Random lady I apologize. I’m sorry if I was already pissed off when I got to Lake Myra, freezing with my two Small People and husband, and got kind of snotty about you walking in front of me. Most importantly I’m especially sorry for the way my mouth dropped open when I saw your husband, holding the hand of your ten-ish year old son. I’m sure, based on your initial glare-filled reaction, that you assumed I was scoping out your man for a little post Christmas…something? It only took about 5 minutes of you watching me look at him before your family relocated.
It wasn’t that I found the 1970s mustache and vintage (original) Member’s Only coat sexy. The reason for my teary looks was that your husband looked eerily like my father. Probably not in the brightness of day, but in the dark, with only the illumination of flashing Christmas lights, it was reasonably significant. I saw how pissed off you were, and I probably should have explained. But there is no good way of saying, “hey, your husband looks just like my dead Dad. Mind if I stand here and cry about it for a little bit?” Just no good way.
What can I say, the combined stresses drained my Holiday Defense System. It should matter, but doesn’t, that he will have been dead 10 years in March. This year has been reminiscent of 2003-ish, when Other Self was a wee bit…um, Raging Mad. Mad instead of sad– that’s how I made it through 2003. Except I can’t get Raging Mad anymore, because I have these Small People who don’t deserve to see or receive that anger. If I can’t be mad during these moments, I end up being sad. Ahh…but the Small People don’t need to see that in it’s full, blotchy-faced glory, either. Which leaves my only other option of Quiet and Preoccupied. Followed closely by the guilt induced, Super Happy with Fake Smile. Fake smiles don’t fool my 4 year old, by the way. In case you were wondering.
This year, I miss my Dad. A lot. To a degree that I haven’t felt in the past 4 years or so. Zach is overly obsessed with death and dying right now, which means I have to answer questions about Grandpa Phil. Lots.Of.Questions. Unfortunately since empathy is a new emotion for Zach and the thought of me being, you know, permanently gone, causes him OCD about how he would feel if I were dead. And in his anxiety, he starts moping around, picking holes in my couch and basically humping my leg. Which is not good for the adult trying to do Quiet and Preoccupied versus Raging Mad. Did I mention he starts preschool next week? I cannot have a 4 year old with Separation Anxiety. Just can’t.
In the meantime, this entry at Bravegirls Club has made me consider that all of those nameless, faceless bodies I pass each day. I start to wonder about what each of those people might be quietly dealing with. Imagine how many of us walk around totally preoccupied and moping about our own miseries, totally oblivious to what the word miserable actually means to someone else. Yes, my father is dead. But my children aren’t. See the definition of miserable is relative, after all.
This was my state of mind, hostess of my own blog-o-pity-party, when I went looking for one of my favorite father/daughter pictures.
Then I found it and I start to think- this picture was taken in 1977ish, when I was about 17/18 months old and my father was 26. Seven years earlier, in July of 1970, he was an 18 year old infantryman with the Screaming Eagles in Vietnam. On his last night in Vietnam, he was part of the battle on Firebase Ripcord. On that night, in addition to be shot, he listened to men–friends– wounded and begging for help, with no way to rescue them.
But on this day, he went to work in the morning and came home in the evening. He got the mail. He picked up his daughter. He probably came inside and ate dinner, smoked a pack of cigarettes, and drank a few (or more) beers. Maybe the rest of that evening was a good one– or maybe not. Now that I’m all-growed-up, I consider that my parents had only been married for two years. I consider that my mother was a SAHM to a one year old, in Germany, totally isolated from her family and friends. Without a car. Married to a man who was going through some stuff. Being a woman who was going through some stuff. All while having to parent a child who was totally oblivious to a world beyond herself.
It makes me appreciate how much that parenting reality just… sucks. To be going through some stuff under the microscopic scrutiny of Small People. To being asked questions that you just didn’t want to deal with on Monday at 2:58pm. Followed by the quick, coherent, acceptably, age-appropriate truth response. Which is a myth, honestly. Usually I just go for the quick side-step until I can form the aforementioned truth response. But that means I have to think about stuff I didn’t want to think about on Monday at 2:59pm.
But he was my Dad. And I can remember him being my hero before I was a teenager full of resentment for the rule-maker. Of a certainty I have some awful bad memories, too. Or quirky things I thought all Dads did (perimeter check anyone?). But I remember the good times, too. Most importantly, I find myself imaging what he would have been like with my kids. The kind of relaxed joy I think he would have found in being the grandfather, instead of the father. How much I know he would have loved them. This is what I want to tell Zach, and eventually Elliot, when they ask. But I can’t do it, not even on the best of days, without bawling, and that is scary to the Small People.
And, for the record, any emotions I may have let out during the writing will be properly bottled up again tomorrow. Where I prefer them to stay, easily managed and much less embarrassing. Red-heads do not look good the day after a crying jag, thus I prefer to keep the occurrences at a minimum for my own vanity, if not my sanity.
We can resume are regularly scheduled scattered-ness now.