August 9, 2010

Dads march into daughters' lives

I smile everytime I watch this video of a "It's a Dad's life," marveling at how expectations of what dads do, should do, will do has changed over the years.

We've moved dad's role from main money man to one more involved with every aspect of their children's lives. I cringe everytime I hear a father say he's babysitting his kids, a line I have never heard a mother say. I envy dads who play daily with their kids, who drive them places and never require a DNA check.

Jealous, of course

Summer is when I miss my dad the most. We built some pretty good memories around Christmas too. Mostly though, we postponed.

We started postponing when I first discovered the earring that was not my mother's. Someday, he would say, I would understand why.

We continued as I struggled to understand why he forgot to come get the five of us for bowling or sledding or whatever dad-time outing was planned. Someday, he would say, I would understand why you work when you can,  why there was so little to say, why it was hard to for him to be around.

The first divorce

That divorce way back in the 1960s made our family unusual in the neighborhood, our schools, and especially our church. It changed our childhood as we became the first family to have a mom who worked, who celebrated Christmas twice, who skipped most events requiring a dad.

Someday, he said we would be closer, someday when I was older.

Once I had my driver's license, it was easier for us to meet him at his house on the lake. In winter, the trip almost always meant a new scratch on the car when I hit the tree at the bottom of the hill. In summer, there were boat rides, barbecues and chats by the grill.

Mismatched visions

He did not understand why I went to college or why I continued after marrying that nice young man. He expected I'd used my cooking, sewing, household skills for my own family, not knowing how tired I was of that life.

Still, he sent what he could. His campus visits almost always included a football game, a nice dinner out and a little extra cash slipped into my pocket. He was at the wedding. He was dad-proud at graduation.

Years later, he said he was sorry for telling me to stay married, sharing he was afraid I would follow his lead of multiple marriages and divorces and not recognizing the abuse, my cry for help, my need for my dad.

Birth breaks barrier

We repeated years of silence as I slipped into single life, wild life and then a new married life. Wisely, we let the birth of my daughter wipe out  the barriers that led to month after month of no contact.

Christmas became fun again as he and my stepmother spoiled the grandchildren. Summers meant pontoon boat rides, grilled steaks, and water things like splashing and fishing.

Pattern continues

Mostly though we continued our postponing tradition.

Some day, but not this year, we would decorate the pantoon and participate in the Fourth of July water parade that took place in his "backyard."

Some time, but not now, we would look through photos and try to match memories and names and he would tell me stories of his growing up.

Some winter, but not right now, he would help replace the kitchen cabinets in the "new house." He had recognized the cabinets the first time he visited. They were  cabinets from the company he worked at from high school until the end.

We postponed fishing trips, visits and calls.

Mismatched visions

I miss my dad right now because he would be taking me out on the deck for a private chat and a what-for. He spoke plainly and hated my ideas of what I thought life and love and work should be. He'd help me shake the blues, finding the rightness of now.

He thought the buyout was a great idea, giving me time to do nothing, to do crafts, to relax. He thought I deserved an easy ending to counter the hard start. He thought maybe nothingness would ease the pains of multiple sclerosis.

Mostly though, he thought we would have more time together. Instead, he postponed sharing symptoms with doctors, he postponed treatments but he couldn't postpone death.

Not so surprising is how my dad's death is linked to the grandchild that reopened our grill gabs, dad-daughter dreaming and predictable postponements. He died from cancer on the day my daughter started her cancer treatments.