When I was somewhere in my mid-twenties, my dad invited me up to his place for a weekend. We had managed to forge a positive relationship in my adulthood after many tumultuous years while I was growing up. At this point, he lived with his second wife in a house up in the mountains near the coast of Central California. I had been up to visit before, but this time it would be different: his wife would be gone for the weekend, and I would be going up alone, without my husband. It would be the very first time in all my life that I would spend an extended period of time alone with my dad, with nobody else acting as
buffers. I was thrilled and anxious; all my life I had craved a close relationship with my dad, and for most of my life that was made impossible by my parents’ divorce and ongoing melodrama, and his alcoholism and penchant for violence towards my mother and me and my brothers. What would we talk about? What would we do for two whole days? Would it be weird and awkward?
As it turned out, we had a grand time, the two of us. I flew up, and he picked me up at the airport and drove me back to his house in the woods. We spent the weekend eating food home-cooked by him (he loved to cook and was wonderful at it), watching old Laurel and Hardy movies, smoking in the house (not allowed by his wife), even drinking together. My clearest memory of that weekend, though, is of my dad teaching me how to shoot a gun. He always had guns – for as long as I could remember. That weekend he decided he was going to show me how to shoot. So he took a paper grocery bag and drew a target on it with black Sharpie, and hung it on the fence in the paddock. At the other end of the paddock – several dozen yards away – we stood, fortified by alcohol. He put a pistol into my hands and explained the mechanics of it to me, and then showed me how to shoot it. It was thrilling and terrifying. I can still remember the force of the recoil, and my ears rang for days afterward. We stood out there shooting for quite a while, and
somewhere, I still have that hand-drawn target on a paper bag, riddled with bullet holes, each of which he initialed with his or my initials, depending on whose bullet hole it was.
A couple years ago, my mother attempted to reestablish contact with me. When I rejected her advances, she sent me a scathing letter – 6 pages of single-spaced typed vitriol, recounting every perceived crime I’ve ever committed from birth on. In the letter, she also told me that any belief on my part that my dad and I had had any semblance of a positive relationship in my adulthood was a mistaken belief because, she said, it is impossible to have a healthy relationship with an alcoholic. I don’t know why a mother would feel the need to try to rob her child of positive, loving feelings.
It’s true that he remained a drinking alcoholic until his death, and it’s probably true that over the years since his death, my memories of him have attained a certain sheen that might not be completely reflective of reality; we do tend to glorify those whom we love and lose. All I know is that at some point, my dad changed. He continued to wrestle with his demons until he died, he continued to drink, but he seemed to reach a state of reflection. He looked back on his transgressions as a father to me and my brothers as we were growing up, and he realized that he fucked up, and he was full of remorse over it. And he was sorry without ever demanding that I also be sorry (which is what my mother has done). In my adulthood, he was kind to me, he encouraged me, he was supportive. He seemed to be able to see me as a person in my own right, a person with value, a person deserving of respect.
My dad’s been gone fourteen years today. I miss him more than ever. I can hardly imagine what he would think of my life as it is now – all these kids! I wish they all could have known him.
Oh Lisa, what a beautiful telling of a smidgen of your life. I remember Papa Joe …..
Aw, Lisa . . . This post leaves me with tenderness in my heart for you. I really appreciate the way you write and reflect with a no bull-shit yet compassionate pen. Thank you for sharing yourself with us.
It is sad to me that only one of my children knew my Dad. My daughter was just two when he died. I still miss my Mom, Dad, sister and brother. I now know I will always miss them. I wish they could see our grandchildren. I know that my Dad wanted my brother and me to go into full time Christian service. Well, my brother became agnostic and I felt I could serve God in any capacity, not just as clergy. Southern Baptists don’t give women many opportunities except in music, education or administration. My version “the Baptists would not let me preach”. That is why Jimmy Carter and his wife left them, discrimination against women in the clergy. But I have served God through out my life, married a Boy Scout Executive who ended up as CEO of the ARC-he did such a great job. I’m glad you have the oppor tunity to bond with your Dad. Remember the good times, eliminate the negative, accentuate the positive. I’m sure your Dad had many regrets, I’m so happy for you that you got to spend time with his ‘better nature’. I don’t know why people write nasty vitriolic letters to those they love. That is tragic. Words can hurt much more than sticks and stones, and they are remembered. You are such a good Mother, maybe her example was your motivator for the level of excellence that you have achieved. >3
Beautiful and tough but filled with adoration. It would be a kick to share what a grand huge family you are raising-using your own heart as your guide not the models you were given that shaped you to date.
I love it and also see a day where I can reconnect to those extended family that desire to join our chaos & fun when I’m ready to deal with their drama (and I extend a branch cause its not happening organically…).
I never would understand how someone trying to connect with you would end in a letter accusing a child/young adult of wrongs. That’s very messed up what a good decision to keep your guard up–that would have been short lived had you ventured down thAt path!
I ran across a hospice article in the easy reader here in so cal that listed the four critical areas/words. Please forgive; I forgive you; thank you and I love you. Your dad reached that level despite and around his flaws — your mom failed step two horribly huh!?? I know my extended family reunion may happen but it will also be short lived by the same factor-immature socially inept or narcissistic personalities and weak people connected to a similar vitriol based woman.
Life goes on and in the meantime treasure your memories & time. You drew healthy boundaries around your dads limitations–you draw the same every day raising a large family, you must to survive.
Kudos to you. Share memories of your dad & make his love as real and fun to your kids with your stories of love. It’s okay if it’s shiny & brighter–what matters is how we feel, if that’s better than reality then GREAT cause the bad memories get darker & uglier so we need shiny light to combat those hate letters that might bring us unwarranted doubt on a tough day. Good for you!
A Daddy’s girl….me too.
Lisa, I am sorry I missed this on the 8th. Those sad anniversaries are hard, especially here at the holidays.
As usual, this is beautifully written and such a nice tribute to your dad.