Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day

There are fathers and then there are fathers.  You see them everywhere.  Pushing strollers.  Attending prenatal classes with their partners or wives.  Picking up diapers or formula.  You see them now....but that hasn't always been the case.  The generation that we see partnering as a co-parent is more for the current generation than the ones before.  It is expected.  It probably came in with the expectation that the men should have no problem picking up our feminine products while they were at the grocery store.  But it hasn't always been that way.  Nor is it always the norm now.When my father was told he was going to be a father, he was a young, single Marine.  I am told he was thrilled and immediately asked my mom to marry him.  He would become career Marine.  Doing 3 tours of duty in Vietnam and leaving my mother and my brothers and I stateside while he performed the duties for which he was trained.  But in the beginning....he took on the responsibility that was me.  An unexpected pregnancy that he could have run from or asked my mother to terminate.  While Roe vs Wade hadn't yet impacted the world, my mother could have easily done away with my existence. But both embraced the fact that I was gowing inside her and prepared for their life together. 
Within days of my birth, my mother contracted a breast infection that required her to be hospitalized.  My dad took her to the hospital to be treated.  I am told that when they decided to keep her, her thought he would leave me there with her.  After all, she was the mom.  But they sent me home with my dad.  Not only was he a new dad, but was unprepared for the two or four hour feedings I would demand.  He had to actually ask off from work for a day or two until he could find a sitter.  He rose to the occasion knowing there was no other recourse...with no family to help and new to the area, he pulled up his bootstraps and did what needed to be done.
As a Marine, my father was gone alot.  Sometimes for short stints in the field and school.  Other times it was for serve in a foreign country in a war that was so unpopular that even the nuns I was entrusted to at parochial school saw fit to inform me and my mother that any sickness I got was a direct result of my father's participation in Vietnam.  One of my strongest memories from this time period was of one of my father returning home. 
I had fallen from a very tall slide at my elementary school.  I had attempted to show off my remarkable climbing skills by climbing up one of the supporting poles of the slide instead of the ladder that was provided.  Just before I reached the top, I found myself falling to the ground.  I knocked the wind out of myself and had a hard time feeling my legs.  My hands were numb and tingly and I was scared.  They rushed me to the local hospital.  I was young and don't remember much.  I was admitted and they ran tests and did x-rays to find out why I couldn't feel my lower extremities.  In the end,after my body got over the shock of the fall, I was able to move my feet, my legs, and anything else they asked me to...but not in the presence of the nurses.  They were puzzled and looking back so am I.  I don't know why I didn't cooperate.  All I know is that I was 10 or 11 years old and laying in the hospital.  Nurses took care of me, my mom came and visited and I stared at the ceiling. One morning the nuses came in and bathed me.  They took special care to brush my hair and put on pretty pajamas.  At one point, I became curious and asked what was going on.  They explained with big smiles that I had a special visitor coming.  They all looked at each other with knowing smiles and continued to busy themselves with getting me ready.  Then they left.  My memory is hazy, but what I remember is hearing footsteps coming down the hall.  Familiar footsteps that bore the memory of 13 months of waiting.  Without bothering to consider that my next actions would reveal my false paralysis, I flung back the hospital covers and jumped out of the bed.  I could hear the heels of his shoes tapping against the floor making their steady progression toward my room.  I rounded the corner of my hospital room and there he dad.  He was in uniform. I ran as fast as my "paralyzed" legs could carry me.  He had a big smile on his face and he just walked towards me.  Smiling.  Real. Alive.  I ran and jumped onto him.  Arms around his neck and legs around his waist.  He was tan and his uniform was starchy and scratchy against my cheek.  As far as I know, I had already been discharged because he turned and carried me out of the hospital still holding onto him. 
A long time has passed since that day.  Years of arguments and agreements.  Smiles and walks down the aisle.  He loved me and raised me the best he knew how.  He made mistakes but also succeeded in teaching me things I can never forget.  I have terms in my head that will never go away.  Jokes that are no longer politically correct and cannot be shared with just anyone, but are there in my head, none the less.  I learned how to appreciate golf. I learned how to drive a car.  I learned how to talk to strangers and how to make them feel comfortable. 
Today is father's day.  It is a day to honor fathers.  Like I said in the beginning....there are fathers and then there are fathers.  My dad is from another generation.  A generation of stepping up to the plate and getting things done.  Of tough love and giving enough to help, but not enough to keep me from doing it on my own.  I am glad to still have a father I can call and wish a happy father's day.  I am glad for my dad.  So happy father's day dad.....I hope we have many more.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Sticks and Stones

How many times have you been given a token of love or friendship that took you by surprise? Sometimes we are given gifts that are unexpected; sweet gifts that elicit joy and a feeling of tenderness. We may feel overwhelmed by the generosity of others and their obvious feelings towards us. No one minds getting these kinds of presents. But the longer we live, the more we experience other kinds of gifts. Not the kind that come in a decorative box or wrapped with colorful paper and ribbon. But the kind of gift that actually doesn’t present itself as a gift at all. We generally call these….”lessons learned the hard way.” We don’t always see them for the gift they are because they don’t always bring joy or a smile or a feeling of tenderness. Instead these gifts can be delivered with a certain amount of pain and accompanied by tears and heartache. They may come from a friend or an enemy. They are usually unexpected and have the ability to feel more like a punch in the stomach. I was given one of these gifts recently and fortunately it didn’t take me as long as it usually does to learn from it.

An epiphany is described as a sudden realization…an intuitive leap of understanding, especially through an ordinary but striking occurrence. A moment of this nature sounds like it should be accompanied by musical instruments and a bright stage light or a cartoon- like bubble above your head containing a light bulb. I did not hear music or step into the pool of realization with any fanfare. In fact, I was busy sitting in a golf cart swatting at horsefly’s that were trying to make a nest in my curly hair. I was waiting for my husband to drive the ball down the fairway to distances far beyond my abilities. I was swatting and waiting and sweating. But I was doing it all in my new golf shoes. Shoes that I had to buy that day, before we went to the golf course. I had never owned my own pair of golf shoes. I had been walking on golf courses and hitting the tiny white sphere around for a number of years, but had never owned my own pair. I didn’t feel like I was a golfer, so why on earth would I spend that kind of money on a pair of shoes. I had been trotting around for years in tennis shoes and a couple of years back, a good friend gave me a pair she was going to discard to the landfill. I took them and wore them whenever I dressed up like a golfer. They were a little too small and pinched my feet, but they were free and I didn’t wear them everyday…right? They did the job they were designed to do, right up until I walked right out of the sole of one of them. Just like that they were done. I wanted to put on my trusty tennis shoes, but my husband wouldn’t hear of it. I argued I didn’t need golf shoes. I wasn’t really a golfer. I was a pretender. But his look said that he wasn’t going to listen to my well-intentioned yammering and off we went.

So here I sat in the golf cart, with my new golf shoes on, waiting for my turn to hit the ball two or three feet from it’s original destination. And I was wondering why I fought so hard against getting these shoes. It’s not like they were that expensive. With the amount of actual time I would spend in these shoes each season, I could wear them for a long time and get my money’s worth. I had wanted to wear my tennis shoes. The expensive shoes I had bought for the half-marathon I was in last year. The race I walk/ran. The race I trained for, for three solid months. The running shoes that replaced the walking shoes I had bought for the 3-Day-60 mile walk I did two years in a row for the Susan G. Komen breast cancer walk. In the time it took for my husband to walk to the tee box, look down the fairway, tee up his ball, align his body correctly and rope it down the fairway I realized what I had been saying to myself……….about the golf shoes, the tennis shoes, about who I am as a wife, mother, friend, sister, daughter…..person. I was saying I wasn’t worth it.

I had been listening to this kind of self talk all my life. I wasn’t really a golfer, so I didn’t deserve the golf shoes. I wasn’t really a runner. I hadn’t, in fact, run the whole half marathon, so how could I be a runner? Truthfully, I had walked as much as I ran. I had trained and walked  the Susan G. Komen 3 day-60 mile walk two years in a row, but I got tired at the end and didn’t feel I finished well.So all that effort couldn't be praised or thought of as an accomplishment.  Oh I could go on and on about what I wasn’t. I fought with my mom at the end of her life, while I was a care-giver and got frustrated. That made me a bad daughter. I had not always been a great wife. Forget about being a good mom….as many things as I did right in this arena, I had done plenty more wrong. A friend? Forget about it. I didn’t get meals to those who were my dear friends and could have used one. Or a card of sympathy or get well wishes. How could I possibly be a good friend?

What I had trained myself into believing over the years was that I was not worth it. Not worth praise. Not worth a kind word. Not worth the respect I should expect from my children, my family or my friends. I was just not worth it.

But in the moment it took for my husband to hit a golf ball and climb back into the golf cart I had, had my moment of enlightenment. It didn’t come with fanfare or illumination, but with the quiet knowledge that I was not a bad person. I was a decent person who made mistakes and, when possible, tried to apologize or make things right. I am worth a new pair of shoes. I am worthy to be spoken to with respect and kindness. I am a good daughter. I am a good mother. I am a good wife. I am a good friend. I am a golfer. I am a runner. I am a walker extraordinaire. When you look at the world you have built around you from the standpoint of being worthy to be treated with dignity….mostly from yourself….you daily life transforms into look outward and seeing how to treat yourself and others instead of looking inward and pointing out the flaws. My sweet husband thought it was just going to be a round of golf with his wife. A day of being together and sharing precious moments alone….with the hundreds of horseflies who followed us from hole to hole. And it was all those things….but that day was also so much more.

I started this story talking about the different forms a gift may come in….both delightful and painful. One of those hurtful and unexpected gifts was the beginning of this journey. It caused me to realize that my heart is special and fragile and worth being protected. So to the person who gave me the bittersweet gift of tears and heartache, who called into question my intentions of being a good mother….you laid me open with your words, but you also made me take a stand in defense of myself. You made me plant my feet on the ground and look at myself in a new way. So thank you…..I wouldn’t have asked for it but am glad to have learned from the lesson you taught me.