Thursday, August 19, 2010

Making A Difference

When you read this I'll be on a plane, going to visit my family. My dad is having a milestone birthday and my sisters and I decided we needed to celebrate it. My poor mother is not in control of the gathering but we promised we'd do all the work so that all she has to do is show up.

Not too much has happened in my home of origin that was not my mom's idea. Excluding the stuff we snuck around behind her back to do. I was so convinced that she knew my every move that when I moved clear across the country once I turned 18, I sometimes thought she knew the shenanigans I was up to and semi consciously braced myself for the shit storm that never came. Turns out she really did not have eyes in the back of her head nor telepathy nor could she see all the way across the country. It took me many years to realize that.

My older sister and I had a comedy of communication errors and so my dad's celebration is two afternoons in a row, depending on which paper you read the announcement in.

I volunteered to be the one to tell my mom we had planned a party at their house, weather permitting, and were inviting the whole community. It was easiest to volunteer because I'm the daughter who lives far away.

The land my dad lives on has been in the family for nearly 100 years. Chances are there are not too many people in the surrounding communities who do not know of him, if they don't know him personally. We want to honour our dad because well, you only live once. And we don't want to wait to gather the community in his honour until after he's dead.

We want him to know he made a difference.

That probably pisses my mom off. I told her we wouldn't throw her a milestone party unless she wants one. She won't. That's okay. People are different. I just wish she could be happy for my dad. I need to let go of that expectation. People can only do what they are capable of doing/being. Myself, included.

One of my sisters came up with the idea that all the grand kids could write a note to their grandpa about what he means to them. My older brother wanted to be in on it, too. That lead to all of us being invited to contribute.

My dad was the nice parent. We used to talk as kids that if they got divorced (and could they please do it so we wouldn't have to wake up at 2 AM listening to their fights anymore?) we'd all want to live with him. They are still together. Had they divorced and had we gone to live with him he would have let us do whatever we wanted while he buried his head behind the newspaper. I doubt that any kid really wants that kind of nice. It's great in daydreams but not in real life.

And so when I got the email inviting me to contribute a note I came face to face with a whole whack of resentment towards him that I didn't even know was there. It just about convinced me not to write a note at all. As if the resentments cancelled out all the good memories.

They don't.

My earliest memories are of my dad. I was two years old and was coming home from the hospital after a serious surgery and my mom took me to his shop. I remember being happy to see my dad. All the men were really kind to me because I'd just about died.

When I was five I was in the hospital and my dad came to see me on his lunch hour. My room was several stories up and we pulled two chairs over to the window and my dad read me a book. I wanted to be on his lap but was too shy to ask. My dad was not cuddly and all that. But he showed up. That counts.

When I was six I broke my arm. It's really hard to change your shirt, (have to have a clean shirt on to go to the hospital you know), when you've broken your arm right near the shoulder. But change it I did because I was told to. I changed into a red shirt. At the hospital a nurse put me in a change room to get into a gown. I got locked in. To this day I still get a little panicky in change rooms that lock. My dad took me for ice cream after I was all fixed up. He bought a green ice cream cone and a pink one and I got to pick which one I wanted. I didn't have many choices as a kid so maybe that's why that one sticks out in my mind.

When I was learning to drive I once took a corner way too fast, so fast that my dad slammed up against the door on the passenger's side. He was brave enough to continue to let me drive after that even though he turned very pale as I careened around that corner. It's hard to keep a vehicle on the road once you turn a corner at 40 mph. We fishtailed for quite a ways and he never even raised his voice. Did you know my dad was prematurely grey?

Some of these things I will write down for him.

Fifteen years ago when he was having a different milestone birthday I wrote him a letter to tell him I wanted a relationship with him. That if he died tomorrow I've have to tell my friends I didn't know him; didn't know who he was as a person. I enclosed a little book with questions for him to answer that would help me get to know what goes around in that head of his. I was crushed when he didn't answer my letter and put the book on the shelf where it still gathers dust.

It took me many years to realize that I was asking something of him that he didn't have the tools to do. He had no tools to navigate the intimacies of below the surface relationships although my sister said once, when they were having an in depth conversation about how things were for us as kids, that she could tell by his face that he wanted to, he just didn't know how.

I thought realizing all that took care of the resentment but I can see now that it didn't. I am grateful to have the tools to know what to do about that.

I wrote this post over a week ago. I debated not posting it because of my obvious issues surrounding my parents. I alternated between wanting to pretty up the post and leaving it as is. Today I decided it is what it is. I am where I am on the journey. They are where they are, too. Lord have mercy on us all.


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3 comments:

Black Pete said...

"People can only do what they are capable of doing/being."

There is so much wisdom--hard-won, no doubt--in this posting that I'm surprised it doesn't burst our monitor screens and spill out onto our desks.

Well done, kiddo!

StrongNHim said...

I love it. I mean, not that you have issues with your parents but that your thoughts and feelings are so coherent and relatable. I have issues with mine too and I think that every child does. I wonder if there is a way to end that?
Any way, I hope that his party turns out great.
God bless,

Dianne said...

This opens so many doors.
I want to write now about MY dad, last weekend he was with us, through my sister, my sons, and her spouse teaching my boys what he would have taught them. He died before they were born.

"well, you only live once. And we don't want to wait to gather the community in his honour until after he's dead." my sentiments exactly, and why I tell my friends and family NOW I love them, and what I honor in them.

I loved the honesty and reverence you recorded with each line, easy or hard.....what a gift.
thank you for sharing it, it means something more to me than you intended....
Dianne