Monday, August 31, 2009

Me and My Dad

Written August 5th, 2009-

While I was in Florida, before the funeral and service in Mississippi, I was going through my mom and dad's office looking for our old journals that my mom kept for us when we were babies and then let us write in as we got older. I really wish I had been able to find them because Haley would have loved reading everything I wrote when I was her age. I think that start in journaling is what has made it easy to have been writing for almost 10 years. Anyway, I came across my dad's journals. I was just flipping through them, not really reading much on each page because even though he's dead, and he kept those journals understanding that after he died they would probably be read, it still felt like a sort of violation of privacy to read them so soon after he passed.

I got to the end of his latest journal, which I think was dated 2008 because I think he lost the ability to write pretty soon after their visit at Christmas. One of the last entries had a list of his fears. One of them was that he feared that he wouldn't leave enough money after his death to support my mom, and one of his fears, the first one, was that he feared to pray. I wish I could have asked him what he meant, because that really resonated with me. My parents are/were both really religious, very devout Mormons and my dad took religion very seriously. It really affected me that he felt scared to pray, because part of my detatchment to religion, of any kind, is that I deep down believe that I've done too many bad things in my life, that I don't deserve a relationship with God because I'm so bitter and so unwilling to forgive for everything that I've been through as a child and teenager. There it was, staring me in the face, one more way in which my dad and me were alike, the fear to pray. Below the list of his fears was his prayer list, and second on the list was my brother Cameron, and third on the list was my name. It broke something inside of me that my dad thought about me and prayed for me, even though our relationship wasn't much of a father-daughter one. I cried and cried, both that he prayed for my dead brother, who he never knew, and for me, which I think he barely knew. And that he put us so high on his list of people and things to pray for.

I struggled, the entire time I was in Florida and Mississippi, to reconcile my feelings about my dad and our relationship and my too-late wishes that I had known him better and made him more of my life. I'm glad I had the chance to tell him so many times that I loved him when I could, that he came at Christmas and shared that time with my family, and that my entire family, Tim's and mine, could be together. That his last Christmas was a happy one, that he got to see snow on our way to the airport when they left. I am glad that he met my babies and got to spend time with Haley this summer, that he got to meet Savino. I hope that he knew that I loved him, in the only ways I knew how. I hope he knew that I didn't, in the end, hold it against him that he couldn't be the dad that the little girl in me desperately wished he could be. It wasn't his fault. And it wasn't my fault. I couldn't help but cry and cry that he was gone, even while I was worrying that my brothers and my sister and my mom would judge me harshly and tell me that I wasn't allowed to be sad when I chose to have such a superficial relationship with him over the years. I wasn't just mourning my dad, but the relationship that we didn't get to have and that he would never get to have with my kids, his grandkids.

Seeing him the night before he passed away, and seeing the way he looked and how thin, how frail, how not there he seemed to be, was hard. I held his hand and rubbed his arm, and I choose to believe that he knew I was there. When I leaned over and said, "Dad, I'm here, I love you" he moved his hand toward me and his eyes flickered towards me. He was sleeping with his eyes half open, so it was hard to tell whether he was really awake or not, but I think that he was. He knew my mom was back with him again, and I want to believe that he knew I was there. I am still grateful that I decided to spend the night there with them, that my mom wasn't alone with strangers when she realized he had passed away. I am even grateful that we spent two hours just sitting in the room with him after they pronounced him dead. It was easier to let go, having that time to just sit there and cry every now and then and watch my mom stroking his hand. She turned to me at one point and said, "His fingers are still warm." Looking at him, laying there in the bed, dead, it was easy to see that he was gone, that it was just a shell, he wasn't there anymore. I was glad, because later on when we had the funeral and the casket was closed, I didn't have to confront an image of him dressed in a suit, unrecognizable. I prefer the image of him in the bed, laying on his side the way he was when my mom was curled up behind him in the bed. He didn't die alone, we were there with him. And we didn't have to share him, one last time, with everyone else who cared about him, that last sight of him was ours, my mom's and mine and my brother's.

One of the people who spoke at my dad's funeral was someone that my dad had been friends with for years. He called himself my dad's "adopted father" and "adult friend". I don't like him, but my dad did and he wanted him to speak at his funeral. He said a lot of things that I thought were unnecessary, about my dad's first love who drowned after a boating accident, and he also said some things that I was grateful and infuriated by, in turn. He got to one point in his eulogy when he started talking about how much my dad loved us, his children, and he said particularly me and I just broke down even harder, though I had been crying almost from the moment we got to the church. I lost it. He went on to say that he loved me despite my adolescent outbursts, and some other things that made my mom kinda mad. Later she told me that she didn't like what he said and was close to speaking out and telling him to stop. She said my dad wouldn't have wanted me to be upset or feel criticized at a time like that. I don't really care, because I knew that my rebelliousness made my dad upset and sad, even though it didn't change anything. I wasn't hearing anything new. It meant so much more to me to hear that my dad *loved* me, even if it came from the mouth of someone I will never speak to again. I cried and cried, grateful for that scrap of something, and devastated for that loss.

When I was a freshman in high school, I used to wear my dad's shoes to school in these odd outfits. My dad's feet were much bigger than mine, and his shoes were, to put it kindly, ugly. They were orthopedic type shoes that he chose for functionality and comfort. I took his old worn pairs of them and wore them even though I know people used to talk about me and make fun of me for wearing these huge ugly shoes. It was my silent way of trying to claim something of my dad, to have some sort of peice of him that didn't judge me or make me feel less than. I was trying to find some way of connecting with him, when it was so hard for us to find a level that we connected on. I wanted him to be this wonderful dad who did things with you and made you feel protected always, and I wanted him to be this fantasy dad who said all the right things and did all the right things. In reality, my dad had a hard time being my dad. I was 12 or 13 when he married my mom and I had been taking care of my mom and my brothers and sister and it was hard for me to let that go. I was rebellious and I pushed all the limits and I gave my mom and dad a really hard time, partly because that's what teenagers do, and partly because I had so much trauma that I was trying to deny and not deal with and it just came out of me in all sorts of acting out. I got a job and moved out of the house when I was 17 and so we really only had about 5 years together and all of them were rocky. I would like to think that I helped my dad be a better dad because he got thrown into the deep end with me and maybe knew better how to handle my brothers and my sister as they got older and became teenagers.

My dad was an amazing man. I can see that now, with the hindsight of being older and having my own kids and an incredible husband who is also an incredible dad. My dad was born with birth defects that made the doctors say he wouldn't live to be 10 days old, 10 weeks old, 10 years old, and on and on. He did some amazing things with his life, and I think he always appreciated living in the moment because he was constantly being told that his moments were almost up. He walked on fire three times. He climbed a telephone pole, which is no small feat for anyone, but even more impressive when you realize that my dad had a very curved spine and a weak heart. He traveled to see solar eclipses, he had a curiosity about the stars and the universe, he had three degrees. So many people had so many stories about my dad, and how he was so generous in helping others, and how his faith sustained others in times of need.

My dad loved my mom so much. She deserved to have someone who doted on her, and he did. No one ever thought my dad would get married, or have kids, and it's true that he couldn't have kids of his own flesh, but I think that he loved us just as much as he would have loved his own. I think that he knew that this was his chance to have kids, and he got four of us in one fell swoop. I hope that we all made him proud, and that having us as children made his life richer. My dad had high expectations of us, which was hard when you disappointed them, but reassuring in a way, because I really think he truly believed that we had the ability, the potential, to live up to them. I really hope that I made my dad proud with the choices I made in my life, my family, my husband, the peace that I found in myself. I know that my dad was so proud of my brothers and my sister. I know that they made him so proud, that he was always proud to introduce us as his children.

What life holds for my mom from here on out, I'm not sure, but my dad made sure that she would have at least some security and freedom and not have to worry about working into her retirement. He loved her so much, and wanted her to be secure. That's the sort of person my dad was, he always thought about others even when there was so much he had to worry about himself. He never wallowed in the "why me" of life, he just put himself into the geneology of his family, and making plans. He even wrote out a list of what he wanted to happen at his funeral, who to contact, etc. so after he passed away, we knew what his wishes were and weren't left wondering. He had already left a letter with the bishop of his church to be opened after he passed. He had his final resting place picked out and a headstone already purchased and placed for him and my mom. He made it easy on us, so that in a time of such profound grief and sadness, it didn't have to be any harder. He was really a remarkable human being. Even in death, he thought about others, he donated his heart and lungs for study because he was the oldest living person with his set of defects, and the doctors never knew why he survived as long as he did. He outlived people who were far healthier, for far longer. He passed away on his 62nd birthday. He was remarkable to the very end.

I will miss my dad for a long time. I'm glad I finished having my babies before he died so even though Savino is too young to really remember him, at least I can say that he met him. I don't talk about religion much because it is so touchy to me, but if there is a heaven, I know my dad is there, with my brother and my grandmother, and I know that he wants all of us to live our lives and not take a moment for granted. He knew better than anyone not to take any time for granted, to go for what you want and not let fear stop you. My dad may have been afraid of many things, but it never stopped him. When I get sad and afraid, I will try to remember that my dad thought about me often, that he prayed for me, and that he believed in me. If my dad could walk on fire, the least I can do is try to make every day count for me and my kids and my husband. For so many years I acted like I didn't care about my relationship with my dad, I didn't talk about him or think about it because I was always sure I was a disappointment and that if I acted like it wasn't important, then it didn't matter if deep down inside I cared more than I could admit. As he got sicker and sicker, it all came welling up out of me, and now that he's gone, it's something that I've been dealing with and accepting and finding a place for in my life.

I'm glad I was there. I'm glad I had the time with my brothers and my sister and I hope that it brings us closer together. I don't want to lose time with them the way I did with my dad. I had no idea I would miss it so much until it was past me. I learned that me and my dad had so much more in common than I would ever have guessed, from our love of photography and computers, to our interest in family history and geneology. I want to live my life the way he did, without regrets. I am my father's daughter.


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