Saturday, January 11, 2014
In Tribute To My Dad
I sit here, thinking about both of my parents. My father unexpectedly transitioned earlier this week in Florida, as unexpectedly as one can get at 86 years old, I imagine. I had spoken with him three times in the first five days of the new year; once just after midnight on New Year's day to wish him well and then later to chat and see how he was doing. Finally we had our normal Sunday call and I alerted him to the NFL playoff game that was going on in frozen Green Bay. And that was it.
There will be no more Sunday calls, no more trying to be heard and understood over the blaring television in the background. Our story is complete and what a story it was.
Like most children of divorced parents there was drama and in our case, quite high pitched drama it was. In the late Seventies, about the same time that I began writing my Christmas poems, I did what most of us do in life; I made a choice. I chose my mom and took sides as the war began with a sudden blast. The passion play had me and my father standing on the front lawn of the family home screaming at one another. I threatened to kill him out of "love" and concern for my mother and the deep personal hurt and betrayal I was feeling.
When you lose the cherished illusion of a happy family setting, it can trigger a massive wave of pitched emotion. I judged him as severely as one can judge a parent. The first lesson I learned is that judgement is a boomerang and in ways that I will not go into here, it returned to me in bitter, ironic and angry fashion as I went through my own divorce years later. As one of my high school teachers reminded us, when you point at someone else remember that you have three fingers pointing back at yourself. Experience has shown me that this is true.
I made hateful, hurtful decisions in the years to come, blowing up all ties with my father's family... my family, by not inviting him to my wedding and then cutting all ties to them when they refused to attend because of my decision. To seal the deal, I did not acknowledge or attend my grandmother's funeral when she transitioned. If one could ever harden hatred and rage into place, I did it well.
In 1996, eighteen years after all of this began, my younger brother (and only sibling) died. With his passing, my mother began the slow decline that lead to her end in 2002. I took her to the service and the funeral meal afterwards in the "belly of the beast," a fractured family setting that included everyone that I had cut off (or never even met) throughout the years. I saw my father there. He looked devastated. There was no conversation with him or any of them. I made another decision, one of the hardest and most emotional ever. I would attempt rapprochement with him.
I wrote him a letter explaining my feelings in the best way that I could. He agreed to meet me over a lunch, one that would last almost three hours. We agreed to try and patch things up. I knew it was a good start because after the meal, he introduced me to his friend who owned the restaurant. He introduced me as his son. For all of the personal, spiritual work I have done in my life, that was one of the most dramatic lessons of forgiveness that I have ever participated in.
Many other lessons in life were experienced over the course of the next seventeen years including a couple of visits to him in Florida after he moved, leaving the cold Northeast behind. Jeri witnessed how one's body can be wracked with pain as you process deep emotions and move the energy during one of those trips that she accompanied me on. In so many ways, my father was one of my greatest teachers and I am thoroughly "amazed and amused" to recognize that.
In the end, the most important thing is that he undoubtedly knew that I loved him and I knew that he loved me, although he would never say those words. He wanted so much to have the rift within his family healed and it proved difficult from both sides. I think that he's beaming now from his new perspective as he knows that this healing has started. Both sides have reached out to one another and tears have already been shed. My one cousin has said to me, "Well, he wanted this to happen and he made sure of it in his own way." Indeed he did; indeed he has.
One last note to bring it back to the start; I think every child would love to believe that they can get their parents back together after separation and divorce. As I sit here, sipping on a cup of Kona coffee, I smile in recognition that I did manage to do that in my own sly way.
In her final years, I had treated my mother to estate plantation Kona coffee. With their permission, I had scattered my mom's ashes in that same plantation on the Big Island of Hawai'i. She was one with the trees whose product she had so enjoyed. I ordered that same coffee as a Father's day gift and had it sent to my dad. "How's the coffee?" I would ask him "Delicious," he would always reply.
I would smile and think about the "family reunion in a cup." Now they both are in on the joke.