Letter to My Elderly Father

Dear Dad,

Remember when I crashed the car and you didn’t get angry?  After you made sure that I wasn’t hurt, you laughed because the car was bent into a funny shape.  “Cars are replaceable. People aren’t,” you told me, and I instantly learned a lesson about values.

That single incident shaped me more than you know.  It shaped your grandchildren too because I adopted your parenting mantra:  ‘Don’t cry over spilled milk.’

We quote you a lot, you know.  Just the other day, when I was filling your medicine dispenser with the visiting nurse, I shared the sage advice that punctuated every task of my life, “Measure twice, cut once.”  You had an expectation of perfection and attention to detail that served you well.

Your standards perpetuate through those who have had the benefit of learning from you.  I don’t have the skills you had for building and fixing absolutely everything, but I try because you raised me to be capable and I still want to make you proud.

I suppose you were preparing me for the time when your own body declined to the point that you could no longer help me.   You wanted to make sure that I could care for myself. Now I’m caring for you. I don’t blame you for resisting my help. To do otherwise would be an admission of defeat or loss, and that isn’t your style.

It hurts you, I know, to sit out of life and let others do the work you used to do.  You want to feel useful and be productive. You want to contribute in the ways you did best.  But the body has its own plan and yours is begging for mercy.

Somewhere deep down you know that you’re losing your battle with age and illness, but you’ll fight until the curtain closes and never concede to the wishes of those who love and serve you.  I admire that tenacity (aka stubbornness) and recognize a bit of it in all your kin. It’s a signature of your culture and, perhaps, a result of your personal history.

Soon enough we’ll have to say goodbye.  No matter how much I prepare for it, it will destroy me, at least for a while.  How can it not? You were this girl’s hero.

I’ll try to be brave, Dad, like you taught me. “Show ’em what you’ve got,” you’d say, which always made me straighten up a little taller and believe in myself, because you believed in me.

I would claim to loathe the practice of sugar-coating life – of pretending, once someone is gone, that it was all sunshine and butterflies.  But now that we’re nearing the end of our time together, I’m hard-pressed to care about the ugly parts. Somehow, the struggles seem to enhance the story, and I wouldn’t want to cut out one bit.

It’s okay to be afraid, Dad.  I want to give you comfort and reassurance that all will be well.  To let you know the ways in which you are unforgettable; how much your life has meant and will continue to mean.

Every time I see a fish tank, I recall a sweet memory of you pacing back and forth in front of it to calm sleepless babies.  When I hear someone whistling, l remember how you always whistled while you worked and it makes me smile because no one whistles when they’re angry.  And when I see someone in need, I ask myself how I can help, because that’s what you would do.

As a parent, I question if I’ve done enough for my kids.  In case you wonder that too, Dad, put your mind at ease. You gave me everything you had to give, and it was more than enough.

Your life was modest but your legacy is immeasurable.  The inheritance you left us consists of intangible wealth – a toolbox of resources to build a solid house atop the foundation you set.

Thank you, Dad, for being part of my life.   I love you, and I always will.

Deb

A Girl’s Wishes

sad butterfly 1I wish my father would have been kinder about fat girls. Perhaps I wouldn’t have starved myself in order to appear well-under the imagined weight that was the threshold of his love.

I wish the schoolboys wouldn’t have judged other girls harshly, finding fault with models and actresses and teachers. Every criticism, though not directed at me, prompted my own inner critic to register a list of unacceptable traits and unrealistic expectations of perfection.

I wish that advertisements would have been honest about beauty and the need for improvement. Perhaps I wouldn’t have wasted so much money and time on fixing myself.

I wish my boyfriends didn’t believe me when I pretended not to care that they flirted with other girls. I might not have crumbled on the inside while learning to put on a pretty face.

I wish my friend’s father knew that nicknames aren’t always welcome. Perhaps I wouldn’t have doubted the me I knew, compared to the me he labeled.

I wish someone had taught my high school crush to be gentle and kind when letting a girl know that he’s just not into her. Perhaps my veins wouldn’t have turned to ice and colored my future relationships.

I wish I would have had the courage to say ‘no’ and to register my honest opinion.  It might have spared me regret.

I wish I hadn’t needed boys to affirm my self-esteem. But I did. I was human. And I was girl.

Father of the Year

hammock (2)I made a mistake – the kind that hurts the people you love.  It happened when I got lazy with my words and insulted husband in front of our daughters.  It started innocently with a conversation about Principessa’s birthday request last year – to take a surfing lesson with Dad.  Neither had surfed before but husband easily picked up the skill, like most agility-related things he tries.  Peach remarked that she’d like to learn to surf and would like to take a lesson.  “No need,”  her sister remarked, “Dad can teach you.  He was really good.”  To which I absentmindedly replied, “Maybe not.  He’s a horrible teacher.”  Ouch.

Husband got angry.  I got defensive.  Later that night, having managed to strip myself of stubborn pride, I sat us all down for an apology.  It was a teachable moment at my expense about taking responsibility for one’s words and attitudes.  All this to say that my transgression made me reflect on husband with less of an ‘I’ve been married for 19 years and have earned the right to say what I want’ mentality, and more of a compassionate ‘Look at the magnificent man I just threw crap at!”  (This, the same man who tried to teach me to snowboard and almost knocked my teeth out with his knee, which is why  I say he’s a terrible teacher.  But I digress.)

Husband is the man who, when accused by the teenaged Principessa of being disconnected from her, Googled articles on fathers and daughters to better understand how to mend their relationship from her point of view.  Despite his efforts, Principessa holds tight to her assessment.  I’m led to believe by parenting experts that this is normal separation-type behavior and completely age-appropriate.  Whatever, it’s still frustrating.

Because Principessa doesn’t know what a great dad she has. I’m fairly certain that my father didn’t research ways to connect better with me. The parenting standards were different.  An elderly friend offered this generational divide – she said she had a good father, one who didn’t drink alcohol and didn’t beat her.  Oh yes, and he didn’t give her away when her Mom died.  Lucky girl.

When Principessa pulled her wild card – the one that reminds us that she has only one year left in our house before college so we better appreciate her  – husband called her bluff.  He proposed a year-long commitment between the two of them.  During the 52 weeks until Principessa graduates, they would commit to one day per week to do something together – just the two of them.  He did the math out loud, “That’s 26 ideas apiece. Sunday nights.  You and me.”

It sounded a bit like husband was challenging Principessa to a street fight, but she accepted the terms nonetheless.  I sensed nervousness on both sides.

As you can imagine, it’s been a rough start.  Finding time is always a challenge.  But neither are willing to surrender.  They bake together, go out for ice cream, exercise….and they sometimes argue.  But at the end of the day, they’ve made a deposit into their relationship bank account.

I suspect that the significance of husband’s efforts will bounce fruitlessly off of Prinicipessa’s  surly attitude.  Like a typical teen, she’d die before she’d release her claims that Dad is uncool.  Lucky for him, teenhood is not a permanent condition.  I envision a day – far, far, away – when Principessa will reflect on this time with appreciation.  “We had such fun!” she’ll say.  Husband will repress his desire to strangle her and will reply, “Why yes, we did.  We always had fun.”

firetruck (2)

 

pretzel (2)

 

toenails (2)

%d bloggers like this: