Friday, July 07, 2006

Friday Five - Great Things About My Dad

Five Great Things About My Dad

Dad’s on my mind today. He has to go get the generator for his pacemaker replaced, and since he’s on Coumadin (a blood thinner), he’ll be in the hospital for a couple of days afterwards to make sure he gets back to the proper level. I’ll be visiting him there, so I wanted to make sure and get this written before I go.

1. He has never lied to me. Even when things were difficult to explain due to what was happening, my age, other people’s behavior, differences of opinion or moral standing or upbringing, my Dad has not lied to me. He has spoken firmly, he has been gentle, he has been patient, and he has taken the time to give me the truth, as much of it as was my business at the time, in context, so that I could understand either the choices being made or extenuating circumstances. If it was not appropriate for some reason to answer my questions, he has said so straight out with no dithering or apologizing. And he has never used his truthfulness as a bludgeon, either, which is a deft and wonderful skill.

2. He has loved me unconditionally all my life, and I have always known it. I was a busy kid, and due to circumstances of which my Dad was unaware, I was also an angry child. He loved me anyway. He and I would sit on the front stoop and he’d tell me little stories of his childhood – nothing heroic, but stories that appeal to children because they are things kids can relate to – about when he got chased by a bull while crossing the field in the farm next to his father’s dairy farm, about when he had a job in a grocery store as a teenager, or things like that. He’d sing to me, and the world seemed peaceful and safe.

When my parents were getting divorced and my mother made it into an all-star spectacular of acrimony, Dad showed up every single weekend he had with me, put up with her spew, and took me away. We didn’t do anything fabulous, usually eating hot dogs and beans and watching TV together, but it was calm, and he made it clear he enjoyed my company. He loved me as a risk-taking teen, as a young married woman with questions, and as a mother to my own children.

When I go to visit him in the nursing home, despite his Alzheimer’s, his eyes still light up when he sees me, and we hold hands and talk, or just sit together. He has never based his love for me, or his approval of me, on anything other than the fact that I am his daughter, and I am OK with him because of that. It’s a marvelous gift to me.

3. He takes responsibility for things without self-pity or excuses. When I moved in with him at age 16, the story of my abuse at my mother’s hands came out over time. It was going to come out even if I didn’t say anything – my reactions to arguments or strife were too PTSD not to be obvious. With the guidance and kindness of my stepmom, we talked it out. He admitted that he knew something was wrong, but he hadn’t known what. He apologized for not being more aware, for having to go away on business so much, and for not taking action. He stood up, he listened to all of it, he held me, and he apologized. It was a tremendous burden for him, realizing that his former wife had been abusing the living hell out of me and that he had been oblivious to it. He could have tried to deny it or escape it or cut me off when it got to be too much for him to bear. But he didn’t. And that made all the difference to me.

If it was something that happened in his department at work, he made sure to do his best, and if that wasn’t enough, he took responsibility for it, and for making it right. If my stepmom got sick and couldn’t do her usual housewife stuff, Dad just picked up the reins with being a martyr about it and got it done, shopping, cleaning, cooking (although he was bad at that) or laundry. No fuss, no nonsense.

Financially, he’s been responsible and straightforward, and taught me to be the same – to live prudently, to treat money like the important tool that it is and neither revere it nor disregard it, and not to take budgeting or tomorrow’s paycheck for granted.

4. He does not envy. My Dad is one of those people who are perfectly happy with the life they got dealt. He has never expressed any desire to be wealthy, famous, revered, or anything else magnificent. Living an ordinary life with ordinary problems and filled with daily duties and tasks and small fun has always been okey-dokey with him. While he may sometimes express regret that something didn’t work out well, or that a bad thing happened, he doesn’t get worked up over it beyond what’s reasonable, and he doesn’t envy the seemingly extravagant good fortune of others – in the media, sports, or otherwise. He appreciates these things for entertainment value and that’s where it ends. If there is a person who can “be in the moment”, it’s my Dad.

5. He’s not afraid of new things. Dad grew up on an Indian reservation and worked a dozen different jobs as a teen. He joined the Navy during WWII, sailed around the world, saw combat, and came home. He finished college and got a government job that required him to move several times and to do a whole lot of long term traveling. Dad retired at age 58 and he and my Stepmom moved to Portugal. They lived there for several years, learning the language, going to the beach, touring around, having fun. They had previously biked through Holland, boated in Michigan, golfed in Virginia, and fished in Minnesota. When Portugal joined the European Union and costs of living became more significant, without missing a beat, he and my Stepmom moved back to the states. He was not unduly stressed by moving to assisted living 6 years ago, nor by spending the last 5 years in two different nursing homes. There are very few changes or activities in life that my Dad has not approached as little adventures, as opposed to looking at them as being stressful or unwelcome. He doesn’t understand why other people freak out at the idea of moving for a job or because of family issues, he doesn’t get why it upsets some people to change their routines, and he is just fine with dealing with new people or circumstances. He doesn’t pre-judge and he does not, therefore, dread or catastrophize.

I love my Dad dearly. He has been a rock and a safe place for me all my life. He is old, he is feeble, and I know he will die. He knows it, too. I will miss him, but meanwhile, it’s nice to be able to hold hands with him. It will always be one of the great privileges of my life to be his daughter.

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