Looking Back, Looking Forward...Fathers

Looking Back, Looking Forward...Fathers
Patriarch Past, Patriarch Present.

I have landed at the home base for a change of clothes and climate. No grass will grow under my feet: I am off to Provence on Thursday with sisters and friends.  I sent Steve back to Florida so he would not pout about my gallivanting. It just might be that I am too much of a tumbleweed this year. At heart, I like being tethered to my home base…and my family.

Our trip was a joy- our first return to a baby-centric life for more than two decades.  I remember why God gives babies to younger people.  I also know that it is easier to be a parent in a nice climate, where a simple walk does not require winter proofing.  The respite from the cold and the gray was not as precious as the chance to watch our family, growing and going forward.

My kids are good parents.   That is no small feat, since the punch list of “don’ts” has grown incrementally since we had little ones.  Steve and I managed to stay on the straight and narrow, following the rules.

Henry has a life threatening peanut allergy, and so Rachel and Pat are on high alert 24/7/365/Forever.  They have learned to advocate directly, even if it involves asking to see packaging.  It is shocking how many products co-mingle with peanuts.  The plane ride is the most traumatic, since an epi pen offers a pause in the symptoms, but no guarantee of total control.  Pat goes ahead to sanitize and clear any residue from his seat, and to request peanut avoidance from co-travelers.  On the return trip, the woman behind him said it was rude to fly with an allergic child, and that Henry should stay home.  That was the first collapse of civility they have ever had. This woman had purchased peanut butter crackers for their seven year old, and were chagrined to withhold them. Pat proffered safe, unopened Wheat Thins and Cheez-Its, but they demurred. They mellowed as we flew.

Steve has become the ideal patriarch: he does not meddle (I do) or offer opinions or solutions (I cannot help myself). He waits for the grandkids to warm to him (I’m a grabber) and does not get his feelings hurt when Mary prefers her parents, or when Henry, (the busiest boy in the galaxy) cannot hold still for a story or a hug.  He does not stew when Henry finds the ON button for the BOSE and blares music during a NCAA game. In fact, he sits back and drinks it all in.  He has found his greatest accomplishment in providing the firm substrate for Dahls of the future.

This was my takeaway from these 7 days: Steve had a chance, almost 18 years ago to U Turn and become a good man, with potential for a long, wonderful life. He had to stop drinking for this opportunity.

He took the sober roadway.  It was not a transformation that happened in the blink of an eye.  It was work.  He missed the pressure release valve. He also missed the way drinking transformed him from a quiet observer to a madcap showman. At the same time, he wanted respect from his family. Fact: he could not have it both ways.  Pat was 13. It was time.

I had raised the kids thus far, and Steve was an interloper. I did not want to relinquish control, and he did not know the boys as intimately as I did.  He learned.  Fast.

I have said it before- there is a moment where a man’s blustery voice is the most effective tool in the toolbox.  Lions roar; Fathers do too.  It may not cure adolescent misbehavior, but it pushes the pause button.  That is a good start to Teenaged Boy Management. I know that my boys benefitted from having the academic nag and constant cheerleader in me, but they knew that they were watched and waited up for by an excellent enforcer.   He’d been there, done that.  Which is not to say that they were saints.  But there were two rings of Hell awaiting them, so they had to really commit to misbehavior.  Sometimes their calibrations told them it was worth it.

Steve applied consequences and I lectured and counseled.  (I think they liked consequences like grounding  better than my nagging.) Then Steve would go behind closed doors and tell me that their behavior was normal and part of breaking away. To this day, I value the dispassionate way he can evaluate their behavior and assure me that they are typical men, even after a fist fight breaks out.

There is no one I would rather have in a crisis, or in day-to-day life than my husband.  He has a laser on making a plan, and finding a solution.  He has earned patriarchal status by being the rock we all count on.

Four years ago today, Steve stood by my Father during his last days in Florida.Dad loved Steve, trusting him with the truth that he was ebbing away.   Dad asked Steve to take him to sign out of the Senior Golf League, would not allow Steve to effectuate the withdrawal.  When he eased back into the car, no words were required. It was another farewell in the long goodbye.

Dad knew Steve would not panic, and smother him.  He still had American Idol. Klondike Bars. My sister Marie in his condo.  Sunny days. New windows to see the boats through. Everything in order.

Just one week later, Steve drove Dad, my sister Marie and brother Paul to the hospital.   Watched Dad fight and fade, and die. March 25, 2009.

He had prepared me, from a distance.  He then consoled me, and filled in the empty space left when a Dad goes missing in your life.  He stepped up.  Helped make arrangements. Distracted my heartbroken siblings.

When I said goodbye to Steve in Arizona on Friday, I told him that he has become the best thing I could have hoped for him to be.  It is a role he probably never envisioned for himself in his rollicking days. He is our Big Kahuna: the one who holds us all together.

He is a worthy successor to my Father, steadfast and sturdy, organized and determined.

Dad had a good long life.  As he took his leave, he knew we were in good hands with Steve.  I like to think that made his life, even his denouement, easier.

What I know for sure, to quote Gene Siskel, is that my life is richer for having Steve in it. On this sad anniversary, I  rejoice in the miracle of my family, past and present. I have been raised by a good man, and I have married one. It is a segue that consoles me today, and enriches me everyday.



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