(photograph: my dad circa early 1930s)
There is a great deal of emotion wrapped up in that simple statement. Good and bad. There is also a good dose of guilt and regret. I am not a “daddy’s” girl. My dad was never that oh so strong and ever protective figure. I spent, or I should say, wasted a great deal of energy and time regretting and resenting him over all of these many years for not being that strong male in my life. That’s not to say however that he was not there for me—on the contrary, I have always had a dad in my life. Thankfully, I still do.
My parents were never divorced or separated, except for the when my mom quietly gave up her battle with the cancer in 1986. They had married in 1953, adopting two children over the course of that marriage. My dad, being a big kid at heart, was probably the “better” parent when we were little as he doted on us at Christmas and birthdays, being most extravagant with gift giving, even though it was never affordable for him to do so, and enthusiastically enjoyed taking us to every Disney movie imaginable. Oh to be a child, in the very early 60’s, getting to go see a full length animated Disney classic at the oh so magical Fox Theater in midtown Atlanta.
A family movie night, at home, consisted of an elaborate production of setting up a screen at one end of our home’s small hallway, lugging out the 16mm projector and setting it up at the opposite end of the hallway. Woody Woodpecker was the featured film and I never tired of watching, albeit it silent, Woody getting into the same troubles view after view. I knew that obnoxious call of his from television. It was perfectly fine not hearing him on these occasions. My brother and I would lie on our stomachs with heads propped up on hands and elbows with feet tangling up in the air. Nice memories.
But if you ever read my post Forgiveness One Step At A Time, you will recall that this oh so bucolic scene of family bliss was not the norm. There was the dark umbrella of mental illness, which hung over my small family like a cloak of death waiting to claim it’s latest victim—all the while as my brother would eventually bring the very concept of “family” in our world, to its knees.
I spent a lot of time being angry with and at my dad for not being stronger—for not doing more, for being frozen with inability. For what so many today crudely say of those lacking in tenacity or a certain strength, “for having no balls”– for not taking the bull by the horns and for not working harder at saving our crumbling world. Instead he stood by watching rather hopelessly, wringing his hands all in ill effect. It seems now it is easier for him to lament that he drove my brother to madness… which is so far from the truth.
My dad has allowed himself to be a victim of my brother’s illness, and all these many years later, he constantly pulls out a picture of my now deceased brother, at a much younger age, telling any and all who will listen as to how he drove Ed to be what he was. This, always sending me in a silent fit rage as I and others gathered around continue the litany of “no, that is not true, that is not how it was”…… talk about frustration….
After my mother’s death, my father, who was not one to spend a dime except if it was your birthday or Christmas, slowly began to divest himself of some his tightly guarded and secured assets. I think there was a sense of silent guilt that my mom had not always had the new and improved things or appliances. No house updates, no upgrades or remodeling for us. No fancy vacations, luxury cars, private schools, or extravagances of any sort for us.
We were, however, never were left “wanting” as we had what we really needed. Unfortunately however my Mom was only allotted $50 a week in order to buy groceries, clothes and basically handle a family of 4—leaving very little if anything remaining for herself– no lunch with friends, no trips to clothing stores or fun afternoons out with the other moms. She was a stay-at-home mom, but always, one, who I sensed as very unhappy—a very sad unhappy woman.
It was my friends and roommates in college who gave my dad, unbeknownst to him, the moniker of Mr. Mole, as it seemed my parents never went out for adventure, movies, ball games, etc.– never venturing far from our home, which they dubbed the mole hole. The name stuck and my dear old friends always lovingly ask today how is old Mr. Mole? Only adding to that sense within me that we were not an average family…compounding any growing resentments I was already harboring.
My dad, however, has since become very generous and kind the older he has become, not that these are traits he ever lacked— old family friends always talk about how nice a guy my dad was—and that may just have been part of the trouble—he simply was too nice and naïve a guy. I feel today that perhaps he, after losing mom, after my grandmother’s death, after he retired, after becoming a grandfather, having since remarried—thought deep down that now it was “ok” to spend a little of the tightly hoarded savings and to enjoy the little family he has remaining around him—to dare to actually enjoy and live life—all however in a very conservative small way—not being able to stray too far from those silent voices that haunt him.
If it were not for my dad, my son, his only grandchild, would not have certain opportunities that he now has and enjoys. My dad has helped to take care of and provide for my small family in ways that we could not necessarily do for ourselves and we are truly indebted to his generosity. It is now that I can see and appreciate his early frugal ways as they have helped to make life today a bit easier for all of us. My son has a very close relationship with his grandfather as they are “partners in crime” and for that, I am grateful.
I believe that it is not until becoming a parent and being able to put time and space between one’s self and that of one’s own childhood that a type of healing can finally begin to coagulate. I know this is true in my own life. All of the energies I wasted being hurt, regretting, and simply being mad that I didn’t have a strong dad have, thankfully, finally melted away. God’s Grace of healing has slowly been at work in my soul—for which I am truly truly thankful.
I have indeed been blessed, on the one hand, of having that sort of relationship a growing girl needs with a strong leading male figure, that with my godfather—a long since retired Episcopal priest. He has been that stronger male in my life– the one who I could run to with all of my worries, fears and regrets….the one who has often picked up all the emotional pieces of my life—I owe him a great deal as well. And I know today that I have been actually doubly blessed. All this coming from a once very angry young woman.
It has not been until I have seen up close the mistakes I have made as a parent, the poor decisions, the things I regret, those mismanaged moments of my own parenting– as a mom, that I have finally afforded myself the ability to “forgive” my dad and to forgive myself as well. As any parent will tell you, there are no owner’s manuals given out in hospital at the time of delivery. We simply do the best we can do with the resources we have, or don’t have, and hope for the best.
I hope one day my son will be able to look back and forgive all the mistakes I have made along the way in his upbringing. As parents, it’s as if we simply walk a minefield of error…screwing up here and there, but always hoping for the best. Humans are resilient and this is a good thing.
And perhaps in all of this, age is an issue—in my case, thankfully, it is the mellowing with age that is proving a saving grace. My dad never knew I was always angry with him or resentful, that was more of an intrinsic battle I was waging— but it is certainly nice to be able to shed some of its weight. Does he continue to frustrate me? Definitely! As he’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, his childlike nature is simply being compounded. He is manipulative in a very passive aggressive manner. He has elevated my deceased mentally unstable brother to the level of Saint—but even that, thankfully, I am learning to let go of…
So at 53 I am getting to a place of some peace—or that is, until the next crisis rolls around 🙂 I can also say a latent “thank you” to my dad, for all that you have done and continue to do for us. Hopefully God’s work in me is on going, as I know it is, just as my previous post stated– forgiveness one step at a time—forgiveness for others, forgiveness of self– Thank God!!
I am a true believer in God’s Grace, as I am indeed a product of that Grace. I believe in healing—on a grand scale and on the smaller more subdued scale—the healing that takes place in my own heart is that of a gradual slow trickle—and that is obviously the way I need for it to be—even though I would often prefer being hit over the head and suddenly being a perfect person—but who is that perfect person? I’ve yet to meet one…
May God bless you as He continues blessing and healing me—-
Here is to Mr. Mole, my Dad.