Saturday, November 12, 2011

Holding On

"You know, I really like this song," Dad said as he reached over to turn up the volume. It was Blondie's The Tide is High, a groovy beat with instrumentation that would have totally appealed to my dad's love of big band music. And, Blondie was one of my favorite bands so the thought that Dad and I had a connection through this song was a bit of a trip. We sat there for a minute just really enjoying the song, driving together as we had for so many years, sometimes talking, sometimes just staring out the window.

Moments like these were big for me as a young person. My dad was a very complicated man and for as big of a personality as he had, he was actually a pretty internal person. He was a guy that went to church every Sunday but sat in the back, often not with us and I never knew why. He loved his kids like crazy, but sometimes had a hard time building a bridge between the way he was raised and the way things had become...and when I say that, meaning that kids could be seen and heard. Reflecting on him now, I see how many conflicts he had and how he handled them. As an adult and a parent myself, I feel compassion and a sense of loss more now than I ever did as a child.

Looking back, I realize that my dad was really the adult in my life that "got" me most. He's the first person I called, crying hysterically, when I found out that I had failed freshman algebra. Crammed into the little payphone booth in the boarding department, I sobbed for a good 15 minutes while he sat and waited for me to calm down so that he could tell me that he himself hadn't done well in school, that he expected me to raise my grades and get some help working through the process, but that he loved me and was proud of me. He was empathetic and kind, which I wasn't expecting but really needed. Later he confided that in those minutes he could hardly breathe, fearing that I had been raped or something worse, willing himself to just wait and let the news come.

Dad was the one that would palm me money under the dining room table before I went back to boarding school, or would come to the Father's Dinner celebrations at school and take me out on the town with my best friend Sharleen and her own crazy, complex Papa who was a kindred soul to my dad in so many ways. We had such a great time together in those moments. He was always my father, but was an ally, someone who understood me even if he wasn't a fan of what I was doing (insert vision of multi-colored hair, etc., etc.).  Mom always said that we were too much alike and that's why we fought when we did. I agreed with her and still do. But I think that is what drew us together, what gave my dad the ability to listen and be a safe place for me to turn. He knew what it was like to grow up where we did, to have to live life in a very small community with a heavy family name and all of the baggage that went with it. We were both dreamers, Dad and I. We liked thinking big and letting someone else figure out the details. He taught me a lot about possibility, belief in yourself, not letting people get you down. They were all things he struggled with himself. I'd love to talk to him about it now.

Like it was yesterday, I remember my 16 year old self walking down the hall of the dorm when one of my friends told me that the hall mother, Millie, needed to see me. Millie was as eccentric as they come, but she *loved* her girls and we had a special bond (because I was a trouble maker, truth be told, and she liked to take the feisty ones under her wing). Millie said "Fran, your mama called and needs you to call her back." "Oh, Millie," I said, "Mom's on a trip to Hong Kong. She left yesterday. This is an Oklahoma number. There must be a mistake." And Millie gave me that Millie-don't-fuck-with-me look and said "Go call her, Precious, she needs to talk."

Dad had nearly lapsed into a diabetic coma and was in the hospital. He needed triple bypass surgery and things were touch and go. Mom told me the news pretty matter of factly and said "I'm going to keep you updated, don't go far. I love you, honey."

I couldn't believe it. I was so angry, so hurt and so distressed...but mostly just really damn angry. So angry that I sat down and wrote a 10 page letter basically laying it all out for my dad. I told him everything I felt from the way he took care of himself, to the way I wanted life to be, to how much I loved him and needed him in my life. My mother said he kept that letter next to his bedside the entire time he was in the hospital and read it often. Seeing and being with my sisters and brother, knowing how deeply he loved my mother...all of these things were the propellant he needed to make major changes in his life. His recovery was amazing and the care that he took of himself, after such a close brush with death, was unbelievable.

And the feeling of being completely robbed when he died 8 short months later from appendicitis is something I think I will never be able to overcome.

I have really been unable to pull all of these threads until now. So many memories that are so good, but were so painful. I think it was easier for years just to ignore the fact that he was gone or to dwell on the times that things were not easy between us. Because losing your father at 16 is quite possibly the worst time, as if there is ever a good one. So I'm going to sit with this feeling, write down the things I remember, celebrate and mourn my dad and what he was and what could have been.

Grief is not a straight line, it's a rubber ball let off in a room. And it doesn't rest for a long time. The tide is high/but I'm holding on...

1 comment:

  1. Oh Fran! That was so beautiful. Relationships with parents are so complex...yet you got so much down in writing. It's wonderful that you had those moments early...seems as a teen I wanted nothing to do with my dad...and I'm blessed to have a great relationship with him as an adult. Keep writing!