Sunday, June 21, 2009

My father

The other day I was working outside listening to the wind in the trees. It was a wonderful sunny day with a bit of a breeze, the weather and the forest conspired to give me a wonderful sense of well-being and belonging in the universe. It reminded me of sitting on my parents' deck at Balsam Lake.

In their retirement my parents lived in what used to be their summer cottage on Balsam Lake in Ontario. A beautiful spot on a beautiful lake. During the seven years that I lived in Ottawa I visited them there as regularly as I could, which unfortunately wasn't that regular. But the high point of any summer visit there for me was sitting on the deck around noon, having opened the first beers of the day. I remember the utter sense of peace, and enjoyment of the world just as it was. These were times when my Dad was as philosophic as he got in those days, sitting there with a beer in hand facing the lake in the sun. It just didn't get any better.

Even towards the end when he suffered from dementia, still those afternoons staring out over the lake with Dad, not talking much, long silences while our minds drifted who knows where, were wonderful times.

When I was a young teenager in high school, Mum and Dad used to spend their evenings standing by the fireplace in the livingroom, drinks in hand, discussing the world as they saw it. I was allowed to sit and listen. Often I just sat on the floor, staring into the fire, while they talked. I felt privileged to be there.

Yet life as a teenager with my Dad was anything but peaceful. We had huge arguments about everything. It being the sixties, we argued about racism, the war in Vietnam, who my friends were, where I was going and when I got home, all the usual stuff and then some.

I remember when "All in the Family" first started airing on TV, thinking how could they make a TV show about my Dad and have it be a comedy?!? I didn't think it was funny at all.

As soon as I was able I moved out, but that didn't stop the arguments. Everything he said made me seethe. When I had kids of my own the final irony was hearing his voice coming out of my mouth. I hated him for that.

One time, I left the kids with Mum and Dad at the cottage while I attended a weekend workshop in Toronto. When I returned on Sunday night I discovered that my Dad had locked the kids out of the house, they had to stay in a trailer parked beside the house. I made him let them in the house but all week the pissed-offness was thick enough to slice with a knife.

The second weekend I had to return to Toronto and I didn't know what would happen to the kids. Should I take them with me and try to find someone in Toronto to look after them? On Friday we finally had a knock-down-drag-'em-out confrontation about it, the two of us yelling at each other while Mum tried to make nice.

Quite suddenly and out of nowhere, I had a flash of insight about what was going on between us. I saw him as he really was, trying to relate to his eldest daughter. It literally left me speechless, the fight in me just collapsed.

Through clenched teeth, his face almost purple with frustration, he said, Don't leave!

Mum said, That's the best you're going to get from him.

And I got it, I really got it. That was our last big fight, I stopped hating him. I could sit and drink beer with him on the deck in the sun and truly feel at peace with the world.

So on a sunny day listening to the wind in the trees, I remember my Dad and I miss him a lot.


Barbara Anne said...

I hear you. When I was a teen, I thought my father was equally out of touch but we fought very seldom. I was Goody Two Shoes in those days.

Happy Father's Day, Anne. Hope you'll have a seat somewhere today, open a beer, and raise one for your Dad.


Wisewebwoman said...

I made the same decision as you about my father, all the fight went out of me and I was finally, not knowing it was 3 months before he would die, able to tell him I loved him. And mean it.

20th Century Woman said...

I had the same kind of experience with my stepfather. I don't think there was any special moment that I saw him as a flawed but loving human being. I gradually came to forgive him for all his craziness and temper, and when he was a very old man I cherished him. It's love that makes the difference. My children's fathers couldn't get that forgiveness. They were not loving people.

Zabetha said...

It's amazing how many of us had that experience with our fathers. I hope that for subsequent generations fewer have that experience.

I think that the role of father has opened up considerably in the last half century, the kind of father that my son is now was just not a possibility in my own father's day.