Thursday, January 10, 2013

Blog 58: My Dad

I haven’t said much about my dad on this blog but I wanted to make this post about him because he was a very special person in my life.  He was my dad, and I loved him very much.

I don’t remember Dad being around much when we were little.   He worked for the government and was retired from the Army.   He was gone in the evenings a lot, and when he was home, he didn’t play with us, as far as I can remember. 

One early memory I have is when I was about six years old.  I went to my friend’s house a couple of houses away to ask her if she could come out and play.  Her dad came to the door and started yelling at me for no reason at all.  I quickly turned around and started running down the sidewalk as he came chasing after me.  My dad was in our front yard and he ran to my rescue.  He got up in the guy’s face and yelled at him, and I peed my pants before I reached the safety of my mom’s arms.  She whisked me into the house and changed my clothes.  I never did learn what that was all about.  My parents didn’t know why that man did that either.

Some of the other memories I have of my dad, when he and my mom were married, are not very good.  He was often grouchy.  Dad was very strict with us girls and we were afraid of getting spanked by him.  The thing is, we were pretty well-behaved kids, we were just kids, and sometimes we would do something he didn’t like and then we’d get it.  Many times if one sister got in trouble, we all got spankings.  We’d have to line up, oldest to youngest, or the other way around, and lay over Dad’s knee for a few swats to the rear end.   I don’t know which was worse, watching all of my sisters scream and cry before me, or being the first, when his hand was the strongest.  I do remember one or two times that he would start laughing…laughing at our kicking legs, our scared faces, us holding our rear ends in preparation for or after the spanking, or laughing at the fact that he couldn’t believe he was doing that, who knows.   

We always sat at the table for meals and we had to eat everything on our plates.  If I didn’t like something, Dad would cut a hunk of fat and put it on my plate and tell me to eat that instead.  There were times I sat at the table for hours, my sisters too.  I learned a few tricks of hiding my vegetables under the chicken skin or under my plate.  If Dad was engrossed in a television program he didn’t inspect my plate and I could get away with it.   I think sometimes my mom would grab the plate and let me get up.   

Dad wasn’t one of those dads that would hold us in his lap and make us feel safe, loved and protected.  None of us would say that we were Daddy’s girl.  I do have one or two pictures of me in Dad’s lap when I was a baby but I don’t remember that.  He did look lovingly at me in those photos and that makes me feel good.  I look at my son and my son-in-law and I see how wonderful they are with their kids, so engaging and playful, and so loving and protective, and how much my grandchildren love to sit on their daddy’s laps. 

The only time I recall sitting in my dad’s lap was after he slapped me across the face and left his hand print because I didn’t know how to light the stove to heat up my sister’s bottle when mom wasn’t home.  Renee was a little baby and she was crying loudly for her bottle.  I was eight years old and didn’t know how to strike a match and start the gas on the stove to light it.   I was scared to death of it, but I tried because I was more scared of my dad.   Dad came in the house from working in the garden and yelled at me because I couldn’t get the job done and his hand came across my face like a lightening bolt.  I remember he held me in the chair after he calmed down and realized what he had done and rubbed my face and kissed my hair and said he was so sorry.  I think he cried but I can’t remember because I was in shock.  My face stung, my eyes stung from crying, and my heart hurt, badly.  It didn’t feel good to be in his lap.  I can never recall that memory without crying.  It was one of the most hurtful times of my childhood.   I wore his handprint on my cheek for the next several days.  That’s why I was afraid of my dad. 

Mom and Dad divorced when I was around eleven or twelve years old.  Mom never talked badly about him, she just said they divorced because he liked to bowl too much.   There was a woman in Dad’s life soon after and we found out years later that she was the reason for the divorce.  Even though Dad wasn’t around much and he was strict, I didn’t want him to leave.  I went through a couple of tough years and my mom even brought me in for counseling.  I used to pretend to my friends that my dad still lived with us.  I used to beg Mom to ask him to come back.  But Dad wasn’t coming back.  While he was on his third tour of duty in Vietnam, he married a Vietnamese woman.  He went on to have two more children, a girl, and finally, a boy.  They were raised differently.  He mellowed out and didn’t spank them.  In fact, he was very lenient with them.  I think he wanted to make up for the way he was with his first five daughters.  

Dad used to pick us up and take us to church on Sundays and then bring us over to our grandmother's house.  He'd sit and watch football and have us all take turns combing his hair.  We'd sometimes play croquet in the backyard and go to Sandy's for lunch.   We didn't really enjoy being there.  His mom, our grandmother, was strict.  She was the opposite of our mom's mom (Grandma), who was very loving and kind.  Though I did love my grandmother, too.   I accepted her the way she was.  

My sister Lynda and I went to live with our dad in Germany, when we were in high school.   My mom thought it’d be a good experience for us and we were only there for a year.  It was then that he had his first daughter with his Vietnamese wife.  Dad was strict with us over there, too.  But the day we left Germany, when it was time to board our flight, Dad grabbed each of us and embraced us in a big bear hug and cried like a baby.  I didn't think he was so sad to see us go, until that happened.  I remember boarding the plane and feeling so sad for Dad.  That was the first time I saw my dad cry.  It was to be the first of many tears.  

After that, as the years went on we didn’t really spend much time together, and he seemed to change in those years.  Dad transformed into a different person, with a soft heart and a gentleness about him.  I think of that song, “The Cat’s In The Cradle,” because that’s kind of the way it was.  He wasn’t around for us when we were growing up and he had time for us now, but we were busy with our families, our kids, and had moved on in our lives without him being a big part of it.

Dad would call and we’d get together on occasion.  We would go bowling and out for pizza, or play croquet in our Grandmother’s backyard.  Sometimes we’d all get together at one of our homes.  He loved fireworks on the 4h of July and would have big cookouts at his house.  I always think of him on the 4th of July.  My sisters and I would joke with him about how he made us eat everything, and we would all laugh about it.   We always talked about our childhood, but always in a light kind of way.  He often cried.  He regretted so much about how he was back then, and the divorce from our mom, that it got to the point where I couldn’t stand to see the pain in his face.  I told Dad that I forgave him and I reassured him that I love him so very much.  It just killed me to see him cry because I know that as bad as I felt about that slap across the face, he felt a million times worse, and I didn’t want him to live the rest of his life with that kind of suffering and regret. I’m so glad I told him I forgave him, and even though I don’t know how much better it made him feel, it really helped me to let go of a lot of the pain I had been carrying.

We had a much better relationship as I got older, and he got older.  I know there were many years of my young adult life that I felt a little jealous of my half sister and brother.  Dad was more loving to them, more involved with them, at least it seemed that way.   They got birthday and Christmas presents and we didn’t.   They weren’t afraid of him like we were.  They had the best years with him. 

Dad would call my sisters and me and want us to go to the family reunions.  He loved those reunions and he would say he wants to show off his daughters.  There were many times I didn’t go because I got busy with my kids, and life in general.  But the times I did go, I really enjoyed it.   Dad made it so obvious to us, and to our relatives, that he was proud of his daughters.  Dad was so happy at the reunions.  He was really a family oriented person, I just didn’t realize it when I was little.  I think the stresses of marrying so young, having five children in a relatively short period of time, was just something he wasn’t ready for and didn't take responsibility for.

My dad was an adventurous person.  He loved traveling and collecting things in his travels.  He read books and was knowledgeable about world affairs and subjects that interested him.  The Cubs and the Bears were his favorite teams.  Someone beating him in trivia?  Forget it.  He was a people person, and loved being with and talking to others.  He was always up for something to do, even when he became ill, he was always willing to get into the car and go somewhere.  He embraced life...he loved life!

Around 2000, we realized something was wrong with our dad.  It turns out he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and Lewy Body Disease.  What in the world was Lewy Body, we thought, and how in the world did he get it?  Back then, even some of the health care professionals didn’t know what it was.  It was certainly something new to me.  My sister Lynda and I would go with our half sister to all of Dad’s neurological appointments.  Dad was getting worse.  It broke my heart!  Just when we were getting close and mending our past hurts, he was slipping away from us.  I spent as much time with him as I could.  Lynda did, too.  My other sisters didn’t seem to be as close to him then, but they really didn’t have many memories since Dad moved out when they were so young. 

I made sure my dad knew how much I loved him, and I forgave him.  I wanted him to forgive me too, for not being a bigger part of his life when I was a young adult.  I was hurting so bad to see him suffer.  Was this something that could have been prevented?  Why did he get this disease?  I didn’t understand.  I only saw a good man in front of me.  My dad, my wonderful, amazing, loving dad, was all I saw.  My only dad I would ever have. 

Dad went to a nursing home towards the end.  I put up a small Christmas tree for him.  He still knew me, but he became so weak with pneumonia at the very end that he just layed in his bed with a stare.  I whispered in his ear and I said, “Dad, it’s ok to go.  Don’t be scared.  Go on to Heaven, Dad.  We’ll be together again someday.”  In the middle of that night he was transported to the hospital and the next day he died.  That was December 12, 2005.  All of my dad’s kids were there except for Renee, who lived out of state, Dad’s brothers and his wife, and his ex-wife (my mom), were there when Dad took his final breath.   My brother said a prayer and a preacher came in and prayed, and the nurse administered morphine and pulled the oxygen mask.  Then he was gone. 

I sat with Dad after he passed and talked to him, but I don’t remember the words I spoke.  We would all go to the hallway and sit on the floor and then return to his room one by one to say what we wanted to say.  It was so hard to have him gone, even though his suffering was now over.  There was no more opportunity to learn more from him, to make up for lost time, to hear his voice and his laugh…and to go to family reunions with him.

I know my dad is in Heaven.  He turned his life over to Christ years before he became ill.  He was a changed man, and I’m proud to call him my dad.   I loved him with all the love a daughter can have for her dad, and I miss him so much.  


  1. I know there is so much to say that you could never blog about all of it, but I wanted to add one of my memories from when grandpa was in the nursing home. Nana went to visit him once, before that last day. She was wearing a coat and it was cold outside. Before she left, he motioned for her to come to him and he started to button up her coat and tell her that it was cold outside so she better button up. I'll never forget that sweet gesture.


    1. I do remember that, and always will. I was thinking of other memories of my dad that I could have written about...the family vacation to Wisconsin, where we stayed in a cabin by the lake, and how Dad took turns waking a daughter up each morning and carrying us to the lake to toss us in (makes me laugh now), and fishing with him on the lake and he put a frog in the boat, but it scared me so much I stood up and screamed and nearly tipped the boat over, putting worms on the hook, and when we sat down for supper and he asked us if we liked the chicken and then told us it was frog legs. I'll never forget that! The patience Dad had when he helped us bowl, the way he could tell a joke and the way he always said, "BOY!", and watching his face as he looked up at the fireworks was absolutely priceless. I have MANY more memories. I also wish I would have said more about why I think my dad was the way he was. His dad ended his life when my dad was around 11 years old and his mom was really strict. I'm sure he didn't have the best upbringing. That makes me so sad. :(