Sunday, December 19, 2010

Faces around the table

Celebrated my Dad's birthday today, at his home, with almost all the family around. It was lovely to have everyone there, smiling, eating, more smiling, more eating. We almost lost him a year ago, so the fact that he is here at all is so miraculous to me.

Dads are hard, aren't they? I have so many friends who struggle with their dads. Conversations are either arduous, or they can't do enough - ever - to live up to the old man's ideals, or they are polar opposites politically, or a hundred other things that divide and separate. And some dads are so wonderful that when they go, they leave a hole so huge it seriously disturbs the soul of the ones left behind. They careen adrift, wondering how they will sail, now that their captain, their touchstone, their very compass is gone.

My dad is somewhere in the middle, I think. There were hard, hard years between my dad and I. My parents divorced when I was very young, and between Navy placements and life choices I rarely saw him. And he just isn't a call to chat kind of guy. I spent YEARS railing against my dad for not being the Robert Young clone I yearned for. I burned inside when high school girls would casually answer "Thanks, it belongs to my dad" when I complemented a particularly cool sweater. I had no such closet to raid, and I hated my dad for that. I hated him for not coming to my school plays, not being there to advise me about boys, not knowing the names of my friends, not being Mike Brady, Jason Seaver, Cliff Huxtable (a doctor!!!) or any of the other dads I saw on TV. And oh, GOD, why, oh WHY couldn't my dad be Harry Dean Stanton from Pretty in Pink?

I remember telling someone that "my dad has been more influential in my life through his absence than his presence." Ouch. Did he really deserve that?

So many hours in the therapy chair were necessary for me to learn to love my dad for who he was, and to let go of this ideal dad that I was just not going to have. Yes, there was mourning for the dad I would never have, but constantly moaning about who my dad wasn't didn't get me very far either.

Taking the time to learn who my dad is has been a very, very good choice. He is more than the sum of his parts. He loves me. He really does. And no, he didn't always love me the way I wanted, but I know now for sure that he loved me the best that he could. I know he heard me singing to him in the hospital last year, and I know he is glad to hear me when I call now. And I am glad to hear his voice when calls me, which he did, at last, learn to do. I could do without his views on Sarah Palin, and Obamacare, and I know that my total lack of knowledge (or interest in) any organized sport makes me a puzzle to him, and the women's movement missed him COMPLETELY, but he has the heart of a lion, and he looks scary, but cries if you give him a birthday card with a bird on it. Big ol teddy bear!

Happy birthday dad. I am glad I got to know you, and my children got to know you, and I am glad you are still here to stand in the circle and lead us in grace, and hug us with your big bear arms, and be generally dad-ish and old school and wonderfully, wonderfully YOU.

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