With Father’s Day looming large, I came across this wonderful photo of dad. He was off on his own on a Windjammer cruise that he took from time to time with a couple of his buddies (I still wear the bracelet he brought home for me) and I’m drawn to this one because his expression is so different from what I was accustomed to seeing. Dad was was a little guy with a commanding presence; a jokester who was always “on” wherever he was. He had a twinkle in his eye and was always teasing someone about something. At family gatherings, without fail, someone (usually my Aunt Margie) would ask him to tell one of his “dirty” jokes. That was the cue for the kids to leave the room and he’d be off on a roll. Even when they relocated to Florida, their friends AND even the waitresses at Bob Evans Restaurant would tell me how funny he was. Made me feel good to know they had a good support system down there.
Fortunately, unfortunately I only know beginnings or punchlines of some of his best jokes and, honestly, wouldn’t think to tell them.
He was always busy with something … a do-er and a fixer. Painted our apartment/house several times and put up wallpaper himself. And he worked …. a lot. More often than not he was working double shifts at Colgate Palmolive with an occasional triple tossed in (no exaggeration). His plan was to buy a house and send me to college. And even after those two milestones had been completed, he continued working those long hours. Exhausted from the long hours at work, when he wasn’t on the job he was sleeping either in bed or in the living room chair while “we” watched Soupy Sales and Dark Shadows together. So any time we had together on the weekends as a family was, I suppose, quality time.
Crumbs of time.
He was quite the bowler, was part of a couple of leagues and painted a picture of himself onto his bowling bag. He loved music, our record collection was vast and varied, and he had a beautiful guitar that sat quietly behind a chair in the living room for years. One day it disappeared. He had bongoes that he kept in his closet. He bought a small Emenee organ for me as a Christmas present one year and we both played it for a while. That disappeared as well (my mother tossed out anything she felt was clutter except the 900 pairs of shoes and bags she had stuffed into a closet). He was certified as a beautician and only worked a short time because it really wasn’t a good fit for him (any of this sounding familiar?????). There’s a not so funny funny story attached to how he eventually left the business that could be a story for another time. He cut my hair once when I was around 7 and he was quite good. He built furniture. One of his pieces is here in Lilliput with me.
So now … this photo. Taken when dad was away, on his own, out in the great wide open … on the water, fishing. Something he loved to do. Unburdened by the labels of “dad” or “husband” or “brother” or “breadwinner” or “employee” or “shadow artist” … Free. His face is so soft and relaxed; his smile is real … not created as a result of a joke or a zinger landing the way he wanted to or because of a job well done …. a peaceful smile from deep within his soul … at peace with himself, just as himself with no pressure attached. As if he just had the best exhale of his life. Curiously, I’d like to know who he was looking at and what he was thinking.
While I always got a smile and a “hello my darling” … this soft expression lands on me in an entirely different way. It’s an expression I never saw in quite that way but an expression I’m meant to see at this moment in this way. And I think this was the “real” dad. And I believe this is how he, ultimately, jumped off at the last stop on the train and went into the great wide open.
There were some turbulent years between him and mom before my brother came along and, perhaps, some ambivalence afterward … maybe a ton of ambivalence. This photo leaves me wondering if all the shifts at work resulting in the subsequent sleeping marathons were his way of escaping from a structure that wasn’t completely fulfilling his soul. I wonder if he really wanted to play guitar and sing and paint but got caught or trapped in the daily life of domesticity with no way to negotiate a healthy balance between all the wonderful aspects of life and love. And I could write a similar story on mom’s side of the equation.
Of course, whatever the issues were, it’s all a narrative that I’m spinning as I continue to intentionally notice, consider, pick apart and try to release or reform childhood patterns that have shaped how I’ve chosen and entered into relationships along the way. Patterns that no longer serve me as the years go by. It’s a fascinatingly rich hornet’s nest to untangle and it’s leading to the development of a “three little pigs” theory of relationship bouncing around in my snow globe.
Amazingly, each time a new piece of the puzzle falls into my space, I get a little closer to the fully revised “story of me” and heal a little bit more.
And I’m grateful.
And that’s that on that.