I am taking a bit of a break from my usual blog, choosing to focus on some musings on fathers and my father in particular, as Father’s Day is this weekend.
My favorite memory of my father and myself is when I was about 5 years. It is a simple memory. We were in the back yard of our South Carolina home, and it was nearly dinner time. Dad was in the yard with us 3 kids, but my sister and brother were busy playing something else in another part of the yard, while I was alone with Dad. This was a very rare treat. Either the three of us, being only 1 year apart each, had to compete for our parents’ attention, or Dad was just not available. So, to have Dad all to myself for those precious moments was pure heaven. I clearly recall the privileged feeling I had on that afternoon. My Dad was lying on his back in the grass with his knees bent and I was standing on them, trying to balance myself without falling off. Dad was carefully ensuring I did not fall and hurt myself. Though I tumbled frequently (I was never very coordinated), he always caught me, and we would laugh together at my clumsy attempts. It did not matter to me if I was clumsy or not…I had Dad all to myself! After a time (all too short for me) Mom called us all in for dinner. I clearly recall my keen disappointment, wishing that moment alone with Dad could last forever. A nice Father’s Day memory.
Fast forward to my young adult years. I had a friend who had lost her father and was all broken up about it. I recall realizing with a nasty shock that I if I were in my friend’s position, I would not likely be missing my father like this lady was. This bothered me and worried me. It wasn’t that I was angry or hostile towards my dad, I just felt…nothing. You see, other than very rare occasions like I described above, my father was basically emotionally absent. Don’t get me wrong. He never abused or mistreated us, and for that I am thankful. He always provided for us and looked after us. He cared for us, but he was emotionally absent. My father raised us in the best way he knew how in that era. We rarely played with him, and increasingly so as we got older. We never had good long talks. He never told me what to look for in boys or how to conduct myself when I started dating. And we never said we loved each other in my family. It was just taken for granted. I missed those emotional and social supports, especially when I saw them in my friends’ relationships with their fathers. So, I wasn’t angry or resentful of my dad, he just wasn’t my friend. My mother was always my mother…but she eventually also became my friend. Not so with Dad.
Fast forward again to my middle adult years. My father is quite old now and I realized with a shock (maybe it was the first time he actually told me “I love you”) that my dad was lonely, was missing his family, and was actually trying to reach out and awkwardly form real relationships with us. My mother by this time was confined to a wheelchair in a nursing home, with severe dementia. My older brother was dead several years, and my father really missed him. My younger brother, who has a psychological disorder, was constantly in and out of trouble (usually being bailed out by Dad) and unable to form close emotional ties with anyone. My sister lived a 3-hours’ drive away, and I lived overseas. Many of Mom & Dad’s friends were dying or had died. I think somewhere along the way, Dad realized what was missing in his life and was trying to get closer, trying desperately to draw his family closer. But I still felt nothing. I was certainly friendly and patient with him, but I did not feel any warm feelings and still resisted working at forming a close relationship with him. After all, I had a good excuse. I lived far away.
Allow me one more fast forward to the present. I am in my mid 60s now and Dad has just turned 90. Mom’s gone. My younger brother is in jail (long story), and my sister still lives 3 hours away from Dad. Dad has been swindled by extended family members and is in trouble financially. He has begun to have memory and confusion issues (who doesn’t at 90?) and has blacked out twice early in the year. His hearing has deteriorated to the point where he can hear virtually nothing without his hearing aids. He really should not be driving and it has become clear that he can no longer live alone. It is too dangerous. He cannot live with my sister (though I know she would do everything in her power to help him) and we cannot afford an assisted living home. Chip & I took the plunge of inviting him to come to Kenya to live with us. We did not think he would take up the offer, but amazingly, he did so…eagerly even. I applaud my father for his courage to tear up his roots and move halfway around the world. I admire Chip, the father of our children, for helping Dad through the confusing maze of online airline tickets, passport application, and visa, and for flying to the U.S. to accompany someone, who is not his own flesh and blood, here.
Through all these preparations, I have been reflecting a lot. I find it ironic that of the 4 parents we were blessed with, the one who ends up living with us is the very one to which I had the least emotional attachment. Think God could be at work here? I do. You see, maybe it’s true that I did not get the emotional support and attachment I should have gotten as a child. But I am no longer a child. I am an adult. And now it is up to me to decide what to do with Dad’s tentative reaching out for relationship. I could say, “No! You owed me emotional love and support as a child and never gave it to me! Why are you wanting it now?” Or I could ‘woman up’ and respond to Dad’s very real need. Is it late in the game to be trying to form a close relationship? Sure! Dad is 90. I am nearly 66. But is it too late? Never! As long as Dad and I both have breath and are alive, it is never too late. What a beautiful chance God has given us to finally form what should have been formed long ago. What a great chance to honor my father for what he did do right and to give him shelter and what he so badly needs now in the twilight of his life…love.
As the day of Dad’s arrival comes close (less than 2 weeks away now) Dad says he is getting more and more excited about coming and living with us. And you know what? I’ve begun to get excited too. I am enjoying working on making his room as comfy as possible, with whatever he may need and desire. I am having fun making things look nice for him, planning how we will do meals, making arrangements for his recreation, and planning a “welcome to Kenya” party with the neighbors and Kenyan family members. I am looking forward to being able to minister to my dad in a way I could never do when he lived on the other side of the world. I am looking forward to forming an emotional relationship, a friendship even, with him at last. Thank you, God, for this opportunity. I pray I live up to it. Happy Father’s Day, Dad!