Wednesday, June 23, 2010

You Get What You Pay For: Father's Day

On Father's Day this year, we had Scott and Sierra come over for breakfast and then Eric's mom and Jim come over for lunch. We had a nice time with both groups, Logan especially. He becomes a barnacle that you have to scrape off of both Scott and Jim whenever they come over to visit.

Caitlin leaves a note for Eric on the chalkboard:
"Have a studendous [sic] non-horrendous Super duper FATHERS DAY! :) Love, Caitlin, Emma, Logan and Mommy"

There were plenty of noms and laughter and yet while in the midst of all this, it struck me that we all were missing our fathers, save for Caitlin, Emma and Logan.

Mine has become the polite stranger that I talk to on the phone every couple of weeks. He has no idea who I am and is now forgetting my mother. He refers to her as "the woman" or "her", when he goes to hand the phone back to her after talking to me for my allotted 30 seconds ("I'll give you back Woman now."). Alzheimer's sucks. Far more than I can probably ever explain. The worst part, to me, seems to the be thought that my dad worked so hard all the time we were growing up and was putting off hanging out with us and doing fun things.* He was putting it all off for "some day". Some day when he wasn't as busy, some day when he didn't have to bring home the bacon, some day when he would be retired. Then he could finally relax and enjoy us and the future grandchildren.


Except that Alzheimer's got there first.

Personally, I think he had it a lot longer than anyone realized. I was certain something was really wrong with him when he didn't want to come to my wedding.

That's right. He missed my wedding. On purpose.**

It took years before my mom and my sisters were also willing to admit something was actually wrong with him before they started taking him in for testing. Also, since Alz is a "rule out" sort of disease, they had to first cross off all of the things it wasn't, before coming to the not-so-stunning decision that it was Alzheimer's. I was clinging to the hope that something was wrong with him, rather than accept that he was just an asshole who would be willing to miss his daughter's wedding.

You know who's paying now? His grandchildren. Not a single one of them will ever know him as their grandfather. Not a single one will ever know how he used to be, back when he was fun. The possibility of piggyback rides is completely out. He doesn't remember any of them. They're like images drawn with water: you can see them for a moment, but then as soon as the paper dries, they're gone. Dad doesn't remember me or my siblings. He has forgotten mom and she's right there with him every single day. Although he did suddenly remember her name yesterday when I was on the phone with him, which was very nice.

I'm in mourning for my father and he's not even dead yet.

This is going to be a ridiculously drawn out mourning period, too.

Although I know my mom wants me to just accept it, I can't. I'm not ready to let him go.

Clearly, though, there's a life lesson here: you get what you pay for in parenting. Eric is here, every single day. He has a relationship with his 3 children and while it's not all smiles and laughter (Caitlin! Go! To! Bed!), it's more often smiles and laughter than not. He changes diapers, cooks dinner, washes dishes. He sings songs, reads books, chases babies, flips Caitlin upside down and pokes her when she's grumpy. He's putting in his time, exhausting as it is.

He both is and isn't a product of his own upbringing. His father wasn't there to show him what it's like to be a dad. He's making it all up on his own. He saw what he didn't want and is making a conscious effort to be different. To be better. To be there. Right where his kids need him.

Every single day he has the opportunity to be a good dad, a good role model, a good parent. He makes mistakes, we all do, but he keeps trying and succeeds more often than he fails. He's putting in his time. He's actively parenting and is available to our children. He's not waiting for that nebulous "some day", when he'll have more time or be less tired.

Caitlin is now old enough to remember these years well into her adulthood.*** I hope she (and later, the twins) carries the good memories with her always and chooses a partner/spouse/mate/life long love that meets her expectations of what a good husband and father should be. I know that I learned what to look for in my partner from watching my parents. I learned a lot of what not to do, just as I learned what to do. My childhood memories of my dad give me an idea of how well Eric rates as a dad, both from what he does and what he doesn't do.

And you know what?

So far, so good.

Happy Father's Day, honey. Happy Father's Day, dad. I love you both.

* Don't get me wrong, we did have fun with my dad. He used to give us horsie-back rides, cut giant slabs of watermelon for us that we'd eat in the messiest ways possible and spit the seeds out all over the backyard. He'd take us camping in the middle of Nowhere in Canada and we'd have long walks in the woods together. He'd break out the ice cream during blackouts during long NYC summers and we'd eat it while watching fireflies in the yard. As my sister reminded me, he'd pick out all of the bones from the fish he'd serve us for dinner, to keep us safe. He'd take us fishing, at least until we were teens, and even though I spent a lot of the time hurling over the side, he kept taking me back until I finally got my sea legs. Most of my best memories are from before I was a teen. The teen years are rough, for parents and children. My early 20s were rough, but that's just how it went.

** Here's the thing: after therapy related to family and work issues and a bunch of time, I forgave my father for this. I'm actually no longer mad. It's over. I regret it, but it happened. I was finally able to go to my father, sit on the floor in front of him and ask him if he'd be in my life because I loved him dearly and I wanted to be in his life and that I truly wanted him in mine. That was one of the single hardest conversations I'd ever had with him. We both cried and then we forgave each other and we moved on. It was just a few short years after this conversation that he was diagnosed. The best thing I ever did in my relationship with him was to get some level of closure from that single conversation. That even though I was angry for so long, that I finally stopped being angry, talked to him about it and we moved on. Together. The truth of the matter is that we hurt each other, but that's how family is: you hurt the ones you love. But if things work out, you still love them at the end of the day and maybe you eventually even forgive them.

*** I'm not going to sugar coat my relationship with my children, siblings, spouse or my parents. Growing up is hard. Parenting sucks. Then other times you wouldn't miss out on it for the world. All of life has its ups and downs and we do all make mistakes, but I'm not willing to pretend the bad stuff doesn't happen or that I don't do bad things. I've hurt Caitlin and I've hurt my parents. What I'm trying to do is learn from my mistakes, and hopefully, let others learn from them as well. Will Caitlin write about me one day? Very likely. Will it be hurtful? Probably. And that's her story. I will read it and I will respect that it's her truth and if I'm lucky, I'll learn something.


Candy "Sweetstuff" said...

Wonderful post! I understand your pain as my mother died of Alzheimer's and heart and lung disease. It is sad that you do not have better memories with your father. This happens all so often. We always think we will have more time but that is not always so. I was lucky that I do have great memories with my Mom. So for that I am grateful.

Your husband sounds like a wonderful father. Very hands on. You are a very lucky woman and your children will have these memories to last the rest of there lives. I am glad that he learned what not to do from his upbringing and I am sure he learned from your experiences. It sounds like he had a wonderful well deserved day.

My husband is a better father than his. He will not admit this but it is true. We have two boys and he tells them he loves them and hugs them. They are 21 and 23. He did not get this treatment from his father until I came along. I forced love on them and his father responded.

Take care and look forward to your next post.

slow panic said...

My mom is 75 and I'm noticing she will often tell me the same thing twice in one phone call. I'm not particularly worried about Alzheimer's but I see old age creeping up on her.

My father-in-law retired early -- at 55 -- so when I had my kids he was really really involved in them. He came to the house every day. It was wonderful. HE passed away when my boys were 3 and 7. We were blessed to have the time we did.

My husband is very involved with the kids. I'm very thankful for that.

My heart goes out to you as you deal with your dad's alzheimers

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry for what you're dealing with. Alzheimer's is terrible, so much worse than cancer, at least for those of us watching it. Thinking of you guys today. -- Monica

Dawn said...

We did have 'sunny days' with Dad growing up - maybe they weren't as frequent as Eric or Jayson has with the kids or Matt will after Dot is born, but they happened and those moments live in my memory still. Not so much as full movie - I remember every detail - memories. Many are like snapshots - Fireworks on Uncle Walter's farm in Canada, camping trips next to a field of ripe raspberries and near a stream with the sweetest trout ever. Maybe you missed out on coming to Canda and being treated to fresh New Brunswick Lobster - cooked and cleaned served up in a bowl after Dad did all the hard work. You were there for all the times we were affectionately called monkees, and we got raspberry kisses instead of pecks on the cheek. Sleigh rides down the open field near the park, fishing trips when the Bank chartered a boat. Did you come to the hockey games? Dad loved us the way he knew - he got up every day, went to a job with people he didn't much care for, kept a roof over our head, picked all the bones out of the fish for us, made sure we ate our liver and brussel sprouts (cause you know it was 'good' for us), he didn't coddle us much if we fell, instead he tried to make light of it so that we would too. Yes I miss him too and it hurts to see the changes that have happened, but I will cherish the memories I have and the stories we've been told of offers of peaches, ice cream and gigantic slices of watermelon for those precious first steps that he was there for, creating our very own ice rink in the driveway and trying to teach us to skate, those silly little wading pools in the backyard, rhubarb in the backyard which eventually got turned into rhubarb custard pie. How mom always had to make at least 2 of those pies because he'd would always eat one practically by himself, and yet still made sure we each got a share in the other one. And don't forget the strawberry shortcake big enough to fill and overflow a breakfast bowl and even an adult's stomach. How about every Christmas when he made us those huge stockings filled with treats galore?!?!

Woman with a Hatchet said...

Hey Dawn, I'm sorry I didn't leave examples in the blog, but YES, I remember the good stuff from when we were kids. I didn't list it all out (although thanks to you, I now remember the fish bone thiing!), but they are the memories that I cling to about dad: when we were small. The middle years, the teenage years and early 20s were the rough parts.

The call from mom about Ian and Dad. The call from Cindy. That stuff, unfortunately, is more current and colors the other memories.

BUT. I remember the crazy birthday cake slices. And giant slabs of drippy watermelon and eating all of the ice cream out of the freezer during blackouts in the summer and laying on the back of the trailer in the backyard while doing it.

One of my favorite memories is going camping together, walking through the woods quietly and talking to a loon. With dad. I loved camping with him. And I loved him. Please don't think I have no good memories left, I do.

Thank you for adding to them.

Solanaceae said...

To this day I have yet to find another blog that can make me laugh, cry and yearn for motherhood while at the same time be terrified of it more than yours and all in the same post! You are my favorite my non-humor blogger hands down. My heart is heavy for your troubles. Alzheimer's is a terrible thing.

The parent/child realtionship is a strange thing. I think sometimes it's easy to see it in terms of black of white when the truth is, it's the shades of grey, all of them, good and bad, that are the most beautiful.

Woman with a Hatchet said...

Solanaceae: Thanks so much for that. I think that's one of the sweetest comments I've ever received. I'm all choked up. : )

Candy: I'm sorry about your mom, too. I do have good memories of my dad that I cling to like a drowning woman. I'm just sad I can't really add more to them.

Slow Panic: the repeating thing is a weird thing to see. Eric's grandmother did it and it was almost funny. She'd tell you the same great stories, over and over. Over the years, the time between the stories would be shorter and shorter. Her loop went from a few hours to about 30 minutes. Brains are weird. Aging bites!

Monica: Hang in there, too. Maybe one day, you'll be able to move to CO and we'll share war stories.

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