Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Communicating With My Father

After the biopsy, towards the end of the day, I had one of those moments when I really really wanted to talk to my mother. Of course, that's not a realistic option anymore -- at least if I want to hear an actual voice speaking back to me. So I did the next best thing -- I called my father. Or at least tried to. The cell phone rang and rang with no answer. Then I tried the house phone, knowing that it would go to voicemail, as he's barely ever there. I tried the cell phone again that evening, the next morning, and again at lunchtime.

He called me back almost 30 hours after I made the first phone call. By that time I had deduced that he had left his cell phone in his car. And by that time, I was also livid. What if it had been a real emergency?

He then reacted precisely the way that I thought he would: dismissive of the whole ordeal. Some of it is because he's been through similar procedures, but part of it is that by acting as if it's nothing, he makes it nothing. I understand that; I tend to do the same thing. I am very much like him.

It's funny. In terms of father-daughter dynamics, all things considered, the two of us are pretty close. My mother used to joke that the first thing she remembered me saying was "Mommy you can leave now; Daddy's home." He was a good dad when we were little -- he read to us, and played with us, and generally treated us like grown-ups. I've never really had to edit myself in front of him, and he's always encouraged me. It was a very laissez-faire style of parenting, to say the least. Still, I do occasionally wonder how many of my decisions were made to please him instead of myself, and I often think that his expectations of me are awfully high, but in my heart, I know that he loves me no matter what.

The relationship has been more complicated since my mom died and he suddenly became an only parent. I sometimes hold him to a higher standard of parenting -- a more involved standard of parenting, similar to that of my mom. And he couldn't possibly meet that standard, even on his best day. So I get frustrated with him. Sometimes it's justified, sometimes it's not. And I'm not sure how much of it he knows or he doesn't know, because he's not particularly perceptive and he's not much of a communicator. And actually, the latter is one of the litany of reasons -- some real, some imagined -- that causes me to get upset.

During the summer, we were barely speaking. He explained that he felt that "No news is good news," and that I would call if I needed anything. In the meantime, I was feeling that if he cared about me, he would pick up the goddamn phone and check up on me.

I eventually gave in. I called him -- and called him an asshole. Lucky for me, he takes things like that in stride. And while things haven't been exactly fantastic since then, at least we're speaking. Plus he acknowledged my birthday, which was a vast improvement from last year.

And at times, our relationship is very good. During Hanukkah, I called him, just to make a joke that I thought he would find particularly funny as an accountant, a Jew, and a man who prides himself on thriftiness. "Hey Dad, did you know that if you saved the extra candle in the box of Hanukkah candles every year for 44 years, it's like getting a box for free?" He laughed.

During the course of that conversation, he said something that was, on the one hand, really sweet, and on the other hand, not particularly diplomatic. And I took it like most compliments: badly. I told him that Mom would have never said anything so undiplomatic. At first he responded in jest, but then turned serious, saying that the worst thing that could possibly have happened was my mother dying first, because he knows that I lost both my mom and my best friend.

My eyes filled with tears. Not just because it was true, and sad -- but because it was unusually perceptive, given the source.

So I said, "You know Dad, you're really not so bad." And I meant it, at least in that moment.

It never lasts.


angelynn said...

This hit home for me. My relationship with my dad is very similar. We of course have different circumstances and complaints, but the relationship is just like that. It always floors me to read a post while thinking this is exactly it. Thank you.

dara said...

I think that it's a common thing for men of his generation (he's almost 70). They love their wives, their kids, etc., but, with rare exceptions, don't know how to say it or otherwise show it.

The subject matter also affects the conversation. When I cry, he leaves the room. When I start talking about girly things, he puts his girlfriend on the phone. But when I talk about work, he can converse for hours.

honeykbee said...

We really are following similar paths, and not just with banana bread and weather complaints.

Kate said...

I felt a connection with this post, as well. I love my dad, and as much as I want to talk to him the way I talk to my mom, it doesn't work. I try, and I always end up feeling very frustrated. I know he cares, but he's never really known how to express it with words.

thinkingtoohard said...

I haven't spoken to my father since 1995. I've seen him at weddings and funerals and he pretends I don't exist. This post touched me, deeply. Even if it doesn't last, savor it.

dara said...

I'm trying to follow the Buddhist advice to not have expectations of others and to just be kind. So I'm trying to get over my desire that my dad step up and do some parenting, the way my mom used to. It's hard.

It's funny -- everyone has their own weird relationships with their parents, but some things seem universal. I'm pretty sure that it's the inability to communicate with the ones you love that resonates with everyone.

thinkingtoohard said...

"I'm pretty sure that it's the inability to communicate with the ones you love that resonates with everyone."
Well Amen to that. And to trying to get your father to parent. Mine never did either.
GREAT blog. Great piece on Indieink today, too.