Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Story #31 The First Dad

A follow-up: I did write Kevin on his mission (story #29) and was excited to see him when he came back. Upon arriving at BYU, however, he met a girl and blew me off. I was bugged. We could have at least been friends...it's not like I waited for him! (Dating was quite fun at BYU.) When we ran into each other about 6 months later I was dating someone else - and after that I met Bob....you know the rest!

So I have battled with the idea of this post for quite some time. Although I do believe this is my story to tell - it's a question of should I tell this story. But, clearly, I have decided that, yes I will tell it.

My parents were separated briefly when I was around 6 months and after some attempts at reconciling were divorced when I was 3. The reasons and issues surrounding their divorce are NOT my story - so I won't go into it here.

My Father moved to France for a couple of years just as they were getting divorced so I did not see him again until the age of about 5...maybe 6 I'm not sure. Since he left when I was so young I did not really have many memories of him. I still remember going to his apartment that first time. I was nervous. I remember Lisa holding my hand as we walked up to the apartment building and buzzed to be let in - she seemed nervous, too. As the three of us were welcomed in I remember Lisa and Marc hugging him - but when he went to hug me I stiffened up and felt scared. Although I knew he was my Father - I had no memory of him - so, unfortunately, it felt like a stranger. He was not at all pleased with my reaction- and thus the reasons for my fear were confirmed. As an adult I can imagine how painful it must have been to have that kind of response from one of your kids...but I was not an adult then and could not filter my feelings as I can now.

Through the years there were many misunderstandings and hurt feelings. I think we were both looking for something from the other person that neither of us was capable of providing. There are some things I still don't understand. Why don't I remember him at any of my piano recitals? Why do I remember my Mom's friends visiting after I was hit by a car, but I don't remember him? My sister would say I should ask him these questions - but I don't see the point. Having children of my own I have realized how much he missed out on. I love all of the parenting moments - the good, the bad and the ugly. Each moment teaches me so much about who I am and how I can help my children become who they want to be. I was lucky that I had a wonderful Stepfather who filled the huge "daddy" void in my life.

There is a picture of my Father with the three of us kids when I was just a baby. He is holding me and Lisa and Marc are on either side of him. It looks like we were on a picnic of some kind. Growing up I spent a lot of time looking at that photo - trying to imagine that moment. Was I excited to have him pick me up? Did he sing me songs? Did he read me books? What would he do that would always make me giggle? I would invent the answers based on what Lisa and Marc would tell me about the games he used to play with them. He clearly loved us, but maybe it was just too painful to be the "limbo" parent. Maybe it was easier to distance himself.

I saved every letter and postcard from him. There was one letter, in particular, that I have cherished for years. It was a letter for my eighth birthday - with a fabulous poem about turning 8....it was only recently that I realized the letter was dated a month after my actual birthday.

In spite of many difficult times - I made a decision one day that I wanted to be at peace with the relationship I had with him. I wanted to let go of insecurities, hurt feelings and misunderstandings. I spent a lot of time praying for the peace I was seeking.

Then one day I remembered something or dreamed something. I believe it to be true...but to this day I am not completely sure. I remembered going out with him to the Mill Race - a stream in Eugene where you could rent canoes. We climbed into our wobbly canoe and began to paddle down the stream. The banks of the stream were lined with enormous blackberry bushes. We would get just close enough to fill our hands with the delicious berries with out getting caught in its brambles. As we coasted along the stream my fingers and lips became stained a deep shade of purple and soon I could hear the rushing of the water where it went through a grate and under the street. Soon we would have to turn around and go back.

As we got to the end of the rushing stream we saw piles of grass and debris trapped at the grate. On top of this enormous pile was a broken stop sign...on which were several small ducklings. The mother duck was on the stream bank making quite a racket - desperate to save her babies. My Father carefully climbed out of the canoe and into the water, where he moved the stop sign and saved the baby ducks.

I don't know if this is a memory or if this is a dream. Maybe it is some bizarre dream interpretation of him reading me Make Way for Ducklings - but I do know that something about that story softened my heart and helped me let go of most of my hurt feelings. I asked my Father one time how you know if something is a dream or a memory. He said that if you were watching yourself - could see your face - it was probably a dream - but if everything you saw was from your view point than it could be a memory. In this dream I only remember looking down and seeing my blackberry stained fingers, hearing that loud water and seeing him save those ducklings.

I'm sure there are many psychological interpretations that could be made from our relationship and many fingers that could be pointed in many different directions. All I know is my relationship with him is part of the reason I have arrived at this point in life...and that is a pretty great place to be.


Jill said...

Very interesting story Michelle, I wonder how much different it would have been if you'd written this as a 20 year old and then a 30 year old because your perspective now sounds so forgiving and mature.

michelle said...

The card dated a month after your birthday just makes me sad.

I think it's quite remarkable that you've gotten to the place you are with your dad. You are one strong woman.