Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago
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.