For those of you blessed with fathers, do you have memories of growing up?
Some great, some good… some not so good perhaps?
What kind of Father's Day cards appealed to you?
What was the best of times?
My best of times is now. My Dad is 90 years old. And we have just - in the last three years - really grown up together. I'm so thankful he has lived this long, and I treasure every moment we spend together as blessing.
Like today when he called, confused about one of his medications. Living just a few minutes away, I went over and helped him out.
It wasn’t always like that.
As I child, I knew he loved me, but I didn't actually feel love coming from him. He was often fun and playful. And strict. I was a bit afraid of him.
After my mom died in 1991, Dad and I grew closer. We grieved together and supported each other.
Then he remarried. And the short story here is that he made his new family the priority in his life.
I write this next bit with great compassionate love for myself and my Dad.
I felt abandoned. Cast aside. I WAS abandoned, cast aside, with the exception of a monthly breakfast and occasional family gatherings. It was a very difficult, awkward and prolonged time, and still I was determined to somehow find my way through it with love and respect.
The year 2010 would be one of great change for our family. Dad and his wife had to separate for health reasons, neither one being able to care for the other's needs. From being largely on the outside for the past eighteen years, my in-town siblings - Kathleen, Mark, Laura - and I were suddenly responsible for his care. How does one person single handedly care for an elderly loved one? We, working collaboratively, couldn't fathom. And the short story here is that we managed, including getting him comfortably settled in a senior independent living facility apartment.
Fast forward to 2013. I'm wrapping up my time in Doha, talking with Dad by phone and crying. Interestingly, he always really showed up for me when I lived abroad, connecting and caring. His support of me during my year in the Middle East helped me decide to return to KC rather than London.
A number of things have happened since my return from there over three years ago:
- I resumed taking Dad to church every Sunday, after which we go out to eat.
- I continued my trauma recovery therapy and healing, now processing decades-long suppressed anger and abandonment issues.
- I continued to find and use my voice, my power.
- I learned and began to practice healthy boundaries. Scary!
- Dad had a series of surgeries: fractured left hip hardware, to total hip replacement, to revision total hip, each followed by hospital and weeks-long rehab facility recovery.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. It sure took a village to "raise" my father through these recent years. Thank you thank you thank you to Kathleen, Mark and Laura for all your love and sharing of the responsibilities. I think we make a GREAT team.
They also say you can't teach an old dog new tricks. I beg to differ.
I doggedly (pun definitely intended) spoke my truth, little by little, over time, to my father, standing up for myself when I felt hurt by his words. It was important for me to be authentic with him, not putting on the life-long happy face. Coming from a generation with a completely different experience, he at first didn't understand my attempts to explain trauma and recovery therapy and my anxiety and depression. Yet he would eventually respond to me in a way that told me he was listening. And processing what I was saying.
And guess what? As I changed, he changed. Our conversations changed. He stopped saying hurtful things to me. He said please and thank you and I love you. And come here, give me a hug.
And over time I began to feel loved. I always KNEW I was loved. But now the little girl that is me FELT and BELIEVED her daddy's love. How affirming!
Know what else changed? I started remembering happy times from childhood, and I lovingly saw how the years had reversed our roles.
- He taught me how to tie my shoes.
- I help him put his shoes on.
- He taught me to ride my bike.
- I help him with his walker and getting in/out of the car.
- Sometimes he surprised us with donuts on Saturday morning.
- Sometimes I surprise him with donuts on Saturday morning.
- He took us to church on Sunday.
- I take him to church on Sunday. And he tells me he loves to hear me sing. (!)
- On the occasion when Dad would take our large young family out for breakfast, he would buy us each a mint patty when he paid the bill.
- Weather permitting (yet another reason to love the cold), I keep a bag of York mint patties in my car, each of us enjoying one after our Sunday meal out.
- Sometimes, when he traveled for work, he would bring home a tiny little something for us.
- When I travel to different places, I bring home a magnet for his fridge.
- He was cool enough to play our favorite rock station on the car radio for us.
- I'm cool enough to play the baseball or football game station on my car radio for him.
- When I had surgery in 1992 for recurrent herniated neck disc, I woke up in my hospital room to see Dad sitting next to me and holding my hand.
- After his repeated surgeries, I sat next to him and held his hand… when he let me.
My father is a strong willed, determined, methodical, deeply faithful and loving man, with a passion for life. Through the time I spend with him, he is teaching me about growing old gracefully, not giving up. Savoring every bit life has to offer, looking at the bright side.
I am so my father's daughter. And so proud to be so.