One of the best things about being a mom has been the experience of watching my parents become grandparents. This was especially true of my father, who died four years ago at the far too young age of 67. To watch him being the fun, loving, kind grandfather that he was probably born to be was so gratifying, and kind of a reconciliation.
My father would never have been voted father of the year, not by a long shot – though his intentions were good, his behavior…not so much. I always knew that he loved me, though he sometimes had a hard time showing it as I grew from a little girl to a teenager. Things became impossible between us after our family moved cross country when I was fourteen. He was enchanting when I was a child – he was my big, strong, handsome daddy who would swoop me up in his arms and calm my fears when I had nightmares, who would watch Batman with me and take me with him on Saturdays to get the car washed. But my father was a difficult man. He had very little good luck and even less common sense, and it caught up with him. My father had a hard time understanding what it meant to be responsible for anything…and that was his downfall. He was a dreamer, a gambler, and he never listened to anyone. He always knew best.
Then, my children were born, and my father became Papa. When he was with my children, he was amazing. He got such joy from being part of their lives as they grew up. He went to their sporting events, cheering loudly (very loudly!), and spent countless evenings at our house for dinner. For a while, when things were bad for him, he lived with us. My son and my father had a particularly special bond, beginning with their shared birthday. When my father was battling cancer for the first time, watching my son play high school football was one of the few things he could find the energy to enjoy. He gave so much love to my kids, and they loved him back so purely – because none of his shortcomings, his imperfections, or the mistakes he made had any bearing on them at all. With them, he could just be Papa, with no real responsibility or accountability – and so they got the best of him.
I finally got the best of him too. Now that I was a mother, I could relate to him in a different way – and he finally could see me not simply as his “darlin’ daughter,” as he liked to call me, but as a grown woman taking care of my family. One of the things I learned when I became a parent was how easy it is to make mistakes, to make bad choices, to miss the moment because one is too busy looking at the big picture. I began to understand my father in a way I never had before, and we became closer, and -even better- more comfortable with each other.
When my father was diagnosed with Lymphoma at 65, it was the beginning of a difficult three years – for him, of course, but for all of us who loved him, too. The disease took away what he prized the most – his physical strength and independence. We did everything we could to help him, to be there for him, to love him. Losing him was by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever been through. But as time has passed and we continue to talk about him, laugh at things he would have found funny, and remember him and all that was unique about him, the mistakes made seem less important than the love we felt.
I’m not a very spiritual person, but every so often I have a dream about my father that seems hauntingly real. I wake up from these dreams feeling sad, but grateful. I am so glad to have the chance to once again see his face, hear his voice, and tell him how much I miss him – how much we all miss him.