My dad

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In a couple of months my father will turn 81.  My father, a Navy vet who served his country, sent home money to his parents to help raise his younger siblings.  He is one of six children, the second oldest.

He and my mother had five children together.  Their oldest, my sister Karen, took ill at the age of six with meningitis. From that diagnosis she spent months in a coma, came out of it with the ability to only move her eyes. Intensive rehab brought her back from that, but she started seizing, (Seizure disorder) having numerous grand mal seizures a day, which reared her paralyzed on her left side, unable to speak, walk. The seizures slowly and continually kept taking from her.

My father became an apprentice, and learned to be an incredible carpenter.  He did this so that he could build a home for us.  He (and my mother) built two beautiful homes. He worked more hours in one week then I’ve probably ever put into a job in a month, and I don’t consider myself lazy.  A very meticulous carpenter, and a house filled with four other children, weekend runs to pick up my sister and bring her home and back, proved difficult for everyone, including Karen.  The more seizures my sister had, the more it took from her.   I cannot imagine having a child and having such an awful thing happen to her.  I cannot imagine what it must have been like having made the decision to turn your very ill and medically needy daughter over to the ward of the state.   I remember judging my parents.  Asking them “If I get sick, will you send me away, too?”   Now I cringe at the very thought of asking that.  I cringe at the slightest thought that they could have chosen better.  Who the hell am I to ask such a question?   How much their hearts must have hurt.  But responsibility of four other children, and having worked night and day to pay off medical bills that today would have been covered by insurance, my parents made a difficult choice.  A choice that I believe was right for Karen.  A choice that I now believe gave me and my siblings, a more “normal” life.  If you can define normal.

My father has a wonderful sense of humor.  My whole family does, really.    And no matter whose company I am in, it is with my family that the laughter is the strongest, loudest.   I learned at a very young age that laughter heals.

My father became a plumbers apprentice and then went on to work for a company who sent him (foreman) and his crew many hours away, which they drove back and forth each day.  My father made a good living.  We always had a balanced nutritious meal on the table, a warm bed to sleep in and even “space” of our own.  We never needed for anything, and were taught that it was because of my fathers hard work, that we had the good life we had.    We also were taught that we lived in the best country in the world, and that our freedom is due to the many men (and now women) who served our country, many whom never made it home.  It’s sort of ironic how the man who gave most of his life to a job for his family, had at one point became invisible, absent.  But working for this company enabled him to give his children a good life, a good start.   His absence was only because he was working to give us this.  The company didn’t appreciate him.  They offered his little for pension.  But he kept going, day after day, for his family.  I know not how to live so selflessly.

He was our loudest fan at softball games, my brothers hockey games.   I always knew I was loved, and while I didn’t agree or like some decisions he made, including ending a 27 year marriage to my mother, I humbly have long since realized, I have no right to judge him or her on that, either.  What do I know about

He and my youngest sister, Darlene, were particularly close.   He admitted to the three of us remaining children last year “Okay, okay, Darlene was my favorite!”   He looked at us like it was an awful thing to say, only to find the three of us bent over laughing.   No shit, Sherlock!   The truth is, they were great buds.  They fished together, they did so much together.  It is nice to look at pictures of the two of them together.   The way Dad looked at her, she was “it”!   And this is not to imply he doesn’t love us, or look at us with swelling pride.   They had something very special.     I remember sitting next to my sister when she made the phone call to dad to tell him that her cancer treatment wasn’t working.  She said “I’m so sorry dad”.    I recall a conversation she and I had, one of our last and she said “You know Donna, he came to every ball game of mine”.  She was talking about after my parents split.  “He would get there late from work, but he always came”.   I am teary eyed thinking about her smile when she said that.  For whatever he didn’t do right (you know what I mean), being her loyal, faithful fan made it ALL right.  My sister was an old soul.  There was and would never be any jealousy there.  She was ALL OF OUR favorite.

I’ve spent a lot of time reminiscing of late.     I do not know what it is like to be my dad.    I know what it is like to watch him age, lose physical and mental strength.  I sometimes have to look away so he doesn’t see my tears.  And yet, I know how very fortunate I am that at the age of 53, I still have both my parents.

I always thought I knew it all.   And for a long time I chased “his approval” foolishly.   That ended about a decade ago when I was unpacking my van, having been travel teaching.  He was helping me.  I pulled out a new painting and he looked at it, didn’t say anything, just looked.    I was tired, disappointed that he didn’t respond the way I wanted him to.  “Am I EVER going to do anything that makes you proud?”  I said with the sharpness of a razor.  I will never forget his expression.   His jaw lay on his chest.  It was that very moment I learned, my dad would probably never shower me with the compliments the way I once wanted him to, but he was proud of me.  And the chip I had on MY shoulder that day, hurt my dad.   “Of course I’m proud of you, Donna.  I love your artwork, I think you are very talented and I’m proud of all of my children.”   I have not, nor will I ever again question his pride for me.     I am SO over judging my parents on anything.  Thank God!   And now, I am working on doing the same for myself.   The crap we get into our heads!  It’s static!    It’s all just frigan static!

It’s funny as I age and realize just what an ass I have been in my life.  I’ve put my parents through some major worry, particularly when it comes to depression and mental illness.  I remember my second hospitalization.  My sister was with me at the phone.  She had brought me a teddy bear, I named him “Arthur”.  I think I was 24.   “Dad, I need to tell you that I’m in the Brattleboro Retreat.   I am getting help for my depression”.   “You have to pull yourself up by your boot straps Donna!”.   Of course I took that wrong, and he, being the age group that he was, wasn’t as educated on mental illness as he is now, 30 years later.     I was so hurt and angry.   Now I know, in HIS head and heart he was fearful.   My father “pulled himself up by his boot straps” over and over and over his entire life, to give to his children.    His heart, his head spoke from his experience in life, to hide the fear he had of what I would or have done to myself.  He wasn’t judging.  He was saying the only thing he knew to do!

I’m not sure why it’s taken me all these years to figure out how intelligent both my parents were and are.  And as I watch them losing ground, I am fearful of losing them.    I’ve been single for over a decade now.   My dad has always been there for me, to help me in any and all ways he can.   “I’m sorry, Donna, that I was focused on your brother’s education, and not yours.   I ignorantly thought that you girls would be taken care of, in marriage”.      There was once a time, and probably too long a period of time, that it angered me that I was raised with this mentality.  That the only way I would have a home is to have a husband.   But that has long since passed.   I am responsible for my choices.  I am responsible for marrying children, two of them!  I am responsible for where I am in my life.   If I had to do it all over again, I would have sought out college.   I know I could have made better choices for myself, could be financially secure, but I’ve also come to realize that even that isn’t as important as being a good person.   Doing my best, day in and day out, and living within the morals that I was raised and were taught.    The day I bought my house out from my ex-husband was one of the proudest days of my life.  I AM responsible.   I AM who I am because of the stable childhood I was blessed with, I learned the importance of family, and while I have no children or even husband of my own, I sometimes think about how difficult it is to keep my head above water.   I take pride in caring for and giving my animals a wonderful home.   And that is NOTHING compared to what my dad gave.    I am the strong woman I am today BECAUSE of my experiences.    I understand, now, why at the age of 30 when my 10 year marriage ended, how come that was so hard for me.  Because I felt like I was nothing without someone.    Oh my god have I grown.  Thank God!    And for all the things I thought my mom or dad did wrong, they did TWENTY TIMES that right!

I’ve watched my parents bury two daughters, their oldest and their youngest.  No parent should have to bury a child, but sadly, well, too many do.  I’ve watched both my parents battle cancer, and seen the anguish and hell it brought them to watch their three remaining children battle it too.     My dad has not had an easy life.  Like all of us if he had it to do over again, I’m sure he would have made some different choices, but my dad?  He’s only human.   My dad has led a good, honest life.  He knows what it is like to work hard for your family, to start over, and he will always remain “our father” in worry for his children.  My dad, what a great human he is!  He is visiting with my sister right now in NC.  I know he chose fathers day visit to mask the fact that I am his new favorite!   🙂

I have been blessed in life with an honorable man as my dad.  He really is my hero.    I am very grateful that I have had 53 years with my dad.   I am the good person I am today largely due to the good person my dad is.  Thank you dad.  I love you and you will always be my hero, and I, your little girl.

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