Tuesday, March 10, 2015

My Daddy

I remember feeling that I didn't want to know him.
I remember feeling like we were destined always to be alike.
It's been a month since he died, unexpectedly and in hospital, while recovering from surgery. I waited a long time to express my feelings, but have now decided I might never be ready. There will probably never be a right time or a right word, or even a feeling of completion or understanding. There might never be any kind of rightness at all. Maybe changeability is the thing, after all. Maybe it's part of his legacy. So there's no time like the present, I guess.

My Daddy. His mother always said that he wore his heart on his sleeve. Well I suppose I wear mine in writing and painting, which is both my way of processing, and my way of being truthful with myself. Honesty comes with a necessity for compassion and generosity. I will never know who my father was to everyone else - it's hard enough to know who he was to me. So I have to look at our relationship with open honesty - with appreciation for the good, as well as acceptance of the not-so-great.

I remember feeling simultaneously embarrassed and proud.
I have spent most of my life trying to escape my Daddy, then trying to forgive him, and then trying to forgive myself. As a child of a very bitter divorce that played out on the battlefield of my emotions, I wanted to hate him. I was once a receptacle for his anger and dysfunction, and I wanted to belong to something other than the pain I associated with him, so I asked my Pappa to legally adopt me, and in an effort to help ease my pain, Pappa paid a lawyer to draw up the papers. But when it came to signing those adoption papers, the lawyer told me to wait, and I never went through with it. Later, I legally changed my name. I could have discarded both the names Daddy gave me in one action, but I didn't. I made them official middle names, because I knew then, as I always have, that he is a part of me. For all my anger, hate was an impossibility. I had to love him as one has to, always, love oneself. He was my father.

I want to live in truth. I want to express authentically, moving through the things that hurt instead of imagining them away. I don't want to live in anger, fear, or sadness. I want to celebrate the things that are good; the things I hope to carry on; the things that make me who I am, and happy. So in this I am celebrating those things about my Daddy, while acknowledging and accepting that he, like I, was a whole person.

My two fathers, making amends for my sake and their own.
He was funny. He celebrated individuality and silliness. He knew how to seize the moment, and in totally embarrassing me as he paraded us about in public, skipping in German clogs and matching his hairstyle to mine, he taught me how to expand and live in my personality instead of in somebody else's expectations. So when it came to his expectations, I frequently rebelled. I rejected his style, his offers, his passions, his religion, and even his love. And he accepted me anyway.

Five grandchildren each knew him differently.
He was accepting. He didn't accept by nature; he accepted by necessity. He fought as hard as he could to get custody of me, to convince me to visit him, to make sure I understood how he had been wronged, to make me the kind of daughter he wanted me to be. But I am unflinching in who I am, and he made me that way. Eventually he accepted that he had to share the role of father; that I wasn't ever going to spend Christmas with him; that I wasn't only his, and that I remind him of my mother. In order to love me, he had to accept the loss of my mother and my Pappa from his life, and he had to accept them back into it, as well. The greatest thing I think he had to accept was himself. And he did so, in the last couple of decades, with enormous grace.

And he loved them all.
Grace. His life threw challenge upon challenge not just into his court, but right into his face, and he learned, over time, to flow through those challenges like a river, just letting life move on. Much of this had to do with letting go of his own shame and guilt, and this is something I want to learn from him. In his weaker moments he still whined and complained, even accused and belittled, but he also worked persistently and deliberately every day to see without judgment and to act with grace. In recent years he succeeded often.

He learned to lead by example instead of by force.
My Daddy was tenacious. Yes, that meant repeatedly hauling my custodial parents into court, and me over the proverbial embers when he wanted something he wasn't getting. But it also meant walking his Parkinsons-ravaged body boldly onto and off of the ferry, teetering himself over the ramp as people stared and deckhands refused either to help him or to allow me to help him... all in order to watch his grandchildren perform in a play. He was unwavering with his love. He frequently walked into the fire of his emotions, braving the home and property that I share with my other parents, and even talking to them, just to make himself a part of my life. Braving his own emotions was something he did well, and I will miss having further opportunity to learn from him.

Love is not an easy thing. Daddy hurt me immeasurably, and he loved me immeasurably, too. He grew from loving me possessively and angrily to allowing me to follow, to invite, to show up, and in doing so he taught me to accept and to be present.

In death, he taught me that searching for forgiveness was never necessary. I just have to accept: He loved me, I loved him, and he's gone.

A few years after my grandmother died, I taught myself how to knit, by watching her hands. After attempting to follow knitting instructions in various books, I gave up, and just played with the needles. I closed my eyes and watched her hands move, as my own hands followed, and within a few minutes, my body had learned what her body passed on to me, through the memories of my heart. Legacy is not necessarily something we plan for. I don't know what my Daddy's legacy will be ten or fifty years from now, but I know that his struggles were not in vain. I know that I have learned from his perseverance, his bravery, his grace, and his unwavering love. He strived to be a better person. What more can I ask for in a father?

For better or for worse, these are the words I chose to send into the cremation with him.


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