isn’t the dad I wish he was. Anyway, did you see the last episode of Survivor?
I’ve been doing daily writing prompts and I found the prompt “write a short play about a time you were wronged.” I was immediately inspired to write “The Breaking Point” scene, which is where the piece originated. From there, my mentor Caroline and I workshopped how to tell the story of my relationship with my dad and how it impacts us as characters, which is how the other sections were born.
Grace Cuddihy is a writer, an activist, foster dog parent, baking enthusiast, and high school junior. She loves writing personal essays and writes frequently about her experience living with chronic illness. In her free time, she enjoys reading, watching Survivor and phone banking. Grace’s favorite book is The Perks of Being a Wallflower and her favorite book series is Percy Jackson: Heroes of Olympus. Her favorite authors are James Baldwin and Toni Morrison.