The other day a friend shared something I often hear. “It’s amazing you’re so close to your mom,” she offered. “It’s kind of unbelievable you are so good to your dad.”
I suppose, in some ways, this is true. I suppose you could justify my not taking care of Danny. After all, when he had his stroke six years ago and I centered my life around taking care of him, at least for a little while, my mother-in-law pointed out that “of course I had to take care of him.” All I could think, and point out in response, was that no, I didn’t have to take care of him. In many ways I owed him nothing, based on everything that had happened. But I chose to take care of him anyway. And I still choose to.
By the story line my parents left a lot to be desired as parents. They split when I was young, but many parents do that. In fact they split well – determining to be friends and friendly with each other since they had us (my older brother and me) to take care of. That’s pretty much what they did well. The rest may have been well-intentioned, but it was pretty screwy when you look back at it. And awfully screwy as you went through with it.
My dad’s rage, inappropriateness, and willingness to expose us to scary situations and people – screwy. He did put a roof over our head (when he had to take care of us after my mom left) and he did love us (though I never really knew or felt it). But screwy nonetheless. My mom’s leaving – abandoning us with her father who was on the verge of a nervous breakdown so that she could join a cult and save the world – screwy. Left me feeling unloved, unlovable, and unable to find love. Screwy.
But over the years I’ve realized that they did the best they could with what they had. They hadn’t necessarily received all that they had needed from their parents (and who knows how far back that went). They were “babies having babies” and lacked the skills and experience to parent less selfishly than they did.
And besides, although I’ve had my moments of wanting to never see or talk with them again, although I have my moments of pain and anguish when all that happened seems to uncontrollably rise up within me and threaten to extinguish me, I’ve realized that I have choices in each moment to do what I want and have the life I want. I have choices of whether – and how – I will relate to them and what I’ll allow in my life.
With Danny, I’ve realized that as difficult as he can be to be around and care for, I wouldn’t be happy with myself if I didn’t take care of him. I may not center my life around him now, but I can’t just leave him alone.
With my mom, we’ve worked through many issues, talked through what happened, and tried (and try) to build a new path. It’s not always easy, but when I stop and notice, I notice how much she’s here for me now. It’s almost as if it makes up for when she wasn’t. Almost, but not quite, because honestly making up for isn’t realistic and it isn’t possible. All I have is now.
Maybe someone else would approach this differently. Maybe they’d choose to not have their parents in their life. Maybe that would be the best choice for them. For me, it’s best to keep going, to make the best of what I had and what I have, to be strong and compassionate (for my parents and especially for me), and find a way, whenever I can, to have a smile on my face and in my heart.
Lisa, I had heard you are doing this – nice to see the first results.
My Dad just died last weekend, at 99. I was with him, and had been with him and my stepmother (who died last July) often this last year and a half, after nearly 35 years of near rejection. …during which I just – kept coming back. And slowly, slowly, things changed…as I know you are finding. Like you, I felt I had to show up for him, for myself…and in the last year I found the Dad I had lost…. loving, charming, imperfect but interesting. We had some rough moments last summer, but I was able to stand up to him and still stay there with him – not walk out – and he was able to apologize in the moment – big things for both of us. And on we went from there. I am so grateful that I hung in there.
This can be rough, this “road of happy destiny”, but the rewards are amazing. Keep trudging…keep writing…you are a shining light! xoxo jt
Wow. Thanks for your story. I’m so glad for you that you had that time and you had that breakthrough. The past few years caring for Danny have been some of the hardest, and we’ve also had some of our nicest times. I’m glad that I have compassion for him and how miserable he is. I can’t imagine him apologizing, but then stranger things have happened and I can (sometimes) hear him voice and show his love for me, even when he does it in more hidden ways. I’m pretty sure he appreciates what I do, as much as he hates that he needs anyone, and especially me, to do things for him. I love when I see something in him to love and enjoy. And I love when I see how my kids love him. Remembering that what he does and says has no reflection on me (except when I’m not being nice) and doing my best to love him as best I can, even if it’s better from afar at times – that helps. Thanks for sharing your story. xo
Another thing: Danny didn’t HAVE to take care of you and Robbie. As I remember it, he WANTED to. He did not want you to stay with grandparents – his parents either – or move in somewhere with the Moonies. He knew moving you to the East Village would be hard; he made bedrooms for you and did the best he could ( for only awhile, admittedly) to make a comfy home for you. He probably went to more parent/teacher things than I did., found the best school, and made sure they knew of your situation. There are parents who foster their kids; he would never have done that. He was terribly proud of you both – loved showing you off. He just had an ego as big as the Ritz, so it must have been hard to live with…..not a lot of room for other healthy young egos to bloom ….
and as far as taking care of him – I went thru the exact same thing; I could have said no, not after the way I’ve been treated for 30 years….but I couldn’t . Somewhere under there was the Dad of my early childhood whom I adored – and he DID re-emerge the last 9 months or so of his life, and did voice his appreciation – a lot, in fact.
Anyway, as a friend said: ” it’s a dirty job but somebody has to do it, and it’s usually the daughter”. She’s a New Yorker, can you tell?
Thanks Jennifer – it’s similar. I could say no. I don’t want to. I would do almost anything to help make anything better for him. And who knew he was proud of us? That pretty much didn’t come through. Nice to hear. 🙂