Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My Old Man...Still

In January 2009 my father spent a long weekend with me.  As most of our interactions are, it was bittersweet.  I posted this about our weekend. 

Another Father's Day has come and gone.  I was able to surprise him with a phone call directly from Abu Dhabi.  He was not expecting to get a phone call from me from so far away.  In fact when I greeted him with "Happy Father's Day Dad" he said "Thank you Sweety.  Where is your husband?"  (Obviously he thought I was my sister, who lives within more frequent calling distance).  I laughed and said "I'm not sure where my husband is.  I haven't found him yet."  That threw him for a little loop until he figured out that it was I who was calling. 

It was good to talk to him.  It was a short call.  Short but sweet.  As much as my conversations with my father often cause a mis-step or two, I miss being able to keep up with what he is up to, how he is doing and the chance to let him in on glimpses of my life.  In the last several years he has gone through many computers, cell phones, ipads and other electronic devices that he intends to use to keep up with his children who are out in the larger world.  After all the patient training my saintly sister and brother-in-law invest in getting him set up and understanding how things work, he loses momentum and then gets frustrated and gives up.  I need not to be frustrated with this.  He is in his eighties.  It's amazing that he even thinks he wants to be up to date on technology. 

This last fall I travelled to India and got to see the boarding school in the foothills of the Himalayas that raised my father.  From the age of 5 until 16 when he graduated HS he lived in dormitories with other children, mostly children of Missionaries, while his parents were a ship ride or slowly travelling hand written post away in Burma.  How could one expect a child, raised in an institution to be able to know how to father and connect with his own children?  In fact, as I think about it, I'm actually quite proud of him that he does as well as he does.  And since my mother left this earth twenty years ago, my mother who was until that time, the nurturing and nesting parent, he's made great strides in building relationship with us. 

As I've matured (aged, grayed, wrinkled, settled) I've finally learned that the issues I have with my father are mine not his.  And really, the things that frustrate me the most about him are traits that I see that I've inherited from him:
  • The need I have to be seen as intelligent and smart
  • My odd sense of humor that jumps out uncensored and sometimes offends without meaning to at all
  • My self absorption
  • The need to have the last word
  • Believing I always have something to add to a conversation or something interesting to contribute when really, often there's not really all that much I can add
  • Really wanting to impress the people I come across: I want people to like and respect me, sometimes at the cost of not taking the time to know and respect them first
So knowing this about him and about me, why do I feel so vulnerable to his barbs?  Why do I crave his compliments and admiration?  Why do I long for his praise and outward expressions of unconditional love?  How am I so easily put on the defensive by the things he says?  When I recall my childhood, why is it the painful interactions that are forefront in my mind, instead of the creative, foundation building efforts he made? 

I want to be different.  Soon.  While there's still time.  While he still has his mind and his health and his strong beating heart.  A heart that beats for his family and is, at the core, good and kind and human, with faults, just like his daughter's. 


Anonymous said...

Wow! That's pretty powerful, insightful stuff. I understand. I know I have some of the same traits. I love that you care. He is who he is, and we are who we are. Those truths are entwined in complex ways. I'm SO glad I have you to share with!

KelleyM said...

What a wonderful reflection. I can so relate... when I lost my dad 10 years ago (how can it be 10 years??), in a way I lost my mother as well. We've struggled - I've struggled - with the new relationship I have with my mom... and so many ways, the issues I have with her are my own. But I keep trying. Thanks for sharing your thoughts - it makes my situation feel less lonely.

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