Sunday, June 9, 2013

Happy Birthday, Dad

Today, my dad would have been sixty years old. 

Nice perm, dad.  The short shorts are pretty special, too ; )

Spring 1989- Dad looks pretty great here.
 Traditionally, little girls and their daddies are portrayed in this 'daddy's little princess' light- with images of a smitten daughter, standing on her daddy's feet to dance and growing into a young woman walked down the aisle by her hero- teary and sweet.  This was not the whole of the experience I had.  My dad loved me and I loved him, but it was in the restraints of the relationship he was capable of having.  It is difficult to explain how my dad was and why the father-daughter relationship was so broken in so many ways.  I wished he had some kind of functional or behavioral diagnosis that would help people understand.  If you say,  'oh, so and so was an alcoholic' or 'so and so was bi-polar', people register the problem and nod their heads in understanding while saying, "oh, okay".  They have an idea of the challenges faced.  My dad's behavior was never characterized in such a diagnosis, outside of a made up diagnosis I generated: narcissistic pity disorder (NPD).  How else do you describe a man who calls his daughter on her tenth birthday and tells her he's pretty sure his years of cigarette smoking have finally culminated in lung cancer.  Had he seen a doctor?  No.  Had he sought or received any medical advice from any professional what-so-ever?  No.  Regardless of this, we hung up the phone and I cried for hours.  What he needed was a reason for someone to feel sorry for him or someone to focus on him.  He needed me to feel bad for him- desperately. Happy birthday to me. 

Shortly after the birthday incident, my father was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.  For real- an actual medical diagnosis this time.  His condition varied from time to time, but I certainly observed him failing to take care of himself.  Entire days would go by and I would see him ingest little more than sweet tea (that was mixed 3/4 sugar to 1/4 tea- tea isn't supposed to be crunchy), a banana, and a pack of cigarettes.  I worked hard at being the 'dutiful' daughter, pushing him in his wheelchair- when he used one, physically helping him move in or out of chairs, and drive him places, as I could- his driving became quite frightening.  Though he continued to thrive on pity and one-sided stories (often stories that disparaged my mother and continued after repeated, "dad, I don't want to hear any more about this!" pleas.  That didn't phase him.  What did phase him was his need to tell a story starring him as the victim and his need for you to view things just as he did. 
My blessing- stepmom, Cindy
 My stepmom, who became a part of my life when I was nine, was an amazing woman.  She somehow took it all in stride.  Even my mother joked, "that's the best thing about your dad, Lindsay- he sure marries neat women!"  God clearly gave my dad an amazing gift of patience and unconditional love when He provided dad with Cindy.  She truly became my sanity, frequently, in dealing with my father.  For that I am forever grateful.  It really shook my world, when I was a college sophomore, and I received a call from my father relaying that my stepmom, who smoked at least a pack a day with my father, had suffered an aneurysm and her prognosis was unclear at this time.  Cindy appeared to make a full recovery at first, and for that we were all grateful.  Unfortunately, this time was also marked with the standard dad pity response.  He was so certain that Cindy's side of the family was conspiring against him and concern for Cindy's well-being was expected to funnel into how mistreated Brad was. 

When we believed Cindy was close to her normal self again, she returned to work and we were all optimistic that better days were ahead.  Soon after, my dad's health declined again and Cindy had stroke that changed her personality and functioning and finally rendered her unable to keep working.  Both my dad and Cindy were completely disabled in their 40s.  Cindy had been so sharp, so capable, so on top of things prior to the aneurysm and stroke  yet she was scarcely recognizable anymore. At one point, my father was so sickly that he was temporarily placed in a nursing home.  This has to be the ultimate in humility- placed in nursing care in your late forties- surrounded by demented elderly people who parroted random noises all day and night.  I wanted to be the strongest and best daughter for him.  I filled out all his paperwork (his MS rendered his right hand- dominate hand- incapable of fine motor).  He would would brag to the nurses that I was 'sharp as a whip' and tell them how proud of me he was.  I believe that was the truth and treasure the thought of his pride in me.  Sadly, his need for pity kicked in and he conversely told the same nurses I was only being helpful to him because I wanted inheritance from him.  I can tell you now, I received no inheritance following my father's death and asked that any money or valuable materials go to Cindy. I had to tread lightly to foster any semblance of a relationship with my father without opening myself up to such hurtful and untrue accusations.  He knew he was being dishonest.  I truly believe he couldn't help himself- like his need to bend circumstances to flatter himself at the expense of others was absolutely compulsive. 

Ultimately, I believe it led to his untimely death.  What he didn't know was that I spoke with his doctors when I could reach them.  During one of his last hospitalizations, he really believed he had reached the end.  He told me he was dying (something he been telling me the last twelve years- not something unexpected.)  I wanted to set up hospice for him, but a doctor's recommendation is needed.  I remember asking his doctor if this was a possibility and being told that my father was not terminal at that point.  He was hospitalized due to malnutrition and dehydration.  That diet of SWEET tea, bananas, and nicotine caught up with him.  I realized that he knew he was not eating, was told by his physician that he was malnourished and continued on anyway.  Was he trying to slowly kill himself?  I guess I'll never know.  What I do know is that he weighed 80 pounds when he died in 2005, just two months before my wedding. 

What truly hurt was how this behavior he could not seem to abandon and this negative compulsion he could never shake gave him, in the long run.  There was no funeral for my father.  There weren't many to attend.  It was just a small group of family (many of them Cindy's family- the ones he believed were trying to conspire against him) who tried to be there for him, love him, accept him, and listen to him, in spite of the reception and consequential reaction received.  It felt like his flame flickered out quietly and all he was felt faded and distant. 

I didn't write this to complain about my dad.  I had a dad.  I had the opportunity to know my dad for 23 years before he left his world.  I loved him and he loved me.  There were better times and little moments I choose to remember and carry with me.  There are moments I know I worked hard to block- realizing they are not worth carrying the accompanying hurt.  There are things I can never forget.  I wrote this as a reminder to let go- give to God and live unencumbered. I wrote this because it is a reminder to build yourself on your own merit.  It is a reminder to be certain you are lifting up others and being the best you can be.  It is a reminder to care for yourself and well-being so you can be the best friend, parent, spouse, family member, contributor to society you can be.  I wrote this because I have forgiven my dad for the hurt.  I cannot stay angry and I refuse to be resentful.  I feel sad when I think about the opportunities my dad missed, so needlessly, due to choices and behaviors. Knowing this, I will live the best I can and make fruitful choice.  I will turn the page.  I wrote this because I know my dad was proud of me and because I feel he is still proud of me today.

Happy birthday, dad.  Thank you for loving me the best you knew how.


  1. Wow, that must have been hard to write... and harder still to live. I'm thanking God that you were shaped into the wonderful person you are today.

  2. Thank you, Rhonda. I've tried to write about it several times, but never really produced anything "conclusive". It was really hard to take an entire relationship and sum it into such a short piece.