Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day, whether you like it or not

My dad and I have a rocky relationship. He's a Jehovah's Witness, an organization I left nearly 20 years ago. I have made choices he cannot approve and sometimes doesn't understand. At times, we've gone months or weeks without talking.

My dad has hurt me more than almost anyone ever could. I am positive I've done the same to him and yet, we work through it. We find our way to a battered but nonetheless welcome peace. Sometimes I reach out, sometimes he does, but we always find our way back to each other.

Several years ago I was at a point where I wondered if my dad loved me anymore, whether he regretted my existence. At the time, my parents were in the process of moving from Laramie, Wyoming to Rochester, Washington. Even though our relationship was in shards at the time, as my parents prepared to move, I felt like a person about to be orphaned. My issues with my dad made the process excruciating. How could I ever hope we'd fix this if I couldn't go to him, take his hand and talk?

You know what it's like when people live in one spot more than 20 years; stuff builds up. Crap builds up but also stuff. Almost like the Oregon Trail days, on their journey to the West, my parents were dumping items they loved but could live without at the edge of the trail. Furniture, books, pictures, hideous old clothes all went by the wayside.

Apparently, most of the items my parents didn't need, they believed I truly did. Almost every week, I'd get a call asking me to come pick up a box or two. Sometimes the items were my own possessions; items from my past, sometimes possessions of my parents which they thought I needed or wanted. Sometimes they were right and sometimes they were wrong. Thanks Dad, but I really don't need a 20yr old home humidifier that doesn't work. Let me know if you find someone who does need that, I need to have a serious conversation with that person.

Each kid has a story of betrayal by his or her parents. The bike you begged for on your birthday but didn't get. The piano recital they couldn't get to because they had to work. We collect them, moon over them, sometimes using them as excuses for crappy behavior in our adult lives, even though they're really not. One of my parent's little betrayals had been that I'd believed, right or wrong, that they'd lost my baby book. My brother had one but not me. Oh boy did I use THAT little gem during hard drinking binges.

One afternoon, we went to pick up a box of items my parents took out of my room. My scrapbook from H.S., a trunk full of Barbie clothes, the letter I earned for band, various other items were piled in to the box but at the bottom was another, smaller white box. The kind books usually come in. Its lid would hardly stay on for the number of items stuffed into it. Papers, letters, cards, heralding and celebrating my birth, a handwritten sign that my dad's coworkers must have put up on a door somewhere with the details of my birth. Finally, amazingly, a baby book. Mine. You may need tissues for this next part, I know I will. I opened the cover and got the shock of my life.

Most of the time it's the mommy who fills out the baby book but not for me. My father filled out mine. The dad I fought with for twenty-some years had filled in every single page, every milestone, ever anecdote of that journal. Every entry burst with pride, every word filled with love. Practically every single day of my first year was there, written in his horrible handwriting, accounted with the same care and diligence he brings to everything. I cried for hours. I'm crying now.

No matter what happened after, no matter how we let each other down, I will always know how much I mean to him. It's all there, written in ink, for me to see.

Because he's a J.W., I can't call him to say Happy Father's day. Can't send a card, can't take him to a ballgame or golfing, can't have a picnic. But today I still want to say 'Thank you, Dad.' For everything.