Poking his sister in the head and pulling her hair were natural acts for my 12-yo son. And today at my Father’s Day brunch, things were no different. Except when my mom asked each kid to tell one thing they liked about their dad. I was supposed to tell something I like about “being” their dad. And my mom was going to tell what she liked about watching me be a dad.
A simple father’s day request, over brunch. My mom set up the question, my daughter went first.
“I like how my dad is always positive and supportive of us. And that he’s not like our cousin’s dad.”
Ah yes, easy to be a great dad when contrasted with a devil dad.
My mom went next. “I love seeing how you support and love your children in everything they do. And how much they know you love them.”
Okay. All good there.
So I went next, as we were going around the table like a card game.
“I really love how each of my kids are excelling in their creative pursuits, both musical and non-musical. I am amazed by how creative each of you are.”
And with that, my son, who had taken extra time to come up with his appreciation, slumped into a tearful silence. He couldn’t go next.
My mom got uncomfortable and tried to ease off him and change the subject. I asked that we just give him some time to recover. That it was okay for him to be feeling some emotion. My mom gave me a worried look. He was fine. I did wonder what he was feeling so deeply at that moment. Was it connected with something I said?
He took some time. And the rest of us moved on and talked about various things. But I came back to him when he seemed to have regained composure.
“Not to completely let you off the hook,” I said. “Surely you can think of one good thing to say about me.” We smiled at each other. He was back.
He spoke clearly, “I like it when you try to help, even on things that you can’t help on. You still try.”
I liked it. I added, “Anything specific, right now, that I’m not helping on?” I smiled big at him, letting him know I was open for anything, but also teasing a little about anything I might be missing on.
“No,” he said. “Nothing comes to mind.”
It’s hours later, and the kids are back at the ex-y’s and I’m still trying to decipher what he was saying. And of course my interpretation is only MINE. I will have to wait until Thursday, when they are back with me, to see if I can gain any insight into what he was trying to communicate.
As I was coming home several things came to mind that would’ve made me sad at his age. AGAIN, these are about ME and MY DAD, and MY PARENTS divorce, but I only have my own story to reference.
- Sad that he’s not able to be with me all the time, or that we are separated so much of the time.
- Expressing his understanding that the divorce was not my idea, and that I tried to keep it from happening.
- Sad that the rest of his life isn’t as positive when I’m not around.
I don’t know.
My son is a bit on the quiet side, when it comes to talking about emotions. (Duh, he’s twelve.) But in tender moments I stay close and don’t exit or let him exit either. I want to dig into this moment with him and see if I can get at any of *his* sadness and help him make sense of it.
In my parent’s divorce my dad exited in a big way. He was an alcoholic and when the divorce happened he went even further into his disease and married another alcoholic. They drank themselves to death.
My dad was unable to show any emotional connections except when he would get sloppy drunk and morbidly sad about the divorce. I recall him crying to Charlie Prides, “The Most Beautiful Girl” more than once. But that’s what alcoholics do. They suffer the self-pity of their own self-destruction and then drink more to make it less painful, and thus make it worse.
When the cancer treatments forcibly sobered up my dad, and he was dying, I finally got a chance to say to him how much I loved him. And he was able to hear me.
A few months before his last trip to the hospital, he was living at a golf resort about an hour from town. I spent the weekend with him. We watched tv, played cards, and had a few meals together. Nothing much.
As I was leaving to go back to town on Sunday morning, he said, “We haven’t gotten to do too much of this. And I want to do it more.”
“Yes, Dad. I’d love to be with you as much as I can.”
His last entry into the hospital he lost consciousness pretty quickly. He hung on for a week, but it was merely time for us to sit beside the bed, cry, and hold his limp hand as the machines hissed and beeped.
I am present for my kids. The divorce did not take me away from them, but it does limit the amount of time we have together. And as I continue to heal and get distance from my divorce, I am aware of how important my close and solid connection is with them. It’s the most important thing I do.
This father’s day, I give thanks to being a dad. And sharing those last days with my dad that remind me how precious every moment with them is. My dad didn’t die until I was 20 years old, but he was unavailable to me the moment he walked out of the house when I was about six. He drank himself into nightly stupors, first alone and then married. Already my kids have got a much better deal. Not ideal, but okay, survivable.
The Off Parent
- The Divorce Library (reading list)
- Songs of Divorce (free listening library – youtube sourced songs)
- Laugh It Off (building a resource library of funny videos and other diversions)
- Facebook (follow us on Facebook and keep up with all the conversations)
- The 5 Love Languages (a book on love styles by Gary Chapman)
Got my dad by my side – A video of Peter Gabriel and his dad by Peter’s daughter Anna Gabriel.
I’m in paradise. I’m in the hospital. My brother, like my father before him, is awaiting open-heart surgery. And I look at my brother, and I look down at my own girth, and I’m committed to doing even more on my healthy living path.
My father had his first heart attack when I was about 10. He was playing in the finals of a tennis tournament. I wish I could remember what my dad was like on the tennis court. Though it became my favorite sport, I’m pretty sure we never played.
It was a typical hot Texas weekend and my dad had just split sets in the singles final. In the 5 minute break he had reclined in the shade with a huge glass of iced tea. He never got back up. The ambulance came quickly and screamed off to the hospital with him. I was left with HER. My drinking, smoking, step-mother.
My dad faced a choice soon after that moment: change your life, for the better, or deteriorate into a series of health catastrophes until your untimely death.
Somehow! Even with four loving kids. My dad did not rectify his life. He died at 53. His widow followed soon after. Young and pickled from their love of alcohol.
It’s an odd thing when you are facing death. Mine came in the form of suicidal ideation. (A gentler way of saying, thinking about killing yourself, but stoping short of making plans to kill yourself.)
There I was, a wreckage of post-divorce sadness and self-pity. And my silly, wounded mind kept imagining my fall from a famous bridge, or calculating how many Ambien it would take to make the euphoria just take me away.
EACH TIME I came back to the impact it would have on my KIDS. While I wasn’t pulling through FOR them, I was certainly not going to intentionally devastate them with my self-inflicted demise.
So how did my Dad make the choice to turn away from us, me (his adoring mini-me) and my brother and two sisters? My rationalization goes to his alcoholism and the complete lack of clear thinking possible under his Cutty Sark dementia.
Still, it is not enough. Something deeper drove my dad to his death-wish demise. Some wounding, some battle-royale with his mom or dad… Some overwhelming sadness that fed his helpless withdrawal from being my dad.
And now, staring across the darkened hospital room at my obese brother, I am praying rather than rooting for him. At a point there are the larger things in life that drive us onward. For me, in those dark dark dark times it was my kids that held me to the mast.
My brother is 5 years older than my father when he died of his heart failure and cancer. When I look at his buddha-like figure I recognize too much of my own pain. I have kids to guide and encourage my future efforts at remaining healthy and alive. I wonder at my father’s lack of perseverance at getting well, after his FIRST heart attack. And I am prayerful about my brother’s condition. He is alone, without kids or current relationship. He has us. My mom, my sister and me. What will be HIS core strength?
I see my father in my brother’s condition. And I see too much of my brother’s tragic sadness in myself to ignore the resonance. I sit in the dark and listen to his labored snoring. I think about his easy laugh and willingness to make other’s happy at his own expense.
There is nothing easy about today. I am happy in my life. I bring that joy to others. Beyond that there is prayer.
We Skyped my kids last night from the hospital. They danced and entertained us for 1o minutes. It was a bizarre-futuristic movie scene. There was joy and poignant sadness at what was missing from my brother’s life. At least he has us.
The Off Parent