Sunday, December 13, 2009
I am my father's daughter
Last Thursday, I went to my Aunt's wake. She had been struggling with Alzheimer's for about 2 years. I have had 4 deaths in my family this year, two in the same family. It's been a very difficult time for my Greenwood clan.
At the wake, I gravitated towards my godmother, my Aunt Sis (aka Frances). She is my father's oldest sister, who at 83 is full of wisdom and sassiness. Her eyes have a familiar softness to them, which always put me at ease when I see her. She is truly like a mother to me, as my mother has been gone over 18 years.
My father, Ralph, died 12 years ago. He was...well...he was a tough man to live with. He was born a month before the stock market took the plunge in 1929. He suffered through the Depression, World War II and served in the Korean War. He was almost 30 when he got married, which was unheard of in 1958. He was 42 when I was born, again, almost unheard of back in the day.
He never hugged me, kissed me or told me he loved me, that I remember. I have no family photos with him. He attended one school play, in the 9th grade, only because my mother forced him to. He almost did not go to my high school graduation because he didn't want to walk too far. (At this point he had had a stroke and a heart attack, so I understood, but he was not eligible for a handicap placard. I had to beg, borrow and steal to get him a special parking permit).
I promise this will relate to autism....just bear with me.
So...I don't have a rosy glow surrounding my father's name when someone mentions him. At his funeral, the priest said that my father was "pig-headed", which made us all laugh, because it was painfully true. He apologized later and said that he really said, "opinionated". We all told him that "pig headed" was more appropriate for him.
As I am cozied up to my godmother on this little couch in the funeral home, I am right up close to her. She's a bit hard of hearing, so I need to speak slowly in her ear. At one point, I stop to look at her and my father's face flashes behind her eyes. I see this man, who I have not even given a second thought, truly, in almost 12 years. I tear up, feeling foolish, as I am not mourning the proper person. I missed my father, and I didn't know why.
My aunt introduced me to a woman, who had known my father. She was 75 and had gone out dancing with him when she was younger. They told me his nickname was "Peanut Butter Ralph" because he would bring sandwiches to the drive in to save money. They continued to tell me that he was a very hard working and dedicated man, and that I should be proud that he was my father.
I was dumbfounded. I almost said to this woman, "I'm sorry, are we speaking of the same man?!"
But, after some reflection, I realized that my father was trying to teach us that life was very hard, and that no one is out to do you favors. His method of parenting was to not attach, to not make us "soft", but to prepare us for the painful truth of adulthood.
How could I blame him for raising us in that way? He did not know any different, he had no training in child psychology, he did not know or care to know about anxiety and hyperactivity, both of which I suffered with as a child. He was not patient or understanding. Children were meant to be seen and not heard. We were in bed by 6 pm. We were not allowed to talk at the dinner table, lest we disturb him eating. That is what children were expected to do.
As a parent, I chose to break this pattern of child rearing. I decided to become aware and educated about raising children, and especially special needs children. My son's birth changed me in ways that I cannot describe. Since he was 18 months old, I knew something was different about him, and like a Pit Bull, I held onto the belief that I would find a way to help him. I would not let go. I would not give up. I had to change the weave of the fabric of my life and rework it into something new, something powerful.
And this is where I knew that my father had indeed taught me a few things.
He told me to always fight for what I believe in. He told me to work hard. He told me to be wary of others who might want to take advantage of me. He told me that I needed to be strong for my family.
In the movie, "Elizabeth", Queen Elizabeth says, "I may be a woman, Sir William, but if I choose I have the heart of a man! I am my father's daughter. I am not afraid of anything."
I have my father to thank for giving me these hidden gems of wisdom, gems he planted so long ago. I am coming to to terms with this, and am working to forgive him. I have spent a great deal of time hating my father, shutting up any possibility of reconciling. After that moment, I have seen a small intense light in a long forgotten dark place that I am investigating with an open heart. My only regret is that I did not do this 12 years ago, but never say never.