Friday, June 17, 2011

Father's Day

This may be a little scattered, but that is kind of how I feel about my dad.

Let me start out by saying that I love my dad. I may not always like him, but I always love him. My relationship with my dad has always been complicated. I was the one daughter he never could figure out. I was the daughter who never wanted to be home, who couldn't wait to go to college, and who did well in school without being asked. He struggled with my independence. He didn't like it, and he always let me know it. Tension in our relationship has always been there; everyone felt it, my mom, my sisters, my friends, my husband.

I lived the majority of my childhood in fear of what my dad was going to say to me. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he loved my older sisters. He was always doing nice things for them, complimenting them, or catering to their every whim. With me, it was different. I never knew. I still don't always know.
I can count on one hand the number of times he has said he loves me. Less times that he has said he is proud of me, even when I won two state and one national teaching award. He didn’t come to my college graduation (for my BA and my MA), even though I was the first person in the history of my entire family to get either degree. It took him months to meet his grandsons after they were born, even though we live an hour away from each other.

People have tried to tell me this is a generational thing; that people from his generation just don't say "I love you." They show love by providing rather than telling. I would happily buy this argument were in not for the fact that he did show and tell his love to my sisters. I was the exception. I said before that years ago my dad told me that he had to be critical of me to compensate for how my mother treated me. The fact that my mom "favored" me made him feel that he had to put me down. That it was necessary to keep things "fair" in my family. He not say this as a way of explanation or apology, rather as just a fact of what needed to happen in my life.

We have different priorities, different attitudes, and different values. But, now my dad is dying, and that makes the feelings I have for him way more complicated than I could have ever imagined.

As I get older my perspective on my dad has changed. It does not change my childhood, but it does change how I look at my dad. I never truly understood how poor my family was until I went away to college. And even then, I only vaguely understood.

My dad is one of the hardest working father's I have ever seen. He worked hard to buy a house and make it a nice place to live, in spite of lack of money. He loved my mother, in spite of all of their problems. My dad never let us know when things were tough. He continued providing the best way he knew how; he worked wherever he could, doing whatever was asked of him.

 I knew there were times when money was tight, but I never realized the extent of the difficulties until I looked through them through the lens of an adult. There was always food on the table (even though now I know that sometimes is was government subsidized). He always found money to support any extracurricular activity one of his daughters wanted to do. He always provided us ways to earn money to go out with our friends. I don't know how he did it, but he seemed to always find a way. He never complained about what he provided for my sisters; however, when it came to me, he always complained and said he was only doing it to make my mother happy.

My dad doesn't understand me, but I don't understand him either.

He doesn't understand why I want my children to have more than I did. He thinks what I had was "good enough" and that I should be happy with that. He doesn't understand that I want my children to know that they can be anything they want; that I want them to be better than I am.

I don't understand why he is more supportive of my sons than he ever was of me. I don't understand it, but I am so grateful for it. I am grateful that my sons know a different man than I did growing up. I don't understand how he can continue to insult me even though he knows it always end with my leaving earlier than planned.

My dad is dying. There is a very real possibility that he will not survive the year. This knowledge makes things more complicated, but at the same time makes the time I have with him more meaningful.

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