Recently, I've been juggling a painful moment in time, which has really put a spin on how I see things -- and men -- these days: dealing with the the residual effects of my father's passing a little over a year ago. You know -- settling legal matters, figuring out personal effects...
Yes, the very tricky stuff that comes with someone's leaving us.
I struggle with this process, not just because he was my father, but also how I viewed him at various points in my life. See, some girls say they want a man a lot like their main paternal figure, probably because of the qualities that he would represent: stability, strength, compassion, hard-working, dedicated. All awesome stuff.
But if you asked me growing up, I don't know that I would have been so sure about whether my father was that role model. I was raised by my mother's parents and I adore my grandfather because I saw him this way. However, my father I wasn't so sure about -- at least back then.
At this point, a little history lesson may help. Short version: My mom died when I was a kid and my dad, who was still a young guy trying to figure out his own life after the loss of his first wife, couldn't quite handle raising a baby girl on his own. Enter his in-laws. They raised me and along with the rest of my mom's family. And they were who I knew and let in my whole life.
Sure, my dad tried to be around. He'd call, I'd send letters... But since I was brought up and spent all my time with my mom's family, I found it hard to understand my father. I mean, how can I learn to love a man who essentially couldn't take care of his own daughter? How could I love a man who talked about family but managed to start other family lives, have other children and not be bothered by the fact that my siblings and I didn't share the same mom? And, as I got older, the question was... Why didn't he ever try to come back for me?
For years I'd held this belief and based my feelings on his actions. And as time wore on, my father, although frustrated, bared with it, telling me he would, when I was ready answer my questions. Owned his faults but told me it would have to be when I was ready. And, it was this distance that put huge gaps of time in between when we saw each other.
Then, he got sick. Really, really sick. And like that, I'd put my hang ups aside, hopped a flight the soonest I could and flew down to his home in North Carolina... The first time in six years that I'd seen him.
What followed was five days of getting to know my father all over again, communing like a real family. And although he looked a little thinner and older from what I remembered, it was him, laughing eyes and all. I'd tried to even talk to him, to apologize... But really, he didn't seem interested. It didn't seem to matter. All that mattered was that I was there.
He'd died three months later, but seeing him and having that time -- without the drama -- was the one thing that I was and am grateful for.
So, when I was in North Carolina, in my father's house, all the feelings and emotions bubbled up to the surface for a bit. I fought to keep them in check.
But, on my last night there, as I talked with my brother and aunt who were there and sorted through some boxes, I saw pieces of my father's life including letters from his past... Many of which explained his grief and pain after becoming a widower for the first time. How he wasn't sure how he could go on, and that he was very confused by it all. Pages of pouring his heart out, not knowing what the in-laws were thinking on the other end. It was raw, honest and hard to read -- but necessary for me. I may not have respected all his choices. But, for the first time, I really understood it. For him, the only thing he knew how (with his life COMPLETELY scattered), was to leave me where he thought I would be most stable and have the best chance. Because at that time, and for a long time, he probably wasn't the best choice.
Now, if you asked me if I would want a man just like my father... Well, I don't know if it would be a hands down yes, since the jury is still out on some things. But I can tell you that I would one day hope to be with a man forever that puts his child first. Just like he did for me. In which case, a man like my dad isn't a bad thing.