We refer to our relationships with our parents as complicated as if any parental/child relationship is ‘normal’.
We obsess over the idea of normalcy all our lives, striving for it, yearning for it, but there is no normal. There’s only reality, and the reality is that every relationship with your parents, if you have one at all, will be its own thing. Its own animal.
It will be both bad AND good if you are lucky, but not all of us are so lucky.
Some would have been better off never knowing their parents at all.
For those of us that knew our parents though, it is always complicated and now that I am a dad, I know my relationship with my daughter will be as well. They’re complicated because WE are complicated. We are trying to overcome our own personal demons, trying to teach our kids well, trying to keep them from trouble and from mistakes we have seen, and to protect them from a world we have come to know too well. As kids we only hear NO and DON’T and STOP and know that our parents won’t let us be what we believe is our true selves. Maybe they are protecting us but maybe the’re protecting themselves too.
Desperate not to lose us and hanging on too tightly.
Every relationship with our folks is different and it’s foolish to feel bad because yours is complicated because it is going to be that by default. Even the ‘good’ relationships are challenging.
That’s just how it goes.
My relationship with my dad was a challenge.
He grew up and old school guy with that sort of mindset that was set into concrete.
He was a man of the fifties and wanted the world to remain that way.
He wanted people to remain that way.
It was only in his later years that he slowly started to realize that the world was changing, whether he liked it or not.
Dad had what can be called a hard childhood – if you wanted to put it lightly.
He had an awful childhood, losing his mother, his safe haven, and leaving him and his four siblings just their father, a cruel drunk with a tendency towards violence. Dad was kicked out of his house via court order, at 16 and his sister and brother-in-law took him in and made sure he was safe and taken care of. For dad, work was his identity. It was all he had. Work, work, work. Work would keep him from being where he had started, poor and scraping by on next to nothing. Work was the shield against a cruel world that helped to forge who dad would become.
There was a new safehaven in my mom, once they met, an artsy girl with dark shadows around her, and together they made a new family. He with his siblings and her, her with her brother and her mother and father. Dad worked and worked and worked and then went to college try to make a better life for he and mom. Mom and dad bought her a beauty salon and for nearly ten years she worked there as dad went to school and together they get him a degree in accounting and he eventually became a Certified Public Accountant. Dad’s work defined him. He was an accountant through and through. He worked long hours, during tax season he worked six days a week, and he barely took vacations, which meant we barely took them.
Work was his life.
Work was his identity.
He was a stern man.
A serious man.
He was a man still haunted by a childhood that he never quite escaped. It hung over him for his entire life. I think he was desperately afraid of becoming his father and that informed who he became. As stern as he was, as serious, he spoiled my sister and I and did what he could to make sure we were all taken care of and never wanting for anything.
My dad was a diehard University of Michigan fan and for 14 years he and I went to football games together through sun, snow, rain, and everything in between. These were our chances to just hang out and bond over sports and not have the usual stress and tension. It also gave mom and my sister some time away from us.
I have a lot of pain and issues from a childhood that wasn’t always easy.
As hard as I had it I know dad had it worse though and I know that he was always fighting the legacy of his father and that fear of becoming a man he hated.
As hard as he was though, he was proud of us in his way.
He and my mom came to the conventions my friends and I did. I remember him talking to some of the guests and telling them how I was putting it on. He and mom both came to the release party I held for my second book.
He put me through college.
He let me live with them until I was 27 and realized I could make it on my own.
As much as he hated Christmas because of his childhood he and mom both celebrated for us like they were kids themselves.
He loved his German heritage and loved making traditional German dishes he remembered from his youth and his childhood. Every summer he would make krautberouk – a German pasty. Every fall was German sausage he made by hand, even grinding the pork himself. And every New Years Eve he made grebel, which was like a German equivilent to beignets. In these ways he kept his heritage and his mom alive and passed on some of who he was to us.
After he lost my mom four years ago he lost the light and the will to live. All he wanted was to go to be with her. Life held no meaning for him any longer.
Then my wife and I had our daugther and he changed.
Suddenly he was in love again and life had meaning.
He adored my daughter and loved seeing her. She gave him a second chance at being a dad but this time a granddad and while he wasn’t sure how to do it at first, he got the hang of it and was amazing.
Dad died making plans for the future and wanting to live longer to see his granddaughter grow up.
I am sorry he’s gone, sorry we lost him, but I am so glad that he found that spark and died wanting more of life and not less of it.
Now that I am a father I can appreciate how complicated and hard it is to do it. To overcome my own issues and to be better and do better for my daughter. It’s a challenge and it always will be but I am going to keep trying and keep working, just like dad did, and hopefully some day she will be able to see past my shortcomings and see the love that I can see that my dad had for us because in the end, that’s what matters.
That’s the legacy we all should strive for and which he found.