Thursday, June 17, 2010

Another Terrible First

Today is my birthday. I'm spending it in a place my dad would have loved, and which for me is the 'middle school orchestra' circle of hell.  *addendum: this has actually turned out to be OK.

That's typical. My dad spent 46 years wondering, I'm sure, how such a creature as I managed to swim out of his gene pool.

I'm at a Dude Ranch, surrounded by horses and fields and wincing at the promise of trail rides and bonfires.  Before we left Las Vegas, I confirmed that the lodge had WiFi.  Otherwise, there may well have been an unfortunate laundry accident, sadly preventing me from joining my husband's family for the weekend.

We're commemorating my in-laws' 60th wedding anniversary, something my parents will never have. My dad died last year, too young, too soon. This will be our first Father's Day without him.

I forgot to call last year. We did that to each other, sometimes. He didn't remember birthdays, didn't come to listen to my girls sing when our symphony and chorus toured Utah -- with me at the baton -- didn't turn off "Andy Griffith" when I called from Puerto Rico.

For my part, I sent gift cards, usually late, no doubt obvious to him as an afterthought.  Cried when we disagreed, took too many things personally.

We shared many of the same strengths and talents. Both natural teachers, both at ease - at our best - working large crowds and running the show. Maybe this was why we didn't value it as much in one another. "The world already has one of me," we seemed to say. "How could it possibly hold two?"

We also shared many of the same weaknesses. Sometimes, being together was like shining a spotlight on all the gaps in our armor, the holes in our characters, maybe even the insecurity behind the bluster. No one could make me feel more exposed for the fraud I suspected I really was than my dad. I did it to him, too. Neither of us meant to. At least I hope not.

But, sometime in my forties, things began to change. We softened, a little. Forgave more. Let most of the misunderstanding and the understanding-too-well pass, finding companionship in a willingness to be kind, rather than a determination to be right.

I spent most of the last week of his life with him. He was the happiest, the most at peace and content, I had ever known him to be. He had been working in the temple. It showed in his face, changed the sound of his voice, put a light back in his eyes. He laughed more. He flirted with waitresses, teased my daughter -- dropping a piece of corn on her plate and pretending he'd sneezed his false tooth onto her dinner -- and showed my son the ins and outs of qualifying for student loans. A businessman all his life, he spent his last few years working with special needs school children.

I was in the chapel the last time he publicly expressed the depth of his faith.  My oldest two children heard it, too. It was a mercy I didn't deserve, a moment of grace surely meant for a better daughter than I.

He should be here, breathing this mountain air and nuzzling the horses, throwing sticks for the caretakers' Sheltie, laying the bonfire. Once again I find myself lost in his world, not knowing what to do or how to do right by this man, so much like me and yet in many ways hidden from me by -- what? my pride? his privacy? I don't know.

The last words I said to him were 'I love you.' He said the same to me. We meant it. We believed each other.  It had taken a lifetime -- my lifetime -- to reach that place. Three days later he was gone.

No moral to this story. No admonitions toward an improved life. Relationships are tough, even those that matter the very most.

I loved my dad. I know he knew it. 

I know it was finally enough.


Kristina P. said...

This made me tear up a little. Don't tell anyone.

And happy birthday, my friend. Thanks for indulging my crazy.

Kimberly said...

I was about to start writing about my own dad, but that's a post of it's own, and wouldn't properly convey my reaction to your post. Barely blinked back tears, gratitude, and gladness for you.

Happy Birthday sweet lady.

Braden said...

A beautiful and honest tribute--beautiful because of its honesty. I hope the festivities are not too painful. Are the highlighted words some kind of secret code?

DeNae said...

The highlighted words are gone now, Braden. Stupid Blogger and its stupid spellchecker.

Amber Lynae said...

Happy Birthday DeNae.

Your words are beautiful, and made my eyes sweat.

M-Cat said...

Beautifully, beautifully written.

Love this post

Lara said...

DeNae! I come to your blog so I won't cry. And you made me cry.


Happy Birthday! Enjoy the wifi.

Kazzy said...

Thank you for your honesty about your relationship with your dad. I am so glad you were able to have some great final memories with him, because surely that will carry you through as the hard stuff pops up here and there over the years.

Sounds like a terrific man. I like that he spent some of his final years working with special needs kids. How cool is that? :)

One Cluttered Brain said...

That was beautiful!
You write humor and honest very well.

I really enjoyed reading this.
My brain can't think of what this is called...Grrr...

Lovely tribute to your Dad though.
Thanks for sharing!

Cheeseboy said...

Superb post. said...

DeNae, that was beautiful and thought provoking. You are, indeed, fortunate to have had a father like yours and the relationship you shared with him was very special.
Happy birthday, dear. ;-)
Enjoy the outdoors!

Annette Lyon said...

Beautiful, sad, touching. Made me think of my parents and their very real mortality.

(Go ahead and cry. I take back my FB comment.)

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

Absolutely enough.

(And I bet he wishes you were having a happy birthday since he's so glad you were born.)

Debbie said...

Happy Birthday!

Debbie said...

Happy Birthday!

erin said...

Very well said. My Dad is alive and we have the type of relationship you first wrote about. I will change that starting now (well tomorrow since I should be in bed and he already is!). Thanks Denae. And happy special day to you!

Debbie said...

I like to think I'd forgiven my stepfather for what I saw as a lifetime of excessive and unfair/hypocritical discipline, emotional abandonment, etc, prior to his death two years ago. I wasn't invited to his funeral, I asked my sister to say "goodbye" for me, but still, to this day, feel no love loss with his death. I know that's where I'm supposed to be right now, but I wonder if that's where I'm supposed to end up. I wish I love you was something that either of us felt for one another, much less having the ability to say it.
I don't know why I am sharing this - perhaps because your sharing made me think about my own sort-of dad-daughter relationship.

seashmore said...

This (beautifully honest) post comes at a time when I least want it, which probably means I most need it. In many ways, it portrays the relationship path I seem to be on with my mother. (I truly hope it can end at least close to the way yours did.)

Not only that, but my sister and I are leaving tomorrow afternoon to drive 8+ hours to visit her because she broke her neck and just got out of the hospital on Monday. So I will have plenty of time for reflection.

Oh, and I'm emotional because I'm up late and it's "that time of the month" and my non-boyfriend said something that I didn't tell him upset me.

Thanks for the blog and therapy session.

NatureGirl said...


Elizabeth said...

Hi, I'm new to your blog. That was beautiful. What a blessing it is to find peace and understanding when "there's still time." That sounded cliche and dumb. But you don't really know me, so that's ok. I'll be back because I like funny folk:)

Wendy Ramer said...

How fortunate that you two were able to come to that place before he passed. Many are not as lucky as you.

May your Father's Day be filled with the good memories ;-)

JennyMac said...

Happy Birthday wonderful DeNae!!!

Karen said...

It makes me sad how much I relate to this post.

My dad and I have always had a strained relationship. We go through phases of talking and getting along, and then we stop for awhile.

I am fortunate to still have him around. I guess I need to just accept that he is who he is before it's too late.

Destiny said...

Such a sweet post.

Happy Birthday.

Garden of Egan said...

Happy birthday a day late......sorry I missed the cake.

Hope you are having fun with the horses and road apples.

I loved the thoughts about your dad.
Bless you both.

Just SO said...

The firsts are hard. I'm glad you were able to be in a good place with your dad when he died. It does help.

I know where you are coming from. My heart is there with yours. I'm sorry.

A beautiful post. I'm sure he's there with you in some way.

Happy Birthday to you little bit late.

Happy Mom said...

What an honest tribute!

I love how things usually work out. Even through our obstinance and pride.

Thanks for giving my something to mull over.

(oh, and ride a donkey for me!)

Melanie J said...

This kills me in a good way, if that makes any sense. I think my dad and I had a very similar relationship. Like I told you on FB, I've been thinking of him so much this month because despite our sometimes thorny relationship, he would have been bursting with pride and gladness to see us buying our home and all the good things that are happening for us. We had a great relationship, and like you, nothing was left unsaid or regretted before he died, but there are moments where my parents being gone is a tender, tender ache still.

lori said...

That was beautiful and honest. Sorry you won't have another Father's Day with your dad, but glad you both had a chance to find your peace with each other.
Hope you had a Happy Birthday!

AS Amber said...

What a beautiful post, sister. The tender mercies that were given us the last few months of dad's life are indescribable. Not just us but him, too. He WAS so happy. And WAS so content. Why? Why then? I'm just so grateful he was able to have that peace that so clearly had overcome him.

And even mom talks about what a great week/end it was with you & dad. That you'd laughed & enjoyed each other more than you had in years. Maybe ever.

I so wish I could've heard his testimony that Sunday. And I wish he could've heard mine.

Thanks for doing this for him. Even if I am bawling like a big baby right now! Happy birthday!

JoLynne Lyon said...

Wow, I've come late to the party but can't stop from commenting. I agree with everything, especially about how relationships are hard even if they matter the most. Thanks for a good read and a quiet tear.

Out Of My Head said...


Molly Doe said...

Beautifully written. and though horribly late, I hope you had a happy birthday. Heck, since I'm late, I'll just say have a happy Monda.

The Woolsey's said...

Your dad was a wonderful man. Although I only met him briefly I knew it instantly.

Donna said...

beautifully written

Qait said...

DeNae, you have such a gift with words, and it's touching to see that gift applied to such an honest and heartfelt post.
I've always loved that in the midst of your ridiculous, hilarious posts, it's obvious that you're an intelligent, deep thinker.
To see your deep and poignant thoughts about your father would feel intrusive if you didn't seem so much at peace with your father and yourself.
Thanks for sharing.