I’ve had quite a roller coaster relationship with my dad. Although he was living with my mom and me, he was rarely home and never had the patience to show me how to ride a bike or skate. Later on, he would traumatize me while driving and his lack of support left me too scared to drive again for 21 years. My earliest childhood memory is seeing him work in his home office. He was such a stranger to me that on the very rare times my mother would choose to leave me in his care, I would scream my lungs out desperately trying to change her mind.
I remember him yelling and being angry often, mostly about work, then later at my mom, then at me. I saw him stubbornly keep his job at a company that couldn’t care less about him. Each week he would show me his pay-check and explain how less and less money he was making, but due to misplaced loyalty and fear of the unknown, he kept hanging on. He finally lost his job when the company went bankrupt, taking his hard-earned pension with it.
One thing was always clear; his work and his clients (whom he called his friends) were more important than anything else, including my mom and myself. My dad had what most of us will probably never get – a job he loved passionately. I will always envy him for that.
My dad wasn’t a good dad, but his dad was worse. He was a violent drunk who left a deep, painful imprint on my dad’s psyche and soul. Knowing about his childhood helped me to understand his behaviour, but the pain was still there.
I left home in my early twenties and instead of shouting matches, we began to have reasonable conversations over the phone every week. We talked mostly about the only “safe” subject: sports. Thankfully, our favourite hockey and baseball teams were there to give us some form of a relationship. We built, ever so slightly, on that.
Our “new” relationship was not without issues. I remember him driving away and leaving me alone in a parking lot after I went grocery shopping, because I was five minutes late coming back. He needed 1:30 to get ready for work he said after, and I got in the way of that. I was 25 at the time and to this day, I remember how utterly abandoned I felt, the last of many times before.
In my mid-thirties, I moved to another city and things changed again. Our phone conversations got longer and better, even with my waning interest in sports. Then the TV show Dancing with the Stars started and to my giant surprise, we had one more interest in common.
Along the way, he stated ending his phone conversations with “je t’aime bien”. It’s not I love you, it’s more “I think you’re OK”, but I took it. My heart and mouth needed more time to say it back however. Later on, he discovered email and started writing to me every couple of days.
He is much less angry at life now and never guilts me into visiting more often or coming back to my birth town. He says he wants me to be happy and if living where I do gives me that, he’s all for it. To me, this is gold. On the phone, we talk more. He just recently got rid of the “bien” after “I love you”.
Dad is 81. He just sent me a Happy Valentine’s Day – I love you email. Our relationship will never be something wonderful like in the movies. He will never make me feel safe. But we were fortunate to be allowed enough time to arrive at a place where I know he’s giving me all that he possibly can. I know he loves me, and he knows I love him back. That’s damn good to me.
Happy Valentine’s Day everyone.