My relationship to my father was largely unexamined. A patriarchal figure who orbited my carefree childhood with BBQ and law & order, but was somehow gentle, emotional, easily hurt by words and betrayals. Some say his heart on his sleeve, recusing baby bunnies and nursing them to health. Citizen of the Year in my speck of a hometown, because of his generosity. And his loving hands tending a well-planned and pruned landscaping around our turn of the century farmhouse – the envy of the neighborhood.
But I saw him wash my brother’s mouth out with soap, Dial, in fact, the liquid kind. All for calling someone a “butthole,” which, I wondered, don’t we all have?
That soap though was enough to keep me in line. And he beady brown eyes when they shot me “the look.”
On the day I graduated high school, he shaved his beard. The one he started growing when my mom was pregnant with my brother, 6 years my senior. I couldn’t do the math, but saw it for what it was – the end of an era in childrearing and beginning of an empty nest. What would he do without all of us at home?
My dad made me cringe, during these early adult years, want to hide in fact, which I did under my hoodie when he didn’t give any fucks to drive down a sidewalk full of people at my new university because it seemed more convenient that way, like he had the right of way and could get closer to my dorm door. There were a lot of moments like this.
He made my heart swell though when he stayed up all night with my grandma, his mother in law, as she vomited and bled and needed new bandages after her drive-by mastectomy.
He gave me pause when he cried when meeting his first granddaughter.
Who is this person? I found myself perplexed.
It took my 24 years to see that he was as messy, full of juxtapositions and contradictions as much as any human being. And another 8 years to realize how much I loved him, watching him I the hospital bed, small, quiet, and smelling of Dial soap.