It’s so strange when I remember Dad. It seems that so much of who we are is tangled up with the real or perceived relationship we had or didn’t have with our fathers. Thanks to Freud, I think way too much weight has been placed on this relationship, but in any case, it occurred to me yesterday, Father’s Day, that maybe my memories are not as accurate as I think, and they don’t really tell the whole story.
In browsing through picture albums looking for photos of Dad and grandparents to post on Facebook for Father’s Day, I see a kinder, gentler and happier Dad than I remember from my childhood. Why is that?
I consider my childhood a troubled one, and I blame Dad for most of my unhappiness. I blame him for being too strict a disciplinarian, who had trouble expressing his love for his kids. He was critical and had very high standards for his children, whether it were in a school performance, academic grades or piano lessons and recitals. I never remember Dad being truly involved with me, despite the fact that I have a clear memory of him attending Father-Daughter days with me at my high school and so many other events.
Dad and mom bought our summer house in Lakewood. Wasn’t that so my brother and I could get out of the city in the summers and enjoy swimming in the lake and picking blueberries in the woods? Didn’t Dad take us to amusement parks and host barbeques with the extended family? And although he punished my rebellious acts, my lying, my subterfuge and sneakiness, didn’t I deserve some punishment, even if what was meted out to me was maybe a bit harsh at times?
I guess the most disturbing memories were those of my mom and dad fighting, which was often accompanied by throwing things and cursing. I thought there was way too much drinking to escape reality. I don’t know how often the conflicts occurred, but in my unbalanced memory, it was a constant background noise that accompanied my upbringing. But all of that had more to do with their happiness, no? Why was I so affected by their disharmony? Maybe it was the uncertainty of it all. Would they stay together? Would they divorce? When would the next argument explode? I had no idea what they were really fighting about. As a small child, I had no true understanding of the meaning of their hateful words. As I grew to be a rebellious teenager, they seemed quite selfish to me, when, in truth, they sacrificed so much so that I could be secure.
I guess I’ll never know the answer to my questions, but I am grateful for the last decade of Dad’s life and the new relationship we enjoyed. He taught me to play golf and took me on fishing trips and to the beach, during visits to their home in Florida. He was a new man in this tropical paradise, and although the cacophony of my parents’ arguments continued, there was definitely a “mellowing” of his personality in his final years. When Dad was struck down by cancer, he drifted away from me as his mind passed into oblivion as a result of the spreading of the cancer throughout his body. When he left his family to enter the next life, it was a quiet relief. He had lost all of his dignity and power with this disease, and I know he had finally escaped his own nightmares.