April 17, 2015

What I Wish I Knew

1979. I was 30 years old, living in Los Angeles in a tiny apartment just north of the Sunset Strip, which sounds so fabulous but actually wasn’t. My first divorce was already under my belt (there will be two more over the years) and then I got fired from my job. Oh well. I’d had enough of that job anyway and enough of Los Angeles. And enough of the boss I’d slept with.
I’m sure that wasn’t the reason I was fired but regardless, sexual harassment hadn’t been invented yet so it never occurred to me to file a lawsuit. So I filed for unemployment instead. And anyway it’s not as if it hadn’t been consensual.
That boss was pretty cute.
So, when I told my dad back in Toledo that I’d gotten fired he said, “Oh, don’t say you were fired. Just say you were laid off.”
Yeah, I thought, laid being the operative word here.  
“Whatever,” I said.
I didn’t think anything would be served by telling him what a slut his little girl was.
“So I’m sick of L.A.,” I told him.
“Are you coming home?” he asked hopefully.
“No, I’m moving to Chicago.”
“Chicago. Why Chicago?”
I didn’t tell him it was because I was still reeling from that divorce and that I was miserable; that my promiscuity hadn’t assuage my loneliness; that I needed a fresh start in a new place. I didn’t let my dad into my life back then. He’d think he could fix me with his wisdom, which at that time I didn’t find all that wise. I needed him to believe I was strong and capable.
“Just seems like a good place,” I said. “The movers are coming in two weeks. And then I’ll drive across the country.”
 “You’re not doing that alone, are you?” he asked.  “I’ll fly out and drive with you.”
Oh no you won’t, I thought. My dad was not my friend at that time in my life, and I couldn’t think of anything I would rather do less than be captive in a car for 30 hours with my father. That was a torture I couldn’t imagine.
What the hell would we talk about?
So I said, “No, you don’t have to do that.”
“I know I don’t have to. I want to. I’ve always wanted to drive across country. It’ll be fun.”
Fun? With my dad? No way.
“No,” I said, “Karin’s gonna do it with me.” Even though I hadn’t asked Karin. Hadn’t even thought about it.
“Oh,” he said, and I could hear the disappointment in his voice.
Was my relationship with my father so different from a lot of girls? Probably not. Mine was a common journey, I think; I adored him when I was little, he was my hero. And then I got to those awful teenage years. What the hell happens then? I don’t know, but I had no use for him, and that phase lasted longer than I’d like to admit – well past my 30s.
He didn’t understand me, he didn’t approve of me, he thought he knew what was best for me. I hated that, and I had no desire to try to understand it. I didn’t know then that when he tried to fix me it was because it pained him so to see me unhappy.
1999. I was 50 years old, still living in Chicago, my second divorce under my belt. But I was happy, had a good job, a sweet little bungalow in Jefferson Park. And I didn’t sleep with my boss.
My dad was nearly 89 then but still vital and healthy, still in Toledo, and I went to visit him every month because at some point I had come out on the other side of those hormones and my dad had magically turned back into my hero; my biggest fan, my greatest supporter. I felt something from him that I’ve never felt from another human being; unconditional love. It’s hard to compete with that. I’m sure those three ex-husbands would agree. 
When I lived in L.A., instead of writing letters, my dad and I recorded tapes and sent them to each other, little cassette tapes – remember those (probably half of you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about)?
I still have some of those recordings and the sound of his voice never fails to bring me a sense of peace, and fill me with warmth. On one of the tapes he sent me he was concerned about a trip I was taking; I was traveling alone and he didn’t like that. He said, “I worry about you, it’s my job, you’re my daughter. My favorite daughter.” I had that tape transferred to a CD, and labeled it I’m the Favorite Daughter, and someday when my sister really pisses me off I’m going to play that for her and say, “See? Dad did like me best.”
Anyway, so I was in Toledo on one of my monthly trips, visiting my dad and one morning when I got to his apartment I found him still sitting on the bed even though it was late morning. He was agitated, which wasn’t like him at all. He said some men had come in during the night and had written all over the walls.
“Look at the mess they made,” he said, pointing up near the ceiling, in the corners of the room.
“Where, Dad?” I said and he became impatient with me.
“There! Look!”
Oh my god, I thought, he’s had a stroke.
“Daddy,” I said gently,fear running through me. “There’s no writing up there.”
He looked at me, puzzled. “But I see it. Don’t you see it?”
“I think something’s wrong,” I said. “I need to take you to the emergency room.”
“Well, okay, honey,” he said. “If you think that’s best.”
I got him checked in and waited by his side for the doctor. He sat on a gurney
facing a long pale-green hallway and we watched medical personnel moving about. Suddenly my dad laughed delightedly and said, “Oh, look at him go!”
I looked.
“Who, Dad?”
“That little boy on the tricycle,” he said, pointing at nothing. “Don’t you see him?”
I took his hand and ran my finger over his silky skin, and played connect the dots with the age spots there.
“Daddy,” I said. His hair was perfectly white; thin and silky. “Do you know how much I love you?”
He smiled, and his blue eyes glistened. He studied me for a moment; his face serene, happy. He said, “However much that is, honey, I love you a hundred times more.”
My father died not long after that, shortly after his 90th birthday. I know I was lucky to have had him for so long and mostly so healthy, but I couldn’t fathom a world without him in it.
I wish I’d known when I was thirty how much I’d miss him. I wish I’d known back then how many questions there still were to ask him, how much there was to talk about.
I wish I’d let him come out and drive across the country with me. I can’t think of anything I
would rather do more than be captive in a car for 30 hours with my father.


A DiMeola said...

Oh Sam....I cried reading this as it reminded me of my own feelings of my father, and those moments of alienation and eventual goodbye between us.
Loved this excerpt....Thank you for sharing.

Natalie Hart said...

This is gorgeous and sweet and just so true. And now I have to wait for my eyes to clear so I can prove I'm not a robot and post this comment.

Debby E. said...

Thank you for sharing your soul with all of us Sam, it is beautiful.

Julie White said...

What a lovely tribute to your dad and I'm sure he knew he was blessed to have you as his daughter.

Scarletgrey said...

I had no idea