June 24 marked my 10 year anniversary with my employer. When I first got the job, I didn’t know what I was doing. I had zero training in the field, but the job didn’t require any previous experience and I was immediately hired solely based on my desire to fill the position and my promise to do my best. I’m not gonna lie…my first few days on the job were pretty rough. I didn’t like it as much as I thought I would. My boss was always cranky and required my round-the-clock services and attention. He was tough to please and definitely a challenge to figure out. But over the course of a couple of weeks, he and I got to know one another a lot better and now, 10 years later, he says I’m the best in the business. That’s what my son told me on Mother’s Day this year. It was the biggest compliment my “boss” could have given me. I work really hard to try to be the best mother I can be so to hear him praise me and give me recognition…well, that’s better than any salary or pay-raise I could ever earn.
It’s a funny thing, this parenting business. It’s a job we get without ever having to prove our qualifications first. Wait…I take that back. Adoptive parents DO have to prove quite a bit before being handed over a baby, but still…the hands-on, day-to-day stuff…no one can train you or prepare you for that until you’re actually in it yourself and do the learn-as-you-go method. I feel like my mothering skills have improved greatly over the last 10 years. I have an almost three-year-old now and I find myself doing things a bit differently with her in some areas because as the great Maya Angelou used to say “When you know better, you do better.”
For most of my life, I subscribed to the philosophies “People don’t change” and the “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. But in recent years, I have come to the realization that people can change. The only caveat is that there must be a desire and willingness to do so. I changed some of my approaches to parenting because I want to do my job to the best of my ability; because I knew I could do better than I was doing; The sayings should actually be “People don’t change if they don’t want to” and “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks if he doesn’t want to learn.”
Like I imagine most two-parent households function, my mom was my go-to parent my whole life. She was my primary caregiver and primary disciplinarian. She was my homework helper, chef, chauffeur, personal shopper, launderer, counselor, playmate, and everything else in-between. My dad on the other hand was my hero, my knight-in-shining armor, and my prince charming all rolled into one. I was always a daddy’s little girl for sure. If mommy said no, I knew daddy would say yes. If I wanted a new toy, daddy was my guy. I remember my dad came home from work one day and surprised me with the Grease Soundtrack when I was nine. Best day ever! I remember walking into the store Two Guys with him to pick out a bike for Christmas. Whenever we were near a Hello Kitty store, it was guaranteed that I was going to walk away with a new trinket of some type – maybe a My Melody bubblegum eraser or a Little Twin Stars stamp set or Hello Kitty scissors. I had more Hello Kitty stuff than any other little girl I knew, all thanks to my dad. Basically, he spoiled me rotten.
My dad also had the title of the fun and adventurous parent. We danced together more times than I can count. If there was music playing, we were dancing. We rented boogie boards many summers in Huntington Beach (even though I didn’t know how to swim) and spent entire days in the ocean. On vacations, we rented tandem bikes. In San Pedro, at Ports O’Call, he often took me on helicopter rides over the harbor. We fed the squirrels together in Lake Tahoe. At amusement parks, we were roller coaster buddies. My first (and only) ride on a public bus in the U.S. was with him. We rode down the Las Vegas Strip to a big souvenir shop by Circus Circus just to do something adventurous. Through these experiences and so many others, my dad made me fearless. Seeing him live life unafraid made me believe I could do anything. He was my first teacher in what it means to be brave. He always made me feel safe and protected too. I knew that with him by my side, I was going to be ok.
|Always in his lap - no matter what my age|
|1976 or 77 - Feeding squirrels in Lake Tahoe|
When my mom died, our world and our relationship as we knew it came to an abrupt end. Suddenly, my dad was thrown into the role that my mom had previously held and to be honest, he didn’t know what he was doing. On top of that, I don’t really think he wanted the job either. For years he had been responsible for taking care of my mom with all of her health issues. Although I know he grieved and deeply felt the loss of my mother, I think my dad also must have felt relief from what his role had become with her (caretaker/nurse). This is all purely my own theory. I have never asked my dad about this subject (although maybe now I will). Anyway, I believe that having to take care of me infringed on his plans for himself as a newly single, free man.
As you may recall, up until my mom died, I had never spent the night away from my parents. I had never been left home alone. I had never been allowed to go on playdates or to birthday parties or to sleepovers or anywhere that didn’t involve my parents being there too. Shortly after my mom died though, I was suddenly home alone everyday after school which in itself was a big change and shock to me. On top of that, I was suddenly also spending the night at my brother’s, my sister’s and my aunt and uncle’s houses quite often. I don’t remember requesting these sleepovers; they just started happening. I started babysitting my nephew and niece on Friday nights alone at their house. I started going over to friends’ houses to visit and hang out with them on weekends. I distinctly remember that my very first sleepover at a non-family member’s was at my friend Jessica’s house. All these changes happened within months of my mom’s death.
My dad and I went from only knowing each other as fun buddies to having to get to know one another on completely uncharted levels. For 16 years, I had never once had an argument or disagreement with my dad and now, I was fighting with him all the time. I know we fought a lot because I wrote it in my journals. I don’t necessarily remember what all of our fights were about and I didn’t write what they were about either. I just wrote that we argued and left it at that. I wrote that we weren’t getting along. I wrote that we disagreed or that he got mad at me or that I was upset with him but I never wrote the details. Knowing myself, I probably (subconsciously) didn’t put it in writing for fear of him reading it.
|My 17th Birthday (my first without my mom)|
Around the time when our arguments started
What I do remember is that one of our first big fights happened when my dad told me that a lady was coming over for dinner. It was six months after my mom died and I just about had cardiac arrest when I heard the news. I wanted to scream, yell, kick, punch, and do some serious damage, but instead I went to my room and quietly sobbed. I called a friend. I don’t know who but I know I called someone and told them. Maybe it was Maggie. Maybe it was Jessica. Maybe it was Sara. Maybe I called all three. I don’t remember. I also don’t remember if the lady came over for dinner the same day my dad told me or if she came over shortly thereafter. Whenever she showed up though, I do remember that I stayed in my room and refused to come out to greet her or to sit down at the dinner table with them despite my dad’s efforts to get me to oblige. I thought “No matter how much you beg me, I am NOT coming out! Eff that bitch!” I felt like my mother must have been rolling in her grave. I felt like I was participating in the ultimate betrayal to her memory by allowing this wretched whore to be in our home. I also remember that I called a friend while the lady was at my house. Once again, I don’t remember who I called though.
When my dad realized that I was not coming out no matter how much he tried to force me, he decided to bring the lady to me. I think she walked into my room with him while I was on the phone. I remember I was in bed and she came toward me to shake my hand. I reluctantly shook her limp hand while wanting to spit in her face. I remember wondering what kind of woman has the audacity to show up for dinner to a widower’s house just six months after his wife died? What kind of woman thinks that the widower’s daughter would be eager and happy to meet her? And what kind of father does this to his daughter? And who is this father anyway?
I can’t say with 100% certainty, but I am near certain that that incident is what started the first of many huge fights with my dad. You see, just as I mentioned in my previous post (Expressive Superpower Activate!), I have this gift of being expressive, so I didn’t just quietly stand by and watch my dad start a relationship with this woman. I spoke up but in a passive-aggressive, rebellious teenager kind of way and when I wasn’t using my words, my actions, body language, and facial expressions did the talking for me. This was not well-received by my dad. In his opinion, I was being a disrespectful daughter. Although at the time I thought he was probably right, my disdain for what he was doing was stronger than my will to be a dutiful daughter. Hence, all the arguments that ensued between us.
I’m not gonna sugarcoat it. Things got pretty bad and got very ugly between us very fast. A lot of things were said that shouldn’t have been said. A lot of things were done that shouldn’t have been done. I was grieving the loss of my mother and now I was grieving the loss of my relationship with my father as I had once known it. I couldn’t believe that things had gone so terribly awry for us. I was devastated and depressed but mostly angry. Very, very angry. I needed and wanted him to be there for me. I wanted him to step into my mom’s shoes and fill the huge void I was feeling. I remember driving with him alone in the car one day and I said to him “Dad, we should spend time alone together; go to dinner or something.” He looked surprised at my request and said “Why would you want to hang out with me? What would we talk about? What would we do?” and he chuckled as if to say “What a silly request.” Just like my elementary and middle school days, I felt rejected – but 100 times worse because this time it was my father. I also felt doubly abandoned; first by my mom dying and then by my dad withdrawing from my life.
|June 1987 - Miami Airport|
The photo speaks for itself
(but notice my arm was still wrapped in his)
A close friend sent me an Iyanla Vanzant quote today. It said “No matter who you are and what you think you know or do not know, life will teach you to honor and respect balance. There must be discords in order to achieve harmony. There must be darkness that propels us into light. It is the frigid cold in winter that teaches us to appreciate the warmth.” She sent it to me in relation to an incident I told her I had had with someone, but the more I read the quote over and over, the more it made me think of other times of my life when this has applied. It particularly applies to how I view my current relationship with my dad.
I am able to see that in order to have the harmonious relationship we have now, we had to go through the discords. We went through a lot of dark times, but we are presently in a place of love and light. To look back on who we once were as father and daughter utterly stupefies me. It’s inconceivable that the man he was then is the same man he is now. It doesn’t seem possible that who I was then is the same person I am today. On the outside we are the same people, but on the inside we have grown and evolved into two very different beings. The change wasn’t overnight. It happened gradually over time. But I believe my “employment” had a lot to do with it.
In the last 10 years, I feel that my dad began to see me as a grown woman; the mother of his grandchildren; and no longer the little, helpless girl I once was. He began to know me as a person and grew to respect me as a parent and as an intelligent woman. He opened his eyes as to what our relationship could be if he allowed me in and gave me a piece of his heart.
In the last 10 years, we have also spent countless hours alone together (like I had dreamed of doing so long ago) - talking, eating out, running errands, just getting to know one another better and on much deeper levels than I ever imagined we would. We have healed old wounds and released the past. We have become better versions of ourselves than I ever thought imaginable. Of all of my relationships, I am proudest of the one I have with him because of our personal growth and healing. I am so proud of how far we’ve come! I know my dad has taught me a lot in my lifetime, but I also feel that I have taught him just as much. I taught him about forgiveness and unconditional love and he taught me that an old “dog” was able to learn some new tricks because he had the desire to learn. And we have both learned that Maya Angelou was right…when you know better, you do better.
|2013 - Knowing better and doing better|