I love my dad. But it's complicated.
My parents were married when my dad was 19 and my mom was 17. Nine months and twelve days after the day they were married, my sister was born. My dad was in Vietnam. He didn't see my sister until she was 9 months old.
My brother was born when my sister was four.
Eighteen months later, I was born.
Two years and one month later, my younger sister.
At 28, my dad had four kids and a wife to support. I think he made $6000 the year I was born.
It can't have been easy.
To complicate things, the four of us? Loud.
My dad? Quiet.
My dad was always a presence in our home, but never really there. I don't know how else to put it. My dad was the one who read us Bible stories at night. He was the one who took us to our softball games in his old blue truck. My dad was the one who put the food on the table and the shoes on our feet. He was the reliable one. With dad? We knew.
He was the most reliable person in my life. And I didn't know anything about him.
I grew up and got married and that all went to hell. My dad was the one who came to my house and loaded me and my little babies up in his van and drove us to North Carolina. My dad, this man I really didn't know at all, became the pseudo-dad to the little children I gave birth to. He would pick them up at daycare on the nights that I went to community college and all the little children, not just mine, would run to him screaming, "Poppaw! Poppaw!" They would all crowd around him and he would stop and talk to them, a twinkle in his eye.
He became everyone's Poppaw.
And I didn't know him at all.
I didn't know how it was when he was a child. I didn't know how he felt about having an alcoholic father and a mother who was a very sweet and loving enabler. How he felt having three sisters...did he feel responsible for them? How it felt to be 19 and be in the jungles of Vietnam and not sure if you'd ever get to see your daughter, except in pictures. I wondered why he never finished college, although he remains one of the smartest people I've ever met. I never asked him.
I found myself and then found Jason. My dad liked him very much, with the exception of the fact that he was from Connecticut.
"He'll marry her," he told my mom. "He'll marry her and take her away from here."
I never knew he cared.
I did marry him. After he asked me, he then went to my dad's home and asked him. Some might consider this ridiculous. I was twenty-seven after all, a grown woman with my own house and my own mortgage and my own children. Jason wasn't so much asking my father's permission as he was saying, "Approve of me. I love her. I want to be part of this."
It made my dad, this man I didn't really know at all, happy. He shook his hand. They were all smiles.
We moved away, eventually. Not to Connecticut as my dad feared. But still. Five hundred miles away.
It didn't matter. You know? I didn't know him at all. Not really.
Two years after we got here, I got the call that changed my life.
And I found myself in my car, racing towards this man I didn't know at all.
We sat around my dad's pool and we talked. Probably more words were exchanged during that time than we had spoken to one another our entire lives.
It came easier, for some reason.
Words came out that should have been said years ago. He talked about his past, he talked about my mom, and he talked about how it was for him when he was my age. How he struggled and how he worked. We sat around his pool and I looked at his fine house and all the nice things he has and I felt...pride. He has those things for no other reason than because he worked hard to get them.
This man is my dad.
Because of him, I am a hard worker. Because of him, I never quit. Because of him, I am kind to people when they don't deserve it.
Because of him, also, I don't always say what needs to be said. I don't wear my heart on my sleeve. I take a lot more crap than I should. I have trouble letting people into my life. I have trouble showing the people I love more than anything in this world, even my husband and my children, how very much I adore them.
I have the best parts of him.
I have the worst parts of him.
Since then, we talk. He's more apt to call to me up, just to see how I am. I send him funny emails more frequently. Sometimes just forwards but usually little stories about Boy Child and Girl Child. Pictures of them. I ask his advice now. I check on him.
He's my dad.
I always felt sorry for my husband. His father was killed when he was a child. He never really knew him. I always felt a little sorry for myself too. I wanted a father-in-law. I wanted a family to love me and want me...to take me, and my children, in. I wanted us to have that.
It occurred to me, last week, how Jason and I have that in common.
We don't know our fathers.
The difference is, I still have a chance. He doesn't.
I love my dad. It's complicated.
But we're learning. We're getting there.