A Gift For Dad

The Interwebs were dripping with it Sunday, oozing love for fathers everywhere. Sentiments like “I love you, dad,” and “To the best dad ever!” were plastered everywhere. Normally, I’d be in that camp too, but that wasn’t always the case.

It happened on Thanksgiving day a few years ago, a day for giving and remembering all that means so much. My parents hosted, and with my sister’s family, my husband, children, and mother-in-law, we totaled twelve. The day started out well. When we arrived the house smelled heavenly. As per usual, we gravitated toward the kitchen where we helped my mother with the final touches and set out our contributions. Someone started the gravy, someone stirred the potatoes, someone lit the candles. We happily visited before, during, and after the meal.

May 2015_dad and daughters_south bell st_mid 60s

My family, 50 years ago

But, I digress. Let me back up a bit.

Several years prior to this particular day, dad had been diagnosed with diabetes. Eventually he required insulin, and while he tested his blood sugars daily, most days he lived a normal life. What the rest of us probably didn’t realize was the severity of the side effects of diabetes, all of the side effects. A typical conversation with dad went like this:

Me: “How are you?” I’d ask. Dad: “Fine. How are the kids?

Dad never complained; likely thinking this was a gift to his children by not wanting to be a burden, it became just that. Sometimes we were completely in the dark about his condition, its severity and prognosis. At one point dad excluded mom from the conversation during doctor visits, kept her out of the room. Only later when his troubles escalated did he allow me to accompany them to his visits and let me (and mom) in the room. On one particular visit, after the Nephrologist finished explaining dad’s kidney function, he asked dad if he’d understood. The reply was a frank, “No.”

While dad looked completely normal on the outside, he was far from normal on the inside. His body chemistry was completely out of whack, his kidneys were failing, it became harder to control his blood sugars. He had little patience and tired very easily. He’d lost much of the feeling in his feet (diabetic neuropathy) and when he stood, was wobbly. Maintaining the checkbook became an ordeal. Dad had been a voracious reader, but that, too, became a challenge. Dad’s memory wasn’t affected, nor was his sense of humor (thankfully, as dad was one of the funniest people I ever met). It popped through one day when describing reading, “If I stay away from the big words I’m fine.

We’d finished our meal and as usual, gathered in the kitchen for clean up and nibbling, the best part of the day. Dad, for some reason, began washing dishes at the sink, not a typical occurrence; rather, I think, done to help mom.


Our tiny kitchen, two years before dad passed, before a meal.

As long as I can remember, our traditional after meal powwow occurred in this kitchen as well as kitchens in other households, my sister’s, my grandparents’, my great aunt’s…all of them, every single year. We hung out in the kitchen and munched while we cleaned. Which is why what happened next is, to this day, beyond comprehension.

Someone reached for a piece of turkey with their fingers and plopped it in their mouth, something we’d all done, dad included. All hell broke loose, dad started name calling, said he’d never seen such a sight. There were words, an argument ensued, and little did I know, that was the last time I would see my father for two + years.

As much as I want to, I cannot blame this on diabetes alone. Yes, he was tired. Yes, he should have excused himself and gone to lie down for a bit. Yes, he should have taken advantage of the children and grandchildren already cleaning the kitchen. There was no reason dad needed to stand on those achy feet to wash dishes.

And, in that one horrific moment, I wish I’d known.

One has to understand the cloth dad was cut from, about his grandma Orah, the woman who raised dad. I gave my series about her the title The Malevolent Matriarch for a reason. While I have learned to accept who she was, and have felt a sense of connection to her through her letters, she was one nasty woman. Orah spoke and wrote with a malevolent tongue which she kept as sharp as her pencils. She had a profound influence on the man my father became (and he, for the most part, was one fine man).

And, there it is. Dad was raised in a household where strong women with strong voices ruled. They fought and argued, went months sometimes without speaking. What he learned to overcome was something he didn’t discuss. Until I read Orah’s letters and dad’s memoir, I did not know she whipped dad, that he ran from and taunted her from afar. He used any means of escape he could find. I came to believe she was jealous of dad, that my grandma Lalla’s attention toward her own son was a painful source of jealousy for Orah. She often wrote how much she hated dad, that she wished him harm, or worse. She called her daughter names, said she was greedy. She resented dad’s presence in his own home; Orah lived with Lalla and dad when dad was growing up. He came to believe that they really did love each other but were simply at Cross Purposes. I can’t tell you how much that breaks my heart.

Dad fought demons I never knew existed, not until ten years after he passed. I can’t help but think that while his behavior caused our family unnecessary hurt and estrangement, had I known, I may have been able to see him in a different light, may not have let two years go by before we spoke again. Granted, he could have approached me, but that didn’t happen. Mom later said she thought dad didn’t know what to do or how to begin.

Imagine reading letters about your childhood. Imagine reading that someone you loved hated and wished you dead. Imagine the author was your grandmother. Dad placed a tiny check mark on the envelope when a letter had been read. I have every letter Orah wrote; a good portion have no mark. Dad had stopped reading. (Not surprising, Orah was an insulin dependent diabetic.)

I loved my dad with all my heart and my relationship with him was very good. I would never wish those painful two years on anyone; yet, after experiencing this and other events, I’ve come to believe that it’s the living beyond being knocked down, it’s what happens in the aftermath, if and how we get back up, that generates growth and new perspective. Is that not what we all want? To be understood?

My memories of that day are bittersweet. I won’t judge dad based on one event, nor do I excuse poor behavior, but I can accept it with clarity and new understanding (and am thankful someone saved Orah’s letters; otherwise, we may never have known). The good far outweighs any bad I experienced as his daughter. I am grateful I understand, and can give him that now. That day has become a day for giving.

While the Interwebs dribbled syrup all over the fabulous fathers out there, for many people Sunday was a difficult day.

My sincere hope is that clarity finds those for whom it is possible.

 “The test of a man or woman’s breeding is how they behave in a quarrel.” 

~George Bernard Shaw

  22 comments for “A Gift For Dad

  1. June 22, 2016 at 4:22 pm

    I’m so glad you were able to understand the reason for your father’s outburst, and that you were able to get past the estrangement. Believe me, I know what you are talking about! Knowing the reason people are sometimes hurtful doesn’t take away the hurt, but it does help us understand why someone we love, and who love us, sometimes lashes out. Families can be very complicated, and learning to love flawed people is hard, but usually worth the challenge. Thanks for this post!


    • June 22, 2016 at 7:17 pm

      Thank you, Ann! I had a feeling that many of us have had similar experiences, and that prompted me to put my brave on and get writing. I hope people will find a parallel and also hope if possible. You nailed it: it was so worth it and I am very thankful to know what I now know. Just wish I had been able to let dad know I understand more clearly now what he experienced. Thank you for chiming in. 🙂 ❤


  2. June 22, 2016 at 2:50 pm

    I just saw the last paragraph. I’m so glad you had great years. 💜

    Liked by 1 person

  3. June 22, 2016 at 2:47 pm

    Hi. I’m glad you thought it was a joy. I sure never want to make anyone feel bad, ever.

    I’m mad at Orah.

    Liked by 1 person

    • June 22, 2016 at 3:46 pm

      I’ve been cleaning the house today and sat down a few minutes ago to rest. My cat jumped on my lap as I opened my phone messages. When I read your comment about being mad at Orah I burst out laughing and it startled Gandalf. I could not stop laughing and he kept looking at me like he was thinking, “You’re weird.” That made it worse. Still smiling… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • June 22, 2016 at 4:10 pm

        I’m glad you laughed! Funny about your cat. 🙂 I’m glad she’s not here to hear a piece of my mind! 🙂


        • June 22, 2016 at 7:13 pm

          When I first started reading those letters, I was ANGRY. Who did she think she was talking about my dad like that? It was hard to read for myself, but imagining him reading them was a heart-breaker. But, I eventually came to accept her, her influence, and even feel a connection to her with a newfound understanding because she had been ill. It was a hard road, though. Just glad I was able to find it. 🙂 ❤

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Amy
    June 22, 2016 at 2:41 pm

    I have many such incidents as my father has always had a short fuse. He also had a miserable childhood (some of which I’ve alluded to on the blog without discussing its impact on him). I know it left him with a lot of anger. But overall he is an incredibly loving person who just, like your dad, paid a price for what he experienced as a child. Now he is 89, still has a short fuse and thin skin, but I treasure even his outbursts these days, knowing someday I will wish I could hear him get mad one more time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • June 22, 2016 at 3:42 pm

      Very well said, Amy. I wish I could walk into their home and see dad sitting on the couch or messing up the kitchen. Dad passed away 10 years ago, but mom lived in that house for 51 years, and there are countless memories. Our father had a short fuse as well, but during his last few years he’d become more gentle and just wanted to be with his family.

      I can’t imagine how dad felt when reading the letters written by his grandma. I think those years living with Orah scarred him in some ways, but to his credit, he did not bad mouth her; rather he’d say she was harsh but we didn’t get many details. Yes, our father definitely paid a price, but overcame quite a bit.

      Maybe some day you’ll write about your family, too. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Lynne Olson
    June 22, 2016 at 2:33 pm

    I too feel totally at peace with my relationship with Dad. We also had our “challenges”, many of them…and a 3 yr time of non-speaking. But, the last three years of his life were wonderful and I would not trade them for anything. The good does outweigh the bad. There will always be the human element in every experience, and thank God for that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • June 22, 2016 at 3:25 pm

      I’ve been grateful many times that we both got to that point. We had some rough times, but aside from those blasted tendencies, we made it with help from two very loving and fine people we’re lucky to call parents. ❤


  6. June 21, 2016 at 7:08 pm

    Bet my story was a hard read for you on Father’s Day. What I didn’t say was WHY I wrote it. My dad found out really early Father’s Day morning that his eldest brother had suddenly passed away. Completely unexpected. He’s sad. My post was an attempt to cheer a sad heart.

    Now I understand why the dance is so important. I didn’t know you didn’t see him for 2+ years. That is sooo hard. My brother and sister didn’t speak to me over a year once and it’s so difficult. I’m glad you have been able to connect the dots to Orah. I’m sorry she was not a kind person. 😦 Makes me wonder how different his life would’ve been if she would’ve been nice.

    I’m sorry Father’s Day is tough. I do understand. A lot of my friend’s dads have passed on and it’s a rough holiday. Sending giant hugs!

    Liked by 1 person

    • June 22, 2016 at 12:27 pm

      So many thoughts here, Jess. First of all, ❤ to your father for his loss. Your story about him was a joy to read, not hard for me at all, and I'm sure it was just the ticket to send him cheer. I loved all the reasons why you love him but it was #47 that took my breath away. Now you know why.

      During the two years he would not speak to me (this all happened many years before he died), I called the house, I sent letters and email, all of which went unanswered. Two years. I think he THOUGHT he was angry over something that silly but I think more true was that he was fighting the reality of his failing health while combating Orah demons, and his pride would not allow him to move forward. He was one proud man, and that certainly fueled his fire. That is what he learned growing up, and what he tried to overcome. Imagine our lives had dad not tried to overcome that legacy. It could have been so much worse for us.

      I knew none of this until I read his memoir and Orah's letters, long after dad passed away.

      For me, Father's Day is only hard in the sense that dad is gone; I am not plagued by bad memories; quite the contrary. That day was a snag, a flaw that surfaced. The last several years with dad were wonderful. We spent lots of time talking and I felt at peace with our relationship when he passed. Thank you for chiming in and telling me your story as well. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Amy
    June 21, 2016 at 7:03 pm

    I admire your ability to be so honest. No parent is perfect, no human being. We all bear scars from prior generations of some sort. But mostly what we see in blogs is how wonderful everyone’s mother, father, grandparents, etc., were. It’s refreshing to read something as real as this. I love my parents, but I know they are not perfect. I don’t really write about them because they are (thank goodness) still alive, but someday I hope I can be as honest as you are when I write about them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • June 22, 2016 at 12:02 pm

      Thank you, Amy, for YOUR honesty. I feel a growing distaste for certain social media sites, how they are used, and what they represent for some folks. I’ve seen one of my children deactivate one such account, reactivate it, only to deactivate it again. What they see and what they know (first hand) are entirely different; so much is for show and it’s dishonest. I blog because I seek meaningful dialog, something I don’t find on those sites. It is somewhat risky being open, but I think when people can relate, we can help each other.

      I’d never written about that incident until yesterday. My hope is that anyone reading it who has had a similar experience will someday find clarity in their own situation. We are all complex, flawed human beings, and that my father raised his daughters well in spite of (or maybe because of) Orah is the most important thing. I am amazed what he overcame.

      Thanks again, Amy. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

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