Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Two-Sided Coin

Tomorrow is Fathers' Day. No more do I go in search of cards that speak to some signature trait of my dad. It was never easy to find the right card. My father didn't play golf or fish or watch sports. All the cards that were designed for the prototype dad didn't seem relevant to our world. We weren't gushy so nothing about the best dad in the world and truth be told our relationship had its challenges. I certainly wasn't a Daddy's girl so that genre also fell by the wayside. I used to wonder what a typical father-daughter relationship was like and how did mine fall so far outside the sphere judging by the range of cards. If I was fortunate, I found one with some humor that spoke to some childhood experience.

It is now the third year since my father's death. Now Fathers' Day is a celebration for my husband. A different holiday all together. My son-in-law texts me to check his size. We gather at his daughter's for a combination Father's Day/ birthday party for our granddaughter. My husband has a strong relationship with his daughters and raised them post-divorce. I remember when his oldest daughter warned me early in our relationship to be good to her dad because he was a pretty special guy. I was touched to see the strength of their relationship.

My dad was not the stereotypical father. He was a complicated man, often difficult, wrapped up in his world, driven, self-absorbed, quick-tempered and impatient. He was also a doer, clever at making things happen, creative, a visionary and a principled man. He believed in speaking up, not standing passively by. He was fluent in speech and the written word. An excellent problem solver who delighted in being able to help others. Great to have in a crisis, not so easy in the everyday. He wasn't an easy man to grow up around, but he made an indelible mark, not only on me, but on many who were close to me. My ex-husband revered him. Somehow my father understood what he needed and encouraged him when he most needed it. Ditto for my female friends who he encouraged and helped as they sought careers in traditionally male professions.

I have come to realize how much of him is in me and how much he shaped each of his children, good, bad and otherwise. He liked to be in control and didn't like his universe disturbed. He used to say, "in my house you live by my rules". So I moved out at seventeen and having control of my life has been a central principle since. When I talk to my younger sister I realize she too possesses that need for control. I love her dearly, but give us too much time together and we clash over whose in control. We both responded to my father's need for control and our childhood lack of it.

Somewhere along the way, I accepted my father for who he was, a mixed bag with good and bad traits that were often interrelated, flip sides of the same coin. He lightened up later in life. As a grandfather he was able to express his love and adored his two granddaughters. Later in life as memory faltered he reached out to his children with a new fondness that often touched me.

As I've gone through my dad's papers I've had many shocks of recognition. We share many qualities. I have a better understanding of the pride he took in many of my accomplishments for I now know he recognized himself in me as well. Happy Father's Day, Dad.

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