Father’s Day for the Dysfunctional Family

Today is Father’s Day, the day where dads receive ties (not so much now) and get to blissfully barbecue.  They are admired by their spouses/ partners and their children.  They are the dads who play video games, teach sports, cook, clean, chauffeur, reluctantly discipline, have the hard talks, teach defense, work hard, fix things, fix more things (or call someone to fix them), drink beer (or wine) but who are always there for their kids.  Or so the ideals and greeting cards want you to believe.  And I know there are a lot of dads out there that fit that bill, probably the majority of fathers do.  Oh, they aren’t perfect, just like Mom’s, they mess up once in a while but it is a mistake and not a pattern.

I’ve mentioned before I grew up in a very dysfunctional, alcoholic home.  By the time I was 12, my parents had divorced and my father had migrated back to Missouri.  I was relieved though saddened, that he was no longer part of my life then.  From then on, it was my mom, my sister and I.  My relationship with my father was to say the least dysfunctional.  He has also been gone since early June 2002.  For the most part, my life has been without a father there for me.  I know that kids grown up without one all the time.  They may have lost theirs early on to an accident or illness, it is very tragic.  However, I had one for years and well, I was never much on his radar, he was fighting his own demons.

I did have my maternal grandfather as an example.  He was more “dad-like” than my father.  My uncles.  I had Dad role models.  Though none of them lived close by.  We would see them occasionally.  Am I worse off not having a strong father figure?  One that was caring and involved in my life?  Who honestly knows.  I made poor choice in men however until later in life.  Was I seeking someone who was emotionally unavailable to mimic the relationship I had with my father?  Probably.  Would I have picked someone better for me if I had grown up in a more “normal” home?  I have no idea.  Maybe or maybe not.  Children of intact homes get divorced all the time, so that really can’t be determined.

Then there is my children’s father.  MIA as usual.  We divorced when our youngest daughter was 2 almost 3 after a year of separation.  For awhile, until I remarried 6 years later, there was every other weekend though for them it wasn’t joyous.  He had gone on some new religious tear, the one that doesn’t allow Harry Potter or trick or treating.  His new wife didn’t appreciate the girls invading her space and referred to them as ‘guests”.  The pair seemed determined to tear down their self-esteem so they could feel better about themselves.  Then when I remarried the 2nd time, their dad decided to move to South Carolina.  The girls felt rejected and unwanted.  He moved back for awhile but they never reconnected even remotely.  Then he returned to South Carolina where he has stayed.  He never calls, messages, texts, IM’s or even likes their stuff on FaceBook.  He didn’t bother to show for our youngest’s high school graduation even though the date had been set for several years, they were vacationing in Myrtle Beach.  His priorities are quite evident to all.

I feel bad about picking someone like him to marry.  I have amazing daughters but I feel bad that their father is so self-centered.  But is it all bad?   Maybe not.  They are very fierce, very independent and very outspoken girls.  I used the adversity of their father trying to preach to them and tell them how they were wrong for drawing dragons, that women could not be preachers and all that other rot he wanted to impart on them, to stand up for themselves, to be themselves and to never be afraid of authority.  If he had been the perfect dad, we had stayed together and everything been like it is portrayed in the movies, would they be the amazing women they are today?  I can’t answer that either but when I watch one of them stick up for someone else who is not able to or too shy to do it, I think maybe it was meant to be this way.

They haven’t clung to boyfriends or rushed to get married.  My youngest the other day has a serious boyfriend and she was talking about how he wants to live in a city when he graduates college.  She looks at me and says Mom, I told him that if we are together, I am not living in a city.  He is just going to have to compromise to be with me.  I smiled at her and said yes, it’s about compromise. She continued on about possiblites of living near a city so they could both have some of what they want.  Compromise is great, but what I loved most about that was she isn’t like me at that age.  I moved to the city to be with the boy because it is what he wanted.  I was miserable and ended up depressed.   I ignored my needs to be loved.   She isn’t willing to do this and she expects nothing less than compromise out of both of them.

Now my daughters are not without a “dad”.  Their stepfather of seven years is here every day for them.  He grills and fixes things, he helps to provide a good living for all of us, he watches over them even though they don’t realize he does.  And he loves them very much and has always quietly looked out for them and their needs.  He is the example I wanted them to have of how a man should treat the people they love.  What it is like to be with someone or have someone in your life who unlike their biological father, puts them first at times rather than puts themselves first at all times.  So their biological dad may be MIA, but the dad that chose them and their mother is here every single day because he wants to be, not because he has to be.  He has no blood relation to any of them.

Dads come in many shapes and sizes.  Your biological father may have been MIA in your life for whatever reason.  The hardest is when they choose to not be part of your life or have an addiction/ mental illness (such as mine) that makes it impossible for them to be a father.  But “Fathers” come in many different ways.  Grandparents, Uncles, a stepfather, an older brother or cousin, a family friend.   Sometimes you just can’t get hung up on blood and you have to embrace the men who willingly step into that patriarchal role out of choice and out of love.

My Dad may be gone for 13 years now but I can remember some good times, some good memories.  Enough time has passed that I can understand that he hadn’t willingly rejected me, that he struggled with something bigger than himself.  I can be upset with my children’s biological father for making choices that ensured he was not part of their lives but I have decided that is simply his loss, and maybe their gain as they were never happy around his judgments.  That I was brought together with a man who loves all four of us and takes care of us without us ever having to ask.  We are really blessed to have him in our lives.

Happy Father’s Day, to all the myriad of types of ‘Dads’ out there.  Go grill something, drink a beer, watch some sports, and pretend you like the gifts we got you.  You’re freaking awesome!

Advertisements

The Art of Writing

Yesterday as I was walking around a large arts festival between downpours, I saw all sorts of amazing creations.  I’m a bit jaded as my daughters are hugely artistic.  I do photography, though not seriously, mostly for my own enjoyment.  I sketch a bit but a sixth grader can overshadow my work pretty easily.  There were artists from all over the country there with all sorts of media from paint, to wood, to metal, to fabric, to jewelry and mixed media.  Anything you could think of was housed in those white tents lining the streets and bridges.  Of course everything I liked was priced out of what I would be willing to pay for it but I am cheap.  And we have been trying to downsize our possessions, not add to them.  So it would have to be a work of art that would absolutely move me for me to even purchase it.

There was so much talent residing in that one area, it started me thinking.  My one real art that I am passionate about is writing.  No, I don’t pen fabulously crafted sentences with prose that other authors would envy.  My writing is pretty straight forward, like my personality.  My strength seems to be empathy not creativity so much.  I write in a voice that others hear in their own heads and hearts.  I can paint a picture with words but it won’t be flowery and chock full of adjectives describing the scene to the minute degree.  I like to keep it moving.  When I read and start getting mired in overly descriptive paragraphs about nothing, my natural tendency toward efficiency will have me skimming the lines until I find some real action again.   Some readers love an author who will wax poetic for long stints.  Me, I think, what’s next?  What happens next?

Driving home alone after being rained out of the festival, I opened the sunroof of my truck, letting the warm, humid air blow through the cab.  If I can help it, every vehicle I own from now on will have a sunroof.  Even if it’s a junker.  I love the sky above me and the air blowing through the roof.  I turned up my music and enjoyed watching the dance of the fading sun and storm clouds in the horizon knowing soon, I’d have to shut the sunroof when the next round of rain came upon me.  This is summer at it’s best for me.  Just being able to open the windows and not freeze.  Moments like these make me feel inspired.

I have been thinking about reinvention and second acts that are popular with my age group (middle aged).  People ruse being middle aged as the approach to the end.  As if “middle aged” is a bad word or words.  What people don’t realize is that while yes, you are past that ‘young’ era but that isn’t necessarily a negative thing.  I sat in a bar/restaurant yesterday that caters to the younger, hipster crowd noting that I was one of the oldest people in there.  My daughter and her boyfriend love this place and it does have fabulous food and atmosphere.  I’m overhearing conversations, watching the interactions of these 20-somethings, maybe 30-somethings and thinking I am so glad I am 45.  There is a wisdom and freedom with this age and older.  You have passed a lot of the frivolous drama, marriage and raising kids or at the later part of raising kids.

I also realized that I have much in common with what was either in college or just out of college kids.  I have my whole life ahead of me albeit about 20 so more years into the process.  But I have this advantage over them.  Many of them will be getting married and having children (or adopting etc for same sex couples).  I’ve already experienced this part of my life.  I am financially stable and less encumbered.  I’ve learned many lessons in life already (and will continue to learn) that I can use to my advantage.  I’m not too old for most things.  If an 80 year old woman can become a DJ in night clubs, imagine what I can do?  I may not be joining the military or doing Ironman competitions because of my knee problems but I still have the chance to become a best-selling writer if I’d ever publish something.

I saw all those artists today who have put their work out there for the world, that are pursuing their goals and I realized I can write all I want but until I start actually finishing something I can submit, my work is going to go unnoticed outside of this blog.   As far as the reinvention which is really not that, but more about experiencing life and not limiting myself to what I am today, it’s about stepping out of my comfort zone.  Exploring things as I would have when I was younger.  Actually, it’s not reinventing anything, it’s simply living my life to the fullest.  Taking some chances, stop being so safe all the time.  Trying on different hats.  Stretching the imagination.

Middle aged isn’t a death sentence as everyone wants you to believe.  It’s a new beginning.

The Many Shades of Grief

It has been several months since I posted a blog entry as I really have had nothing to write about.  Or maybe, I have and I just haven’t felt like writing.  This morning I was lying in bed thinking about the previous day where my husband and I worked in our yard, trimming back all the many bushes that grows in our quarter of acre patch.  Working in the yard since my mother passed March of 2014, is bittersweet to say the least.  She is the one who walked into this house the summer of 2000 while I was a single mother and said, Laura, this is your house, I can feel it.  And so it is and has been for almost fifteen years.

When I moved into the house it had precisely two lines of honeysuckle bushes lining the back yard, evergreens in the front, one old maple, one old crabapple and two ash trees by the front street in the city-owned strip.  Now it is full of anything that flowers.  Over the years my mom and I have bought things for this yard, I have divisions of plants that come from my great-grandmother’s yard.  We pass down plants like some people pass down family heirlooms such as an antique clock or jewelry.  You can’t be from my mom’s side of the family and not want to dig in the dirt.  So now when I work in my yard, it is like walking among a tapestry of memories.  Here is the lilacs my grandmother gave me years ago.  Here are the forsythia bushes my mom bought me on sale a the nursery.  Almost every plant is tied to a memory including ones my kids bought me for Mother’s Day.

As I sat on my front porch after we had completed a long overdue task as I let much of the yard work go last year because I couldn’t even bear to even pull weeds in my gardens full of memories, I felt so restless.  My husband recently asked if we could look for a new house in a town about 20 minutes south of our current one so he could cut down his hour drive to work.  We had talked about it when we first got together, moving about halfway once my daughters had graduated high school.  This of course started a ripple of anxiety, stress and uncertainty in me.  On one hand I wanted to dig in and say well we don’t owe much on this house, why go into debt and on the other hand, I did make that promise to him seven years prior.  The search has netted little.  We did make an offer on a house outside of town that I think we both thought would work but neither of us was thrilled with the idea of living there.

The only house that really excited us was pushing our mortgage limit.  It is also a uniquely designed home from the late 1970’s that would be hard to sell.  It’s already been on the market over two years so we would have to really commit to this home.  But as we put the mortgage payment that would accompany this 5 bedroom, 5 bath, 6 level house tucked in the woods, we cringe at what it does to our discretionary money.  There just isn’t much left over.  We reconsidered it last night after a month of letting it sit on the discussion table, even driving by it and thinking oh how perfect it is for us because it’s secluded and everyone else in this “neighborhood” seems to be just like us.  Wanting to be left alone.  Coming home, he ran the numbers and said it just makes us too tight unless they came down significantly.   We sigh and let it go.  Maybe it just isn’t the time to move.  Or maybe deep down we are both struggling with grief and we don’t want to truly move, though that is probably more me than my husband.

However, I have days where I think, I want to start over in a new town.  One that isn’t full of memories and in a house where we just start over.  Then I think about the town that is half way between our jobs and I am less than excited about moving.  It’s a little bigger than my current town, puts me closer to things I do often, more stores, restaurants, etc. but it’s not my dream town.  Then my mind thinks, well do I even want to live in Ohio?  Maybe I want to move back south?  Then I think well maybe we should just bite the bullet on that expensive house.  Then I think no, I don’t want that financial stress.  In other words, I don’t think I know what I want.  There are days I don’t feel I fit in my hometown at all.  And other days it feels like home.  Days where my house feels like a warm, blanket of love and other days where I feel weird and restless in it because I see so many memories that include my mom.

Grief, I realize manifests itself in so many unexpected ways.  For me it can be as simple as weeding around one of the roses my mom bought me that can trigger it.  Walking into the garden section of any local store.  In addition, I am at that point in my life where everything has changed for me.  My daughters are all out of high school, one graduated college and one in college.  They are all independent and my mothering duties are slight.  I no longer have parents to take care of.  People call it empty nest but all my girls still live at home for the moment.  I work in the same place my mom retired from and my middle daughter works.  I walk the halls my mother used to walk for many years.  My life is like a shrine to my mother almost. I live in the same town, in a house she helped me choose and at a job where there are constant reminders of her.  Even some of my documents show the author as being her because the templates she created.   And I was always in her shadow.  She worked her way up to the top of the food chain at our company while I chose to stay in much more quiet roles.  Mostly because I saw what the stress did to her.

Now that I am at a point in my life that it is much like that last year of high school where I am scrambling trying to decide what direction I want my life to take, I find myself quite lost at times.  I realize how short life is so I want to live it to the fullest, do the things that make me happy but I am not really sure what all that is anymore.  What was important to me two years ago is no longer important to me today.  Watching someone die, you realize how little in life is truly important.  I”ve narrowed it down to the people you love, helping others and enjoying life.  What other people think doesn’t matter at all.  What you own doesn’t matter unless you get a lot of enjoyment out of that purchase.  I suppose for me, it is much like waiting for my calling to be revealed.  I sense there is something, not sure what, but it is out there.

Maybe I just am being taught to be patient, maybe I am being given time to heal before suiting up for my next big adventure…