Author’s note: At the behest of a good friend, I wrote this piece to read at an event he organized and named; Color Me Father. It’s never easy to bare your soul, especially when it involves someone who has had meaning in your life. Honesty is of the utmost importance to me and I find it difficult to be anything but truthful, especially in my writing. I never intend any malice, nor harbor ill will towards the people in my life who have caused me pain. Seeking to learn the lesson, I desire to become a better person and be true to my life’s motto…. Love is the answer. <3
Life With My Father – As Good As It Gets
So what the hell was I thinking? Not only did I agree to write about my father, (see what I do for you Tim) but to also read it outloud. In public. This is exactly why I named my first blog “Cheap Therapy”.
My suspicion is that what I’m sharing with you tonight, my life with my father, will not be in line with what others may have to say about their fathers. I’ve tried to convince myself that maybe there’s someone else out there that needs to hear this, who can – relate, but, that doesn’t make me feel good either. I’ve never liked that whole “misery loves company” idea. I’m more of a “sunshine and rainbows for everyone,” kinda girl. But I haven’t seen any support groups for people who are too happy or had amazing childhoods, so I’ll acquiesce to the notion that we feel better knowing someone has suffered in a similar way to our own, and that makes us feel – oddly better. To those who may feel that way at the end of this personal essay, I feel you. And I send you love.
It’s a strange thing to know what it feels like to have lost your father while he’s still alive. Just this past fathers day, one of my best friends texted me that she was having a difficult day. She was terribly missing her father who passed away a few years ago. I texted her back, offered my sympathies, and said that I’d felt that way, all of my life. Loss comes in many forms…
My mother and father got married late July, 1961 and my dad departed for England two weeks later to do his time in the Air Force, a common choice for young men in small towns at that time, looking for the road that lead to a bigger world. I was a “honeymoon” baby, according to my mom and shortly after my father left, my mom moved with her parents, from the panhandle to Central Florida, Winter Haven to be exact. I was born there the next April. For 18 months I grew and thrived in the happy home of my doting grandparents and mom. The only evidence of my dad was an 8×10 photo of him in his uniform that my mother would show me while saying “daddy.” This was such a regular occurrence that when I met my father in person for the first time at a year and a half old, I apparently ran right to him calling “da-da, da-da.”
It wouldn’t be honest for me to tell you that that was my last happy memory about my dad. Because I don’t remember it. There is no specific memory of an incident that marked the beginning of the demise of our relationship either. That would mean that I could point to a time that there was something good about our relationship.
Before you get worried that shits about to get uncomfortable and awkward, or start looking for your invitation to my pity party, let me put you at ease. I don’t want this to be a dad-bashing story. I’m too much of a “glass half full – find the good in every situation person” for that. Besides, I’ve spent too many hours journaling, and on therapists couches to allow that.
Actually, some of the greatest things about me are traits I’ve gotten from my father…. For example: He’s never met a stranger. And like him, I can strike up a conversation with anyone at anytime, which has given me the opportunity to hear some amazing stories throughout my life.
With that gift also comes my ability to stand up in front of an audience and be completely comfortable speaking, reading, performing, whatever. I’ve been doing it since I was 10 years old and even then there was no fear.
In the Air Force my dad was a cryptographers mate. We were stationed at Patrick Air Force Base on the east coast when he left the service. Naturally, he took a job with the space program. So needless to say, technology has always been in the forefront of my life. I was the only kid in high school (circa the mid 1970’s) who had a computer at home. It took up two walls in my parents bedroom. This progressive thinking has served me well.
My father is also responsible for my great work ethic. He instilled in me (albeit, not always in the best way) that a job done well is a well done job. To this day, no one will expect more of me, than I do.
My father is funny and witty, and well, if you know me at all, you can figure that one out. He is also an awesome storyteller. I think my admiration and appreciation for that, is evident in my passion for writing.
As an adult I have been able to recognize these things for the positive effects they have had in my life, and I am grateful for that every day. And like Jack Nicholson’s character, Melvin Udall in the movie As Good As It Gets – “I’d be the happiest man alive if that did it for me.” But it doesn’t. As meaningful as those things are, as much as I value the benefits they have brought to my life, they don’t make up for the other stuff.
Nothing takes away the sting of the back of a hand. Or the bite of hateful words. There isn’t a story to be told that eliminates the fear in the pit of your stomach as someone screams in your face.
“I was just playing with you” is not a replacement for “I’m sorry.”
The resentment of unrelenting control is not alleviated by a rare “atta-girl”.
And a kind word from a stranger does not replace an “I love you” never spoken.
Like most children, I thought it was my fault. That I must have done something that made my dad not like me. So I tried hard to be better, smarter, more lovable. As an adult I have come to know that it isn’t me. It’s him. He is a product of his own environment, one that lacked tools and support and a good example that love is a verb. I suppose he did the best he could with what he had to work with. That’s in no way an excuse for his bad behavior, but it is more palatable than some of the other options.
I haven’t spoken with my father in 3 years. I had to come face to face with one of the tenants of life I hold as truth: “You teach people how to treat you.” I had allowed my dad to treat me poorly all of my life. I couldn’t continue to let that happen. It was a poor example to my children, and, I deserve better. All I need is one thing… An apology. Just one. No explanations necessary. Just a sincere acknowledgment of my feelings. But unlike John Ruskin who said; “It is better to lose your pride with someone you love rather than to lose that someone you love with your useless pride,” my father chooses to remain with his pride.
Time and counsel have helped me to forgive my father for his transgressions. I wish this story had a happy ending, and in my optimistic, possibilitarian way of thinking, I still hope it might. But I don’t lose sleep, harbor resentment, or wallow around in misery, because it might not. Life is way too short for that. I choose to be happy every day and I send him love and light each time he crosses my mind. And like Melvin Udall, I accept that this might be, as good as it gets.
Love is the answer. Always. All ways… <3