I’ve never really talked about my dad much here. I’ve thought about doing it, I’ve wanted to do it, but in the end, when it came time to actually write something, it was all just too much.
But on the occasion of his 70th birthday, I have resolved to dump my jumble of thoughts on my dad upon you. Maybe some of it will make sense. Maybe not.
The thing is, I spent most of my childhood struggling with my dad. Suffice it to say, we did not see eye to eye on most topics. My mom often suggested that our conflict was because we are so much alike.
I did not take this as a compliment at the time.
Later, when I was pregnant with Mary Bullock, I picked up a book called Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters. I bought it for Lee, but it turns out that he doesn’t devour parenting books at quite the same pace as me. So I went ahead and read it so we’d be prepared to lay some ground rules for our baby girl.
It’s important that newborns know the rules. Train a child in the way they should go, and all.
What I found surprised me, though. While I did find a few points that validated my frustrations growing up with my dad, I also found that I could see where he was going with his parenting. Ridiculous curfew? Ohhhhh, I see. He was trying to protect me. It all made so much more sense in retrospect, when I had a soon-to-be baby girl I knew I would guard ferociously even if she didn’t always like it.
At the same time that Mary Bullock came along and flipped all of my naive self-righteousness about parenting on its head, my dad’s health deteriorated. He spent most of the summer of 2008 recovering from major surgery in a rehabilitation clinic in Rocky Mount, and at the time of MB’s birth, he was still not walking and needed round the clock care.
He eventually did recover from that surgery, but only after another surgery. The five years following that were characterized by more babies for me, and more medical crises for him. Usually simultaneously, now that I think about it.
But here has been the result: as a parent, I now realize this whole parenting thing is really hard. It’s hard even when it’s your only job, as it is for me. It’s hard even when I have the luxury of sitting around reading endlessly about best parenting practices. Daddy never had that luxury. He was up at 3am every morning working.
And for my dad, it’s obvious that he’s had a serious knock to the head with the fact that life here is finite.
The first time I remember my dad telling me that he loved me was when I was 12, the day after my grandfather (his father) died. It wasn’t the start of a new habit for him at the time, but now it is. And I could waste time lamenting the years I didn’t hear it, but I won’t.
I like to think of these years with my dad as my bonus years– the years when he could have easily not been with us, when I could be crying and wishing I would have said things to make up for the difficult years.
Instead, last weekend I got to take a midnight train to Rocky Mount to surprise him for his 70th birthday. I got to put my arms around him and kiss his scratchy cheeks. Bonus. Bonus. Bonus.
I got to write this, knowing he will read it. On facebook, no less. With his tablet. Bonus.
Happy Birthday Daddy-o. I know you would never say this to the other kids, but I know I’m your favorite because you have cheerfully endured over 20 torturous years of UNC jokes on my account. We’ll just keep that between us, though.