...for a different kind of girl

silent surburban girl releasing her voice, not yet knowing what all she wants to say about her life and the things that make it spin. do you have to be 18 to be here? you'll know when i know.

Friday, June 15, 2007

because he can't help it

When I was a teenager, I'd mow the yard during summer vacation. I didn't do it because I liked it or I'd been asked to do so. I just did it to be helpful. To contribute to household operations. Sometimes when I'd make the final pass along the back of the garage, I'd emerge and spot my dad standing at the gate, waiting for me. When I'd turn the mower off and push it back to it's resting place, dad would meet me halfway and he'd thank me. Then, more often than not, he'd slip $10 or $20 discreetly in my palm.

"Your sister doesn't need to know," he's say, and we'd smirk at each other and I'd nod discreetly to seal our pact.

Dad and I had that kind of relationship. We helped each other out and we didn't make a big deal about it. I was his first born child, and though he's also made me keep this a secret, that fact still carries a great deal of significance with him. I was the child who didn't challenge his every decision. Who did as I was told and simply chose not to get in trouble. I wanted nothing more in my childhood than to please my dad.

I have few tangible memories of my childhood and time spent with my dad. I more remember things like his cars and how I'd hold my breath while seated in the backseat of them so as not to inhale the smoke from his Winstons as we traveled to and from my grandparent's house each weekend. As I got a bit older, I remember dressing up in old wigs and jeweled cat eye glasses my mom had saved, calling myself "Helena," and entertaining him with my fake English accent, flair for the dramatic and lame jokes. Having him finish his dinner and look across the table to request the grand return of "Helena" would cause me to dash quickly from my seat at the table and to my bedroom to throw my act together.

My dad taught me to drive and attempted to make math a subject that would fall naturally in place for me. Neither of these lessons came without their fair share of tears - from both of us. He was the one who taught me how to ride a bike, shoot a basket and catch a pop fly. When I went to college a whole two hours away from home (it may as well have been to another planet as far as I was concerned then) and seemed to flounder, he encouraged me to seek out a faith and find like minded people. He didn't seem to worry, however, when the people I sought out actually found their faith at nickle beer night at the downtown bar. When the man I was going to spend the rest of my life with changed his plans, it was my dad I called in the middle of the night to cry to.

I could talk to my dad about most anything. Except when my parents fought, and all I wanted to do was beg them to divorce already. Be done with this nonsense. I had no voice then. Even if I did, I don't think it could have been heard in the chaos life turned into at that time in our house. When he'd leave, when my parents would go through yet another in a long and pointless adventure in separating, I'd lose my confidant. I didn't' have the same close relationship with my mom growing up as I did with my dad. It was entirely different. I wanted to please her on a completely different scale. And I certainly didn't wish for her to see how weak I truly could be. The anger in my house growing up, towards the end of things for us all, strained relationships.

It was during the next to last separation that, for some reason, my dad and I had an utter disconnect from the other. More than 13 years later, I can't remember why and can only assume it was truly for the most petty of reasons. I came home for a weekend to stay at my parent's house - now, for all intents and purposes, it was just "mom's house" - and was too busy (maybe too spiteful), too something to see my dad that weekend, even though he'd come to visit me and found me gone. Formally, I told myself I'd call him the next day.

The call to me, however, came first.

The next morning, early, the telephone rang. My uncle, as calmly as he could, informed my mom and me that my dad was in the hospital. My uncle, with whom my dad was living with during this separation, had come home early in the morning to find my dad lying on the living room floor. He'd experienced a massive stroke hours - so many damn hours - before. The hours left unattended and without help impacted his condition even more than the clot that initially had broken free in his body and raced to his brain.

At the time, my dad was 49 years old.

Driving to the hospital, grateful he was still alive, I convinced myself he'd also be fine and we'd talk about this and laugh one day. All the things you think and all the promises you make to God or whoever you choose to believe in at that precise moment were the ones I made as I sat in the backseat of my mom's car as our neighbor and friend drove mom and I downtown.

No such luck, these promises.

In addition to other impacts of the stroke that have left us watching my dad slip further into a state of frailty over the last 13 years, this moment we experienced left him unable to communicate fully. Suddenly and regretfully, my dad, the person I talked to more than anyone else, more than my best friends, anyone, could no longer have a conversation with me. Honestly, so painfully honestly, there are still moments today when we'll catch ourselves looking at the other and regretting this aspect so very, very much. I absolutely miss the man my dad was prior to the stroke, but I miss that conversational component of him more than anything else.

Oh, he's very much "there." He has his faculties, his awareness. Absolutely. He and I know that aspect adds to the sorrow that still creeps in. We talk. It's just different now. His frustration at his inability to share with me forces him to quit trying to talk when all I wish to do is demand he continue.

I'm sad to say that this fact, this bit of a loss, has impacted our relationship. Greatly. It's just so different now. I'm even more sad to admit that, all these years later, my anger over that is so fresh and palpable. It embarrasses me, and makes me quick to simply shut down when we're together. It's unfair to him. But it also feels unfair to me that I lost something I can't fully get back, too.

We can't help each other the way we used to. And now? Now it does seem like a big deal.


Blogger Nanette said...

Just because I told you I like chick flicks doesn't mean you get to make me cry every day. ;)

I am sorry that you lost such a special relationship.

Friday, June 15, 2007 2:03:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I stopped by for the first time after clicking a link, then another, and then another...

Your post moved me on two fronts...

One, having lost both my parents at an early age, long ago, I can identify with missing that relationship...

and, two, as a nurse, I see people fight with the loss of ability to communicate frequently. and it is one of my biggest fears.. to have my mind intact, but be unable to communicate with the outside world...

A great post...

Friday, June 15, 2007 3:04:00 AM  
Blogger FTN said...

Two thirds of the way through, I was all set with a good "Paging Dr Freud" joke, ready to talk about how your relationship and communication (or lack thereof) with your husband has perhaps been impacted by your relationship and communication with your father.

Then you hit me with the stroke thing, and all I can think of is to say I'm sorry. I just can't imagine losing that easy ability to communicate.

If you'll excuse me, I think I should go call my Dad. Does this mean I need to buck up and write a serious Father's Day post, too?

Friday, June 15, 2007 8:50:00 AM  
Blogger Lady Let said...

Hello Girl,

I am a frequent reader of your blog, and I found this last post particulary moving.

My father was non-existent for most of my chilhood. My parents divorced when I was only 4, and he completely dissapeared from our lives when I was 11 years old.

I never missed him: my mother was perfect in both roles and my chilhood/adolescence without a paternal reference was never a big deal.

But reading about the beautiful relationship you and your father embraced made me wonder how'd have been having a person like that by my side.

I look at my husband and our baby together and all that I wish is that the connection they enjoy now could last for the rest of their lives.

Thank you for such a touching post.

Friday, June 15, 2007 8:57:00 AM  
Blogger Desmond Jones said...

You're breaking my heart here, DKG. . .

Molly's dad had a stroke when he was 55, when we'd been married about 3-4 years. He lived another 20 years, but for all intents and purposes, the dad she'd known all her life went away that day, and the rest of his life was a long, slow decline (not so slow, actually). When he finally died, it was more like finishing the process that had been 20 years in the running.

I've had a somewhat similar relationship with my oldest daughter. She was born before I met my birth-mother, so she was the first person I ever knew who was genetically related to me, which has always been a special bond between us, at least from my end. God help me that I couldn't hide that from the other kids better than I did. But we 'clicked' in some really nice ways, too - her love of music and good literature has always warmed my heart.

But, when her heart attached itself to an asshole a few years back, she broke mine in a way I never knew it could be broken. Such is the tragic aspect of life. She's on the mend now, and so is our relationship, but the pain hasn't just gone away yet. Maybe someday, I don't know. . .

Anyway, thanks for this post, and for poking that wonderful thing that can pass between fathers and daughters.

And, sorry for rambling. . .

Friday, June 15, 2007 9:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know Im really emotional lately! Ok, so you Don't know it, but I'm telling you now!
I envy the type of relationship you had with your Dad in your early days. What a beautiful thing to have between the two of you. I'm VERY sorry that his stroke has come in the middle of it, so to speak. Just a thought, can he read on his own? Print this out (tell him you journal) and let him read it. It may move him to tears also, but it will be cherished too I beleive.

My Dad and I love each other dearly. Come on, Im his only little girl; And who wouldnt love me? LOL But he's old school. He didn't know how to interact with a little girl. We didn't do things together, we rarely having meaningful conversations. And now that the Cancer has come into my life, that gap has widened as his fear of me (or losing me I suppose) has grown. So while I dont know exactly what you've gone through, I understand in my own way.


Friday, June 15, 2007 10:21:00 AM  
Blogger Recovering Soul said...

Wow. I'm sorry for your whole situation.

Is it too late? Maybe now he just wants to listen.

Friday, June 15, 2007 11:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You always seem to be able to strike a chord with me when you write. My daughter and I have had a relationship similar to what you described with your own dad. It was something we both cherished but there were times it was based on a mutual displeasure with her mother which was not a good thing. recognizing this I have had to make changes and I know we both feel the loss of what we had. One of my greatest fears in some of the changes I have contemplated is that it could result in a permanent breach that would never completely heal. I am sorry for the loss you have experienced. Some voids just can;t be filled.

Friday, June 15, 2007 3:10:00 PM  
Blogger Nature Girl said...

Wow! You should print this post out and give it to him. I have a feeling that even though there are parts of it that might be hard for him to hear, he would love and appreciate the feelings behind it and it just might open a new door of communication with him.

(This from the girl that can't talk about her true feelings to 95% of the population)


Friday, June 15, 2007 5:41:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

I'm so sorry

Friday, June 15, 2007 5:48:00 PM  
Blogger Summer Rose said...

You did a wonderful job, on such a great post. Some of us aren't as blessed to have both parents, I lived with my late mom. This really makes me think of her, she was both mom and dad.
Love Ya.

Sunday, June 17, 2007 8:12:00 PM  
Blogger for a different kind of girl said...

Nanette - I'm not sure if I find this odd about myself, but I didn't cry when I wrote this and then walked away from it. I did later, after it sat out there for those of you who read it. I've not done that over this matter in some time.

DisappearingJohn - Thank you for stopping through and commenting, as well as your kind words. I fear much of the same as you mentinoed.

FTN - As mentioned, there are probably some truly Fruedian things at play in my relationships. I'm wacky like that, especially when George Michael's "Father Figure" goes round in my head, too. And now, I've grossed myself out and upset myself in one paragraph...

Lady Let - Thank you for visiting and commenting again. I can't imagine growing up without both parents, despite the fact there were many, many times it seemed like they were not there for us the way I force (?) myself into my own children and their world today. I know that's not the same as being truly abandoned by a parent. There was just so much separating and fighthing going on in my world that at times I wished for that total abandon. I'm rambling...

However, to wrap it up, I, too, watch my husband and sons and hope the bond they share is never tempered. I quite often think I'm just a bystander when they are reunited with him at the end of the day.

Desmond - Ah, sweet man! No intentions of breaking hearts! However, you broke mine a little bit when you summed up very succinctly what I have felt like over the last 13 years watching my father. It is like seeing the inevitable end so much sooner than you wish. That in my possession is his final wishes and medical directive (a fact I hate in such a selfish, selfish way...) only drives that feeling home. I crave the moment when I can simply give up this silly resentment I still have and mend myself the way I must lest I regret it.

Terry - Sadly, my dad also can't read as clearly as he'd wish, either. A fact that I know upsets him, because he used to be among the greatest encouragers of my writing. I feel awful in admitting that reading this to hiim would make me feel childish. I can't make that sound better and I'm not sure I can make it understood to those of you who read that sentence.

I think, on some level, I understand the relationship you have now with your own dad. My prayers regarding your health. I didn't realize...

RS - Thank you. I quite think he'd listen to me forever. I just wish I could open myself again.

Finished - I hope, despite some of the foundational bricks the relationship with your daughter was forged on, that you have a greater structure that will not impede the relationship you two have. I think it's probably the right thing to do to show a more aligned parental bond...something I have to remember as my own familyi gets older!

Stacie - From the girl who hits probably the 98th percentile in that sharing and feelings matter, thank you. You are a dear person...

George - Thank you...

Summer - Thank you for your kind words...

Monday, June 18, 2007 1:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So sorry for your difficulty with this. It is terribly hard to see someone you remember as active and vibrant being reduced in such a way.

Just a thought on the communication gap: when my Grandmother could no longer communicate and Mom was too upset to talk 'normally' to her, Mom would write things ahead of time and have me read them to grandma when we visited.

Monday, June 18, 2007 12:42:00 PM  

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