The other story that is also true
As I launch my new blog, I’m going through all these old posts and deciding which ones to keep, this one keeps rising to the top of the pile. I wrote it in July, 2014, a month before my father passed away.
I like it because it doesn’t pretend that my relationship with Dad was perfect. It was just a real father-daughter thing, sometimes bright and good, sometimes fraught with confusion and hurt.
I like it because I don’t ever want to lie to you – because when we pretend things are perfect, we do one another (and ourselves) a disservice. We separate from the messy, human side of life. We lose touch with one another – and with the truth that no one is perfect and yet, even so, we are all worthy of love.
This morning, I awoke with profound clarity and peace around something that’s been bothering me for a while. My dad’s in a nursing home and I’m the only family member who visits him. It’s complicated – and sometimes, it’s really hard.
Because often, rather than driving the hour each way that it takes to visit him, I’d prefer to stay home – to catch up on my (very) neglected housework, to focus on this book project I’ve promised to complete by summer’s end. To spend some quality time with my husband.
And sometimes, preferring that, I try to justify not going by telling myself the story of how my dad kind of emotionally abandoned me – and my sisters and our mom.
And that story feels like a ‘really good reason’ to stay home and take care of myself. Until I do it, and then, all I can think about is Dad, sitting alone in that nursing home. And I get in the car. And I drive.
Who my dad was was hard sometimes. But sometimes, it was fine. Sometimes, it was amazing. Like in this photo. You can see how joyful he was. How much he loved being a dad.
If I was only the result of the things he did wrong, that would suck. That would be hard.
But I am also the result of all that he got right – I am also the result of his devotion.
His devotion to family, which shows itself, even now – even when he can’t move a single muscle and can barely speak – as he attempts to take care of us all by dictating letters telling us how much he misses and loves us.
And telling that story, too, not only makes me feel better about myself and my life, it completes me in a way that, if I only complain, I don’t get to see or to have.
Telling the whole story lets him – and me – off the hook of perfection. It teaches me that mistakes aren’t the end of the world – his mistakes or mine – and they are certainly not grounds for abandonment.
By telling the story that my father was not there for me, I am abandoning the little girl who loves her dad – who remembers that he was there.
By remembering – and including the other story that is also true – that he took her for ice cream at Krieger’s and held her on his shoulders so she could see the Memorial Day parade; that he listened when she told a story; that he smiled whenever she walked into the room as if the sun was coming out – if I include these things, too, then the relationship that my inner little girl has with her daddy is honored.
She can remember – and love – the dad who held her hand at parks and ponds and waterfalls, the father who drove her to the airport and when she returned, drove her home.
She can remember that he was devoted to her and she to him. If I don’t tell this story – I am abandoning him – and her.
Yesterday, when I walked in, my dad turned his head and focused his rheumy, 87 year old eyes on me and said. “There you are!” A moment later, he said, “I turn my head and you’re not there. And then, I turn my head and you are!” He told me that he does this all day long. He turns his head hoping to see me. Sometimes, like today, I’m there.
It’s good to be so loved – to be anticipated this way. It reminds me why I get in the car. Why I drive. Because each day, my dad is gonna turn his head, and I want to be there.