My dad tended to leave 98% of the parenting for my mom to handle. I think part of that was just the way things were in the 60’s and 70’s, but he stuck to that unspoken rule more than most. I have wondered why he didn’t play with me very much or attend the little performances and functions that are part of growing up. I can, at times, feel some hurt over this but mostly I just don’t understand.
Perhaps he didn’t know how to play with a little girl. I would have been all about having him teach me how to catch and throw a ball but it didn’t happen and I still stink at both. It could be that my klutziness got on his nerves or maybe he didn’t think that was the kind of thing that little girls need to learn. My best guess is that he just didn’t know what to do. It is possible that he wanted so badly to not screw up parenting that he just never got into it. As a kid no one told me how he had grown up in a family that was cold and abusive. It was only towards the end of his life that I was given some not very clear details about his childhood.
As I grew from a little kid into a preteen I had strong opinions and I longed to have serious discussions about things that mattered. Dad stayed busy earning a living and going to his social functions and didn’t have much leisure time for chats with me. Somewhere around his 80th birthday he told me that he regretted not making time for things like school plays and softball games. It meant a great deal to me that he would say that since I know admitting fault or weakness was not natural to him. Part of me wanted to say that it was ok, except that it wasn’t. Furthermore, I knew he wasn’t asking me to make any excuses for him. It was enough for him to say and for me to hear the words.
Dad was my nephew’s hero and role model. I think it is safe to say he was the voice in his head that tried to steer him to be a good man. I also believe that when he suddenly had to become my nephew’s father figure he was beginning the mellowing process that would follow him until the end of his life. In his final days he was able to apologize for things he wouldn’t even admit a few years prior.
I have cousins that often tell me that their best childhood memories were times that our families spent together and how they loved my dad with his stories and jokes.
After my dad passed away there were neighbors and friends that told me about acts of kindness and compassion that he did for others with no expectation of anything in return. I am glad that they shared these things with me.
I have long thought that my father had an awkward way of expressing tender emotions but now, my 5th Father’s Day since his passing it occurs to me that perhaps I was awkward about accepting his attempts to show love. Perhaps, as folks in the like to say, I come by it honestly. I am afterall his daughter.
Mom once told me she believed that the reason he and I had such hard time understanding each other was because we were so much alike. That makes no sense at all and yet explains so much.
A snowstorm of historic proportions landed on much of the country during his final days and consequently I was the only one that was able to find a way to get to the hospital and be with him. He didn’t say a lot but I saw him cry for only the second time in my life as he found a few words that told me he loved me and that he did indeed have regrets. I let go of past hurts and he knew I had forgiven him. On his next to last day he could no longer talk but was conscious and I could tell thinking clearly. I called all of his most special people and put them on speaker phone so they could say good-bye. The last call was to my mother, snowed into a place four wheel drive trucks couldn’t reach, she was strong and told him it was ok, he didn’t have to hold on any longer.
Being the only one with him at the end was hard but I also believe it gave the two of us our chance to finally let go of the expectations we had for each other and just be content with our imperfect relationship.
An hour or so later he drifted off to sleep and never woke back up. I think he had finally found his peace and ironically the two of us, in those final hours, had reached a tiny bit of understanding. Not everything broken can be fixed but not everything that is broken should be tossed out. Our elusive butterfly had finally arrived.
Photo credit and appreciation to: Julie Johnson, Daan Stevens, Lauren Lulu Taylor, Jian Xhin and Arleen Wiese