Archive | June, 2014

The Man I Called Dad

15 Jun

The Man I Called Dad.

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The Man I Called Dad

15 Jun

Father’s Day is a weird day for me. I love the day for my husband because we get to celebrate the wonderful father that he is to our boys. We get to lavish the love he deserves upon him, and he lets us, because it’s Father’s Day. Most of the time, he would rather just be a dad, never looking for praise or glory and perhaps, that’s one of the traits of a great father. I don’t really know about that because my relationship with my father was complicated and full of ups and downs.

As a small child, I adored my dad. He was happy to be a dad and I was happy being his child. We were pals, and I was most assuredly Daddy’s little girl. As I reached the teen years, though, everything changed. We didn’t see eye to eye. We disagreed on everything. It seemed as though we didn’t even speak the same language. I lost my connection to him which affected every area of my life and not in a positive way. He tried to help me with math homework, and I couldn’t grasp anything he said. He would look at my report cards and when I had all A’s and one B, he would ask what happened with the B. We would have study groups at my house before tests to have him help us, and everyone else excelled on the test the next day, except me, and I felt betrayed that he could help them and not me. It made the divide between us deeper and wider than either one of us could reach across. We tolerated each other, barely, and avoided each other as much as possible. To say our relationship was prickly would be an understatement.

Then I went off to college, and I thought things would get better. They didn’t. You see, when I entered 7th grade, my father told me that if I worked hard, he would send me to the best college he could afford and I went to work. Other than the math classes he helped me with, I did well in school and graduated in the top ten percent of my high school class. I found the school I wanted and was told I could apply. I was accepted and was thrilled to be a part of that campus, except for the weekly call home. Every week I would hear about how my family was suffering so that I could go to the school I chose. Every week I would hang up feeling guilty that my family was budgeting and sacrificing and determined to do well in school, which I did. Unfortunately, in my junior year, my father did an unforgivable thing. He bought a motor home. It was a class C motor home that cost about the same as about two years of my college costs. I no longer felt guilty. Instead, I was angry and resentful. All that time of listening to him complain about his sacrifice and then he buys a motor home? What the heck? The divide between my dad and me became a chasm I didn’t think we could ever recover from.

I finished up college and because I didn’t have a job, I had to move back home. Because I chose a major different than the one my father would have chosen for me, I endured the remarks about my choice of major and when I finally got a job three months later, it didn’t pay enough and wasn’t “worthy” of the elite education he had afforded me. Away from him I felt strong and competent. Around him, I felt small and powerless, so I did what so many others in my situation did. I married a man just like him.

Looking back, I know that marriage was doomed to fail from the start, but I also count it now as one of my greatest lessons and blessings. I know now that I married that man to learn how to deal with my father as an adult. I know now that the dynamic in that marriage helped me have the incredible marriage I have today. I know now that my first husband was a gift from God (not God’s gift, just in case he reads this) to teach me what I wanted in my most important relationship on this Earth. Although I thought I walked away from that marriage bruised and battered, I actually walked away with a wisdom I use to this day. I walked away knowing what I wanted in a marriage, and I walked away with the knowledge of how to deal with my father on an adult basis. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was priceless information that began a healing process with my dad that I never thought possible, which was a very good thing since my dad helped me get a job to help with my expenses after my divorce; a job that meant working side by side with him.

It wasn’t easy working with my dad. There were those who loved him and those who despised him at work, and whatever they felt for him came to me. He had helped dozens of people by teaching computer classes where he worked for college credit and there was a long list of people who told me they would not have made it through those classes without his help. There were others who my dad had worked with and had disagreed with that treated me with disdain because I was his daughter. Both kinds of people were difficult to interact with because the first group just reminded me of my disconnection with my dad and the second group stirred a defensiveness I usually used against my dad rather than in support of him. Fortunately, I had something to distract me from all of that, a new boyfriend who would eventually become my husband; the father of my children and the love of my life, but I digress.

My dad and I survived working together. We even found some common ground to work together peacefully. I got married and soon after got pregnant and something changed. My dad softened or maybe I softened. It was far from perfect, but the joy my father showed about being a grandpa was something I had never seen from him before, and when my oldest child was born, my father was so enthralled by his new grandson that he made a point of seeing him every single day for the first thirty days of his life, and he usually brought something to butter up his daughter as well. Some days it was lunch. Some days it was a treat. Some days it was a gift for his grandson, but even when he didn’t bring anything tangible, he always brought more love and excitement than I had ever seen before. Within months, he and my mom had even started building a home near us, and the love he showed my son softened my heart toward him.

The most unfortunate part of this story is not the lost years between me and my dad. It isn’t the misunderstandings we had. The most unfortunate part of this story is that it ended earlier than any of us thought it would. In August of 1996, I found out I was pregnant with my second child. We were thrilled and so was my father, but we almost simultaneously found out my dad had kidney cancer. He had surgery to remove one of his kidneys and six months and six days later he was gone. It was a whirlwind of treatment and morning sickness and beat the clock. My baby was due March 21st and my father entered Hospice just after Valentine’s Day. We visited as much as we could because my 3 year old thought the sun rose and set on my father, and my father felt the same way about my son. We knew their time was limited and we wanted them to have as much time together as possible because despite my differences with my dad, he was a kind and loving “pa” to my son and through them I saw a relationship I hadn’t had with my dad for decades. Knowing their time was limited also made each moment watching them together both painful and precious, and for the first time in my life I realized that cancer could be a gift. It gave us time to say and do the things many wished they had done and said when they lost someone suddenly. It was a chance to make things right, and to heal old wounds and watching my dad and my son helped me to do that. Then my second child was born.

Sometimes the Divine gives us a gift we didn’t even know we needed. For me, one of those gifts was my second son. His birth was textbook and easier than I could have asked for. He came into this world in three pushes, knew how to nurse and started sleeping through the night at 3 weeks old. He only cried when he was hungry and didn’t mind a bit that his first trip from the hospital to home included a detour to the Hospice where my dad was staying. We named our baby after his two grandpas, both of whom would pass the year he was born. We named him to honor them and he helped me to heal my relationship with my father even more. Before he died, my father realized the bond I had with my children and how important it was. He held my children as much as he could when we visited, at least for the few days we had left because at 7pm on March 31st, we got the call that my dad had passed. We went to say our last good byes and as much as we had mentally prepared for it, the emotions still got the best of us that night.

Now that many years have passed, I am grateful that I got to see the best of my father before he left this Earth. We did have a complicated relationship because he was a complicated man. He had personal demons and struggles that are too personal and inappropriate to go into here. The greatest gift of his passing was my knowing he was free of all of those things, and it’s why I choose to celebrate the best of his life and be happy for him. I also choose to be happy for me that I got to see the best of him in the way he loved my children and that we got to heal our wounds and let go with love. When I came into this world my father held me and sang to me. As he prepared to leave this world, I held his hand and sang to him. I remember the good and the bad. I believe I have become a better parent because of it. He wasn’t the greatest dad in the world and I wasn’t the greatest daughter, but we muddled through, we made peace and we ended our relationship on this Earth in love. It’s the best I could hope for and it’s enough for me. So Happy Father’s Day to all the great dads out there, but Happy Father’s Day to the dads who aren’t great and even those who aren’t even good at it. There’s always hope that things can be better and if you need it and you get the chance, I hope you heal whatever you need to heal with your father, dad or daddy, or if you are the parent, I hope you take the time to reach out to your children because even if you’ve messed up, your kids want to know you love them and care about them. It may not be easy, but it could be the beginning of the best years of your life. As always, thanks for being you and have a great day.

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