MY FATHER, THE PAPA MY CHILDREN LOVED
One of the best things about being a mom has been the experience of watching my parents be grandparents. This was especially true of my father, who died four years ago this week – October 16, 2007 – at the far too young age of 67. To watch him being the fun, loving, kind grandfather that he was really born to be was enormously gratifying, and kind of a reconciliation.
|My father – 1977|
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, when my behavior and demeanor drastically changed after a cross country move at the age of 14. I do remember being enchanted by him 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 difficult. He had very little good luck and even less common sense, and it caught up with him. For all his charm, his great sense of humor, his knack for being the consummate party host, be it backyard barbecues or all night poker games, my father never really understood what it meant to be responsible for anything…and that was his downfall. He was a dreamer, a gambler, immune to anyone’s advice or opinions – and having lost his own father when he was 26, he’d somehow also lost the ability to see the writing on the wall, no matter how big the font may have been.
But then, my children were born.
My father became Papa, and he was the most loving and involved grandfather I could have asked for. Though he still stumbled through his life, continuing to veer off course instead of following the road he was on, when he was with my children, all of that was forgotten – and 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, and, for a time when things were bad for him, even lived with us for a while. My son and my father had a particularly special bond, beginning with their shared birthday, and culminating, at the end of his life, with the thrill my father, a huge football fan, got from watching my son play football in high school. 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.
|Adam and Papa – 2001|
The greatest part, though, was I ultimately 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 as his “darlin’ daughter,” as he sometimes called me, but as a grown woman taking care of my family. He grew to respect me in a way he never had before, and I learned to love him despite whatever pain he might have caused me as I was growing up. The similarities in our personalities became more apparent as I grew older, and I could hear my father in my voice on more than a few occasions…as could my husband! 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 I was 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 – more importantly – 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 – and beat him up badly, as cancer does. We did everything we could to help him, to be there for him, to love him – and losing him was by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever been through. Because in the end, though I knew I’d told him I loved him so many times, and shown him in so many ways, it just didn’t seem like I’d done enough. What I’ve come to realize is that’s what it means to miss someone you love after they die. You never feel as though you’re finished with them, but there’s no more time. I miss him every day.
|My father – 2005|
I’m not a very spiritual person, but every so often I have a dream about my father that seems so real, it’s as if he’s come to visit me in my sleep, and it affects me so profoundly…and though I’m sad, I’m also very grateful. Because, even if it’s only in a dream, I get to see him and hear his voice again – and to let him know just how much he is still with me, with all of us.