This is written with the presupposed idea that everyone has a father. You may not know him for several reasons. Physical or emotional abandonment, death, fear. Perhaps you did not like your father or he you. Regardless, everyone has a father.
My relationship with my father has been volatile at least, heart wrenching at times, bittersweet at best. He is a hard person to know therefore a hard person to love, yet, not unlovable. As a child I feared him. Feared his discipline, his sharp tongue, his biting cynicism. I think he feared those things within himself. As a teenager, I rebelled as teenagers do. I defied him, pushed his cynicism and fears to breaking, yet he never left me. As emotionally hindered as he was, he truly never left me. I would not know this for years. Fortunately, I know it now.
As a young adult I was tired of being "fatherless". I determined I wanted a relationship with him, that he was worth knowing and learning about, that I wanted his love. I was determined to dig it out of him, make him say he loved me, make him say he cared. The dilemma I faced was how do you break stone facades? How do you tear down self imposed walls, his as well as my own, and the cages of others? How could I reach my hand and touch this fearful mans' heart? I resorted to the only thing I knew.....words.
Since a verbal relationship with my father was practically impossible, we always ended at odds, I began a written relationship with him through letters.. I do not know if he still has them and it really is no matter. What matters is that he could not avoid them and had no need for reply. It made him hear me without any responsibility on his part. I wrote him periodically for a couple of years. When on my 28th, or 29th birthday, odd I don't remember which, I knew the wall was cracking when the phone range and it was my father singing happy birthday to me. That was the gist of it, not much conversation, but the dam had begun to leak. I cried.
Over the course of many years I would send him the occasional post card for no reason. Call him to say I love you, just because, talk to him when I visited and slowly the man emerged and one day the words I had so long for came. I love you. It was at a time when my marriage was rocky, I was without confidence, fearful of the future with two children. His words filled me with courage I did not know I had. Three words so impactive, so strong. When I was moving into a trailer with just my children, working in a dry cleaners for a pittance, I told my father I was frightened and did not know if I could do what needed done. We bounced together in the seat of the U-Haul we had rented together, him driving me to the future, me supplicant and feeling five again. He looked at me with genuine surprise then turned his eyes to the road. His words have echoed in my heart for years. "Well, I don't see why you can't. You can make it if you want to." I sat silent for half a minute, stunned by the outward display of unknown confidence in me. "I guess your right, Dad. I can if I want to." It was the only reply I could think of. What can you say to that? For once, words escaped me.
Many years have passed since that time and my relationship with my dad is quiet, peaceful, full of understanding that goes unspoken. I have learned much about him, this child-man, this brave man who faced a frightened future with four children and no idea how to parent. We do not say much but he tells me he loves me every time he sees me. He tells me all the time. I regret the loss of those years past but feel blessed with the years we retrieved for the sake of each other. He accepted my offering and offered up in return.
Today my father is fading. He has Alzheimer's and slowly as the clock turns he is slipping away from us. Such is life. We all have a path to trod and have no choice in what manner it will take. He is taking it humbly yet with dignity. He forgets what he said a minute ago but still knows all his children, even on the phone, and knows his grandchildren if prodded, sometimes on his own. Sometimes he even knows his great grandchildren. In his eyes you can see that he knows what is happening, that sometimes he is scared and silently calls for help. He has retained his personal pride, his manners, his southern gentile way. He has lost his anger. He has been humbled, along with us all. I pray that when my time comes I will have the grace that he is teaching. No matter what has passed, no matter what is, I know now that he has always loved me, he knows I have always loved him, and the thing that broke the barrier, words, are no longer necessary between us. I wish him peace.
The writing that follows is of some length. I appreciate your patience if you choose to read it. It bloomed from my visit that allowed me to see his physical failing for the first time, his frailty, his dependence and trust. It was the first time I say the true man, the man I knew hid behind such bravado for so long. I fell deeper in love with him that visit, grew prouder, and allowed my heart to break for this child-man who lost his father so young.
We all have fathers. This is about mine. Till next time......
3-9-2012 Journal entry
Well, what a crashing reality to my world. How could I not cry? He's half the man I knew and becoming less every day. Oh God, is this your mercy? To him or to us?
I know not what fills his mind. Memories? Visions? Visions of heaven, the ethereal, or just nothingness? I cannot believe that. Minds may stop but the conscience, the soul, does not. Something has to fill that void. Let us pray it is sweet and tender, dreams of youth and vigor, dreams of hope that have come to pass in his failing mind. I wish I have never feared him. I'm sure he wished he never gave me cause, if he remembers. Probably not now, but once before I'm sure.
How obedient the defiant one has become. Does God bring us low in order to lift us up? Or does He press his thumb upon our fierce independence, some say humble us. Or is more a dissolution of human character. Is it painful? Is it peaceful? Is it precious, poignant, forgiving, exalting?
The doctors can only tell us the physical. They cannot tell us the interactions of our soul. I would not want to know.
My mother works herself to her death in a frantic attempt to bring back the life she knew which will never be again, for any of us. I wish I could give her peace. I can only give her help. My heart breaks and I don't know who for more. This frenzied grasping for life, her unwillingness to accept and begin letting go. Will it bring her peace, or insufferable loneliness? She cannot exist without a purpose and he is her purpose. She told me once she married him because he was the cutest thing she had ever seen. Somewhere along the way, love planted its seed and oh, how deep it has grown, how wide it has flourished. One will not be able to sustain without the other. They are bone of the same bone, flesh of the same flesh. They are one.
The guard is changing and we must ask our self if we can find dignity enough to equal theirs. We must ask if our love is deep enough to give as the have given to each other, even when they did not know, even when they did not know how. We must ask ourselves if we can forgive the humanity of those we have chosen and embrace the spirit within them, that which we loved first before life revealed their frailties.
If we run away, if we let anger lead and broken dreams prevail, we will rob ourselves of the beauty of our flourished growth. We will never be bone of bone or flesh of flesh to anyone. Our Independence, our selfishness, our self-righteousness will destroy the seed that was planted so long ago.
May it not be so.