22 August 2008
I'm really glad that, despite all the bitching I do here about how things are going to hell in a handbasket, that we live in the times that we do.
One thing we discussed at cousins day was our relationships with our fathers--all four of us, including my mother.
The one thing that I have said has been very difficult for me is watching all the talk about the beauty of the daughter-father relationship. Then Tim Russert came out with his books about his Dad and had a flood of mail from folks who wrote to him about the beautiful relationship they had with their fathers.
I have often (and expressed this here) felt jealous of Jeri because she and Walt have a truly beautiful relationship.
As we compared notes, we realized that each of our daughers have beautiful relationships with their fathers. In fact, while we were slugging down lemondrop martinis, Kathy's daughter, Peach's daughter, and Jeri had all made arrangements to spend the time with their fathers. I joked that I couldn't in my wildest dreams imagine setting aside time to have a special father-daughter time. In fact, there would be nothing I would dread more.
Now, Ned takes me to task when I write negative things about my father. He reminds me that back in the first year of this journal, I wrote a Father's Day entry in which as a Father's Day gift (he had been dead for many years at this time), I forgave him for all the negative things that I remember from my childhood. "Let it go, Mom," he will say to me when I bring things up again.
In truth, I have forgiven my father for the negative things of my childhood -- but "forgiving" doesn't erase a lifetime of memories, and those memories are part of who I am. Sometimes I can learn valuable lessons from thinking back about what happened during those years and how it has contributed to the person I am today....and what can I do about that? (If we didn't relive the events of our childhood, positive and negative, millions of therapists all over the world would be out of business!)
And so it was very, very therapeutic to sit around with three women I love and respect and compare notes about our upbringing, and our relationships with our fathers and what sort of impact those relationships have had upon the adults that we are today.
One complaint that I have always had, and have expressed many times, whether here or to other people, is that I don't ever remember hearing my father tell me he loved me. Oh he said the words, but they were never in the "you're the most special child in the world to me and I love you so much" sort of way but in a "this is a terrible thing about yourself that you need to hear and I'm only telling you this because I love you" sort of way. Big difference.
I expressed that thought yesterday as we were realizing that our adult daughters had all made arrangements to stay home and take care of their fathers just because they knew we were going to be having a good time and they thought someone should have a good time with Dad too.
So I taked about how sad I was that I have no memories of my father ever saying I love you. As it turned out, neither did anybody else. My mother, the elder stateswomen of the group, pointed out that saying those words was just not "done" when she was growing up, or, for that matter, when we were growing up. Men were expected to work and bring home a salary to take care of their family, but it was unusual for a man to actually say "I love you" to his kids. (In comparison to today, where it's very common. Not hearing their father say "I love you" is never going to be a memory that our own kids have! -- how's that for a convoluted sentence?)
We compared notes about our memories of our father. One of us said there were only three times in her life when she could remember having fun with her father. Whenever I think about having fun with my father, one incident immediately comes to mind. It's another of those "moments frozen in time" that I wrote about last month. I'm 4 years old and my father and I had gone to a kind of a park where there was like a little cave sort of structure--it may have been a playhouse, but that's not how it appears to me in my memory. Anyway, I suggested we play house and I would be the Mommy, and I remember pretending to cook something for him. That's all I remember, then the memory fades. But I remember being so happy being there with him.
I wondered if I could come up with three memories, and, with work, I could. That's not to say that life with my father was all dour. Far from it. My mother has said, rightly so, that she never laughed as much as when she was with my father...and she is always quick to point out that she never cried as much either. My father was a fun guy. Had a fabulous sense of humor, was always doing crazy things to make people laugh. But when I remember those times, I can't help remembering how most of those fun times ended -- with him getting angry about something, stalking off, and then not speaking to us for days at a time. If he did fun things with other people, he would come home tired, and get angry with us because he had to do something for someone else. I remember when he spent a day giving a tour of San Francisco to a bunch of visiting nuns. They absolutely LOVED him and had a great time, but he came home, slammed things around the house and yelled about how they had used his good nature. They, of course, had no idea he had done that, but we suffered...and we weren't even there and he had met the nuns and volunteered his services himself.
So life with my father could be a barrel of laughs, but you always laughed cautiously because you never knew when maybe you laughed a little bit too long and he'd get angry with you for laughing.
But the big thing was never feeling that he loved me. Never hearing those words without something negative attached to them -- like the memories that I can't enjoy because I remember the negative attached to them.
And that's the therapeutic thing about Cousins Day. You bring up something like this that has been festering inside for a long time, that you only bring out cautiously because people might not understand, and yet there I was with three people who understood exactly because they shared many of the same experiences with their own fathers. This included my own mother, who talked about which one of her seven sisters was her father's father's favorite and how she herself always felt ignored by him.
I don't know that we actually solved any long-standing problem, but it very definitely deepened the bond that we have been developing over the past year and a half.
I love these women...and I'm not uncomfortable to say so!
PHOTO OF THE DAY
Hey look--it's Jeri's veil!
MILES TO NOWHERE: 67.5 miles