Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Thursday Thirteen #75 -- Meet my Dad


My late father loved the Fourth of July. Wait, no, that’s not really true. Like everything else about him, his feelings about the Fourth were complicated.

He was very patriotic and loved the IDEA of celebrating the country he defended. But my memories of the Fourth when I was a girl all generally go like this …

If I marched in the 4th of July parade with my Girl Scout troop, he complained about having to drive me “all over creation” on his day off. If I didn’t march in the 4th of July parade with my Girl Scout troop, he was mad that I didn’t take my responsibilities seriously.

At my grandmother’s annual 4th of July barbecue, he’d complain that we kids were so loud he couldn’t hear the ballgame. Playing badminton or Frisbee, we might come too close and nearly knock over his plate and ashtray. Couldn’t my mom keep us in line?

Then we’d go to the village fireworks. If we drove, he’d be mad that he couldn’t get a parking space close enough to the field. If we walked the six or so blocks, he complained about the litter on the sidewalks and proclaimed the neighborhood kids “pigs.” Since the neighbors we were marching alongside could hear his assessment, I wanted to die of embarrassment.

My dad was a very hardworking man who got nowhere financially and it made him bitter. Off the chart bitter. He measured himself and others by material possessions, and always came up short. I wish he had been able to enjoy the real things in his life – my mother, his three daughters, our pets, the simple pleasures of the lawn and garden. But no, he obsessed about “them,” the people who were simply given the opportunities he had to work for. “They” included the poor on welfare, unions that handed a living to the lazy, women who didn’t have the sense nor femininity to stay home, minorities who weren’t satisfied with how far they had come in just 100 years … You get the idea.

This 4th of July – a holiday he always intended to celebrate – I am spotlighting him. I am trying to include things in this TT that aren’t tainted by vitriol, but it’s hard because unhappiness spread like a stain across his life and relationships.

1) He died of a stroke in 1991, but if he were still alive, my dad would have turned 75 last May.

2) He was a voracious reader. Like me, he enjoyed biographies. Unlike me, though he also had a real appreciation for poetry.

3) He was a lifelong Cub fan. As were his parents, and my mom’s parents. That’s how I KNOW my blood is Cubbie blue.

4) He loved cars and was a real gear head. A mechanic by trade, he spent weekends working in the pits at the local racetrack. My mom persuaded him to give it up when she was pregnant with my older sister because she was sure it was too dangerous.

5) He had a nice voice and sang with the car radio. I remember enjoying that a lot when I was a little girl.

6) For the first 10 or 12 years of their marriage, he was very comfortable showing my mother how much he loved her. During her difficult pregnancy with my baby sister, he brought my mom a rose every week and sang, “Red roses for a blue lady,” as he handed it to her. It’s tragic how sour their relationship became. He believed it was because he stopped making a lot of money, but it wasn’t that. As their finances started going south, in desperation he lied on their joint tax forms and let her unknowingly sign the bogus returns. There were fierce penalties for this. It wasn’t the money that upset her – she was pretty poor as a kid and really didn’t expect to be anything but – it was the exploitation of her trust that broke her heart.

7) He was very proud of his service as a corpsman in the Korean War. He enlisted in the Navy, but his unit was swallowed up by the Marines when he went into action, so he liked to say he was a Marine. This is when he learned some cool medical procedures. I was very proud that he could perform “butterfly stitches” on neighbor kids who got hurt outdoors in the summer. He was good at it and his handiwork never left noticeable scars.

8) He followed politics. That’s something else I got that from him. But I never respected how passive he was about it. A big one for yelling at the TV and complaining about “them,” he really never did anything about the “wrongs” he railed against. Once I became a voter, I became a letter writer and activist. (Just this week I got an email from Senator Durbin explaining his FISA vote.) I asked my dad why he didn’t do the same, even though we seldom agreed. It seemed to me that getting involved and doing something constructive would make him feel better than lecturing his wife and daughters. I still don’t understand why he preferred to do the latter.

9) The nightly news wasn’t the only show my dad yelled at. I grew to avoid watching sports with him because of the yelling, grunting and groaning. It wasn’t fun and made every game way more stressful than entertaining. After all, we weren’t the ones competing on the field or the diamond, we were sitting in our living room.

10) He was the middle child, between an older brother and a much younger sister. While the stories of his childhood that I have heard from his parents and siblings make their homelife sound pretty damn idyllic, my dad was by his own account often an unhappy kid. He often felt ignored – passed over for his accomplished older brother and adorable baby sister.

11) Since I, too, am a middle child and not unlike him in temperament, he was determined that I got my share of his attention. Sadly, what he meant as constructive criticism, I took as constant carping. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t love me as I was. It was especially confusing because my older sister got away with much more than I did and didn’t receive the same amount or concentration of his attention. Even worse, she felt neglected by him and jealous that I was his focus. Her bad behavior escalated in a futile attempt to get him to stop her.

I wish I had understood all this when I was younger, but that would be expecting an awful lot of a little girl. Better yet, I wish he’d been able to articulate all this to me so I didn’t have to figure it out on my own. It would have made a difference in his relationships with his kids.

12) He had a difficult time keeping friends. I remember Joe, Bobby, Ed and Lenny were all his pals for a time, but eventually they each stopped coming around. My uncle (his brother-in-law) suspects it was because my father could be terribly competitive. Not when he was playing pinochle, which he loved. But over money, homes, cars, etc. Apparently, if someone was down, my dad was a good friend. But he had a hard time enjoying his friends’ successes. It’s as though somehow it diminished him if they did well.

13) Toward the end of his life, he was very lonely. He alienated almost all of us – my mom, my sisters, his friends and me – with his bad temper and bitterness. His mom, my grandma, became his only friend. It was very sad. After my dad's massive stroke, but before he died, I remember sitting with my grandmother in her kitchen and talking about him. Talking helped her process what had just happened. She shook her head and said, "Poor Bill. Nothing ever came easily to him."

So, Daddy, here’s the Independence Day prayer I'm sending your way:
Thank you for my stubbornness. Ironic, considering how you felt about feminism, but it helps a woman to be willful in this world.
Thank you for my own patriotism, and my love of the written word.
Most of all, thank you for the blueprint of
how NOT to be – for showing me how
anger and bitterness can devour us whole if we let it.

Include your link in the comments and I'll add you here:
1) Hootin' Anni talks Betsey Ross, Uncle Sam and more
2) Allison reveals secrets and facts about … Allison!
3) Lost Hemisphere has a very funny Star Wars TT
4) Susan Helene Gottfried tells us how to celebrate like Shapeshifter
5) B Boys Mom lets her imagination run away with her
6) Bellezza shares her review of 13 books
7) Lori has words of wisdom for single parents
8) Sandy Carlson writes about the real meaning of Independence Day
9) Nina has a very romantic TT
10) Lady Rose's TT includes other, lesser Lady Roses
11) Jenny McB takes us along on her morning off
12) Chris has a genuinely riotous TT about reunions
13) Storyteller shines a spotlight on the good stuff
14) Jenn gets into the spirit of the holiday with her TT

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others' comments. It’s easy, and fun! Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

Just not that into it today

Yesterday I got an A-OK from the dermatologist at my annual "mole check" … the Cubs are playing on the west coast, which means I'm staying up late … I'm suffering from the inevitable dip in energy that comes after finishing the latest phase of The Big, On-Going Project … and, since the office is closed Thursday and Friday, I'm looking longingly ahead to a four-day weekend. These elements have combined to leave me more than a little distracted and, well, not that interested in being productive. It's hard to stop my brain from wandering to subjects that are definitely more appealing than introductory APRs (like men, or handbags, or something chilled and made with vodka).

Oh well, I'm sure that next week when I return from the holiday, I'll be my old Type-A self again.