Monday, October 13, 2008

Needing to be grounded.

A touching tribute to her father by Guest blogger and Peoria.com forum contributor Stayathomemommy

My father has always been a large man. His size, strength, opinion, humor, zest for life and even emotion, although he kept it hidden from most.

Most of you don't know me that well, but I'm sure from just my user name and personal info, you've formed somewhat of your own opinions. There is more to me and I attribute part of whom I've become to my dad.

I wasn't sure what to blog about, but I knew that humor would come easy and perhaps short in nature and I wanted some personal sustenance to this blog. Something that would mean something for myself and anyone reading that could relate. In most recent years, I've had this longing to reconnect with my dad and thought writing a book or short story about him would be a good way to share his life with others. A tribute to him. He's not deceased, however, the agonizing journey began almost 9 years ago and continues today.

Some of us outgrow our parents in many ways. Some of us fight to maintain a relationship with them. And there are some of us wishing we could go back in time and get what we've lost. For me, I feel I'm in a tornado and find myself flying in all directions.

I left my parents home in the early 90s, headed for college. I think I had my bags packed in high school. I could not get away fast enough. I'm sure everyone has been at that place in life in one way or another. I needed to live my own life and live all those experiences my parents preached and warned me about. Guilt and mixed emotions plagued me as I ran quickly from my Catholic upbringing. My father seemed to be hesitant about my leaving and somewhat saddened at the same time. No one in my current family had attended a four year university and actually finished it. My father did not go to college and although established in a respectable career I believe, in his mid-life, he was regretting it on many levels. Perhaps he was a bit jealous, although he kept a proud face in a public light.

My father travelled as a sales person, for the company he was employed, at the time I was in college. This gave him flexibility to visit me once or twice a month, which in my opinion at the time, was probably a bit much. In hindsight, I'm thankful he always phoned first! He'd take me to dinner, or buy groceries for me, or put gas in my car. He was always taking care of me. I appreciated it, but today I appreciate it on a different level. I knew he was missing me and I him. In those moments, in the moments I've come to miss deeply, we created a new relationship. An adult relationship. I respect you, you respect me. From the time I hit puberty, until I ran screaming for college, we did not have this relationship. I can not tell you if it was because he had three daughters and was being protective or if it was just the fact that I was an overly emotional teen that felt everything he said was wrong and uncompromising.

After graduating from college, he reluctantly moved me into an apartment in the big city..no, not Peoria. I headed to Chicago after a 6 month stint at home, trying to find work in my field in Peoria. No one was paying what this college grad was worth, so I was 'out of here!' Although further away now, my father was still checking in on me from time to time and continued to do so for the almost 6 years I was in Chicago. I had a lot to prove and it was a hard road, but in the end (and it's still not over), I know I'm a stronger person for having pursued what I wanted. My father had hopes for me, but I don't think they included college and a career. I'm not sure what his hopes for me were because I never asked and now I will never know. Therein lies part of my tornado and wanting to retrieve something I've lost.

Life brought me back to the Peoria area in '99. I was ready to leave the big city and 'settle down' in many ways. My father was secretly jumping for joy. I married my husband in 2000 and although that was one of my most momentous life changing moments, I was hit in the gut, on a personal level, with the doom of my father on the same day.

My father was a self taught musician and played lead guitar as a hobby in several bands for over 25 years. He played at local venues and although not a big rock star in the Peoria scene, he played for many weddings and at Chateau on the Lake many weekends. I remember him playing mostly in our basement growing up. He was always my rock star. As a little girl growing up, it was quite cool to have a dad that could rock out on a guitar and occasionally sing for you. So, in choosing my father/daughter song for my wedding reception (Fleetwood Mac), I chose something I was sure he knew and had played previously. When we started to dance, he had the most confused look on his face and that's when I first knew. He did not recognize the song and he could not dance the way I had seen him dance with my mother. My father was born with rhythm and could tear up a dance floor.

My father started to unravel, so to speak. He lost his job of 17 years and then continued to be 'let go' until he had stopped at 6 jobs in 6 months. He could not maintain work and started acting not of himself. He was unexplainable at the time. Friends and family knew something was wrong. We were trying to find excuses. He could only tell us that something was wrong with his head. After many unexplainable behaviors and several months of denial, we convinced him to have an MRI.

At 50 years old, my father was diagnosed with frontal temporal dementia. The MRI showed that much of his frontal lobe was missing. He also had some damage to his temporal and parietal lobes. Today, at age 58, we refer to it as Alzheimer's. His symptoms are indicative. He has every indication that he is in the late stage. With his diagnosis we were told he had 7-10 years to live. He is in year 8. He has lived in a nursing care facility for almost 6 years.

I miss my dad. I miss talking with him. I feel so selfish in wanting more time, as I know what he has missed. I feel selfish in wanting so many memories and events back. I went through both of my pregnancies without my father. He has missed every event of my children's lives because he can not communicate with them. Their presence alone does not constitute a relationship, does it? They will never get to know the person he was to me as a child. Stories and pictures alone can not give them those experiences. And although I take them almost every time I visit, it will never been the same. He is not the person I wanted them to know. He is not the person I wanted my husband to know.

It is so very difficult to get myself to visit my father. Trying talking to someone who doesn't respond, who always argued with you before! Try hugging someone who you so need that emotional connection with, but can't hug back because their mind doesn't make a connection. It is even more difficult to take my children to visit their grandfather because he doesn't walk, doesn't speak, can't feed himself and wears diapers. They don't see how this very large man's life has been untimely diminished. I'm glad they are young and have always grown up around him. It makes them love him just the same. They don't see his burdens like I do.

I think I was blessed with three wonderful kids so that I might know my father better. ...So that I might know what he went through while I was discovering myself. ...So that I keep one foot grounded in reality while the other is in a tornado.

1 comment:

Cameron said...

Very touching, stayathomemommy.