Today is Mom’s birthday; yesterday was Dad’s. Dad died when I was 29, Mom when I was 31. It’s been interesting to see how these birthdays make me feel as I’ve lived more and more years without parents (long enough that I don’t remember their voices). This year the feeling seems to be “they did the best they could with the hand life dealt them”.
Was it ideal? Absolutely not. Was it awful? Sometimes. Were there good days? Yes, for sure.
What I’ve noticed though is that human nature seems to have the ability to blot out the good days with the laundry list of bad days. Dad made this particularly easy for us; he drank too much, he squandered his money, he allegedly had another family in another town, he became violent when he drank, etc. I cannot and will not give up on the fact that there were good days too. I cling to that no matter how much people want to focus on what went wrong.
He passed away when I was 29 years-old just as I was coming to grips with my own concepts of being a man – I barely had enough emotional energy for that, let alone try to empathize with a father that I hadn’t been given a chance to know.
When I was 3 or 4 years old Mom finally got the gumption to leave Dad which was obviously her choice and likely the best thing she could have done for her own safety and happiness. At that time the only way a woman could get a divorce without her husband’s signature was to be a resident of Nevada. Halfway through kindergarten in Michigan, off we went to live in Nevada and that’s when he became an absent father.
I had a few chances after we moved back to Michigan to spend some time with him as a teenager but the chance to get to know him, to bond with him, etc had passed long before that. Being a teenager is tough enough as it is, being clear-headed enough during that time to see the opportunity to get to know one’s father too is a bit too much too ask to be honest. Those weekends I just felt trapped in a stranger’s house counting the time until I got to go home.
The time between leaving Dad when I was a toddler and when I had to spend the weekends with him as a teenager I had heard SO MANY horror stories about him, that it has taken living my entire life to be able to give him a break and empathize with him. All the dark stories I had heard blotted out any good experiences that I had had with him before we left.
On his birthday the year I was 41 years old, it dawned on me that that was the same age he was when I was born, and that he had EIGHT children by then, and at that same age I didn’t know if I wanted the responsibility of having a dog, let alone EIGHT children. It was in that moment that i started to see life through his eyes a little. Did he make bad choices? Yes. Have I? OMG absolutely. But I’m doing the best that I can, and so did he.
I’m 51 this year as his birthday passes me by and I wonder if he’d like the man that I’ve become. My decision to not have children has a lot to do with him, because if my dad was so awful as I had been taught, then I thought that I was likely to be the same, and I wanted to break the cycle. As I sit here today I wonder if he would be proud of who his 51 year-old son has become.
When it comes down to it, I’m doing the best that I can, just like my dad did.