Monday, December 29, 2008

A Gift I Wasn't Expecting

My dad called tonight, a surprising enough event that when the phone rang and the call display showed the number, I automatically answered, "Hi Mom." But it was Dad, greeting me by a childhood nickname, "It's Dad," he said.

He was calling, he said, to tell me just how much he enjoyed having Pynchon and Munchkin and I spent the week of Christmas Way The Hell Up North with him and Mom. He wanted me to know, and he didn't think he'd made it clear enough, how nice it was to have us. How thoughtful our gifts were, what pleasant guests we made, what a delicious and unexpectedly fancy Christmas brunch I made, and how he had polished off the last of the leftovers today. What a great job I'd done on the homemade 'bits-n-bites', that I'd made from his recipe. Munchkin was a genius and loads of fun. Mostly, amazingly, he was calling about me. Thanking me. Praising me. Making a point of saying something kind, something that was clearly heartfelt, simply to be kind.

How did it come to be that the parent who best nurtures me, who most praises me, who seems most genuinely interested and enthusiastic about me is my dad? My stepfather, a man who married my mother when I was seven and whose presence I actively and vocally resented, whose authority I flouted, whose educational attainments and verbal dexterity I mocked, whose presence in our family I made sure to question in no uncertain terms, at every opportunity?

Let me be clear that in my family, everything is all about my sister and her kids--try to tell me different, it nevertheless remains that she has always been my mother's favorite, and the crisis of her early pregnancy cemented her position top-of-mind and top-of-conversation (never mind top-of-wallet) for the last decade and a half. Let me be clear as well that my stepfather and I have been like oil and water--or, probably, more like oil and fire. A relationship both highly combustible and generating more heat than light.

And yet, somehow, over these last five or six years it dawns on me that we've reached a point somewhere beyond grudging mutual acceptance. We've reached a point where his preference for me--me!--seems clear. He asks my advice on matters of practical communication, and on matters of cultural politics--and he follows it. He brags about me to others. He seems happy to eat food that I prepare (this in contrast to my mother, who before this summer, was never before seen eating my cooking and even now only grudgingly ingests it). He even--how did this come to pass?--seems to work hard to mediate between my mom and I in conversation, smoothing out the edges of her silences and declarative sentences to find a kernel of praise to amplify for me.

I've spent years chasing my mother's affection and attention, and nearly as many trying to put this man in his place. Not my dad, not as smart as me, not part of the family that is my sister, my mom, and me. What an ass I feel like now, as my career and family ramp up and he prepares for a quiet retirement with my mom, to discover that I'm carrying ill-will twenty years out of date when he has so graciously moved on.

Do you know, I still have to be coaxed (by Pynchon) to hug my Dad and tell him that I love him?

I thought my best gift this Christmas was the eight weeks of yoga lessons Pynchon arranged for me. But maybe my best gift is this new realization, this opportunity to build a new relationship with my Dad. I think I might, if I'm brave enough, wait for a couple of days, and send him a private little card, telling him how much his phone call--how much his support these last years--has come to mean to me. I could never have imagined reaching out like that, but maybe I can. I really begin to feel like I should. Thirty years into our relationship and he is my dad as surely as my mom is my mom, with all the history and baggage that family carries with it. It might be time to take some of those bags off the carousel, you know?

Huh. Who'd've thunk?

16 comments:

Omaha Mama said...

Wow - this made me cry a little. A beautiful gift indeed.
I am convinced that men become more sentimental (mushy, even) as older men, as grandfathers. And am COUNTING on that hypothesis being proven in my own home, with my own Hubs. I just have to wait 20 or so years. Sigh.
:0)
Really though, this is just a lovely, lovely post.

cinnamon gurl said...

My dad's usually the one who says nice things to me. My mom just teases me and feels sorry for my husband. I thought it was a mother-daughter thing, butting heads all the time.

And I think my sister resents me. She made a snide comment about how I get everything. When I asked her if there was something I'd gotten (of our grandma's), that she'd like, she talked about a conversation she had with my mom THREE years ago. I don't see any favouritism, but I wonder if she does. Your post made me think more about her perspective. I remember one time she was all incredulous, "How did you get dad to help you fix your house???" And I said, "I asked him." Since then, she's gotten him to help with lots... but it seems telling somehow. That maybe what she sees as favouritism is just my willingness to ask for help instead of waiting for someone to see that I need it and then offer it.

cinnamon gurl said...

And of course, none of that is meant to comment on your own family... just how your musing on your family made me muse on my family.

Patti said...

Wow, what a wonderful treasure, what a beautiful gift to have received from your dad!

Speaking from my own experience - unloading baggage is ALWAYS a good thing. (Maybe because we tend to pile up more anyways!)

A lovely post.

Kyla said...

I'm usually not a crier when I read blogs, but this made my eyes well up and spill over. Surprising.

Send him the card.

ewe are here said...

A truly wonderful Christmas gift indeed.

My 'Dad' was technically my stepfather, and I got him late in life, and I lost him far too early...I miss him terribly... but I'm glad I had him for as long as I did. He would so love my boys.

Karly said...

Aw, this made me cry a little. I really hope you send him that card. I'm sure it would mean as much to him as his phone call meant to you.

crazymumma said...

Take the chance and reach back. It looks like you will not regret it.

how very truly lovely. And how wise for you to see it.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

Of course I don't know anything about your family ... but while reading your post I thought, no wonder your mother married him. He sounds lovely.

Beck said...

Oh geez, this post made me bawl! Send him the note - I think that we'll always regret MORE the chances we never took at loving someone, right?

Cheryl said...

What a welcome and wonderful gift...

Bon said...

send him the card.

and oh Mimi, what a lovely, lovely post. what a lovely thing, when we get to keep growing.

Debbie said...

What a wonderful gift. Please send your Dad that note, I think he would love to receive it.

I have always been very close to my Dad, and now realize just how lucky I am that we have such a great relationship.

Jenifer said...

Oh Mimi, I just loved this...as a child with step-parents I understand the early feelings you describe to a fault. Now with my own Dad gone, my Mom long divorced from my step-father who mostly raised me and my Mom now married to a man not much older than my Hubby (he is awesome, don't get me wrong, just not at all a father figure) I wish I had more moments then to do it right.

I have made a point of staying in close touch with my step-mom after my Dad passed away. It was hard at first, but I now know it is the right thing to do. At the time it felt hard and reminded me that his new family had more of him than I ever did, but even that is fine now. We don't get to hand-pick our situation.

Send the card or even call him if you think your Mom will get bent out of shape over the card...she is bound to see it in the mail. He sounds like a wonderful man and I know he would love to hear it.

kittenpie said...

that's a great moment. A moment I understand a bit, though to a lesser extent, having a really wonderful stepfather of my own. I'm glad you're finding that place.

Mimi said...

Just wanted to share this with ya: http://whatmimiread.blogspot.com/2009/02/parents.html
This post really touched me and I hope it does so for others.