Thursday, December 14, 2017

When A Father Steps Up To The Plate

Growing up my mom prepared warm, home cooked meals for us every night. She was a stay-at-home-mom until the three of us were old enough to babysit ourselves and then she worked part time, but even then, she was always home before we got home from school, to cook for us, mind us, and make sure we didn't watch TV past six pm. My mom's existence was dedicated to raising us.

But that's not all she did, after all, she was a 90's mom, she wore many hats. My mom tended to all of the household business, the finances, banking and bills. She went to all of the student teacher meetings. Social outings or birthday parties were her jurisdiction. A Catholic farm girl, she made us go to church every weekend, and not every night, but often enough, she made all five us crouch around the couch and say our prayers. She cleaned the house, did the laundry and the dishes and kissed us goodnight. Looking back on it, and this is just my flawed memory, the only time that was ever truly her own was when she'd disappear into the bathroom and steam floated out from under the crack of the door as she took a bath. I remember she always took really long baths. 

My dad was and is a truly delightful person. Growing up, he was my soccer coach, the fun parent, the one who let us watch R rated movies. I watched Pulp Fiction with my dad when I was 10. He's cool as shit. Dad let me get away with saying shit as longs as it was said in the moment or for a laugh and always encouraged me to do accents and try out for school plays. My dad was extremely present in mine and my brothers lives, not as a supervisor, but as a participant and a friend. He played with us, joked with us and often times, got in trouble with us. My dad was a big kid, which is why, through no fault of his own, when my Mom died he was just as stunted by her death as we all were.

She died in a car accident. My mom and my brother, forty two and thirteen respectively, were gone just like that. After the funeral, we were tasked with laughably impossible idea of moving on with out them.  In those early days, my dad went back to work, and my older brother and I went back to high school, but every thing was bleak and disturbed and life felt generally maligned. The thing I remember the most was the quiet that fell over the house.

On top of the shock, pain and grief, we had to go on living but it wasn't easy for obvious reasons and for less obvious ones too. When my mom died all her responsibilities suddenly fell on my dad and he had no idea how to do what she did because he never had to know. My mom's daily errands, from the mundane to the complicated, were foreign to my dad but now suddenly were delegated to him. Because dad never had to learn the things my mom did, because they did not share duties but rather compartmentalized their roles as parents, when this tragedy struck, my dad didn't know what to do. None of us did. 

We went from home cooked meals around the table to Subway dinners in front of the TV. From church every weekend to maybe God exists but if he does he is no friend of ours. I went from not being allowed to have a boyfriend to dating whom ever I wanted. My mom was gone, and so were the rules, order and any semblance of routine. Mom held the family together. She wasn't just the fabric of the family, she was the needle, the thread and the seamstress. We needed her. Sometimes, in my guilty moments, I wonder if all we asked of her was too much, that maybe we pushed her to exhaustion, caused her to slip, to over correct, to literally and figuratively crash. But that's going to far. That's dark as fuck. Can I really blame traditional gender roles for the death of my mother and brother? 

I'm going to try.

When my mom died suddenly my dad was unequipped to do the myriad of things she did and was seemingly unable to manage the new shape of our family.
 In those early days after the accident, dad made gross, raw uncooked beans or damp, tasteless salmon. But after years of trial and error he finally learned how to cook. He improved. He worked a full time job and also committed himself to all the domestic duties of the house. He learned how to do the bills, the taxes, cleaning, laundry and eventually, he even learned how to say I love you to me without me saying it to him first, (although it took him a bit longer to learn that one, but that's ok, there are cook books to help people cook but no manuals to teach one how open your heart after it's been decimated. I would write that book, but I'm still learning myself)

Now, 17 years later, my dad is fun, sweet and gregarious- just like he was when I was growing up. But he is also pragmatic, organized, adapt in the kitchen and a more calm and understanding person.  Some men never have their entire identities challenged, imploded in one moment, in one night, where everything you are is flipped on it's head; when God doesn't just suggest you change, but gives you no choice. But this is what was asked of my dad and he rose to the challenge. He didn't remarry and find a woman to do these things for him. He didn't find a replacement mom for us. I am forever grateful that he did not turn his back away from us when we needed him. He stepped up. He changed.

My dad today is a more remarkable, powerful, sensitive, and capable man then he was before the accident. He is equipped now. He is not defined by any role, he is not playing a part, because he is not just one thing, but many. Now dad always says I love you to me, with out hesitation or awkwardness, in fact, he usually says it first. 

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