Sunday, January 20, 2008

Daddy Dearest

I suppose it's apparent at this point, if you've read some of my older postings, that my family is quite dysfunctional. I say that with all honesty because I truly think every family is. If a family were to exist that was NOT dysfunctional, would that not be so far from normal as to qualify as dysfunctional after all?
I have a fun little way of describing my family. You have to start by closing your eyes and picturing My Big Fat Greek Wedding because, we're loud, obnoxious and shamelessly embarrassing. Now, I'm not done! You have to add a bit of The Royal Tennenbaums. All Fowlers are quite dramatic, extremely competitive, emotional and true geniuses (but only in our own minds) For example, me hacking away at this blog, pouring my thougths out for no one in particular. Is anyone reading this? Now, to top it all off you must include the odd dynamic we have of all trying to look perfectly happy, united, umm... and black. Therein lies the Cosby Show connection. Yes, yes... we all believe in some deep secret connection to Africa, hidden somewhere by racist relatives. It's the only way to describe your hair, our awesome big butts... and our jive...
So, as you can see, my family is quite complex and Multi-facetted. Add those three families together and you make it up to our count. Let's see there were 2 Portokalos children, 5 Huxtables and 3 Tennenbaums. Add 2 parents My mom would be a Portakalos, my dad a mix of all 3 fathers. There you have it, a family of 12. A complete mess of love and hate, joy and pain.

Way, way back I wrote about confronting my father on his anger. Kelly added a comment recently that had me thinking. That was 3 years ago and things have changed. Most of it you can see in my big ol' update from the beginning of the month, regarding my family over all.
But my father, I think he deserves honorable mention. That day I confronted him about Selah, something changed him. My dad crawls into a shell when confronted. And he isn't confronted often. I really believe he was unaware of his anger and just didn't get the effects of it. But since that time I've seen him struggle to restrain himself. He's screwed up a few times. He's also made me so proud when I've seen him walk away instead of rage, or tell the parents of a child if they needed discipline (instead of assume responsibility for it when it wasn't his).
I'm the big warrior in the family, if you haven't seen that already. I confront on everything, refusing to give up on our potential to grow. That's how I am in life. I don't pretend things are OK. I refuse to even keep rugs. No fake fronts to brush things under. What you see is what you get. No secrets here. So here I am the one, the only one, who has confronted him time and again, challenging who he is and begging him to be better. Writing him letters of painful memories, begging him to recognise the consequences of anger and abuse. I've long felt that he deserved to be honored for the changes he has made.
I know he feels that we all go to out mother for everything, that we love her more, that he's not important. He tried so hard to be fun and cool, not knowing how else to pursue relationships. He's too afraid of the 'deep'.
Well, me... not so much. I'm all about 'deep' and about sharing it. His 60th birthday was this weekend and I wrote him a long sappy letter.
Yes, I still have boundaries. My father never has and never will be left alone with my children. It's just as unfair to him as it would be to them. We will always be there, to be sure that nothing gets out of hand to scar innocent little hearts that see Pappaw as a hero. That's the way it should be, and I'm protecting him as much as them. They deserve a magical relationship. Yes, something could happen. Yes he could lose it. He could hurt my child's heart or at worst yank an arm and make it sore. Yes that sounds like a crazy risk. But I'll be there to call him on it however I have to. And my children are confident and strong. We can handle the risk. If at any point I don't feel that it's safe, I have no problem pulling the plug.

So, Kelly, here's how I feel about my dad now. Not a direct answer, but maybe helpful. The letter I gave my Dad. Grab a cup of coffee, it's long...

It’s amazing how uncreative I am when it comes to getting gifts for you. Completely incompetent. Mom is easy, books and girly stuff. Simple as pie. So then I thought…pie. Always pie for dad. Gooseberry pie, licorice or dark chocolate. Chocolate covered orange peels. All so boring and redundant. Why is it the only thing we can come up with for you are these few things to eat? And, in the end would you rather have the boring collection of ties for gifts?
So while this is an inexpensive gift, it doesn’t come cheaply. I’ve written you letters in the past that have been full of raw pain and disappointment. I remember the first time I wrote was to get permission to go to Magic Mountain with some silly boy when I was 14. A letter full of reasons why I was so mature and worthy of trust. You listened and allowed it. Ironically quite a miserable day and I still feel ashamed at times for breaking that little boy’s heart. I wrote to you when I slit my wrist, just after turning 15. That letter was thrown out before I ever let anyone see it. But most of the letters I wrote were full of hurts and painful memories, begging for validation.
In the past few years I’ve written you a few letters or been more bold in actually sitting and confronting the issues, now as a woman and a mother fighting for the hearts of her children. I’ve seen you differently over the past years, as you’ve sometimes cowered at my boldness yet other times looked me in the eye with tears and open brokenness. I see now what I couldn’t see through the anger and confusion of youth.

In this letter I again want to share my heart with you. Dredge up old memories, some painful and raw, but the purpose here is not the same. This is meant to be quite a different letter.
My earliest memories are all muddled together and I’m not sure which comes first.
I remember music. Stretched out on the floor on Sunday afternoons in a sun puddle from a nearby window, I soaked up the warmth and the sound of your guitar and voice at the same time. ‘Puff The Magic Dragon’ and ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone’ shaped my soul and my love for music. It drew me to a man whose heart beats to music. You taught me to soak in the music. Thank you!
Up the ladder I went at just 4 years old, driven and brave. Still, I can close my eyes and remember the confidence of knowing my dad was there in the deep end. Waiting to catch me as I went off the high dive. Four years old, unafraid. I dove right in. I believed you would catch me. I trusted. And I’m still always the one to dive right into things. Fearless. Thank you.
Marshmallows. I still love them, just for the memory. So many people see camping with young children as such a daunting task. Not you. I have countless memories of adventures in the woods. I was Pocahontas. I could take on the world. I could learn to put up the tents right there with the boys. I could learn to leave a trail with stacking stones. That’s the kind of girl who can grow up and live out of a tent in South America for a month with out batting an eye I could glory in adventure. I could be a part of God’s gorgeous nature. Thank you.
Many times I’ve seen men crumble in defeat and fear over the loss of a job. Not many men have to bear it for so long and with such intensity. And twice. I know you felt it. I can not imagine the pressure of providing for 10 mouths when there was nothing. The attack on the spirit of man created from his core to provide. You kept sending the . resumes, even after a year. You held, determined to see it through. You didn’t buckle or break. Thank you.
I remember the confusion and fear when we all could have died in the van accident in New Mexico. You weren’t there. The next day we rode the train to Los Angeles and there you were, finally. We all got in the car and you drove us through the city showing us beauty, making it all ok. Then for some reason a few weeks later I was allowed to ride back with you on the train to get the van. I felt like a princess. I think some of the other kids went too, but all I remember is you and me. I know that I got to ride in the front seat of the van back to Los Angeles. The weather was wretched in New Mexico, yet as we approached the border of California a miracle happened. I remember it as vivid as it was yesterday. Just as we got to the state line. There, running as far as I could see in either direction, parallel with the sign that welcomed us to California. The shadow of the clouds on the earth broke in a perfect line and there was only sunshine ahead. Sunshine and hope. A precious memory..
And it was all sunshine for awhile, until that company fell through, too. In that time I learned determination. I saw you take jobs I never knew you could do. Construction, painting, anything. I remember the awe of being able to ‘go out’ to Taco Bender and get a burrito because I was out working with you one day. Not even a McDonald’s visit in as long as I could remember. Who could afford to feed us all eating out, WITH a job even! It’s the best burrito I ever ate in my life. I still think about it. A special alone time with my dad.
Sacrifice came as things got worse. I remember Thursday morning as the food ministry, helping other needy families to the best of what was there first then taking home what we could. I remember being heartbroken when there was nothing left to do. I remember the look of defeat the day you came home with bandages on your arm and $20 to buy groceries. It’s the only time I remember you showing it so clearly. It shook me. That’s when I started leaving what little babysitting money I made on your dresser, or hiding it in mom’s purse. I could sacrifice for my family like my father. Again, humbly. Thank you.
And the night you came home to find me with bloody wrists. Tired of being torn between my age and my responsibility. Tired of being just one of ten, yet feeling like the only one of ten trying to do something about it. I was fine. I had ‘changed my mind’ and cleaned it up, not knowing that the neighbor was at the door and was going to tell you. You dragged me down stairs and yelled at me till 3am. Of all ironic things. You grounded me for the first time in my life! Crazy way to react to your 15 year old trying to end their life. But you know what’s crazier still? It gave me hope. From a man who didn’t show much emotion other than happy at church dad or extreme anger dad, I saw fear for me, I saw care for me. I saw you ready to as a warrior for me. I was more than just one of ten. It was almost instantly healing. I was ready to stand back up and fight some more. Thank you.

There’s so much more. I’m cutting myself off at the early years, only because I’ve sent you so many accusations from those same years. You are so much a part of who I am. In your mistakes and your triumphs you’ve taught me. I once heard someone say that true forgiveness is when you can look back over the pain and feel thankful for it. Thankful for the experiences that made you who you are. And, most important of all, not wanting to ever go back and change a thing. Like all parents, you’re flawed. It’s God’s plan. Dad I love the things I’ve learned from you. The good and the bad. All of it molded together to make me the woman God’s created me to be. And I couldn’t be without it, or without you.
So for your sixty years of life, I am ever thankful. I am thankful for amazing changes I’ve seen in your heart over the past few years. You blow me away. I love you. Thank you for the music, the fearlessness, the adventure, the determination, the hope, the sunshine, the time, the sacrifice, the warrior, and most of all the love and memories that sometimes I couldn’t understand.

Happy birthday, Dad.

I love you forever,

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