Monday, November 17, 2014

The Song My Father Taught Me

When my brother, Jim, was born, it was clear that something big had happened in my family.  Apparently, having a boy after two girls was a cause for great celebration. One year later, when my youngest sister was born, Jim became firmly enthroned as “the only boy”. He was a big deal. I knew my parents loved me, but I would never have the status of “only” anything. I was just in grade school, but I began to learn the “song” that being male was part of being good enough. I realized that I could never be my father’s only son, but I could work hard to be as much of a companion to him as my brother. I watched whatever Daddy watched on TV (westerns, Sunday night Mystery Theater, and—years later—football). I watched/helped him work on his big semi-trucks. I learned to ride our small motorcycle and I loved riding with him on his big bike. Other than some questionable food choices of his (lima beans and liver), if Daddy liked something—so did I. If I couldn’t be his son, I would get as close as I could—I would learn to sing that song somehow!

Daddy and I always had fun together and I have many happy memories of times we spent together. My favorite is a practical joke we played on Barb one afternoon. Daddy was sitting on the porch and enjoying a beer. He had been working on his truck and I had been hanging out with him most of that time. He was joking with me and asking if I wanted a sip; he knew I would say no, because I thought it smelled nasty. All of a sudden, he said “I bet we can convince your sister that you like it”. I didn’t believe him, but it sounded intriguing, so I asked him how. He took the bottle that was nearly empty and rinsed it out and put lemonade in it. When Barb walked by, I took a long draw on that bottle and grinned at her, asking if she would like some, too. The look on her face said it all! She definitely didn’t want any, and it turned out to be hard to convince her it was actually lemonade.

Daddy was gone a lot when I was young; his job as an owner/operator long-distance truck driver meant that he had to go where the work was. We lived in Ohio, but often the work was on the West Coast and other times it was down in Texas. Many times, it took him away from home for three or four weeks at a time. His homecoming was special every single time. Daddy wasn’t like other fathers who were cold and distant; he was affectionate and gave wonderful bear hugs. When he came home, he would squat down and we would all run to him for the love we had missed while he was gone. I know now that my parents’ marriage had been troubled for years, but they never let their children glimpse the difficulty they were having. We never had a lot of money, but I always felt like my childhood was very rich in love and laughter.

Yes, I was definitely a “Daddy’s girl”. But, that all stopped a couple of months before my 14th birthday—the day my whole world fell apart. The day my father moved out of our home, my broken heart took the blame. As I looked at the time we spent together through the eyes of a young girl I decided that I wasn’t enough. I would never be enough to keep him there. My brother went to visit Daddy two years later and never returned home. Jim was enough, he was the one that Daddy wanted to have with him all the time and I was not.

For six years, my father was mostly absent from my life. He missed teaching me to drive, seeing my performance at St. John’s Cathedral in Spokane, and my high school graduation. For a few years, my step-mom signed my birthday cards, until I told her to stop sending them, if he couldn’t sign them himself.

Since school was the one area I’d always felt I was able to prove my worthiness, I dove back into my schoolwork, trying to convince my father that I was worth coming back for. I told myself, irrationally, that if I could just keep that 4.0 GPA, he would be so proud of me that nothing could keep him away. Physical Education and Typing class became my academic nemeses—lowering my GPA to an unacceptable 3.8. I was so disappointed in myself, because I knew he would never come to my graduation. I didn’t want to invite him. I can’t even remember if I did.

All I could see was the glaring evidence that I would never be good enough, because I wasn’t a boy. All that effort was wasted. I could never be what my father wanted most. I could never be what Jim already was—a son.

You might think that I would never have forgiven my father for his absence. But, I did. Most of the people in my life didn’t understand it then, and some still don’t. When I was 19, I decided I wanted to see my father again. I can’t remember if I called or wrote to him, but the result was an invitation to visit for a month during the summer of 1983. It was a very good visit and, over the next year, Daddy and I repaired our relationship with grace and acceptance. I realized that even the gravest mistakes can be forgiven. I began to understand how the people we love the most are in the position to cause our greatest pain. I learned to accept him for who he was—good and bad. My father and I would gradually reestablish the comfortable companionship we had enjoyed when I was a child.  

But, it could never be the same. Choices have consequences. Wounds leave scars. During those five years apart, I had learned some painful songs that could never be “un-learned”. In his absence, other men had stepped into the role of father-figure in my life. Some of those experiences had hurt and some had healed, but all of them had changed me.

My father’s love will always be something I crave and his companionship will always be easy and comfortable. I will never be his son, but I can learn to sing my true song.

I’ve learned that Daddy loves me just the way I am.

1 comment:

  1. Sandi, what a beautiful post! I can feel your pain as a child and really respect your decision to forgive your dad just as our Father has forgiven us!! I love reading these Mockingbird posts and can't wait for the next one!