Sunday, June 19, 2011

a daughter tips her hat

For the record? I don't have the greatest father in the world. Most of the people who know my Dad would be shocked to hear me say that. He has one of the biggest fan clubs imaginable, and if you met him you would understand why. I understand why. He's very personable, interested in people, listens, is compassionate and empathetic, kind and generous. He can laugh at himself and express the depths of his soul in eloquent words. He's smart and creative and inquisitive, and he's not afraid of pushing the envelope.

But Dad has deep wounds that, although he's worked to understand them, he hasn't been willing to risk their healing. Those wounds get in the way of intimacy and connection at the deep levels where it matters. Or at least they did while I was growing up and becoming an adult.

In early adulthood I tried to build a new relationship with my father as two adults. Again and again he disappointed me, until one day I realized that I  had to change my expectations. I didn't lower my expectations to avoid disappointment. Instead I got to know the man who was my father, and came to understand who he was and what had shaped the person he had become and was becoming. That change on my part made all the difference in the world toward opening a door to relationship with him.

A new perspective also made it possible to see him as others did. When I was in seminary he came down to New Haven to take me and my roommates out to dinner. One of my roommates was a med student (Dad is a doctor), and as he engaged her in conversation over dinner I got a glimpse of the professional so respected among his peers, and other medical professionals with whom he worked. It was a rare moment of objective appraisal that I cherish.

Dad had polio as a child, and in his elder years the consequences of that illness have contributed to a significant physical fragility.  He cannot walk on his own, and even the use of a walker puts such a strain on his upper body that the walker is only useful for short distances. That doesn't stop him from trying to cover greater distances, to his peril. On my recent visit home I arrived at his house in the midst of one of those less successful attempts at ambulation. Unable to support his weight, he had fallen. But he raised himself to his knees and, using the walker for support, shuffled his way to the front door to let me in. We then struggled to help him get upright again so that he could return to his spot on the couch in the living room. It took multiple efforts and resilient determination on the part of my father, but we managed to get him where he needed to be.

In the face of this lifestyle Dad is bored, but uncomplaining. Caught vulnerable on his knees, he was not embarrassed or self-conscious. He sees his current physical state as a natural--if unfortunate--evolution. He rolls with the punch.

I didn't get the father I wanted, but as his daughter I have access to a man that I admire greatly in many, many ways, and for that I am thankfuul. On this day of honoring Dads I honor the man who is my Dad, and I am glad to do so.


Jayne said...

You know, I've often realized that part of becoming an adult is realizing that often times (no, pretty much most times), our parents do the very best they can do. The ability to see them as frail human beings in this world (who maybe didn't get what THEY needed) makes a world of difference when you want to hurl blame that you didn't grow up in Leave it to Beaver's house. I applaud you and your love so well expressed.

Terri said...

Shay Jayne said. My parents, too...both of them.

Mary Beth said...

This is beautiful. Jayne's realization is perfect: they are who they are and they did the best they could for us.

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