The ultimatum, part 8

Paul struggled with what it meant to be a husband and a dad. He never had a dad and barely remembered his mother’s brief marriage when he was 4 to a man that was supposedly abusive towards him.

His only parent was very childlike herself. They were dirt poor. He spent the first half of his childhood in low income housing in the inner city of Chicago. His mother was slow and uneducated. She also struggled with mental health issues that I would guess were trauma related.

Martha’s dad died when she was 12, so Paul didn’t have a grandpa either. He wouldn’t have made a good grandpa anyway. He was known to abuse his children and cheat on his wife. He wouldn’t be my chosen father figure for a future husband.

Martha didn’t always make the best decisions but she was a good mother. She always told Paul he could do anything he put his mind to. She did the best she could with the hand she was given.

Sometimes I feel like Paul was more of a parent to Martha than she was to him. But that could be because I saw him give her advice as an adult. She would argue that credit cards were money. She wasn’t a drinker but I think she was addicted to gambling. I’m sure that is why Paul is obsessed with keeping our finances in order.

Martha also had a really bad temper. She was very reactive and emotional. She often was angry and thought people were out to get her. Or you could be the best thing that ever happened to her. In those times you could do nothing wrong. She was crazy fun, exciting, and impulsive.

After her brief marriage, Martha didn’t have a lot of boyfriends. She worked a lot. Sometimes she lost her jobs due to her chronic tardiness. She married for the 2nd time right before I met Paul. Her husband Darryl is only 15 years older than Paul. He had kids but his ex took off with them and they spent most of their adult life in and out of prison. Maybe if Paul was still a child he would’ve been a good father.

I wish I could say that my own dad was able to take him under his wing. If anything, my dad taught him what not to do as a husband and a father. It seems like we both had to parent our parents more than they parented us. It caused a lot of stress shouldering all of that responsibility.

There was no one, just a big empty void of abandonment. He was expected to be good at something he never learned how to do. He didn’t have a dad to play ball with. No one taught him how to fix things or work on cars. He was never disciplined. He didn’t have a dad to embarrass him or give him advice on girls. Like most things, he just had to figure it out himself.

I tried to gloss it over and glamorize it by saying that at least he could develop his own style. But it wasn’t easy. I think he is a wonderful father and husband despite his insecurities. When he screws up he apologizes and tries harder to be a better person. He is doing a wonderful job and I appreciate his commitment.

He could’ve walked away like his own father did. Instead he was willing to roll up his sleeves and work on himself and our relationship.

Gratitude week 25

  1. I have one less teenager in my house…actually my son turned 20 this past week. I am grateful for him and the person he is becoming.
  2. My son had a mouse in his room which I am thankful for. It prompted him to clean his room to how it looked before we moved in. Now let’s hope it stays that way. My cat has the bad habit of bringing presents in the pet door.
  3. Although Paul and I really didn’t luck out in the dad department, I am grateful to have a husband who is a wonderful father to our children. That is what I celebrated on Father’s Day. I did send my dad a card though, not because he was a great dad but because I am a good person.
  4. In what can only be described as a God moment, I was able to meet someone who might be a friend and someone we could work with in our new business.
  5. I am thankful for my therapist. She called me to reschedule my appointment so I could have a double appointment for the cost of one. I have a really good team of people working to help me heal my body, mind, and soul.
  6. Summer!! I am enjoying every minute of it. I have yet to turn on the A/C in my house or car.
  7. Thanks to the coronavirus, it made it easier to transition from blonde to gray hair. People now ask if I dye it the silver color it is. It is so in right now and I don’t have to pay a cent.
  8. I went up north for the first time this season and swam in the lake.
  9. My daughter is planning on moving back home at the end of the summer and is able to keep her new job. I think she was only able to come home two or three times this year. Sadly she wasn’t able to make it home as planned this past weekend but it won’t be long until we see each other all the time.
  10. I’m grateful that our new business is doing better than we expected.

Deadbeat Dad Greeting Cards

Today is my dads birthday. I thought of creating a new line of greeting cards as I searched for the perfect card at the grocery store. I know, grocery store. I should’ve went to Hallmark. But that would’ve probably been a bigger waste of time. I could’ve spent hours searching every single card and still go home emptyhanded.

Maybe I should’ve just said the hell with it. My dad never sent a card or called me on my birthday. He never took me out to eat for the said event. He never bought me flowers. Yada, yada, yada. I bet he doesn’t even know when my birthday is. Yes, he was a bad dad and doesn’t deserve recognition.

I am reaching out to him because I am a good person.

The first card I opened had a greeting that said something like this…you are the reason why I am who I am today. Yeah, you are the reason I am in therapy. Nope! Next!

The next card…you are the perfect role model. Yeah, for how not to be. Nope!

Card after card spewed the most ridiculous sap. After I’ve exhausted all the dad cards, I looked at cards for step-dads, like a dad, and grandpa cards. It was all the same over the top scribbled dribble.

I can’t be the only one that feels this way.

After I rejected all the dad related options, I started looking at other cards. The funny cards are no better. Seriously, poop cards never have been funny. They just remind me of all the crap you put me through.

Cards for guys with hot ladies….yeah, why not piss off my mom too.

Cards with a get out of jail free card inside…Might be acceptable for an incarcerated dad.

Cards that make fun of old people…that’s just wrong!

Cards about drinking, sports, or golf…That might work for some dads. But my dad isn’t into any of that.

I ended up getting a birthday card with nothing written on the inside. That’s just as bad. So I wrote something generic in it. Happy birthday Dad! Enjoy your special day.

Now most of you are probably wondering…Why not text? My dad has a flip phone and does not get texts. Darn! Why not call? I haven’t seen or talked to my dad in almost three months. I don’t want to break that streak. (I have valid reasons)! I hate talking on the phone anyway and even more so if it is awkward small talk.

I think the obvious solution here is starting a new business. The Deadbeat Dad Greeting Card Company. There will be various levels of cards. I could color code the envelopes on a scale of one to ten to correspond with the cards. A one would be for the worst dad all the way up to a ten for the perfect dad. Then you wouldn’t have to waste your time reading all the cards. You pick your number and find the envelope with the corresponding color.

Now the cards don’t have to be just for dads. They could be for your wife, kids, siblings, teachers, etc… People could even find the perfect card for their ex. Win-win. Now I can still be a good person even if you don’t want to be.

Compassion rages

After I heard the news, I felt both intense compassion and rage towards my father simultaneously. It’s really hard to explain because I can’t remember feeling such extreme polarity before. How can I still feel compassion towards someone who is so easy to justifiably hate?

He was a horrible father. He was the role model of what I didn’t want to be as a partner and parent. He hated us and called us stupid. I never felt like I was good enough. I never felt like I was enough of anything. Smart enough. Brave enough. Happy enough. It’s hard to feel like I was never enough, unlovable, despite my best efforts.

He tormented us. He laughed at our fears. Even worse, he taught us to laugh at our siblings shortcomings and fears. If we laughed, we wouldn’t be targeted next. We were pitted against each other for sport. How could there be unity? Most of the time it was safe to pretend not to care. I’m sorry I did not comfort you, brother, while you cried. I was just a coward trying to survive.

My dad is a depressed man. He lived a life of regrets. I see that now. He wasted his life in front of the TV screen, not playing ball with his kids. But I always felt calm if the TV was blaring when I came into the house. It was the silence I feared most. In the silence, I never knew if I would find him dead. Do you know how scary it is to feel that fear as a child?

He often flew into rages over nothing. He was abusive, but he is still my dad. When I was a child I hated him and wanted him to burn in hell for all of the things he did to hurt us.  But now I feel pity for the mess he has become.

I had to see him one day after it all happened. My mom hasn’t been well and needed me to give her a ride to the doctor for tests. After the appointment, I sat down with my dad. It was mostly small talk, the only real conversations I ever had with my dad.

I felt a lot of stress leading up to our visit. What would I say? Would the rage or compassion come out? I had to be wise with my words, but was coming up blank. Should I tell him what a fool he is? Should I tell him how some of his actions hurt me? Should I scream and yell at him like he did many times to me?

Instead I told him I loved him as tears poured down my cheeks. He told me he loved me too. I said I was sorry. He asked why. I said I was sorry that it had to be this way. This wasn’t what I would have chosen.

He looked sickly, like he lost a lot of weight. He is already in hell. That is what you get when you live a life you regret. What good would heaping a few more coals be for someone who is already burning in hell? I felt pity towards him. I never wanted to see him burn. I just wanted him to be a dad to me.

I don’t have any regrets over how I handled the situation. More than anything, I don’t want to live a life of regrets. I don’t want to be like him.

I don’t want to be his daughter, yet I am. My compassion rages.

 

Melting my ice cold heart

After I received the devastating news, I was filled with despair. Is there any other way to respond? I jumped on the roller coaster ride of a myriad of emotions before I had time to put on my safety strap.

I felt anger in its purest and rawest form. I pushed the people who were closest to me away lest my anger would boil over and scald them on the way out.

I felt the depths of despair. Would hell be any different than what I have been experiencing here?

If it was up to me, I would blot this year right off the calendar. Some of the things that happened are too painful to write about, and you know the kind of personal dribble I scribble.

I wish I could tell you everything, but I can’t right now. Maybe, mayday.

I felt the panic rise up from within me to awaken me in the morning. I wondered what horror each new day would bring. Once again, the nights are sleepless and the nightmares are terrifying. My stomach hurts, I cannot eat.

I shake my fist at God. Why do you hate me? Is it because I am dumb? Maybe I am not perfect enough and you want to zap me? I feel like a June bug drawn to the light, flying into the fiery flames of hell. Every time I cry out, you are not there. Are you laughing at my feelings and making sport of my fears? I thought you would want to take care of me, protect me? Am I worthy of love?

Or am I confusing you with my earthly father? He is probably not the best reflection of God. I don’t even have to count on a full hand the good memories we had together. Maybe the father-daughter bond is just a magical fairy tale meant for other people. To me it is just bondage, another trap I can’t get out of without a lot of pain. I don’t want to think you are like this God, but it’s hard to see you any other way because that is what I was shown.

I labor in vain trying to change my circumstances. Maybe if I pick up the pieces, I could try to make a complete puzzle out of this. But I am too broken. I can’t change or fix things. I can’t make it work.

God, the unchanging lighthouse or rock. The deity that is a firm fortress.  He is the lighthouse that draws me in as I am starting to drown and rescues me. He is the large rock I can grip onto as I’ve built a wall around my self.

God has to be inanimate and unfeeling. It’s the only way I can survive this right now. I can’t see him as a person, because that is too scary. If he is swayed by feelings, then I will think he is out to get me and the people I care about.

Why the blizzards that leave me cold and locked inside? Why the storms? Why not warm summer days of smooth sailing? I need something to warm my heart. I need something good to come out of this brokenness.

I want this ice to melt.

Cracking open the box

Today I cracked open Pandora’s box. I am afraid to peer into what lies inside.

I spent most of the weekend feeling blah. It rained all weekend with high temps in the lower 60’s. Some of our outdoor plans got cancelled. It has been very frustrating. So far summer break has been cool and rainy. Surprisingly, the best days of the year so far fell on Alex’s graduation day and again for his grad party.

The weather has been making me feel restless and bored. There is nothing I hate more than boredom. I’d rather be way too busy. Not to mention that all my favorite running trails are underwater. Although, thankfully, my ankle is starting to feel better.

Yesterday, on Father’s Day, something exciting happened though. I got a message on Ancestry from a relative on Paul’s dads side. On Father’s Day of all days too. You see, Paul never knew who his dad was. From what I can tell, this man is Paul’s cousin.

I told myself that I wouldn’t go seeking out answers. I was far more curious than Paul. But if someone came to me asking, that was an altogether different story indeed.

Today I reached back to Paul’s cousin and told him what details I knew about Paul’s dad. We’ll see what happens. Paul said he was okay if I did that.

It’s hard, Paul built his whole identity around not having a father. But what if he has a whole new family out there that wants to get to know him?

Why do I feel like I cracked open Pandora’s box? Do I really want to know what’s inside?

I can tell you one thing, life got a little more interesting.

Luke’s visit, part 9

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We didn’t spend the whole time talking when Luke came to visit. Although I must say that I didn’t talk a lot. I spent a lot of time listening, transfixed by Luke’s words. It was the first time he spoke about our childhood with any meaning.

I think that through his struggles, he has gained new insight, wisdom, and purpose to his life.

Maybe our suffering wasn’t in vain after all.

Doesn’t a brilliant rainbow first need rain?

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We invited Luke and his family to our new house and out sailing for the first time. Luke’s youngest daughter wanted to jump off the balcony into the swimming pool. Not a good sign for the upcoming teenage years. She also wanted to buy a sailboat, but said that she didn’t have any money. She is so funny that I think the carefree comedian Luke is still living on.

Paul patiently taught the kids all about sailing. I think someday he would make a wonderful grandpa. My dad spent a lot of time ridiculing us for things we didn’t know and called us stupid when we came to him with questions. But as I watched Paul and Luke with the children, I was happy to know that they are both wonderful fathers without ever having had wonderful fathers.

Sometimes our struggles can become a blessing.

 

Father’s Day

Father’s Day…it’s always been a difficult day for me.

I see the posts online of you with your dad smiling and happy. I wonder why my dad never cared about me. I don’t think I have any pictures of us like that, dad.

I just remember you laughing at the TV in some distant room while my autistic brother hit me yet again. You could have held me while I cried. Why didn’t you?

I remember the time that I was afraid of weeds up at the lake. You took my tiny little body and planted my feet in the slimy weeds. You laughed at me when I ran back to shore crying. You threw weeds at me and called me names.

I am not afraid anymore, dad. I push myself so hard. I run myself ragged.

This one day of the year, I wish for just one picture…one memory…of us together smiling and happy. It is so painful to see the things I didn’t have.

What is wrong with me? Why didn’t you love me dad?

 

ACT 2

My mother always said if you have an easy baby, you will have a difficult teenager and vice versa.

My firstborn, Angel, was a happy baby. She was easily excited, bubbly, and laughed often. When she was happy, things were great. When she was crabby, something was wrong…like an ear infection. She has a positive, bubbly, happy personality except when she is really stressed out. Then watch out. As a teenager, she was rather mouthy at times. But she got good grades and made good decisions. She stayed fairly consistent throughout the years.

My youngest, Arabella, was a difficult baby. She cried constantly day and night. But so far she seems to be the easiest teenager to raise. She gets good grades, stays out of trouble, and is easy going.

If I only had Angel and Arabella, I could probably write a bestselling parenting book that would wow you with my tips on how I’ve got everything together.

Then comes Alex. At this point, you are probably sick of hearing about my vaping, flunking, cliff diving, race car driving, hell raiser of a son. I’ll tell you this, he was my easiest baby. If I could describe his infancy in one word, it would be content. He rarely fussed and kept a routine that I could set a clock to. He was a big time mama’s boy.

In middle school everything changed. He started hanging with a bad crowd. His grades started to slip. We gave him consequences for his behavior such as grounding him from his friends or his Xbox. That did not give us the change of behavior that we were hoping for. He seemed more rebellious and at times despondent.

In the evenings, Paul would sit down with Alex to help him with assignments. It reminded me of when my mom helped Mark with his homework. It usually ended in an argument. One day Alex was complaining to a girl via text about how mean his dad was. The next day my son showed up to school with bruises. The girl told the counselor about Alex’s mean dad who called child protective services.

It was all a misunderstanding really. At the time, my son was in wrestling. Over the weekend he had a brutal tournament that left him bruised on his body and face. The girl incorrectly thought that because Alex said his dad was mean (for making him do his homework) that my husband beat him. CPS came to the school and took pictures of my son. They came to our house to talk to us. They interviewed our other children. Then we showed them the before, during, and after pictures from the wrestling tournament. It all ended there.

It was a horrible experience. Strangers were coming into our home judging us. I felt embarrassed because we are acquaintances with the school counselor, other CPS workers, and the girl attended our church with her parents. I was angry for awhile with the girl. But Paul said he didn’t feel angry because she did the right thing if she thought Alex was being abused.

I felt angry because Paul was wrongfully accused. He is one of the best dads I’ve ever seen. All this from a man that never had a father. He has a lot of self doubt at times. Was I too hard on the kids?? Was I too lenient?? Maybe I should’ve tried something else…Maybe if I knew that kid was bad news earlier…Maybe, maybe, maybe..

It is easy to blame yourself as a parent if your kids don’t turn out the way that you want them to. It is hard to escape the criticism if you’re the one that has the baby that always cries…If it is your kid that is doing drugs, while your friend’s kids are getting straight A’s. Maybe your son is suicidal or your daughter has an eating disorder. Or maybe you have a violent autistic son…like my mother, who was ostracized and blamed by her peers.

When you’ve done everything that you could, even when everyone around you condemns you for something you have little control over…it’s really not your fault.

Paul and I feel like we did the best job that we could. We tried to give our kids the childhood that we wanted but never had. Then we commiserate that our kids don’t have the grit that we earned from struggling. The messed up situations in our lives that gave us strength we kept away from them. It seems like a paradox really…everything should’ve been perfect. It was good in many ways, but never perfect.

As we near the end of this active parenting gig, we feel we did the best that we could. We talk to our kids about what is happening in their lives, the good and the bad. At the end of the day, we tell our kids we love them and they tell us they love us back. That should count for something…

We may not be the perfect parents, but if you are…please do enlighten us with your bestselling parenting book…somehow in the shuffle of raising 3 teenagers we seemed to have misplaced our instruction manual!

 

Paul’s journey, part 2

He spent his earliest formative years in the projects in the inner city of Chicago.

You might think that the story would’ve ended differently if Martha’s dad survived to see his grandchild arrive. Maybe he would have been a great father figure for this infant fatherless child.

Where we left off yesterday, Martha gave birth alone to a baby boy. I can imagine how frightened she must have been. Childbirth is a terrifying thought during pregnancy…rich or poor…young or old…married or alone. But possibly more so if you are poor, young, and alone.

During childbirth, Martha was in a delirious state and saw her father there watching over her. Martha cherished her father. But from what I heard, he wasn’t a very good man. He was said to be an abusive drunk.

I once heard a story of how Martha’s older brothers teamed up as teenagers and fought their father. I couldn’t tell you why. But I could tell you that it was probably justified.

I heard that he was a crooked cop. Maybe involved somehow with the mob. I also heard that he had a girlfriend and maybe even another family on the side.

I really didn’t hear anything about his character that would make me think that he would be a suitable father or father figure for anyone. If he hadn’t dropped dead of a heart attack when Martha was 12, I might not be telling the same story or this story at all.

For a short period of time, Paul had a ‘dad’.

Martha got married just long enough to change her name when Paul was 3. Martha said she left her new husband after a year because he was abusive to her son. The only thing that Paul remembers about his step-dad was that he had 2 large black dogs.

It has always been a debate in our house which is worse…not having a dad or having a terrible father. If his step-dad was truly a mean man, then perhaps he was better off without a dad. Thankfully his grandpa never was a part of his life either. He didn’t have a dad or grandpa, but some of his uncles were nice.