My relationship to my dad has been difficult, frustrating, non-existent, dysfunctional, and mostly exasperating for most of my whole life. He was pretty much absent for the first 13 years of my life and then, suddenly, he started noticing me. And my response was something along the lines of, "And you are....?" I figured if he'd abdicated his role for 13 years, he didn't get to swoop in and be my dad at that point. Suffice to say, my folks didn't work as a team, so it was easy to dismiss him.
'Til I was 18 and I was dating this guy who didn't have a dad and he told me how lucky I was to have a dad and how I shouldn't take it for granted like I was. So, I started to try and build a relationship with my father. But it was more easily said than done. He had already become so accustomed to my dismissive and sometimes volatile responses to him, that he was mostly shut down around me. Getting him to open up just wasn't working, so I gave up.
My dad was raised by an emotionally manipulative woman and an emotionally illiterate man. He was constantly being guilted over something or yelled at over something else. There wasn't room for him to be his own person. So, when my dad grew up, he decided (probably subconsciously) to take up as much space as he could. Which left little room for me or my mom. My mom rebelled 17 years into their marriage and took back her space and 2 years after that, I left for college and took up my own space wherever I could find it. We're a family of people who take up space for fear that there won't be enough space for us.
Anyhow, my dad has, in more recent years, talked with my mom and, occasionally, with me about feeling scared of my responses to him. In his late 60s, he was expressing a level of sensitivity to me that I just couldn't comprehend. I thought to myself, "You're almost 70! You're at the top of your game in your field. You have the attention of scholars on an international scale. You're backed by one of the world's greatest institutions. What could you possibly be insecure about?" But this way of thinking didn't change anything, of course. He was strong professionally and insecure personally. And I had to accept that.
So, I decided a few years ago to try again. To reach out to him. To buy him birthday presents and such. It didn't work. He was still shut down and scared.
And then, this past December, his aunt died. The last of the elder generation. Making my dad the patriarch of our family. And when he and I went out to LA for the funeral and to visit with the family, something changed. Well, the first thing that changed was that I got my own room at the hotel we were staying in. Yes, my dad, in all his brilliance, doesn't understand why his grown ass daughter needs her own room. But I do, and I got one and that made a load of difference. Suddenly, I had space from him and he had space from me. And when we were together, which was most of the trip, we got along just fine. And he was not shut down. He was open. And we talked about stuff. And he was still playing it safe, but he was having real conversations with me.
Yesterday, I knew the Metro was down in DC and I wanted to know if this was hanging up my Dad's getting to work, so I called him. Sure enough, he wasn't going to work, but working from home. And we got to talking. Lately, I've been going through a lot of stressful stuff having to do with my kid. A lot of it has been weighing on my mind pretty heavily. I let him in on some of that stuff and we had a 40 minute conversation about all these things going on. And he kept coming back to the same message, "Well, the important thing is that you feel ok and supported."
"The important thing is that you feel ok and supported." More supportive words have never crossed my father's lips. It was revelatory.
It's been 32 years since my dad started trying to be my dad and I rejected him. And last night, he was my dad. It's never too late. It is never too late to be a daughter, or to be a dad.