I had a mind-blowing revelation this past weekend. Forty years of wondering why I could not seem to connect with my father on any kind of meaningful level and I finally think I hit the nail on the head. It was truly eye-opening, yet I’m not sure what to do with it, or really if there is anything to do with it. It just may be what it is…an understanding now.
Other than the Jellybean incident and one other, I had a pretty nice time Sunday. I was happy to see my dad and he seemed to really enjoy himself also. He laughed, he drank his beer, and he even ate a Jellybean. I would have never thought he would have, although I don’t know him for who he is now.
You see, my father was a career Army man. He was tough and everything was structured in his life. Everything had a place and everything was to be in its place. My father demanded respect and there was never any question about giving it. If we dared to “sass” or back-talk, there would be hell to pay. Needless to say, I never crossed that line; I knew better. We had daily chores to be done and our bedrooms had to be clean. He was strict and we towed the line.
I guess my father has mellowed with age and it’s difficult for me to understand how he lets his (almost 18 year old) daughter get away with everything. She says the most disrespectful things to him and constantly slaps his cap off his head, yet he says/does nothing about it. If someone comments about how rude or disrespectful it is, her mother comes to her defense and says, “That’s just how they play with each other.” Really? I want to ask her, “So is that how your treat your father? Do you talk to him like that?” It angers me. Anyway, Dad allows it so I shut my mouth.
The other little upset I had that afternoon was something my father said. You see, I have always wanted to be the “daddy’s girl”. I have always wanted some kind of close relationship with my dad. I have tried so hard over the years and have just felt rejected and deflated each time. I finally came to a place of acceptance that our relationship was never going to be any different than it was and I was grateful to have just that connection. However, acceptance does not mean it doesn’t hurt any longer.
I was standing by the kitchen counter at my aunt’s house and my sister was standing a few feet away from me. Dad walked up and put his arm around Sister and told me, “This is my best girl. This girl right here is my everything. She means everything in the world to me.” Now I know that this was not said in any way to hurt me intentionally but it did. It ripped my heart out. Then I watched her slap his hat off his head.
At this point, I decided to remove myself from the situation because the tears were building up and I could not stop them. I slipped out the back door and was going to go have a cigarette by my car. Just as I turned the corner, my uncle came out the front door and said, “There you are! Let’s go chat.” I haven’t seen my uncle but twice in 40 years and only for about an hour each time. So I did my best to dry it up before he could notice I was trying not to cry.
Later, after my father and his family left, I was chatting with my uncle and two aunts and my uncle asked me if I noticed the changes in my dad. (He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s last year and he is progressing.) I started to speak but got stuck because the tears began to flow. I hate when that happens. I told them I did notice the changes but I was happy he had a good day. I told them how angry it makes me to see his daughter treat him like she does and how utterly disrespectful she is to him. Then I broke and told them how sad I was at what was said to me and why it affected me so. My uncle had no idea.
As we continued to talk about my father, we all talked about how much he still, to this day, loves my mother and how many times he has said to each of us that divorcing her was the worst mistake he had ever made in his life. And that’s when it hit me. Maybe, just maybe, he can’t get close to me because I remind him of my mother. It was like a lightening bolt in my brain. I may not look a lot like my mother but sometimes my mannerisms, tone and words, are so much like my mom’s, it scares even me. Maybe, just maybe, this will help me to better understand him and his pain. Maybe.
I don’t know how much time I have left with my father or how soon the Alzheimer’s will worsen so I resolve to make the most of it and love him all the same. I know he loves me and I will accept what he is capable of giving. That’s all that can be done.