Thanksgiving Memories

Thanksgiving inevitably leads to trips down memory lane. Random memories of family and friends that you thought you’d forgotten pop up out of nowhere. This year I found myself thinking about my father, and about a young woman from India whom I met way back in the 1980s. Two somewhat unrelated memories whose only connection is Thanksgiving, and maybe fathers.

In the summer of 1987 I was introduced to a young woman whose father had brought her to America to fulfill an arranged marriage. The problem was that her father didn’t know she was a lesbian. I hope you’ll forgive me if I can’t remember her name. It was 25 years ago. My friends and I spent the summer respectfully trying to help and support her throughout her coming out process. It was emotionally exhausting for all of us. I can’t imagine what she was going through.

As Thanksgiving approached, I asked how her family would be celebrating. She said “We don’t believe in thanksgiving.” I tried to explain that Thanksgiving is not a religious holiday. I pointed out that Thanksgiving is about showing gratitude for what you have. It’s about family, friends, etc. Still, she insisted that her family did not believe in Thanksgiving. I reluctantly submitted to her opinion and we continued along with other conversations. It never occurred to me that, in my insistence that she understand my point of view, I might be behaving just as stubborn as her father, and incidentally, my father.

My father and I had a rocky relationship. I spent most of my life distancing myself from his chauvinistic attitudes. (Notice I didn’t say misogynistic.) Dad wasn’t a bad person. He just had the misfortune of living precariously between two eras. He grew up in the 1950s, when men were kings of their castles. By the time I came along things had changed drastically. Racial equality, women’s rights, and gay liberation turned his world upside down. It was difficult, but he made an effort to change with the times. Dad’s limited education and preconceptions about the world often led to awkward interactions. He couldn’t understand why people didn’t always see things from his point of view. Sound familiar?

As I get older I catch myself doing and saying things that remind me of my father, especially around the holidays. Carving the turkey always returns me to my dad’s last Thanksgiving. His health was such that he couldn’t securely grasp and control a large knife, so the honor of carving the bird was passed to me. This was a very big moment for both me and my dad. He watched silently as I showed off my skills. I was proud. He was proud. Even my stepmother was proud. It was a very surreal moment. It took a lot for him to concede the duties traditionally held by the head of household. It was a ridiculously small gesture by today’s standards, but it wasn’t about the knife or my carving skills. It was a small example of the many changes that had occurred in my father over the course of his life.

                       *                                     *                                     *

I’m not sure what made me think of that young woman. I understand she moved back to India with her family the following winter. I never did find out how she resolved her coming out issue, but I hope she followed her heart. I hope she stayed true to herself.

I’d like to think I’ve achieved some personal growth since the last time I saw her, but I still see a bit of my dad in myself. But that’s okay. He did the best he could with what he had. He was human. He made mistakes.

Maybe, just maybe, if we all just accept that we’re only human, and give each other a little wiggle room, and a chance to make and learn from our mistakes, the world might be a better place.

                       *                                     *                                     *

 Don’t let life pass you by. Enjoy the time with loved ones while you can.

Advertisements

Dad wasn’t perfect, but…

My Dad wasn’t perfect, but neither am I.

This August will mark the ten year anniversary of my Father’s passing. He was 62 years old.

My Dad struggled to make a comfortable home for us. Along the way, teaching me never to be afraid or ashamed of the work you need to do in order to put a roof over your head, or food on the table.

In the 1970s, the economy was much like it is today. Dad was often out of work. On weekends you’d find my Father at flea markets, selling items he found at the curb on trash nights. He knew the Bulk Trash Pick-Up days of all the local municipalities. These were the days when you could put large items out on the curb for trash collection. You’d be surprised what people are willing to throw away. My Father was able to support his family like this for nearly a year. Though he hasn’t picked trash since the 1970s, he continued to buy and sell flea market items to supplement his income until the end of his life.

By the way – There is nothing wrong with picking through trash in order to support your family. The alternative is to resort to crime, or lose your home.

I’m proud of my Father for that. I credit him for my work ethic.

In August 2003, my Father had a heart attack. It was his third. His Doctors moved him from the smaller Delaware County area hospital to a larger Philadelphia area University Hospital in the hopes that access to more resources would help him recover more quickly.

Though cutting edge, the care wasn’t as personable as his local hospital. My Dad was not happy. Against my Stepmother’s wishes, he petitioned his healthcare team to relocate him. Though my Stepmother tried to keep my Father where he was, the Doctors relented. By the end of the week, my Dad was relocated to his local hospital.

I talked to my Dad on the phone that Saturday afternoon. He was concerned that I might be mad at him for choosing to return to the smaller hospital. I told him I wasn’t angry with him. I believed that he would receive better care at the larger University Hospital, but he is entitled to have his wishes met.

“You’re my Father”, I said. “I Love you.”

“I love you too”, he replied, and hung up the phone.

I didn’t give it much thought. But when the phone rang at 11:00pm, I knew. For some reason I just knew what I was about to hear. It was my Stepmother. My Father had just died.

After hanging up the phone, I got dressed and left my apartment. I didn’t want to be alone. The obvious place for me to go was a local watering hole that had been an important part of my life for almost two decades. I didn’t go there to socialize, or get drunk. I just wanted to be surrounded by people.

Through several interactions with people who knew my Dad was in the hospital, I processed this new information.

One acquaintance, who knew my Dad from the flea market circuit, revealed several stories told to him by my Father. Apparently, my Dad held me in high regard. He bragged to everyone he knew about every accomplishment in my life, no matter how small. The stories contained such details that I knew he wasn’t just telling me what I needed to hear.

My Dad was proud of me. I had never heard him say it. Just like, until that day, I had never heard my Father say I Love You. It was the first time I remember hearing my Father say I Love You to me. I was 38 years old, and I had never heard those words.

I spent the next few weeks in a fog. On one hand, I was sad. On the other hand, my Father’s last words to me were, “I Love You”. How was I supposed to process this?

I believe my Dad knew he was going to die. I believe he wanted to die close to home. I also believe his last words to me were intentional.

Whether true or not, my Father’s last words to me were, “I Love You.” Nothing can ever change that. And I will hold onto that for the rest of my life.

After all, my Dad wasn’t perfect, but neither am I.

FranksDadDennisGrandmotherAnnaHerBrotherDannyBW

My Dad smiling affectionately at my Grandmother (his Mother) during a family gathering.
My Grandmother never sat down. In this photo, she was probably setting out dessert and pouring coffee after one of her many delicious Sunday meals.
I got my love of cooking from her.
I miss them both.

Note: This post originally appeared on June 2012 at ADignorantium.tumblr it has been updated to reflect the passage of time.