When I called my father today to wish him a happy Father’s Day, I spent sometime thinking about him, Doug, and our relationship over the past 29 years. It’s been happy. It’s been really unhappy. And it’s hovered somewhere in between.
My father is lively, very sociable, a prankster, an adventurer, extremely driven and quick to temper. As his daughter, so am I. I’m the firstborn in my family and the only girl. Both my father and I are very stubborn to boot and I’m well known as a gal who speaks her mind and comes to the table ready for a fight. Growing up with such dynamics made our household very interesting.
There were a lot of time we didn’t exactly see eye to eye, even though we both possess the same dark blue eyes. But then, especially as I’ve gotten older and my temper’s mellowed, we’ve seen the exact same goal — whether it is kayaking the Class III section of the Middle Fork of the Flathead River or opting to pack beer in my backpack for our overnight trip into the Great Bear Wilderness. My father’s the one who’s pushed me my entire life. I learned that hard work and honesty get you places and when you screw up, you gotta admit your mistakes. I’ve learned how to be independent, strong and ambitious. But there’s also been an undercut to our relationship — my choices, my successes haven’t always been good enough for my father. Like me, he expects more. In many ways, this is a great quality to have. But it also has an evil twin that ensures you’ll never be happy, never satisfied. It’s been up to me to find that balance.
When I was younger I was also a bit scared of my dad. He was the disciplinarian. More so than my mother. If I got into trouble, which was quite often, I’d first have to call my dad at work (he worked a ton, sometimes even three jobs when I was younger to make ends meet) and explain my crime. Then, I’d have to wait a billion hours until he returned to receive my spanking. I heard the phrase, “You’re on thin ice, Maggie. Thin ice.” a lot during my childhood.
But, when shit goes wrong, my father is the first one I call. My mother, despite all of wonderfulness and the intimate relationship she and I share, can’t deal with the hard stuff. She just wants the world to be right. When bad things happen, her only response is: “It will be OK.”
Yet, when drinking too much and a bad relationship made me a bit too unstable, who did I call?
The guy I often hated. The guy who made me cry so often when I was a little girl. The guy who said he wasn’t going to pay for my senior year of college just because I wanted to go on a self-funded ski trip to Colorado.
When I was in college, my excessive drinking caught up with me. I stuffed a multitude of bad, painful stuff from my childhood and teenage years. Guess what happens when you drown your wounded inner-child in cheap vodka? Oh yeah, she comes out. She comes out kicking and screaming.
I’d gone to far. I was scared, angry, and trying to rid myself of any negative thoughts with alcohol and boys who I had the power over. My friends saw what was happening. They took me to a counselor on campus. She told me I had to reconcile with my father. Nothing like being a semi-adult and calling your father to say 1) I’ve got a problem with alcohol, and 2) You play a part in that.
What did my dad do? He listened. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t yell or scream. A few days later I received a letter from him. He explained some things. Told me of his childhood — something we didn’t talk about as a family. He said it wasn’t all my fault, all my problems. He was going to help. And he did.
A few years later, after I moved from the Midwest to Montana I’d once again need the granite strength of my father. I should have listened to him when I told him I was engaged. He said it wasn’t a good idea. I wasn’t ready. It wasn’t even a good relationship. Yet, he stood by and allowed me to make wedding plans, to fake happiness. But when I crumbled, even doubted my own existence on this earth, my father bought a plane ticket and rushed to Montana.
We communicate the best in the woods. When he first arrived, I was uncomfortable and scared. Scared he’d be upset, disappointed. He was worried. Scared that his only daughter was going to do something drastic. He just wanted me safe and happy. He came for a long weekend in the cool dreary fall. We spent a lot of time hiking in Glacier. It was there, among the golden larch needles that we talked. He listened. A lot. He didn’t impose. His eyes watered a lot. As a father, he wasn’t always known for giving a lot of physical affection, but many times he wrapped his arms around me and held on very tightly. When I faked happiness or “I’ve got it all together, I’m just fine.” he saw through it all.
No one knows me like my father.
I have completely different relationship with each of my parents. It doesn’t make one better than the other. Each parent, my mother and my father, fulfilsl a unique niche in my life. There are things I discuss with my mother that would never escape my lips.
And with my father, we fight a lot. We probably will for the rest of my life. Deep in my heart, I carry many imprint of my father — the jovial bartender at the ski bar, the woodsmen running his bird dogs in the northern Michigan hardwoods, the calloused hand guy who spanked me after misbehaving in church, and, the combination of Man and Father, who’s always stuck by my side.
He’s never given a bailout. He’s given me much more than that.
To DRD, Happy Father’s Day.