Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Remembering Dad

I am often flummoxed by the things people know, or at least profess to know, about their loved ones. I have friends who can wax for hours about the accomplishments or proclivities of their parents, not only recalling details from their own memories of direct experience, but cite all sorts of tidbits they've heard about. This can stir my inner world to the point where I wonder what is wrong with me.

I know so little about my father and his life prior to marrying my mother when he was 23 and she a mere 18. My memories of him are primarily painful ones that twist my stomach into knots. His fuse was short. We were a family of 6 with an upward trajectory socio-economically, and then things fell apart. We left; he stayed.

During the years following the divorce, my siblings and I took the Greyhound bus to visit him every other weekend. When my brother was old enough to drive, it was his job to get us there and back, all four of us navigating an ever-shifting landscape. I have no doubt that Dad gave it his all, trying to keep the connection intact and do his part, but I can tell you, it was no picnic; ever.

I did plenty of work in therapy during the early years of my marriage to unravel the tangle of family stuff I brought across the country with me, and much of that work centered around my father and my fear of him. Time brought healing and clarity; he changed, I changed, we reconciled little by little. 

During my last visit to his home in PA a year before his death, an extraordinary thing happened. Dad was sitting on his porch enjoying the summer day and I went outside to join him. He was frail then, spoke in whispers, and often stared as if in another place, which I suspect he was. I sat near him. He looked at me, really looked at me, as though seeing me for the first time. I remember his hands, cupping the arms of the rocking chair. "You're such a pretty girl," he said, and just like that, I began to cry. I had never heard such sweet words from my father and I did what you would have done: I said thank you and hugged him gently.

I've been thinking of Dad a lot today; it's his birthday month, and well, sometimes I miss him. Tonight I made a batch of Brazilian Black Bean soup. I hummed and sang the entire time. Both my parents had that habit; Mom hummed and sang; Dad whistled and sang. I love that I do it too! 

Dad learned to be kind to his children before he died. I learned to say thank you. We're still reconciling; these things take time. Remember that.