Many times, people have fights with family members, and they spend years not talking to each other. Then, with the passage of years with the approach of the end they reconcile. How often have you read a book or seen a movie or TV show that shows just that?
Yet, what about the opposite situation?
My parents divorced when I was quite young, and initially I lived with my Mother. But, I eventually moved in with my Dad. You see, he was all alone, and I had such feelings of sadness to see him like that, that I just couldnt bear to see him continue to live in such a state. Yet, life with him was far from easy.
For the most part, the rest of the family pretty much sided with Mom, and for good reason. Dad drank, he was mean and nasty when he was drunk; he was a miserly, old pinch-penny, he was a lazy procrastinator, and he could hold a grudge for a thousand years! He could be incredibly sexist and bigoted a regular Archie Bunker and he never encouraged me to strive or achieve anything.
But, he was still my Dad.
He taught me about sailing, to love history, art, literature, the theatre, and so many other things; and to honor and respect other people and beliefs. When he was good, he was very good, but when he was bad he was horrid just like that old Mother Goose rhyme about the little girl.
I moved in with him when I was thirteen, and we lived in a retirement community in Venice, Florida. In a way, I was sort of like one of those kids you read about in the news raised by wolves or animals in the wild only, in my case, I was raised by a bunch of old folk in Florida.
How many teenagers are champion shuffleboard players? When I went off to college, I walked and talked, and acted like a little old man. It was many years before I could learn to act my age.
Through my high school years, it was pretty much just the two of us, and our roles slowly reversed. I became the adult, and he the child, and it was almost comical. I took care of things, reminded him about bills and important events, and advised him on actions he should take. When he was sober, we shared some wonderful, joyous times. When he was drunk, it was very very very bad. To this day, I get nervous whenever someone touches my back. Years ago, a lump developed there, and the doctor wanted to remove it he thought it might be cancer. My wife had to come in to the office (we handled it as an outpatient procedure) to hold my hand. Turned out, it wasnt cancer it was a piece of glass embedded deep in my skin. Guess I missed it, which is understandable. After all, its hard to bandage your own back. Although, over the years, I did get quite good at it I got lots of practice.
No, it wasnt almost comical it was comical! Here was a man in his sixties relying on a mere teen with nothing more that book learning. Should he buy a special gift for one of his grandchildren; should he give a son the down payment for his house, and so on? Every move he made, every action he took, either approved or suggested by me. Yes, quite the odd relationship.
But, he was my Dad.
High school ended, college too, and still I stayed with him to take care of him. For many days, it was just the two of us; most of my brothers lived far away, and had families of their own. I knew his favorite TV shows, his taste in movies, and what music he loved to listen to. His mind was slipping a bit then. I would video tape an episode of Roseanne or You Cant Do That on Television or any of his other favorite shows and I could show it to him every day for a week, and he wouldnt recognize it. I didnt know whether to be happy or sad about that after all, he did seem to truly enjoy them.
And then came the summer of 89. I had a new job at the Engineering Department for the City of Venice; so my summers on the Island had ended. He loaded up his truck and drove off, and I couldnt help but worry that I might be getting a call from a hospital in North Carolina or Virginia.
As it happened, I did not. Dad made it safely to his place on Marthas Vineyard. Little more than a month and a half later, I got a call from my brother Stephen Dad had suffered a stroke he was in the hospital. Our brother Gregory raced up to be with him, and I already had travel plans to visit him, but they were for mid August. Also, I was in the middle of a show at the Venice Little Theatre, and was unsure as to what to do. The prognosis was good; the doctor felt that Dad would be okay. He would not recover fully, some sort of long term care was called for, but hed be all right.
So, I decided to wait and go in August, as planned.
The doctor was wrong.
Returning home one night from the theatre, I found Rex our faithful dog asleep on my Dads bed, and he refused to leave it. In the morning, I found him outside my door a place he normally never slept and a note from my brother Danny: Dad had past away in the night.
And so, in the finally analysis, Id failed him.
All those years, all those times together and memories shared, and yet I hadnt seen the journey through to the end. Most of my family was very good about being understanding and supportive, and telling me that it wasnt my fault, that I had nothing to regret. For that, I am truly grateful. And yet, it was amazing the attitude I did encounter from some members; it was as if I had no right to an opinion about family matters as Id not been there at the end. For a time, I let that eat at me, until I saw it for what it really was transference. This attitude came from the family members who had been the worst at staying in touch with and close to Dad.
They wanted me to feel as bad as they did.
They almost succeeded. The difference was, I had a lot of great memories to cling to. Yeah, there had been some tough times, some hard times, and some pain and unpleasantness along the way, but, as I said.
He was my Dad.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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