I have tears in my eyes. This story has been writing itself in my head for weeks and I can no longer ignore the stream of words, thoughts, and ideas...but it would be a helluva lot easier if I could.
I miss my Dad. Depending on where you know him from you might call him Bud, Don, or even Butch. Bud's here - just a couple hours away, but over the last 10+ years has slowly become a very different version of himself. I realized not that long ago I couldn't remember the last time my dad laughed...that wheezy, twinkly-eyed, rosey-cheeked laugh...I hadn't heard it.
It's funny how when things change slowly over time the difference just hits you one day like a bag of bricks. Like when you see that picture of yourself 15 pounds heavier than what you thought you were - it's startling.
A couple years ago I was telling a friend and my husband a story about my dad. My friend was surprised, "YOUR DAD did THAT?" The bag of bricks hit me in the chest. I sat back realizing, "Huh, you don't know that version of my Dad," and my husband chimed in, "I don't know that version of your dad."
Over a decade. This has been going on well over a decade.
One day, maybe 8 years ago, we were getting ready to head down to the lake to visit him. He called, like he always did, and wanted to know what time we were leaving. And then he told me about what he was making us for dinner. "Oooohhhh, I'm making this bean salad with green beans, wax beans, peas, celery, onions, shoe peg corn, and a vinegar dressing. You'll like it." I said, "Mmmm, sounds good, Dad," and we got off the phone.
My husband asked why he'd called and I smiled and said, "He just called to tell me he loves me." My husband, knowing my Dad is a man of few words, was surprised. Huh?
My Dad expressed great amounts of love through what he put on your plate. He paid attention to what I liked and knew I would love this salad. He was right - I love tangy dressings and marinated veggies. He'd slow cook ribs all day and then glaze them with his signature sauce he'd reduced for hours. He'd peruse food magazines, watch the Food Network, plan out meals, buy special steaks, and drink a few vodka & whatevers while he cooked.
He often orchestrated the context for the fun to occur, but played a more behind-the-scenes role and let others take the lead. He bought a lake house when he retired, bought a boat, stocked the bar and the fridge, and would captain the ship and man the grill while the rest of us usually played and laughed at my brother's antics.
If he had too many vodka and whatevers you were sure to hear about how much he loved you...on repeat. "Babe, do you know how much I love you? No, do you really know?"
He's stopped cooking altogether. I think it's been a few seasons since he's driven the boat. I haven't seen any of this in years. It's like he's here, but he's not here.
We've wondered if he needed a hearing aid, if he's depressed, is it dementia, is it a blood-sugar issue...he's had brain scans, had his meds evaluated, changed meds, had 2 knee replacements, but I'm just starting to wonder if this is how some people go - slowly over time.
And that makes my heart ache right down the middle, because I didn't know he was going.
The relentless nagging beat of the second hand as time passes with this new Dad who doesn't cook and doesn't call has me focused in on how little I really know about him. Just a few months ago I learned he had a great-grandma who lived right down the street from our new house. I didn't even know he'd had a living great-grandma!
In my job I probably have deeper conversations with perfect strangers within the first 2 hours of meeting than I've ever had with my Dad. The father-daughter role runs deep, but in this season of his life it really feels like he needs me to understand him and take care of him more than my old role deemed necessary.
The decision to embrace or avoid this new role has tortured me. I've craved a deeper conversation with him. I want to know more about his past. I want to understand him as a person, not just know him as a Dad. I want to be sure he knows how much I love and like him, but with 3 kids racing around screaming "Mom!" every few seconds it makes these types of conversations nearly impossible.
There is a way I know this conversation will be brutal and beautiful, hard and loving, tearful and joyful...there is a part of me that wants to run there right now and give him a big hug and use every skill I have to facilitate a deeper conversation with him and a bigger part of me that wants to put on my 2T onesie jammies and throw a fit right here on the floor. I still remember what it felt like for him to hold me with his huge hands.
Sometimes ... I DON'T WANT TO BE A GODDAMN GROWNUP! This is one of those instances. So I'm writing this for my own accountability.
Courage is showing up and being vulnerable. Courage is scheduling a solo visit with your Dad to give him a chance to tell you his story...and to make certain he knows your truth about him.