I just left a comment over at Mocha Dad's Father's Day post, 15 Lessons from Fathers. He posed the question, "What lesson did you learn from your dad?"
My dad wasn’t present in my life, either. I had a step-father at home until I was a teenager, and then *poof*… my real dad was there again. It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that he and I had any really good conversations. I was working at a restaurant and he said, “Always be friends with the chef.” He learned this when he went away to school. He always had something to eat even when he was broke. He also said to make friends with the bus driver on your route to work. You never know when your going to need him to hold the bus when you're running late. Strange advice, I know… but I think the reason those bits of advice stick out are because that was a night that he and I had a great meal together, talking and laughing. Only a few years later, he died of a heart attack
I’m so glad we had that dinner.
My mom made it crazy difficult for my father and I to have any kind of relationship. When I got older and asked questions, the story was always that my dad was bad and that he never came to see me and all kinds of other niceties. In later years, I was able to piece more of the story together. Those missing details along with what I knew of my mother made the whole picture come together. Like so many men back then, my dad gave up fighting and moved on.
Those were different times. Families broke up and fathers were a distant character in a story. Still, I sometimes wonder if my dad would have fought harder to be a part of my life, how differently might things have turned out? I almost had a chance to find out when I was in middle school. My mom needed my dad's signature for some legal documents. My dad and I both asked her if we could see the other. So one day, I was walking down the hall of a large municipal building, on my way to my dad's office. After lots of hugs and tears, we had dinner, holding hands and smiling the entire time. I can still remember how he beamed. He was so completely happy to see me.
I thought I would get to see him more often, but then my mom made it crazy difficult again. There was always something else we had to do when he wanted to visit and she wasn't very keen on me going to stay with him and his "new" family. Even special events weren't off limits to her. Once, I was supposed to go watch Mikhail Barishnikov dance with the American Ballet Theater. My mom promised to drive me to the theater where my father and his family would be waiting for me. The big day came. I put on my prettiest dress and tights and waited for my mom to take me. About an hour before we were supposed to leave, she told me that the brakes on her car felt funny and she wasn't going to risk the drive. There was no way to reach my father. He and his family waited for me outside as long as they could. I never came.
I was sitting at home crying into my pretty dress and tights.
If my mom might have understood how important the father/daughter relationship is to girls in forming healthy relationships as adults, she might have behaved differently. But then again, maybe not. My mother has been a lot of things. Rational has never been one of those things.
My mom, in her anger towards my father harmed my relationship with him so much that, in the end, I really only had a few years with him.
When my two oldest kids and I lived in Northern California, I spent quite a few of my bonuses on plane tickets to fly them down to their dad. When I was too late for the cheap fares, we took Fridays and Mondays off and I would drive them down to him. We didn't get along. At all. But whatever my feelings were towards my ex, I knew my daughters needed their dad.
The cool little adults they've become is in large part because of the times they spent with their dad and because they know that he loved them and cherished them. Because of that, my daughters have a strong foundation for future relationships.
A friend of mine has spent the last several years fighting with his ex over time with his daughters. Recently, a judge ordered that his ex spend six weekends in jail as punishment for Parental Alienation. The amount of damage she has caused in the father/daughter relationship is so hard to believe. It's sad to think how this might play itself out in the future relationships that their daughters might have. One hopes that some day, they will look back and know that they were fought for and cherished.
Because of my friend's story, I've been thinking about the father-daughter relationship a lot lately. I've been wondering what course my life would have taken had my mother been less vindictive and more supportive of my time with my father. Would I have been a pregnant teen? Would I be on my second divorce right now? Would I have understood sooner than now that I deserve to be treated with love and respect?
I don't know.
I hope that my friend has the time and space for rebuilding a relationship with his daughters. I hope that they all find healing and come together to strengthen their father daughter relationships. I hope for a time of restoration and peace for all of them. He fought long and hard... not for his ex wife to be punished... but so that he and his daughters would not be.
Hugs and good luck to you and your daughters, Ted.