I think I finally know what I want you to learn from my father’s death. Which is funny because I have made like, three billion posts but just NOW figured out what I have to say.
I’ve been putting together some pieces of my father.
Since my mother’s mother died, like 20 years ago, my mom and dad have been having these deep conversations. Far deeper than anything that they had had as teenagers.
It came from the fact that my dad started thinking about my mom’s mom. And how she was such a gentle person, that he suddenly realized that we were not holding daily Joe Joe bashing sessions. He said that he realized that we just weren’t that kind of people.
And since then, he has come around my mother’s family freely. Whenever I came to town, he would come over.
But the key part about my dad that I missed?
HE GAVE A FUCK WHAT PEOPLE SAID ABOUT HIM. Totally news to me. My father was my own personal Honey Badger, going about his life, not giving a shit what anybody says.
The thought of what somebody might have said was enough to send him scurrying away? Really?
And then I pull up a memory of my mom telling me that my father dropped out of high school, partially because the kids made fun of his clothes.
Then I talked to Nette. My father’s sister, Nette has a loving husband. They raised a wonderful daughter. My father was a little puzzled by how she managed to do this, this marriage that still ends phone calls with, “I love you.’ She told me that he asked her about that. How that happened. How she performed this magic trick?
I didn’t know about that until after he died. When he was alive, I’d only noticed that he’d begun to incorporate a little of that in his calls. He would tell me he loved me. Just tossed that in at the end of a call. I thought it was odd, but never really knew all the backstory.
Do you remember the post where I told you when I cannot be myself, I am Claire Huxtable? My father was going through a gigantic version of that, but he never believed that he could be Cliff. He didn’t have much to recreate that character from.
My father didn’t know what to do with this flock of women he made. I am convinced that Joe thought that he had at least a few more tomorrows with us. But he did not. He had a heart attack while he was getting dressed.
So. Here is what I have figured out:
Joe, in his way, has been trying to apologize to me for the past 20 years. It was glacial, but it was there.
That daily choreography I have talked about? Part of the reason it is a key part of love is because it forces you to find a way to talk to each other. To understand. To have some clue as to what might hurt this person’s feelings.
I am going to fail you, Boy-Boy. Some days I am not patient enough when you pop out of bed for the 78th time to say something COMPLETELY INSANE and I have a reaction that is way out of proportion. Like last night? When I threw a tantrum and then threatened to chop off my own finger if you wouldn’t QUIT TOUCHING ME WITH YOUR PEE PEE HANDS? Not my finest parenting moment. But you know what? I’m going to battle back as fast as I can..
And that failing won’t be your only memory of me. You are going to remember the times that I got on my horse and set the world aflame on your behalf. You will remember a time when I understood you when no one else did. You will know how to approach me with good and bad and difficult topics.
I don’t have any of that with Joe. We don’t understand each other.
Which is why I had no idea I was looking at a 20-year apology. He was trying to tell me, without the actual words, that he was sorry. But he didn’t know how to say that, nor did he know what to say after that.
He didn’t know that I needed him to say, "I sucked as a father, but I’m going to try. I cannot say that I will call exactly on your birthday, because I’m out of the habit. But I think of you often and I want things to be different.”
Not showing up when he said that he would was the thing that I always held up as proof that my father was, indeed, a bad father. I couldn’t see that he had been coming through for me, in his own way, for far longer that the years he had disappointed me. I couldn’t reset.
I couldn’t process the fact that he came to see me every time I came to Alabama. He showed up when he said he would. He brought my brother to my mother’s sister’s house when there was an emergency. He was a pallbearer at my grandmother’s funeral. And he bought you a toy truck.
And you know what? I love the shit out of that truck.
So what I want you to learn from this whole month of February? The ten days it took to bury my father? The calls between me and your aunts and uncles and my mom and my half-sisters?
I want you to learn recognize a 20-year apology when you see one.
But most of all, I want you to learn how important it is to try your damndest to NEVER have to give one.