My Father’s Gift

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When my father called to tell me he was having major surgery to remove a malignant mass from his chest, I didn’t hesitate to buy a plane ticket.

“The doctors have to break open my rib cage to get the whole thing out. Safest way to keep it from spreading,” he explained.

“How long’s the recovery?” I asked.

“Six weeks.”

“I want to come down and see you.”

“Okay.” His voice cracked through the line. Then my father, who under reacts in times of crisis and barely smiles for a camera began to cry.

I did my best to console his fears and hold back tears. I failed. We exchanged I love yous and hung up the phone.

Twelve years ago, had someone told me I would be speaking to my father let alone making time to be by his bedside, I would have thought they were nuts.

Divorced from my mother when I was three, my parents managed feelings about their contentious relationship and bitter divorce by throwing me in the middle even long after each remarried and had new families of their own. On our scheduled visits, which lasted well into high school, I figured my father to be a stubborn workaholic. Time at his house was spent getting to know my step-mother. In between those visits, my mother shared more disgust for and information about her ex-husband than a daughter needed to know. As such, I can’t remember a single birthday or holiday spent with my dad. I assumed he was too busy or lived too far away; but it’s likely he was never extended an invitation.

Whether my parent’s choices were driven by self-interest, youthful inexperience or something more, I’ll never know. At that moment in their lives, healthy co-parenting was not an option. To add to the dysfunction was the abuse I simultaneously experienced at the hands of my step-father.

By age 17, my entire being was a giant, rage infested mess masked by sarcasm, perfectionism and dramatic flair. Needing to simplify the noise to ensure survival, I thrust myself into the middle of my parent’s fight de jour over college selection and payment and cut ties with my father.

But skeletons and wounds weigh on one’s spirit. Fifteen years later, I was knee deep in therapy trying to make sense of our relationship. My therapist recommended I write my dad a letter. I was to consider it a cathartic exercise or an attempt to communicate. Sending was optional.

With the pressure off, I put everything out there; the anger and hurt, grievances and resentment, his emotional distance, my abusive childhood and our lengthy estrangement.

Afterward, I thought about my unborn son and what I might say if he one day asked, “Who’s my grandfather?”

Then I dug up my father’s address and dropped the letter in the mail.

He wasted little time. What followed was a blur of email exchanges followed by a planned call. I barely said hello when the words came out.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “My point of view doesn’t matter. You’re the child. I’m the parent and I take full responsibility for everything that’s happened.”

During a time when I was trying to piece together my self-worth, build a meaningful relationship with my spouse and prepare for motherhood, my father’s words were the light in my darkness and the greatest gift.

Whoever my father was or how I perceived him to be when I was young no longer mattered. His ability to take ownership without caveat or blame and express himself with vulnerability and honesty showed me who he was at present. I knew the least I could do was begin to forgive the man and let him in.

A dozen years travel fast. While I’m grateful for this second chance, it’s not nearly enough. Those tears shed over his operation were not about any cancer, but my fear of losing a father I’ve only recently learned to love.

Thankfully, he’s made a full recovery. The doctors cut out the stage one growth and replaced it with a 12 inch scar. We can only hope health and time are on his side.

During our visit, my dad was feeling energized so we took a walk around the neighborhood; no grandkids, spouses or pets. Just us. We kibitzed about his upcoming retirement, the politics of the day and puppies. Being able to experience such a simple pleasure felt, as he likes to say whenever presented with good eats, “pretty damn good.”

Occasional strolls and weekly phone conversations won’t replace the birthday parties missed, lost Christmas Eves or the father-daughter wedding dance we never had, but it gives me great comfort knowing we will mourn those losses and create new memories – together.

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DENIS IAN SAID WHAT?…Mind Time

Denis Ian is a father, grandfather and education activist. He does not appear have his own blog, but I’ve read his piece on 4 different ones so far. And it’s a keeper.

Here are Denis’s thoughts about hurrying up, slowing down, the value of time and the expectations we have for children and ourselves with each passing year.

I’m already anxious about what to expect from Bubbe, Skootch and myself as we start to gear up for September. So thank you, Dennis for this beautiful math lesson.

Kindness Blog

I’m an old father now. Suddenly it seems.

My sons have sons. I own lots of memories. I polish the sweet ones and never dust the ones that hurt.

I mind time now. I didn’t used to. In fact, like lots of you, I was reckless with time. Not any longer.

When I was a boy of about 9 or so, I had the temporary misfortune of being the last to the dinner table … and that meant sitting just to the left of my father. That was like sitting next to the district attorney … or the pope. My brothers loved my dilemma … because that’s what brothers do. It’s in the Irish Manual of Life.

So … there I was … waiting for my moment of challenge. The knives were clanging plates and there were two or three different conversations happening around this table with the fat legs…

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Dear Mom…Please stop calling me Buddy

Dear Mom picture

Dear Mom,

Please stop calling me Buddy.  I don’t like it.

At first, I was afraid to say anything because you’ve used the nickname since I was little.  Now I’m 9 ½ and Buddy sounds weird.  It’s embarrassing.

I was also worried I would hurt your feelings.  You always seem so excited to call me Buddy.  I can tell it means a lot to you.  I think you think calling me Buddy automatically brings us closer together.

It really doesn’t.

I know you love me when you sing to me in the morning, sneak a hug and a kiss on the corner before school, helped me wash the toenail out of my eye after it shot up off the clipper, taught me how to follow my basketball shot, pay me allowance, cook me perfect pasta, and stay for a cuddle talk at tuck in.

Like you always say, “Actions speak louder than words.”

Another thing; why do you call me Buddy when you’re mad?  Buddies are supposed to make each other happy, but every time you say

“Shut the Wii U off now, Buddy.”

“It’s late, Buddy.  Go back to bed.”

“Buddy come on, you left the student planner in your desk, again?”

with a growl or snake-eyed glare, I only feel scared and to be honest, a little angry myself.  The whole thing doesn’t make sense.

Know what else?  I like my name.  I like when you say my name.  I remember the story of how I got it.  You decided in eighth grade that if you ever had a son you would name him after your grandfather.  And you did.  So why don’t you use it?  You wouldn’t like it very much if I called you Red instead of Mom.  That’s not respectful.

The definition of Buddy is “a close friend.”   For real.  I Googled it.

Mom, I have friends.  I wasn’t a natural at making friends, but you showed me how to introduce myself, share, and speak up.  And when I felt shy about joining classmates in the block center or had a hard time sitting at a crowded snack table in preschool, you got me a helper teacher.  Now I’m good.

William from the baby playgroup, the kids in my class, the boys I have snowball fights with on the walk home from school, and the guys from my team; these are my buddies.

The ladies you meet for lunch and a chit chat, Daddy on date night, and that funny guy who fist pumps and belly dances in an elf hat at CrossFit; those are your buddies.

Maybe when I’m in college or living in my own apartment we will be close friends.

Right now, I need you to be my mom.

So please stop saying Buddy.  I know it’s different and might be a tough habit to break, but you can handle it.

I Love You,

Your son

I never got into the habit of calling my children Buddy.  Bubbe, Big Guy, Skootch, Kiddo, and Bubbeleh yes; but never Buddy.  If I had, I hope that one of them would write me this letter.