Sunday, June 19, 2005

My Father's Day

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Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago

My dad was a geek.  He went to high school when he was twelve. He didn't graduate. Instead he took the entrance exams for the University of Chicago when he was fifteen and scored in the top ten -- out of eight hundred prospective students.  So he skipped his last year of high school and went straight to college.

His family had lost everything in the crash of 1929, so he had to work his way through school. It took him ten years to get his undergraduate degree in pre-med. Luckily, he was able to go to medical school on the government's dime because the Army needed doctors during WWII and he qualified for their accelerated program.  He finished four years of medical school in just two years, because the program had him going to school eight hours a day.

Psychiatry was the medical profession du jour, so with my mother's encouragement, my dad went that route. He had been leaning toward OB-GYN, but she wanted him to have a nine to five job. Not one that got him up in the middle of the night all the time. So helping the mentally ill became the family business.

Ironically, as time passed it became apparent to me that he might be gifted in diagnosing pathology in disturbed people, but he didn't have a clue how to be a normal, loving, caring dad. Shrinks are focused on spotting crazy behavior. They can treat people who are victims of dysfunctional parents with therapy and drugs, but they have no idea how to be a good parent any more than anyone else.  

So, I don't have many warm fuzzy memories of time spent with my father.  Mostly I tried to avoid him.  That started pretty young. When I had a problem -- like when Tommy kept hitting me on the playground -- he would interpret it using Freudian jargon that just left me crosseyed. Instead of just acknowledging that the kid was a jerk, that he shouldn't be hitting me, that it must make me angry, and here's what to say to him -- I had to listen to how all the hitting I was being subjected to was just a sign that Tommy actually liked me.  What the fuck?  Talkabout teaching mixed messages to a small child. Love means getting punched out?

In a nutshell, my dad had no idea how to be a dad. He knew how to be a therapist, so he treated us like little patients. His training taught him to remain neutral and aloof. So I can count on one hand the number of times my father hugged me. Or said he loved me. Or gave me a kiss. He was standoffish and cold. His sense of humor was clever, but mean. And those were his good qualities. As he got older, he got weirder, making up stories about his life that just weren't true. It was then that I began to realize his patients' stories were becoming his stories. That's a whole 'nother tale.

He loved baseball, so I do have memories of watching many games with him on TV. At least I remember sitting there in the same room while he watched the game and shushed me. He never took me to the ballpark, though. Or played catch with me. Needless to say my interest in baseball was so great that I found other people to show me how to throw and catch. But I think, of all the games I've played over the years, he saw only two.

Racking my brain for good memories, I was reminded recently that Dad used to make up bedtime stories for me and my younger brother and sister when we were little. My brother called and left a message the other day that started out, "Hey, JoJo, this is Oddjodge. . ."  Those were our names in the stories he made up. My little sister was Midge Midge.

That's pretty much it for fond memories. Mostly my life with my father was confrontation, criticism and argument. As kids go, I was good and very obedient. Luckily I had a great mom. I was accomplished in many areas. i got good grades. And got accepted at good colleges. But it took me until I was 47 years old, after a major confrontation I'm not going to share, to finally realize it wasn't me who had a problem. He was nuts. What a relief to figure that out. All of a sudden his nasty remarks and general disdain couldn't affect me anymore. He no longer had that kind of power.

I wasn't the only one who noticed his behavior toward me. Before his death almost two years ago, my older daughter had cut off communication with him years before and still can't believe that I continued to spend time with him, considering his treatment of me. That's ironic since she has a similar relationship with her own father who, as you might expect, is a younger version of my dad.  I thought I'd married someone just the opposite. But I'd found a carbon copy wearing a disguise.

So this Father's Day I am one person who doesn't miss her dad.  In fact, I felt truly relieved this past week that I didn't have to find a gift that I wouldn't be thanked for or spend another Sunday meal enduring insults.  

Meanwhile, I have read some wonderful memories of other fathers by AOL journalers. It's nice to know that my experience is probably the exception and not the rule.

The good news is last Father's Day was the first one I ever noticed that I enjoyed. Today will be the second.  



salemslot9 said...

Not my favorite holiday
my Dad passed way April 2001
I miss him
I'll never get over it
just go around it
I hope you have some fun today Mrs. L :)

cw2smom said...

Oh I am sorry that you didn't have a more "normal" dad!  I kind of feel the same way about my mom.  Isn't it a shame?  What they missed and what they could have been, if they chose to live life differently.  You can't convince me that people are just THAT way.  I think you have to work hard at being cold, aloof and unloving.  I too have very few warm and fuzzy memories of my mom and that hurts.  I have went to the opposite extreme to ensure my kids won't say the same about me.  Hugs,  Lisa

etherealpeachy said...

I can relate to the insults and coldness of a father. Mine was far too selfish and immature to be a father.

I also am glad to not have the dilema of buying a gift for someone who can't and won't appreciate it.
I'm sorry you had to endure the bad times as long as you did. I was lucky and was taken out of the whole mess early on.
Have a good evening and a great week.

pixiedustnme said...

We all seem to marry our dads.  took me twice around to figure that out (hey, so i'm a slow learner!)  I'm glad you have come to terms with your childhood.  I'm still working on that, and I had fairly normal parents!

robingrg2 said...

My dad treated us the same way he was treated as a child.  No affection and plenty of discipline.  He loved to hunt and fish and put his hobbies before his wife and children.  I was eighteen before he told me he loved me or gave me a kiss or a hug.  After that we never ended a phone call or a visit without saying those words.  He passed two and half years ago.  A week after me and my family moved out of state.  It's just not the same going to his home and him not being there.  I miss him.  Happy Father's Day Dad.

robbush6 said...

Okay, tall smart woman. You've stolen my life again. My father, the psychologist, was cool and distant at home but seemed to have plenty of warmth for my piano teacher, babysitter and every grad student in a skirt. He went from the military academy to the Army to Pscych school in the 60's. He couldn't risk incurring a child's wrath by saying "no," but it didn't take long for that child to learn that, "We'll see," meant the same thing. Today, we're all about setting boundaries. Must be the new pop pschology buzz word. His memories now are made up from snatches of other peoples' lives. "Remember that time when we . . .?" No, Dad, I don't.

No one should have to endure the disdain of a nutjob.

bosoxblue6993w said...

what?    you didn't catch the world dart championship?

kristeenaelise said...

Sounds like too many of us have had difficult relationships with our dads.  Who knew that such a great weekend assignment idea would open the door to sharing so much dysfunction?  I decided to let this one go by, but I've been there, done that as well, and decided to play the disappearing act this dad's day to avoid the usual boatload of saccharin-coated bull crap.

This is another reason why I think potential parents should have to go through training, analysis, drug testing, etc., and get licensed before they're granted the privilege to spawn.  

Sounds like most of us are doin' just fine despite all the stuff we've endured.  I'm glad you are, too.

=) kris

judithheartsong said...

good memories of my dad are few and far between too. I am glad that you had a great mom. judi

suzypwr said...

You have more warm, fuzzy memories of your dad than I do of mine :)
Mine just wasn't there - maybe benign neglect? He lived in the same house, but that was about it. Of my parents, he was better to me.


shaz19743 said...

Fathers day ........Mothers day .......lets make a freeking fortune out of card and gift sales day ! Lets face it all these "days" usually serve only two purposes a) to skin us out of every hard earned buck we have buying over sentimental overpriced stuff produced for that purpose because someone says we gotta and b )  makes people who dont have thier dad sad and upset  or the ones who have spent years trying to forget they ever had one  remember they did !
We dont need a preordained day to tell the people we love how much we love em .....just like we dont need a day to tell the ones who make our lives harder where to get off ! I mean why isnt there a " Nutjob dad/mum" day where you can tell em just how looney tunes they got ......card sales for that would break all records .
I have as good a father as it gets ....i tell him as much as i can ....not once a year cause i gotta ....mainly cause i know how lucky i am .....i also know there arent many people who can say the same bout " survivor " day for all the kids out there who have endured parents who should never have been parents x

sunnyside46 said...

It is hard to get over childhood hurts.
Sometimes we just have to let go and parent ourselves.
i know how you feel.

belfastcowboy75 said...

sort of like my mother's day.

jtuwliens said...

Didn't even acknowledge the holiday in my journal, and feel the same about the other parental holiday.  I mentally blocked it out and had a fabulous day with my husband, who is a fabulous man!  Good living is the best revenge!