Thursday, July 26, 2012

Daddy Dearest

This post is starting out about my father. I wonder where it's going to end up.
          My father and I didn't see eye to eye very much. Most of the time we went toe to toe or nose to nose on everything. I used to think it was my fault until I had children and realized that for someone in a "helping" profession -- psychiatry -- he sure didn't know how to parent very well. In my forties, it became obvious to me that I was his scapegoat child. Ironically, it's quite amazing how discovering something like that can free you. Suddenly, all his behavior toward me made sense and I felt no obligation to please him anymore, especially since pleasing him wouldn't be possible. My one regret was that this insight came after enduring four decades of his rampant negativity. 
          Among other things, he just didn't get me. When I was young and loved to perform in school shows, he called me "hysterical," a classic shrink description of any woman who has personality, interesting clothes, and loves doing comedy schtick. 
          Oddly, it was the one and only time our family played the game of Scrupples that truly revealed how deep his lack of understanding went. 
         The question to me was would I give $5000 I found to the poor? My father said I was so ambitious [i.e., selfish] I would use it to finance my business or spend it on myself. So, he said NO. One of my kids immediately challenged him. She pointed out that I gave money to worthy causes all the time, especially to homeless people on the street. I think his answer revealed more about how truly stingy he was with everything -- time, money, attention, affection, you name it -- than anything the game revealed about me. I remember looking at him thinking, "Geez, Dad, you have no clue what I'm about, do you?"
          With that introduction to dear old dad, we move a step closer to the point of this entry, whatever that may be, since I'm in the dark as much as you. 
         After my mother died of breast cancer at fifty, Dad remarried a little over a year later, to my wonderful stepmother. I've since learned that most widowers usually remarry quickly, within the first year after losing their spouse. He was 51. She was 35, sixteen years younger. They met cute. He was late to tee off. She and her father were early. So they all played golf together. Afterward, my father remembered her name and began calling everyone with her last name in the phone book. What he didn't realize was that while he had her last name right, he had her first name wrong. However, when she answered and he asked for someone else, the fates stepped in. Somehow, after one round of golf, she recognized his voice on the phone, corrected his mistake, and within three weeks, he had asked her to marry him. Cute. It took a couple of more proposals. And trading up to a larger ring. But she said yes. 
          The good news for me is that he couldn't have found a nicer, more considerate person. And smart -- with an undergrad and master's degrees from two top schools. We're also close enough in age to be more like sisters, which has been very nice for me over the years. I've had two great moms. Too bad that can't undo the damage of a bad dad.
          After they'd been married for ten years and added two half brothers to my roster of siblings, I met someone cute, too. I mean, we also met cute.
          Both of us worked in the same large ad agency. He was in marketing. I was in creative. On different accounts. Our paths had never crossed. One day, I needed to talk to someone about Miami, Florida, for a beer assignment. I tried calling the city of Miami for the information I needed, but, for some reason, no one was answering.
          Somebody, who knew more people at the agency than I did, suggested talking to "Trip," because Miami was his hometown. I called him. But he wasn't in his office. So I left a voicemail. He called back. I wasn't in my office, so he left a voicemail. I called again. Left a voicemail. He called again. Left a voicemail. Rinse and repeat a ridiculous number of times. Finally, I went down to his office. Naturally, he wasn't there. I left a note on his chair. And vice versa. Finally, he reached me. It was almost noon. Since we'd been playing phone tag all morning, did I want to go have lunch? He sounded young. He probably thought I was young. I was concerned because people think I'm younger on the phone. And I wasn't looking forward to being a disappointment. [Thank you, Dad.] So I said, no, it's kind of cool out, I parked in the building and didn't bring a coat. He said he had a sweater. Well, it probably won't fit. Yes, it will. No it won't. It's extra large. Oh, okay. Then he added, "I have to be back at 2:00 for a meeting." We hung up and I said to my art director, who had listened to all this, "I do not want to see the look on this guy's face when he sees how old I am."
            He WAS younger. Eight? Ten years? Fourteen actually. 28 to my 42. But for some reason, he didn't flinch. [Don't even think cougar. I will track you down.]  We had lunch at some noodle place and talked about Miami and a million other things. At 3:30 we were still talking. I said, "Didn't you have a meeting?" He said, "That was if I needed an excuse." 
           Cute? I thought so.
           At the end of the week, I showed him the finished assignment as a courtesy for his help. I also mentioned I was trying to find music for a campaign I was working on. He invited me to his place on Saturday night to listen to some Joan Armatrading and other people/arrangements I wasn't familiar with. My favorite recording was a wonderful version of Amazing Grace for bagpipe and cathedral strength organ. I still want to use it for something. Maybe a movie about wellness checks. 
          We ended up listening and talking until 3:00 AM. At one point I made the mistake of calling the evening a date. He was quick to point out "This is not a date." We never did agree on what it was. 
          For my trip home to the suburbs, I took a can of Coke to drink, so I wouldn't fall asleep. When I got home, I crushed the can under the front wheel of my car and wrote a country and western ditty called, "Don't Sleep While You're Driving." On Monday I sent him the smashed up can and the amusing lyrics via interoffice mail. I'd tell you what the lyrics were, but that was more than twenty years ago, and he has the only known copy.
          Ah. Finally, I think I know what this entry is going to be about.
          I was at my parents' house talking about this new guy I met. I told my dad he was fourteen years younger. Remember, my dad was sixteen years older than my stepma, so I was taking a poke at the bear, as it were.
          Naturally, my dad didn't say, "Good for you!" He didn't say, "Are you having fun?" He didn't ask, "What's he like?" Or "How did you meet him?" He just said, "Well!! He's not going to marry you."  As if that was all women were good for. And, as usual, he wanted me to know that I didn't measure up. 
          Once again my father still didn't know me. Or any of the women of my generation who enjoyed their own careers, made their own decisions, lived in their own apartments, and drove their own cars, only to get married and lose all their independence. In the seventies, women felt liberated. But for so many of us, marriage was still stuck like cement in the forties, just as constraining as ever. No wonder 1980 still has the highest divorce rate ever. It used to be that men chafed at the loss of their freedom. All I remember was how trapped I felt. 
          Taking another poke at the bear, I said, "But you're sixteen years older," looking from him to my stepmother. "That's different," he said. I knew what was coming next, "I'm a man!"  Sexism. Age-ism. My dad was a full service misogynist. 
          "Frankly, I don't want to get married again," I replied. He looked surprised. I half expected him to say, "But you have no other options." 
           Maybe that's one of the reasons I haven't married again, despite three opportunities. To make sure that any options I have are, in fact, MY options. And to stick it to my dad, wherever he may be.
          Funny how you can get to the end of a post, not knowing where it's headed, and find out something you didn't know about yourself.         


Jon said...

How ironic that your father, with all his intelligence and insight into human nature, could harbor misogynistic feelings. A typical male attitude, especially of older generations.
I'm surprised that you got along so well with your young stepmother. I initially thought it was going to be a wicked stepmother situation.

I like these revealing blog posts - - extremely interesting!

christe mihok said...

I like how you wrote this and let it take you wherever it would go. Maybe that can be helpful with questions we all have that go unanswered. Many times we aren't given a choice about people or events in our lives that hurt us. The choice we can make atleast, is whether we let it have power over us beyond that.