On Father’s Day- appreciating and loving more

It’s been a long time since I blogged… so it’s kinda funny that I’m choosing to write today, on father’s day of all days.  Not because I have anything against Fathers but as a single mother, I’ve raised my kids without the presence or support of their biological father, and so Father’s day can seem sorta’ tricky to me.  After all, who are you supposed to celebrate when you’re a mother and the “other party” (as my kids have taken to calling, well, the other party)  is not there?  It can bring up ALL kinds of feelings.  From anger, to disappointment, to self-criticism BUT I am choosing something different this year.   I want to celebrate the dad’s (and brothers) who helped raise my kids, and continue to do that.  And my dad, my adoptive father, was and is one of them.

So, today, I am writing this post to talk about my own Father, because even though things weren’t perfect between us he taught me a lot.  And, when I started this blog I was really thinking through what it meant to not have a biological father that I could claim.  But I did have a father.  So, here we are again, on the subjects of Fathers… and this a little bit of what I know about mine.

MY Father has been one of the most consistent people I know.  Despite our many disagreements (about beliefs, life choices, etc.)  he has always been very clear with me that I am HIS daughter, and he is MY father.  He’s loved me through it all.

Recently, he got pretty sick.  He’s in his 80’s and it was something that I guess we’re supposed to expect at this point.  He is beginning/ has begun to suffer from dementia.  It’s a sad thing, for sure.  It was particularly hard to deal with because of my difficult and estranged relationship to my adoptive mother.  Wait, did I mention this was my adoptive father I’m talking about?  Because it is.  And yet, I’ve begun to realize that I’ve never thought about any other man as a Father to me.  Even when (if you’ve read my blog you’ll know this part) I found out the actual name of my actual biological father, I never stopped thinking of MY father, my adoptive father, as the only dad I’ve ever had.  And, so, there I guess it all boils down to that.

This father, that lives in Massachusetts, that I’ve spend so many years struggling with, that I’ve held so tightly when he was sick, that I’ve hoped would see ALL of whom I am and still think I’m a good person, that I’ve wanted to show my life to, that I’ve wanted to make proud, THIS father, is my dad.  The only dad I’ve got, the only dad I ever wanted to have and the only dad I think about when I think about this day, Father’s day.

Again, he’s been one of the most consistent people I know.  When my kids were little, and I didn’t have a car, he would drive every morning to my house to pick them up and take them to preschool, so I could go to work.  When we moved, he would drive two hours to meet me and take them for the weekend, so I could study for school and have a break.  He gave so much love to them, and always made it clear that they were perfect beings in the world.  I think he was really disappointed when I told him, at 16 years old, that I was pregnant.  And that definitely changed our relationship forever.  But he always made it clear that we were family, that my kids were good, and that he loved and wanted to help us succeed.

Over the last two decades my dad got old.  His body changed, and his ability to be there for us, the way he had always been there changed too.  We tried to stay in touch with him.  We (the kids and I) would go visit, and try to keep our relationship going. We talked when we could but things have always been sort of complicated between my adoptive mother and myself, so it was always sort of hard to stay in close touch.  But when I saw his sick, last April, during my one trip home since I moved, it made my heart want to break.  Was this man, the only dad I’d ever known, was he maybe going to die?   Each time I would see him on our visits home, I would see how age was impacting him.  I remember once, when he first started using a walker, that I felt so sad for him, I had to go in the bathroom and cry.  I didn’t want to think of him as old. Not because being old was even something bad.. but because in some weird way being old in my family (to my mother and my dad), looked like it made them so isolated.  And, for as much as I remember my mother pushing everyone away, I remember my dad as a social butterfly.  So, it hurt to think that he didn’t have a community around to support him, and I *hoped* that my assessment of that isolation was wrong… but I think it’s been right.

Anyhow, on this last visit home, when he got so sick he needed to go to the hospital- and all kinds of old things between my mother and myself were stirred up-  and I desperately tried to figure out if I needed to move back home (something I decided against because of my estranged relationship with my mother) and tried to gage if this might be the last time I saw him.  I realized it was stupid to think that way, so I focused on trying to figure out if he had everything he needed to be taken care of, to live as comfortably as possible  (something that seemed to threaten my adoptive mother and caused all sorts of weird tensions between us).  After all, wasn’t that something he taught me.  That’s what family did- we took care of each other.  Even when things were hard, even when we didn’t totally agree with everything the other members of our families were doing, we still took care of each other.  So, during that moment, I tried to do the best I could to make sure he was ok and would be ok.  It was really hard, seeing the man that had held my hand when I was little, taught be about laughing so loud a room could vibrate, who took the time to read to me every day, and tried his best to teach me what he thought was best (even if in the long run I didn’t agree), and who taught be about putting Faith and Family first, be so sick.   My dad, despite our many differences, is one of the greatest guys I know.  His heart is a good heart, and his intentions have always been honest.  He’s walked with his own integrity, and taught me that it isn’t material things that matter.   He’s been a straight up man for his whole life (or, ok, for as long as I’ve known him), been loyal to his wife, and done his best to be there for me and my kids.  And, when it all comes down to it, that’s all we can all ever do.  Do our best.  Right?  His religious vigor has caused us some differences over the years, and his old school ways and beliefs have also kept us more estranged than what I’d like to be but I have learned so much from him.  So, when I saw him in the hospital bed, and knew that I had to leave, that the reality was, even though I didn’t want to think about it, that could have been the last time I would see him… my heart just sank.  I had to keep leaving the room to stop myself from crying, and had to have some SERIOUS conversations with some amazing teachers, to stay grounded.

Finally, after two weeks, when it came time for me to leave, my dad reached out his hand to me and looked me in the eye, and said, “after all these years, you’re still taking care of me”.   That touched my heart so deeply.  Could this man, who spend his whole life taking care of ME, see that in my own small ways I’d been trying to take care of him, too?  It was just so typical of him.  To name something that I thought he couldn’t see, to acknowledge something that I thought had been ignored.  To heal something that had been so damaged with just such a tiny statement.

I haven’t been able to talk to him since I left.  They sent him to rehab shortly after that, and now he’s back home with my adoptive mother and she doesn’t really bring him to the phone anymore.  Yesterday, in Temazcal, I felt really called to pray for him.  I hope in these days of his life, he is feeling loved, cherished, cared for, respected and honored for the person he’s been in this world.  I hope he’s getting to experience joy.  He made a lot of people laugh and he taught me the value of music, and literacy, and serving community. I hope there are powerful reflections of this for him, now.  I am so grateful that I got to witness this kind of dad, and I hope he feels that love emanating towards him, now.

Besides the things I mentioned above, here’s some other things I learned from watching my dad:

Love is complex, it isn’t simple.  You can love someone with all their flaws, and they can love you back with all your flaws.  You don’t have to be blood to act like it.  Walking with faith, patience, commitment, an open heart, and integrity are still the most powerful things you can do in life.   Laughter, really is, the best medicine. Garlic, honey and what germ oil will cure anything!  The value of whole foods, prepared in traditional ways really is unmeasurable.  Invest in your body, mind, and Spirit.  Play a musical instrument (he played the piano and the accordion, daily).  God/ the Great Spirit/  the Universe/  the Creators, are good!- develop a relationship with them, when times are hard, lean into it, when times are good, give Praise, and express thankfulness every chance you get.  Speak your truth.  Take care of whatever is yours.  Don’t over-invest in material things, they’re not worth it, instead, expand your mind, and keep mentally sharp.  Keep asking questions, always.

Ultimately, I guess lots of these lessons are lessons we can learn from whatever teachers we choose to allow into our lives.  I’m thankful that I got to learn these from my dad.  And, that he was a good teacher to me.  Today,  I am choosing to release the hardship that came in our relationship.  I am choosing to forgive him for his flaws, and I am choosing to let go of the messages that weren’t so positive.   And, finally, I’m wise enough to understand that this isn’t about sugar-coating the damage that was done in our relationship but it’s about choosing the pieces I want to keep.  And truth be told, there were/ are lots of them.  I want to live in appreciation, I want to LOVE more.  And, part of that process is letting go of the hurt, and anger and sadness that came from my relationship with my dad.  I want to remember what is good about us. Because there was lots.   He really gave me a good foundation for what kind of son I want to raise, what kind of men I want to have in my life, and what kind of open hearts I want to connect with and I really am thankful for that.

I guess that’s all.  Here’s to learning lots of lessons from all our teachers, and to living more in appreciation.  Happy Father’s day, y’all.

forgiving our fathers
by dick lourie

How do we forgive our Fathers?
Maybe in a dream
Do we forgive our Fathers for leaving us too often or forever
when we were little?

Maybe for scaring us with unexpected rage
or making us nervous
because there never seemed to be any rage there at all.

Do we forgive our Fathers for marrying or not marrying our Mothers?
For Divorcing or not divorcing our Mothers?

And shall we forgive them for their excesses of warmth or coldness?
Shall we forgive them for pushing or leaning
for shutting doors
for speaking through walls
or never speaking
or never being silent?

Do we forgive our Fathers in our age or in theirs
or their deaths
saying it to them or not saying it?

If we forgive our Fathers what is left?