Missing People Just Plain Sucks

Missing people just plain sucks.

I’m sad.  I just finished watching a video about the School of Piano Technology in Vancouver, Washington.  And no, pianos themselves don’t make me sad, just in case you were wondering.  What just made me sad was missing my dad.

My relationship with my dad was… complicated.  My parents divorced when I was a young pup.  Knee high to a grasshopper.  My dad, who didn’t want it, didn’t handle it well.  My mom, for her part, wishes she would’ve done the whole thing differently, but we’re human, and we handle things the way we do.  Better or worse.  Life is messy, and so was this.

After the divorce my brother and I lived with Mom full-time.  Dad had visitation and Mom, who still thought he was a great guy, wanted us to have him in our lives.  She talked kindly and fondly of him and often encouraged us to call him.  Dad, who was a person filled with light and joy by nature, couldn’t handle the separation and his best defense was to ignore that it happened, and consequently, to ignore my brother and I.  Simply put it was easier for him to pretend we didn’t exist than it was to actually be engaged with us on a part-time basis.  The whole situation was made more difficult by the fact that he remarried and after a few short years together they moved to Montana.  Being so far away just put further distance between us.  My dad had a great life there.  He and my step-mom had five children together and were happy.  It was good for them, for him.  But he was still my dad and though I loved him, and knew he loved me, he dropped the ball in the being a parent to my brother and I department.  He dropped it big time.

Missing people just plain sucks.

There were hardly any calls to us, and when we did talk to him it was because Mom had asked if we wanted to call him.  And when, finally, we were on the phone with him, after we’d made the call, he would cry, say he missed us so much, and ask how come we didn’t call more.  We were pre-teens, he was the grown up.  Who should have been responsible for keeping in touch?  Apparently, according to my dad, the pre-teens.  I think I only ever got one or two birthday cards from him.  He never wrote a letter.

Missing people just plain sucks.

When he first moved to Montana we didn’t see him for four years.  Not because Mom stopped us from going, but because Dad didn’t ask us to come.  I remember our first visit there, I was 12 when he moved and 16 when we went for the first time.  My brother and I went by train.  It was strange suddenly being with him, with his new family, and feeling outside of it all.  Feeling apart.  He tried to make us feel like part of the family, but he was a tad clumsy with those things.  I have memories from that visit all clouded by this feeling of us all being a bit uncomfortable.  The weird thing is that when we were with him we were his everything.  In person he was fantastic.  Showered us with attention, talked as if nothing was off, as if we hadn’t just spent four years not really communicating at all.  We were his light, when we were there with him.  I’m sure that then made it strange for my step-mom and for my younger siblings.  Suddenly he was all about us.  Wanting to introduce us around town, spend all his time with my brother and I.  He would say things to us like, take this to your mom, referring to our step-mom as our mom.  It didn’t feel right, to us or to her.  He wanted one big happy family when we were there.  Like I said, he was awkward with things like that.  Then, when we weren’t with him, when we were back in Oregon, it was as if all the lights shut off.  All communication once again stopped.  Like a switch.  A switch I wasn’t very good at understanding for a long long time.

Missing people just plain sucks.

This happened every time we went to Montana to visit, or my dad and all came to Oregon, which wasn’t a lot.  After I was a bit older I drove out for my little sister’s high school graduation and then for my younger brother’s high school graduation.  Same thing.  Switch on.  Switch off.  It’s something K saw first hand a few times after we got together and she never understood it.  She always said it was so strange that he didn’t communicate at all with me and then when I was with him he couldn’t get enough of me, showered me with attention and affection.  Switch on…. switch off.  It was actually kind of nice to get her opinion about it.  All those years feeling that way, to then have her confirm how odd it was, was comforting.  Made me feel a little less off kilter where the Dad situation was concerned.

My brother and I handled this whole switch scenario very differently.  When we were younger my brother had Dad on a pedestal, way up high, something porcelain and delicate and beautiful and not to be disparaged or messed with.  Dad was the end all and be all to him.  For me that wasn’t the case.  I was angry.  I remember my brother and I having big yelling matches about Dad.  He defending him as I screamed about what an ass he was for not caring, for not talking, for not being there, for basically abandoning us.  I wrote Dad letters I didn’t send.  Made mixed tapes for Dad that, unfortunately, I think I did send.  Embarrassing, and yet not embarrassing.  I was a teenager who desperately wanted her father to love her.  To acknowledge me when he wasn’t right there looking at me.  To be my father, my dad, whether or not he was standing in the room with me.  Because honestly, I adored him too.  I wanted desperately to have his attention.  After we were adults, my brother and I did a swap in this regard.  Me, having come to grips with who Dad was as a person and who he would always be, and my brother having an experience with Dad in regards to my brother’s wife at the time that would make him so angry he didn’t see or speak to Dad for six years after.  Dad didn’t really do anything, but he didn’t stand up for my brother or his wife and my brother couldn’t make excuses for him anymore.  I think all the anger he hadn’t allowed himself to feel over the years came out because of this incident.  And I think the amount we love and adore someone informs the amount of anger we can feel for that same person.  He was bitter and enraged.  For a long time.  Just as I had been bitter and enraged for a long time.

Missing people just plain sucks.

Later, after we got older and Dad and his second family moved back to Oregon, it was really too late.  They lived not far from Mom, probably only 20 minutes or so, but I never thought of visiting him.  It wasn’t a vindictive thing, it was just that it didn’t occur to me.  He had made himself so absent in my life that he was absent in my thoughts.  By then I would see him every couple of years and that was about all.  I didn’t even think of seeing him.  Didn’t think of making that effort.  Strange.  It’s amazing how someone can be gone from your life for so long that they are no longer a part of the every day culture of it.  You think of them sometimes, and those thoughts and feelings are usually warm and tender and genuine, but during the course of a normal day they don’t even enter your mind.   It’s sad, but that’s what happened with Dad.

Missing people just plain sucks.

Several years ago now I got a call from one of my younger sisters.  She told me Dad had had back pain and had gone into the hospital.  Everyone always teased him about how he whined about his pain or an injury, or whatever.  This time he wasn’t whining.  He went into the hospital and 11 days later, having gotten out and been sent home on hospice, he died in that house 20 minutes from my mom’s place.  I was there.  During those last few days I spent time with him at the hospital, listening to him writhe in pain as the cancer that was attached to his spine grew so quickly it broke his back.  I was there telling stories from my childhood with him and our visits together over the years.  I asked him questions, he asked me questions.  I was there at their house, one that had never been mine, watching the stream of well wishers from their church who brought food and spoke so fondly of him.  I was there to talk to him about music, which was his life’s blood, and laugh with him about some silly thing or another.  I was there standing by his bedside with my brother when our dad apologized to us for not being the father he should have been.  I was there to forgive him and to tell him I loved him.  I was there when his breathing slowed and then stopped for the last time.

Missing people just plain sucks.

I’ve been thinking about Dad a lot after watching the piano hospital video, which made me cry and cry.  I was thinking he was such a joy-filled, emotional man, and here I am, a joy-filled and emotional woman.  I’m blessed to have been his daughter.  He didn’t always do it well, being my dad I mean, but he did do some things right.  Most especially when I was with him.  In person he was awesome.  He was passionate and joyful and silly and fun and so warm.  He was one of the most genuine people I’ve ever known.  Honestly himself regardless of the situation.  He loved to laugh, and that laugh was so infectious anyone hearing it had to laugh right along with him.  He had music in his blood.  So talented and effortless, able to play pretty much any instrument, though he stuck with the pedal steel guitar because it was the hardest thing to play and he loved that about it.  I loved to listen to him play.  Loved it.  I loved watching his face when he was playing and singing.  I swear light shot out of him in all directions when he was sitting at that guitar.  Getting to see he and his band play together, live, was always awesome.  I loved his mis-matched outfits and his love of sweets and his gray hair and how when he walked places he moved fast.  He never moseyed.  He was blind, but that guy could move.  I remember watching him do single axle jumps while Ice skating and can picture him floating the river with us.  I can see him playing frisbee at my step-grandparent’s house, leaping in the air, and I remember fishing his glasses out of the river after he, my brother, and I went into the water when the raft ripped down the middle.  I love how he loved his coffee, with loads of sugar and cream, and how he was always the first to lend a hand when someone needed it.  I loved how he smiled and I loved his laugh.  I remember being a tiny girl visiting him one night at the gas station he worked at at that time, and how he walked over and bought us hot chocolates at this diner next door, and then lifted me up so I could clean someone’s windshield.  He made things an adventure.  I remember feeling like I was having an adventure almost every time I was with him.  Not many people do that, give that feeling.  He did.  It was a gift.

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Missing people just plain sucks.

Now, thinking about him, the all of him, I’m proud to be his daughter.  I had, long before he died, come to grips with who he was.  The guy who wasn’t the greatest of dads, yet was.  I’d wrapped my head around the fact that he was who he was, and that he would never change.  He wasn’t emotionally mature where my brother and I were concerned, but that was what it was, and it was OK.  I came to a place of accepting him for him and accepting and forgiving myself for putting him in the place I ended up putting him in my life, which was sort of on the side, just out of reach.  And I learned a great lesson from him.  I learned to be there for the people I love.  I learned that the hard way from him, but I learned it.  I think he’d be proud he taught me that lesson, even though I know he wasn’t proud of the way he taught me.  I’m also proud that he passed on his dorky sense of humor, his ability to be light and silly, and his love of all things coffee.  I’m grateful for those gifts, and for the gift of having had him in my life, even the little amount I did.  I’m grateful he gave me my younger siblings; my brother from our mother, and the younger five he had with my step-mom.  They are fantastic, and even though we don’t spend loads of time together, not nearly as much as I’d like, when we do it’s wonderful.   They are, simply, great people.   Each with a great smile.  I have a great smile too.  My smile came from both of my parents.  They both, Mom and Dad, have and had great ones.  Smiles from the inside.  Smiles that light the eyes.  It’s the thing most people notice about me, and it comes from them.

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Missing people just plain sucks.

It just does.

I miss Dad, and I love him, and sometimes, when the light is just right or my mood is, I see him in me.  Smiling.

5 thoughts on “Missing People Just Plain Sucks

  1. Oh my gosh, that is some beautiful writing, Tamra. What a fantastic tribute to a man who passed on his best qualities to you. Having divorced parents is something you revisit at different stages in your life…………never easy, but different perspectives shape your thinking
    and acceptance. Did you ever go to counseling? I probably should have…..even now. It is such a joy to know you.

  2. This was an amazing journey to take with you, Tamra. Thank you for bringing me to know the person who was your father, and for bringing me to know you better through the telling. I am looking forward to the day when we can share smiles and stories in person.

  3. Pingback: Repeating the Past | Butterfly Princess

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