This is not a dramatic story as some here have been. Rather, a subtle evolution in the relationship with my mother. We’re still parent and child, of course, and I’ve found out that moms never stop worrying about their offspring, even as the kids start to get membership invitations from AARP.
The relationship has deepened into friendship, in which she feels free to confide her concerns and seems to respect, take to heart and even act upon my advice. If this were a film, it would need a plot twist, an “ah-ha” moment that sends things off in a new direction. Nope. It took me a lot of years for me to become a relatively well-adjusted adult, and as I became comfortable in my own skin, it freed her and others to become more comfortable with me.
I suppose the moment I knew we were equals (or as equal as we would get) was when she showed me details of her investments in response to my badgering her about tracking that information on the computer. Mom is a very private person, which surprised me (I thought I got it entirely from my dad). It took trust and a high comfort level for her to show me that information.
Wish I could say my father and I enjoyed that kind of relationship. We didn’t have much of a relationship at all. He never should have had kids. I realize he was a man of the 1950’s, when fathers kept their emotions in check and left childrearing to the mothers. But there was more to it than that. He had demons. Depression. It sounds as if there’s a streak of that on his side of the family. He kept to himself in the den and rarely emerged. When he did, the room tensed up. We didn’t want to upset or startle him.
I was so wrapped up in my own petty adolescent issues that I didn’t see beyond my nose and attempt to meet him halfway. It would have been tough, though. He had, as one of his brothers said, a dark and secret side. So do I. I am my father’s son. With modern medication, a greater range of accepted options about how a man can live his life – and the example of my father’s cautionary tale – I have dissipated most of my demons. It is a shame, though, that in so many of my decisions, I look at what dad would have done, then do the opposite.
Nor did I have a male role model in a grandfather. My mom’s father died just after I was born; my dad’s dad passed away decades before that (from what I’ve heard, he did everyone a favor). Thank goodness for Uncle Whis, my mother’s brother who stepped in to do the fatherly things, like spur-of-the-moment road trips to no place in particular and listening to St. Louis Cardinals’ baseball games with me on the back porch (to this day, baseball on the radio is something primal to me – I led off a film with a series of snippets from broadcasts. Perhaps that was due to Whis).
Dad loved my brother and me. I am convinced of that. He took great pride in telling me how he was providing for his family. I heard that speech often when I reluctantly ventured out to the den to ask or get something. I knew it by heart. The income, the investments – he detailed everything he was doing. I wanted to cut him off and say, “I don’t care about any of that. I’d love you without the stock in El Paso Natural Gas.”
But I let him go on. His demons, and a car accident that made mere walking a challenge, left him unable to go out in the yard and play catch, nor was he inclined toward such bonding. He must have known he wasn’t there for us emotionally or physically. Who was I to rob him of his pride in the one thing he could give us?
Dad passed away in 1985. I feel the loss more deeply now. There is a hole, one that can only be filled by a father. Had he lived longer, we might have had the kind of friendship I cherish with my mom. Perhaps medication and maturity would have helped him tame his demons. As I became a happier, more well-adjusted adult, I could have reached out to him and met him halfway.
Maybe. Perhaps. Who knows? I rarely think about it except when writing for some filmmaker’s website.
Whis, the surrogate father, died in 1993. It was sudden, unlike my dad’s demise from cancer, and I still grieve for him, moreso than for my father. A few years later, my mom started keeping company with as decent, honorable and caring a man as you’ll ever find. I’ve glommed onto him as a father and grandfather figure. If he knows this, he doesn’t seem to mind. It is as if I am trying to make up for 40 years of being without the emotional presence of a father. We watch ball games on TV at my mom’s house. He, a Cardinals’ fan, tells the manager what to do, even though it’s a one-way conversation. My mom and I tease him about that. I went down there to watch the Cardinals’ win the World Series this year with him. We have dinner and share conversation, just as I’ve heard families do. It feels like family. It is family.
Anyone want to go outside and play catch?