I know many of you have commented on the fact that the reason you follow my blog is that I write from my heart. It’s a blessing and a curse, and it’s the reason I hesitated to write a “Father’s Day” post. My father and I have had a very mixed relationship. I will say, I am blessed that, at 81, he is still relatively healthy. And, I suspect you already know what’s coming; it’s the ‘but’ statement to follow.
My Dad was, and is, a great dad. He was always fun. As a child, I don’t remember my dad ever being angry; it wasn’t until I was in my late teens and early twenties, when the wheels sort of started to fall off for him, that he ever seemed preoccupied or upset. My dad has always been the jokester, the comedian, the life of the party. I have some truly beautiful memories of things we did together. I can remember clear as a bell him letting me hold the crossbar on the lawnmower; I couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5, but he let me walk in front of him and we pushed the mower together. The grass smelled so sweet and the sun was shining; it’s just one of those soft, comforting memories. Then there was the ultra fun (and in today’s standards extremely reckless) 70+ mph ride on his lap as we sped up and down the roller coaster-like roads near Nekoosa, Wisconsin while visiting some of his relatives. With shear abandon I held onto the steering wheel and we went up and down those hills on that two lane road. “Wheeeeee…Daddy!!” Heh. There were trips all over the country; we went snowmobiling in the winter, fishing in the summer. We went on a Spring break trip my junior year of high school to visit the South Dakota/Wyoming mines of the company that he was working for; he’d arranged for me to meet with their Natural Resources advisor since I was going to be going to the University of Wisconsin as a Forestry major. Man, did we have a blast.
So, it’s well established that we had fun. But…here comes the ‘but’ part…my father’s joking manner hid some truly dark secrets and a pain from his childhood that he will never face or resolve. What’s more, he learned early on in life a habit that benefited him initially, but that would cripple him later on: he learned to rely on the phrase, “I don’t know.” It’s only been recently that I realized my father uses this phrase as a crutch. He uses it to absolve himself of any kind of responsibility. Because, we all know, if you don’t know something, how can you be responsible for it?
My father put the responsibility of managing our finances on my mother, who’d never had any responsibility given to her either. Still, he put the responsibility on her even though he’d just spend whenever the mood struck him. There was no planning, no thought of the proverbial ‘saving for a rainy day’; if he wanted something, he got it. And if there were difficulties because of his casual spending, he’d turn it around on my mom and say, ‘you’re the one responsible, I don’t know what you do.’ And I remember the very first time I thought my father was, well naïve is the word I’ll use but not the first one that comes to mind, when he lost the house I grew up in during the holidays in 1983. I’ll save the very long, sad story. The bottom line was that my father lost our house a couple of weeks before Christmas and we had nowhere to go. As my parents sat wringing their hands over what was going to happen to us, I stepped up and located an agency that could find us an apartment, secured a loan from my employer for a deposit (I had no savings), and arranged for friends and family to help us move.
Looking back, I realize that what I should’ve done was find an apartment for myself and leave them to figure it out on their own. Instead, my actions started a long string of similar situations that culminated in the need for my parents to move in with my husband and I in 2009. In the nearly two years they lived with us, my father shared a number of sad and frightening stories about his childhood. I had also recently uncovered that my grandfather had had a first family 20 years before he met my grandmother, and that they didn’t get legally married until 1952. My dad’s comment, ‘I didn’t know.’ My father’s father was often absent; he traveled between Montreal, Canada (where is siblings and first family were) and Chicago where my father and his sister and brother were. My father was raised by an abusive and cold mother; he relied heavily on his maternal aunt for any sense of love. My grandfather drank often and was abusive when he was drunk.
I guess what’s remarkable is that for his extreme lack of responsibility, my Dad taught me how to be a kind and caring person. He taught me about the injustice of bigotry and that I should never judge someone by the color of their skin, but rather the content of their character (thank you, Martin Luther King, Jr.). He gave me the opportunity to connect with Nature and make it a very large part of my life. He taught me to live life with élan; to love in a big, crazy way. In that, he did an awesome job. Having missed out on having a Father though, I wasn’t provided with the tools I needed to be a productive adult. I didn’t learn the importance of finishing things before you start new things. The importance of maintaining an asset once you have it. How to manage finances so you pay for what you need before you buy what you want. These things I had to learn on my own; most of them I’m still learning.
This is the first Father’s Day I’ve been without my father. He was an awesome and fun Dad. He was a terrible Father. There really is a difference. I know several men who’ve learned to balance these two roles: Dad and Father. This balance is essential, I believe, in raising healthy, well rounded children. Parenting holds no guarantees; neither does being a child. As an adult, I’m able to forgive my Dad for the shortcomings that affected me in ways both small and big. I’ve chosen to put my Father to rest, to acknowledge that that man was non-existent in my life.
Thank you, Dad, for teaching me how to love and forgive. I guess in the end, that’s the thing that’s most important.