Tribute

Reposted from somewhere else. I am not feeling well today.

 

It had been two years since I’d been back to my childhood home. It’s not because I associate bad feelings with visiting my family. The reasons are mainly because I’m a fully-grown adult living several states and time zones away, with growing children to tend, school activities to monitor and a business to run. My “home” is now the place where I live, and my “family” centers on those people living in my house, my husband and children. But as time passes and I age, I realize with alarming clarity that my father has even less time on this planet than I do.

 

During a phone call about a month ago he didn’t sound his usual self. He complained that his feet hurt more than usual. His voice held a tone that was weary and tired, instead of being enthusiastic. He didn’t feel like talking much, and just that alone was unusual for a guy with more stories to tell than time to tell them. Something about this call disturbed me. I decided it was time for the kids and me to visit. Two years had slipped by too fast.

 

At 75, he still looks much like he did twenty years ago. His hair is still more pepper than salt. He’s a little rounder in the middle than I remember, but like me, he’s always been able to wear extra pounds pretty well. Actually, his face appeared much rounder. That’s probably less from diet and more from his love of beer, and these days, the beer is lite beer. My father is battling adult onset diabetes and has had two heart attacks and an angioplasty. He’s got a medicine cabinet full of prescriptions that are unfamiliar to me. As a result of these medical problems, he’s a little slower than he used to be.

 

I remember my grandmother, his mother, at that age. She smoked and drank heavily until her death at age 86. Quite the character, she was feisty and unconventional, and peppered her conversations with language that could make a sailor blush. The woman that she was didn’t match the one she became as the end of her life neared. Her decline seemed to happen in the blink of an eye.

 

The parent-child dynamic is a hard one to figure out. I’m the oldest of six, and always felt responsible for everything. I’m also the farthest away and so I am the person least likely to visit. In the past, when I would come into town, I would end up doing my father’s dishes and the laundry. Sometimes I would clean his bathroom, or tackle a really nasty job like scrubbing the dusty and grime laden blades on the ceiling fan. I’d buy groceries for myself and for him, and drive him up to the casino for an afternoon of fun at the slots and lunch.

 

I don’t know if he appreciated my attention; I always just assumed that was the case. When there are that many children in a family, you have to wonder how the love is spread around. As I matured, I thought of my father as being my friend. Because we could converse on many levels, for many years, I felt like I was in the “favorite” child position, as if a parent could have favorites. But as my younger siblings grew up and became successful and talented, I became painfully aware that I now had to fight for my father’s attention. My piece of his pie was getting smaller and smaller. In my twenties and thirties, this was critical to me. Then one day as my husband and I were arguing about our respective relatives, he shot out with, “Why are you always going out of your way to try to please your dad? It’s obvious you’re not the favorite!”

 

That slap in the face was a wakeup call. Yes, it was true. I was guilty of pirouetting before my father in a vain attempt to maintain alpha dog status. It didn’t matter, though, because sibling shifting had occurred while I was away in my new home. My brother and sisters had established their own relationships with our father. I didn’t realize it at first, but while trying to appeal as the “favorite,” I was compromising values that were important to me, like self-respect and independence. After some soul searching, it was then that I decided to concentrate on my immediate family, and find another kind of balance with my father.

 

Now I’m a parent with a child in college and another poised to make her own move once she graduates from high school. I see their transition from childhood to young adulthood reflected in my own experience with my father. For the older one, there are tenuous steps to establish a friendly relationship without the dreaded parental interference. His actions mirror my own when I was in my early twenties. I needed my father’s blessing that I had become an adult. Though an adult in every sense of the word, it was imperative that I have my father’s approval. My younger child struggles to declare her independence much like I did at her age. When I was a teen, it was important for me to have my own identity separate from my family.

 

Although I’ve always tried to be fair, I see myself in the position of having one child accuse me of playing favorites. The tides have turned, and now it’s my children, not me, who vie for their parents’ attention. My children compare their separate relationships to me with each other, much like I did when I was in a mad rush to be number one. There aren’t enough words in the dictionary I can use in order to reinforce that I love them both. The best advice I can tell them is that they each need to be the finest people they can be without worrying about the other one is doing.

 

During our recent holiday barbecue with the whole family together, I noticed that my father steps effortlessly from his role as father, grandfather and great-grandfather. When it comes to his children, he possesses the grace and wisdom of his years to see him through any situation that may arise. I can see now that he doesn’t have favorites. He can be tough as well as proud. He loves us all, maybe not in the same way, and I’m all right with that.

 

Likewise, I’m moving between my role as parent and child, but it’s not so easy for me. I know my limitations and faults, and can only do the best I can. I’ll try to glean as much knowledge from my father while I still have time to do it.

 

And one thing is certain. I’ll miss my father when he is absent from my life forever.

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6 Responses

  1. I hope you feel better. This was well written, and I identified with the process you described here, of moving between the parent and child roles.

  2. I remember this one. It summoned yet more memories. Perhaps I’ll email them later. I have a little adventure to go on first.

  3. Ditto on pmousse: extremely well written.

    I lost my father when I was 17. I envy you the opportunity to know the man as an adult. You expressed your frustrations, but those are better than not having him in your life. Enjoy what time there is. I wish I had another day.

  4. I think that as parents, we intuit what our kids need and each one needs something different from us at different times. We give them what they need.

    I had a whole lot more in this little comment box but I think this says it for now. Maybe I’ll come back and say more.

    And I agree, it is wonderfully and clearly written.

  5. Hi – I found you on NaBloPoMo and I loved this post. I lost my Dad suddenly to cancer a few years ago and I think I had reached a similar place in my relationship with him and my 5 siblings as you have with yours. Enjoy every moment you have and be at peace with all the rest. Hope you’ll visit my blog, I’m inviting you to be a friend on NaBloPoMo.

  6. Thanks to everyone. Last spring, it felt very good to write this. It feels better to read it now. Oh, and I’m going to see him next weekend. Another birthday! And this one a surprise.

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