I loved the show “Alias” because Sydney had a “Dad Thing.” I’d weep while Sydney and her father worked out their issues. Watching him struggle to connect with her, to be a good dad after being such a horrible one, was heartbreaking and heartwarming. I watched as though I saw my own father wrestle with his mistakes, witness regretful looks and hopeful glances I didn’t see as a kid but hoped were there.
My dad is not a demon nor is he a saint. While his temper and lack of understanding were difficult for us kids, he was a vast improvement on his own mother and father. Over the years I have come to have compassion for him and how hard it must have been to want to do good but not know how to do it.
That said, he can still piss me off.
Before visiting my parents to help with my mother’s heart surgery recovery, I was nervous about being with my father for a whole week. A high emotional charge plus being in the house a lot and having to do things my parents’ way signaled impending clashes. I focused on being there for my mother and allowing my parents to tell me what to do while I was home; more like a servant than a visiting guest. That worked, for a few days.
The fight was over pills. Not just any pills but the steroid pack my mother was on. See, you take a different number of pills each day, and at different times. My mother and I were in contrast: I kept forgetting about them and my mother asked if she needed to take them 3xs more often than there were pills. My dad didn’t help when he punched pills through the foil backing the wrong way, making directions hard to read. That particular morning, my mom choked on one of them – I thought she was having a heart attack and called 911. We all hated these fucking pills.
(You know it wasn’t the pills, right? It was the fear of my mother not getting better as quickly as we wanted, her persistent and undiagnosed cough, her exhaustion. It was the fear of her choking on the pills again. It was the fear of her dying. But we fought over the pills.)
After both my mother and father questioned when she had to take the next dose, I made a snarky comment about how I did, in fact, know how to read medication information, then my dad snapped at me and I began to shake and my dad started yelling and I walked away saying I wouldn’t be spoken to that way. I came back for dinner and sincerely apologized for snapping and for being a jerk. My dad isn’t good about accepting apologies, though. I knew he didn’t hear me when he said angrily, “We are ALL upset about you mother, Linda.”
I mean, he heard me but he wouldn’t let it in. I needed him to let it in. I needed to see him soften, to stop and realize I am his daughter and connect with me. That has been my struggle all along, to get him to hear, “Dad! I’m trying to connect with you! Please connect with me! Let it in! Let ME in!”
I left the table, not angry but sad, and sat in my room, in the dark, crying. I wanted to feel the fear and sadness coming up and didn’t want anyone’s anger to stop me. Minutes later, I heard the footsteps up the stairs. Had to be Dad, Mom can’t walk up the stairs quickly enough to make footsteps. I tensed up, but vowed not to fight. He knocked and I said he could come in.
“Honey, I’m sorry. Don’t sit in the dark alone, come be with us.” I stood up and walked into his open arms. He held me like a Dad. “I am sorry. I was wrong. I shouldn’t speak to you like that. We are all upset about Mom and I know you are scared. You have been through so much today and I am a dummy for how I talked to you. Don’t be alone. I love you so much.”
I let him rub my back and rock me back and forth and go on and on about being sorry, and I pretended like I was a little girl getting the apology and connection I always wanted from him. By letting him love me, I felt him let my love in. And because I allowed myself to feel it, to be present to it happening, a part of me got whole.
If my dad only lets in my love like that once in my lifetime, in his lifetime, it will be enough.