I was an emotional desert, sandblasted and laid to waste by the years of ignoring what I needed from those around me. I was bright and shiny; I knew my assets and molded them into a near perfect package. The problem was even with all the bells and whistles it wasn’t enough, I still struggled with the horrible need to make my father see ME, I remained the same little girl, who wanted her father to say,
“It is going to be just fine, I will protect you. I won’t let the monsters get you. I am Proud of you.”
My father had begun to soften; he found his heart in the most unlikely of places. After years of dating women who though not near as horrifying as my mother often reminded me of her, he finally found one that was the polar opposite. Found her and nearly lost her, but she stomped her foot and laid down the law, “marry me or leave”. After years of friendship and a lifetime of knowing each other, my father found his true soul mate in Texas, in his sister-in-law.
Is that incest?
My brother asked this question. I laughed in part because it was a silly question and in part, because I believe my brother felt truly threatened by the idea of our father’s remarriage. He might lose his best friend to another, to love. Our father and his soon to be wife had known each other since elementary school, she had married his brother at eighteen and raised five children with him in a small West Texas town. My uncle passed in 1977, for years my Dad and my Aunt had been friends. For years, they would visit when he visited his mother. Their friendship was based on shared history, shared values and shared interests over time it evolved into something much different than either expected.
Theirs was a true love story. They married in 1990 surrounded by their children, grandchildren, friends and other extended family. Honestly, we didn’t know quite what to make of each other or our new relationships at the time. Suddenly cousins were siblings of a sort. Despite being cousins, we didn’t know each other well in the early days; we had to work to find how we fit.
I did not recognize my father after his marriage. He was easier, softer and kinder. My stepmother soon became the center of everything for all of us, drawing us in and together. She also became my heart mother, the holder of secrets and my confessor. She was the one person I had ever seen tell my father he was wrong but say it with such kindness he would smile and ask for a hug! This didn’t happen instantly; that softening of the heart happens as a person recognizes they are loved despite their flaws. He was loved passionately by his wife; he was loved without conditions or history by his new ‘children’ and grandchildren. He was drawn into the life he had always dreamed of, always wanted. My father was finally the patriarch of family extending generations. My brother slowly grew to accept our new stepmother as a part of life, she was there to stay and she didn’t take away from him. His relationship with our father remained exactly what it had always been, best friends.
Two years after my father married, I was carjacked and shot, the first person I saw when I awoke from a coma was my father. When I believed I might not survive I asked for three things:
- That I survive long enough to tell my sons I would always watch over them;
- That I could tell my father I had become a woman he could be proud of;
- A last cigarette (don’t hate).
I did survive but struggled with the relationship with my father even then. His view of me remained a historical view without context. There came a time when I finally had to either be willing to give him some of the context or accept defeat, it was then my stepmother became my confessor. It was over coffee one early morning after a random comment by her about my ‘exotic’ looks as a child the story of my childhood began to unfold.
I swore her to secrecy
Yes, I did this. We struggled with the idea that my secrets were becoming hers and my pain was the wall between my father and I. Finally, over many early morning coffee confessionals, tears and hugs we also agreed that my secrets were killing my soul. My heart mother knew my father would never hear the secrets from me. She knew he couldn’t because I couldn’t tell, but she could and did. No, not all of them because even she didn’t know them all and some she agreed were mine to tell or not. Like me, my father had told her many of his own secrets and she was able to piece together our life apart, our life in his absence. Without blame and without breaking her promises she was able to begin to build bridges between us and heal old wounds.
We found some of our way
With her great love for both of us, we found our way toward each other. It wasn’t always easy; we were a prickly pair, both ready to take umbrage even where no offense was intended. We learned to hug though, not just those
cursory hugs you give family members because it is expected, but those hugs you give because you want to be right there, right in someone’s arms because you love them and it feels perfectly good and right. We learned to say, “I love you”, mean it and not forget.
I didn’t get over my jealousy of my brother’s relationship with our father; it changed though from jealousy of their closeness to jealousy of the missing time.
In 2001, my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I watched closely as his brilliant mind withdrew. My wonderful heart mother was his primary caregiver and with medicine, the march of that horrible disease was slowed to a crawl. In 2008, my heart mother fell and hit her head, she passed away two days later. At her interment, my father held my hand, leaned over and whispered to me;
“I am done”
He stopped taking his medicines, all of them. He stopped taking his medicine for Alzheimer, for his heart, for his blood pressure. His health rapidly declined. My father passed away in November 2009, almost 13 months to the day after the love of his life.
I miss my father and my heart mother. I miss watching their marriage. I miss the relationship I eventually developed with my father as an adult. He is the one person who ultimately saw me, demanded of me my best and
thought I was precious.
By the way, yes my father did tell me
‘I am proud of you’
One of the greatest gifts of all.