Remembering Dad

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 muJulianne and Dad communionch 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 momPoklemba family, Marie, John, Julianne and Johnnie 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 Julianne and Dad graduationDad’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.

OLMC Book Club – a stimulating way to connect…

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel windowsYou know, my move to Florida was intense.  It took some chutzpah to pick up and move over 1,000 miles with my dog, Jake, in tow so soon after my loving husband Gene passed away from cancer. But here I am.  I survived the move and so did Jake.  The biggest challenge of course is not fixing up the house or finding my way around, but rather forging new relationships and friendships.  That’s the stuff that keeps me going.  The human connections keep me sane.  The alternative is to exist as if in a space walk, where I float freely with nothing to hang on to.

One of the ways I found to connect is through the local Catholic Church, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Osprey. I’ve always loved palm trees and when I walked into this church, I was surprised by the stained glass windows adorned with stately palms.  At OLMC, I found my way back to my religion and my God and I was welcomed into a community that embraced me.  Through a Grief Support Group facilitated by Darwin Reeck, OLMC Pastoral Minister, I met others who are going through the grieving process, and I found a safe place to cry with the support of those who know exactly how I feel. I also joined the OLMC Book Club, and that is where I went today.

When I was married, we socialized mostly with friends, usually other couples, and I didn’t spend a lot of time in the company of women.  This Book Club is attended by some of the most intelligent, inspiring, and compassionate women I have ever met and I honestly feel blessed to be welcomed and to participate in the lively discussions.

The group is facilitated by Doris Brodeur, Ph.D. Adult Faith Development, whose depth of experience, love for reading and knowledge of culture enriches me as I listen to her stories and anecdotes when she elaborates about the setting of the book or the author. Along with other volunteers, Doris organizes the group, helps us select the books and provides handouts and refreshments.  Doris and other volunteers generally make each meeting a true joy for all who attend. Each woman in the group has a unique background and experience, and from what I can tell, all of the members are honest and straightforward in expressing their views and impressions.  The books on the reading list have been engaging and offer many topics of discussion.

Today we discussed the book by Joan Chittister, The Gift of Years.  Frankly, I didn’t really enjoy or appreciate this book. Each chapter delves deeply into the issues of aging, like loneliness, solitude, memories, regrets, success, tale-telling, and many others.  You’d think such a book would be “right up my alley,” but while reading it, I felt only pressure.  The pressure that comes with expectations.  Let me explain.

When I turned 65, I felt I was officially a “senior citizen,” even though I had been receiving AARP magazines for years prior. Of all the privileges that come with age, traditionally many looked forward to the retirement years when we are free from the constraints of the working world and where all we are expected to do is play golf, relax in the shade, read, knit, take bike rides at dusk, and maybe bake a few cookies.  My mom and dad had that kind of retirement.  They enjoyed Florida and all its gifts. They swam in the Gulf; my dad played golf and bought a boat so he could fish.  They cared for their home and took trips around the world and with their grandchildren, they enjoyed Disney, Busch Gardens and all the Florida attractions.  No one expected them to find any special meaning in their older years or to contribute much to the world. They did their part and now they deserved to relax.

Today’s retirement is undefined.  When life spans have lengthened for many to 90 or 100 years, we have the responsibility to continue.  How we continue can be perceived as an opportunity or a chore, depending on what we are going through and how we feel emotionally and physically. Right now, I’m stressed by the role of “grieving widow.”  Continuing for another 30 years or more is not a pleasant prospect to me now.  I pray that changes.  I have some skills, lots of interests and passions, and I want to continue to express myself through whatever number of “retirement” years are granted me.

But not today.  Today I need to relax.  Thank you ladies, for welcoming me and for your caring thoughts and insights.

How about you? What are your retirement plans?

–Julianne, your Lifetime Writer