pride and joy

Tomorrow, it will be two months since my dad passed away. 

Writing it still doesn’t feel right or true, and yet the spring of grief within me wells up at the same time. I suppose it’s denial, which makes sense. I seem to live in either denial or anger these days. 

I have lost other people, of course. Most of my grandparents have long since passed and there have been others: acquaintances and people from my husband’s family. My miscarriage was the worst loss until now – until cancer took my father long before it should have been his time. 

My relationship with my dad was not always easy. He was not an easy man. I have always thought that I understood him in many ways, because I am very much his daughter in the sense that we seemed to see and process the world around us in similar ways. I often wondered how much of that was nature and how much was nurture. 

He was often angry. As a child, my few friends were terrified of him because he was always vocal in his anger. As a person who cherished order and solitude, he was perpetually frustrated. Seven children and a disorganized wife will cause chaos to abound and I have some sympathy, looking back, because I know all too well the irritation that builds and builds with each new random thing out of place and the utter futility of anyone else in the world ever understanding that need, that requirement, that itch to have all things have their place and to be in it for more than a minute at a time for fuck’s sake.  

I was rarely a target of his anger growing up. I was an introverted kid (who grew into an introverted adult) and spent the majority of my time in my bedroom with the door shut and my head in a book. I wasn’t the child to make my mother’s life any harder either – to the contrary, I cannot recall a time when I wasn’t her primary source of assistance for anything from keeping the house clean, helping to cook meals or taking one or more of the younger children aside whether to simply mind them or to help them with their school. 

As I grew older, I took a job at the same place my dad worked, and then I was a young adult sharing a commute and water cooler chats with my own father. My mother seems to think Dad and I shared some strong bond as a result of those years, and maybe we did, but as is so often the case, things changed. I changed.

The last few years were particularly strained. I had spent a lot of that time – I don’t know to put this exactly – consciously rejecting a lot of what I was raised to believe. Mostly screwed up religious stuff, of the white Evangelical Christian bent with all the culture steeped in the patriarchy and racism. My parents likely believed these changes were because I was hanging out with the wrong crowd but it was actually that I honestly couldn’t reconcile the version of God I was raised on with the same one who came to preach love and acceptance. So I started disagreeing with my parents out loud when they would opine that women shouldn’t preach and all lives matter and that the 45th President was in any way, shape or form a man of God.

“When did you become such a damn libber?” my dad asked, summing up and dismissing whatever point it was I was trying to make. We didn’t talk for a year, which I know because it was my birthday when he said that to me and I didn’t call until his birthday, which falls two days before mine on the calendar. I don’t know if he noticed.

Fast-forward a few years and my dad was diagnosed with AML Leukemia in May 2020. Because he was stubborn, he decided early on not to seek treatment. Nine months later, he was gone. His final decline was sudden and swift. 

We still weren’t talking very much or very often. It was still a painful exercise for me, not knowing when it was worth an argument with him when he said something offensive and when I should just let it go because I knew his time was limited. 

The Sunday before he passed, I felt a sense of urgency to call. Because I never want to actually put myself through a conversation with either parent, I asked my husband to talk me out of it. He considered for a moment and then said, “I think you have to. Whatever it is that’s prompting you is something out of the ordinary. Call it God, the universe or philotic connection. You should call.” 

So I did. And we had the most normal conversation we’d had in years. I got an update about his health – he was tired, he’d had a nose bleed for several days – and we talked about things so mundane I can’t even recall. The only time we came close to a touchy subject, I remarked that we already knew we weren’t going to agree so perhaps it was better to save our time and energy. 

The next day, I got a text from my mom saying he was going on short-term disability. 

The day after that, my youngest brother called to say that Dad had collapsed and was taken to the hospital. Later text updates were that he had regained consciousness, was lucid and the doctor was working on getting hospice care set up. 

The day after that, I left my home for virtually the first time since March of the previous year (when COVID hit hard enough for my job to send everyone home) and flew for several hours to make it to my parents’ home. 

He never woke up, not really, and when he did he was so drugged that he clearly had no idea what was going on. 

And then he was gone. 

I am grateful for the last dialogue we had, because it was so normal and because we didn’t argue and I didn’t walk away from it hurting all over again over things that I can name but can’t and couldn’t solve. And yet, I lack closure, because we didn’t have a real conversation and talk about anything meaningful or true or deep. 

As always, Brandi Carlile expresses it best:

Where are you now?

Do you let me down?

Do you make me grieve for you?

Do I make you proud?

Do you get me now?

Am I your pride and joy?