Us in 1974…my earliest memory has always been of a “really red room,” which I thought I’d imagined for so many years, until I saw this old slide of my father and I…kinda interesting how the mind picks up on things…
“I didn’t want much from what my Dad left behind. But I took small and random things.” ~ Aliza Sherman, The Strangeness of Grief
It’s been a long time since I’ve written about the death of my father, which this fall will mark six years. No particular anniversary today, and I didn’t go to his grave on Father’s Day this year.
In fact, I didn’t even contemplate it.
Why? This year on Father’s Day, my husband’s father died. He joined that fucking club that tore him into a hundred pieces, as it does all of us, when a parent has passed away. Like many of us whose relationships with a deceased parent was mixed at best, losing a parent still sucks, and in some ways when they die, it’s harder. Because you have no more possibilities, no matter how minute, that things will be different. I remember being without memory for a long, long time.
If You Don’t Have a Father Today was an article I read and posted an excerpt from five years ago on my blog, and still rings true. As the author says, “There is a common thread about resilient humans – men and women both. When we can’t get what we need from a single source, we adapt and get it anyway from diverse sources past, present, and future.” I’m so proud that since I’ve known my husband, I’ve seen him slowly reach out in building relationships with men, something he had not done much of in his life. The people who he’s gotten to know in the past couple of years, both in his country of birth and here in the States, have provided him with a safety that I don’t think his own father ever knew how to create. And that’s something that’s filled my heart so much to bear witness to. He’s come out of his shell and has people in his life who truly embrace who he is as a man. The cynicism has softened and the courage is emerging in ways we are both seeing and have yet to see.
Just today, I realized that for me, that quasi-parental relationship’s only been the kind of thing I’ve done on the maternal side. It was always difficult for me as my mother’s daughter, and I cut the cord about five years ago after realizing that our relationship reminded me of the unhealthy romantic entanglements of my past – you know, the ones where you allow the ten or fifteen percent that is fucking great to outshine the majority of it that makes you feel like shit. You crave the love of the ones who brought you into this world, and you think because of DNA somehow you should just take what you can get. You get up the nerve to ask for more and when you are rejected, when that request is not only turned down but scoffed at, you take it out on yourself for not being good enough.
Through my own life I have had many “aunties” as I sentimentally refer to them. The big sisters who have looked out for me over the years. The ones who always surround me in love and hugs and the kind of positivity you just can’t fake. The ones who see all my good and help me shine. Where it only takes a quick email or a coffee or a hug or a song to remind me that it’s gonna be okay. Because it is.
two of my wonderful aunties / big sistas, who sang at my wedding, and inspire me constantly to be more of me…
So where are my fathers? Where are the men teaching me things? I suppose I’ve shied away from a lot of those opportunities. Maybe it still hurts too much to think about. I don’t know quite yet. I remember being so excited, like a little girl, at our engagement party to meet Dan’s uncle. And he didn’t fail to be exactly what I’d hoped – smart, articulate, interesting, funny as hell, and incredibly kind. And like my husband, walked to the beat of his own drum. (As Dan wasn’t close to his father, and hadn’t been for many years, I never met the man who brought him into the world. I met the mother, and saw an all-too-familiar narcissism that was suffocating him and his sister. Yet out of her cruel words, I also saw strength coming from these two siblings that have managed to call her out on her toxicity, move away from that energy, and become closer as brother and sister.).
I think maybe that’s something I should contemplate as the year progresses. Where can I open up in my own heart? Where am I not reaching out where I can to those big brothers? What do I want to learn and who can teach me? What were the good things about my own father I can find in others?
“I was my father’s first child, my mother’s last child, and the only child coming from the two of them. I can see perspectives of many, yet always feel there is nowhere I truly belong. And then my partner reminded me, we are family now. We belong together, There is no more need to look back when we have so many reasons to look forward. And as I release the ghost and tattoo the memory, I know this: I have, as I imagined five years ago, imagined freedom.” ~ from my blog post (2013)
There are a few men who come to mind who have seen the spirit in me and encouraged it – I’m not saying there hasn’t been anyone. The man who has helped guide Dan & I through our journey together and as individuals in these chapters we are opening in our lives. The man who walked with me nearly every week as I prepared for my half marathon eight years ago. The man whose light shone so bright through just a handshake at our first meeting that our friendship has grown and he became somewhat of a big brother to my husband, standing up for him at our wedding. The man who actually IS my big brother, who just through his telling me I Love You is so lovely, and watching him live his own adventure with total authenticity that it inspires me to confidence in my own life. I guess I’m not doing so bad…but seems like there’s more I can do.
And I think again of my husband as he is at the start of an unexpected chapter coming only six weeks after moving to another country and getting married. I think of how quickly those around us forget what we are going through, and watch even myself forget as I get lost in my own thoughts, that he is still processing, and will be going through what he has to go through in order to not only deal, but learn what he needs to learn. Because that is what we all learn when they leave us – that we are not being broken down, we are being broken open, to let the light in.
“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.” ~Umberto Eco