Friday, June 24, 2011

in which I overuse my new word (more about dad)

One of the odder things I learned in school this year is the new way to use the word "fraught."  I thought when you said something was "fraught" it was always followed by "with...."  As in, fraught with peril, or fraught with challenge, or fraught with difficulty.  But now you can say something is "fraught" all by itself, and it means that it is difficult, challenging, perilous, or just plain old complicated.

So if you've been around awhile, you'll know my relationship with my dad was fraught.  It was all of those things:  difficult, challenging, and definitely complicated.  (perilous might be a bit of a stretch, but there were a few times it felt that way.)  So I wasn't sure what to expect when he died.  I wasn't sure how it would feel.  We each made numerous, numerous attempts to bridge the gulf between us, and none of them were entirely successful.  I'll tell you why that was, in my opinion-- because he was incapable of accepting responsibility for any of the havoc he caused in my life.  His solution to bridge the gap between us was for me to forget everything negative about him.  I wanted to bridge the gap with honesty, with telling the truth about what it was like.  He wanted me to forget anything bad ever happened.  Oh, dear, this wasn't where I was planning on going with this.  Obviously for the two or three of you who read here and knew him, that is an enormously one-sided take on things.  But this is my blog, and I can't speak from his perspective even if I wanted to.  I can only speak my own words.

Anyway.  there were a couple of years (ten years ago? twelve?) when we were literally not speaking to each other, but things had improved since then.  I gave up my bitterness and resentment toward him years ago-- or at least the bulk of it, it still surfaces now and again.  I've held him in a benign, distant sort of acknowledgement for a long time.  You're my dad, I'm your daughter.  It was just too difficult for me to do any more than that, because his twisted reality wreaked too much havoc with my own.  We'd see each other once a year or so (not bad given that we lived 2,000 miles apart), we called occasionally, we kept track of what was going on in each other's lives.  Well, actually, that was mainly one-sided-- he'd tell me about his stepsons and their kids, and I would listen.  Usually he would remember to ask about my kids, but not always.  It worked for me, and he seemed happy with it, too. 

Last summer he made one more attempt (and props to him for being the one to initiate it), which failed dismally in at least one way-- it convinced me once and for all that he was never going to be able to see things from my perspective.  Rather than any kind of acknowledgement of my experience, he wanted me to feel sorry for him because it had been so difficult for him when we were estranged.  But it succeeded in another way-- it laid to rest any anxiety I had that I should keep trying.  He just wasn't capable of what I wanted from him, and I love (loved) him anyway.  And he loved me in his own way, as much as he could. We were so very much alike; I suppose it was inevitable that our relationship would be fraught.  Is that forgiveness?  I'm not sure. 

So for the last year of his life, there was a sort of settled acceptance between us.  D├ętente. It was nice.  I liked it.  We talked more (though still not often), and he spent some time with MadMax, whom he loved very much.  But I wasn't sure how it would be when he died.  Would I wish I had tried harder?  Would I regret that I didn't give in and accept his reality so that we could be close?  Would I even care that he was gone?  Would my life actually be simpler without having to worry about my fraught relationship with him? 

I think I spent the first week or so in denial-- not surprising, since for most of it, I was traveling.  And traveling and traveling.  But now that we're back home, I find that although I have yet to feel any sense of regret (which may be yet to come, I'm not ruling it out), I have definitely been mourning him.  It has surprised me a little.  It's not something I feel all the time, but once or twice a day, a wave of sadness comes over me-- sometimes even strong enough that I find tears running down my cheeks.  Sadness for what could have been, I suppose, but also sadness that my dad is gone, that the unique person that he was is no longer in my life.   There's a hole there, no matter how difficult he was, a hole no one else can fill.  Today would have been his 79th birthday.  My sister said she ate maraschino cherries today in his honor-- he loved maraschino cherries-- and maybe I will think up something like that, too.

I read back over this and realized that by not telling you the details of things that happened long ago, I run the risk of making myself sound like a harridan who couldn't forgive her sick, aging father for his minor sins.  And I guess I'll just have to accept that, because at this point I'm not going to drag all the crap back out and air it publicly.  I could.  I could tell you details of things that happened in an attempt to convince you it was as painful as I'm telling you it was.  but you know, I just can't do it.  Partly because someday my kids will have their say and I certainly am not a perfect parent.  But mainly, I'm just not going there.  I've dealt with it-- I have years of therapy bills (and a good dose of peace) to show for it.  I'd rather leave it back there in the past where it belongs.


  1. Processing a death/relationship like this one is difficult, it was for me when my sister died. I don't believe in regret so I'm glad to see how you are being honest in all of your feelings. It's sadder to me when a person beats herself up over this type of loss and the "what ifs" than when she just looks at the whole and acknowledges it truthfully.

    You are doing beautifully! And you said it all with such eloquence, including the fabulous new word. (I didn't know this, so thanks for the lesson.)

  2. thanks, Julie. as you might guess, my delete finger has been twitching over this one. but so far, it's still here. Although I've been through the deaths of all my grandparents, this is the first time I've had to deal with the death of someone who had a definite, major presence in my life. I've heard from many that it takes a long time, and that it comes and goes, and moves in cycles rather than a straight line. Which may mean more posts on this topic, although I fear I'm boring you all to death.

  3. Do I need to come over there and remove that Delete key from your machine?!

    It does take time, and it does go in cycles. Oddly so in fact.

    Never boring. Not even close.

  4. My relationship with my dad wasn't perfect, either. I was prepared for his death. Still, I was surprised. Surprised by the fact that the energy of the world at large changed a little when it was minus his presence.
    Now I find myself saying phrases and realizing, they came directly from him.
    It will get better with time.

  5. If you even think about deleting any of it I will just have to come to your house and have a chat with you...and it won't be pretty. Your blog, your truth. And some of us who knew your dad can understand what you are saying.

  6. Thank you, Debbie. That is a gift.

  7. Barb-
    Thank you.
    Not so much for the comments on your dad, but on a preview of my life. I have my own fraught relationships.