Tuesday, May 15, 2007

My Father, Myself pt. 2

And we're back, to part two of our harrowing tale! When last we left them, our heroes...

Yeah. Anyway.

So, my folks split in the winter of 1985, and it was rough on my mom. She had gotten used to (nominally) sharing the responsibilities of home ownership, of parenting...hell, of life. Now that I'm (closer to being) in her shoes, I really understand how much a person comes to rely on the OTHER half of a partnership...so that, when that half is taken away, things are tough. But, as ever, mom & I soldiered on; hey, weren't we the clich├ęd subjects of Anne Murray's You and Me Against the World? But I digress.

Through whatever circumstances that fate often decrees, my parents began spending time together again. Whether it was dropping me off at the airport for my Eurpean tour with Blue Lake, or playing together in the Saginaw Eddy Band, they seemed to keep bumping into each other. Eventually those bumps became intentional, and they began to iron out the OTHER bumps in their relationship. Ultimately they worked out their issues and came back together, stronger than I'd ever seen them. They took an early honeymoon to Disney World over spring break in 1986 (leaving me home alone for a week during my senior year of high school...mwua-hahahahaha!) and arranged to be married that summer. And so it was, shortly after my graduation, I was the best man at the wedding of my biological parents. Who else gets that bragging right?!?

Me and my father on the night of my graduation.
His smile doesn't say much, but the way he's grasping
me with his right hand speaks volumes.

They sold the house in Cass City and moved to the Honsinger family farm just south of Vassar; there they intended to restore the near-century-old house and finally...FINALLY!...be able to enjoy each other without ME underfoot. Or...so they thought. In reality, some unclaimed consequences came lookin' for my father. See, he'd never really been particularly "fit," if you will. He'd tempered his addiction to whiskey, replacing it with jug wine...which, he still managed to drink in large quantities. He overate, generally the wrong stuff, especially for someone with heart disease in the family. And he was pretty much a lifetime smoker. All of those things conspired to catch up with him one evening in January 1987. He was at a band rehearsal when he began acting peculiarly, and before the night was over he'd been rushed via ambulance to the hospital where the diagnosis came in: he'd suffered a major stroke.

Strokes are funny things: sometimes they kill you outright, but mostly - if you catch one soon enough, as apparently happened with him - they just leave you incapacitated in ways that only time will reveal. At first my mom was a normal wife in this situation, making endless trips to the hospital, later taking him to rehab once he'd been released. But the thing I would only come to realize later - much later - was that the stroke had robbed my father of much of the good parts of his personality, leaving only the selfish and indulgent mind, and amplified at that. The docs said that he'd recover a lot of the mobility he lost in his right arm if he worked hard, but unlike his younger brother (who had sufferend small strokes and come back strong each time) my dad didn't seem to want to do that hard work. Little by little his day-to-day life was shrunk: first his license was taken due to his unsafe driving, then his directorship of the Vassar City Band was lost because his ability to competently do the job had diminshed so much. At first BOTH my mom & I believed he'd keep getting better, but as months turned into years we realized that he was really just a shell of his former self, and that became a catalyst for sharp change in ALL our relationships.

For myself, I generally viewed him with a mix of pity and anger. The pity came from a geniune place: here was a man I'd only really known for just a few years, and any feelings of normal father/son love were were slowly eroded by watching his treatment of my mother. This is where the anger came into play, and that too was unfortunately all too genuine. He seemed capable of astonishingly GOOD behavior whenever company came to call, which indicated that he knew the difference between that and his normal daily behavior. This other side, the one that my mom lived with all the time, could be petty and lazy and sometimes downright boorish. There are far, FAR too many bad scenes to list them all, but they slowly made it so that instead of being able to be a wife, my mother became some combination of caregiver and prison guard. She desperately tried to curtail his continued smoking, first by taking his cigarettes and then, when it became apparent that his habit was dangerous to HER as well (he'd often fall asleep in his chair with a lit cigarette dangling from his fingers), banning it from the house outright. She tried to feed him a decent diet of low sodium and egg beaters to keep his cholesterol down, only to find that he'd sit down to a greasy plate of eggs & bacon when he went out for breakfast. It went on & on: one behavior would be quelled or modified to make her life easier (and really, HIS life better) only to have another (sometimes worse) one rise up in its place.

And for being neither particularly fit nor healthy, he went on like this for a LONG time. Various other health problems would crop up - some even requiring surgery, something he was never a good candidate for as he was always on blood thinners - and he always came through better than men HALF his age and TWICE his health. When the end finally came, some 17 years after he suffered the damn stroke in the first place, it was rather anti-climactic. My mom was visiting me in E. Lansing when our neighbor called: seems he'd fallen on the way to the mailbox, and when he'd been helped back to his chair in the house he insisted he was fine, took one big shuddering breath, and died of a massive heart attack.

I wasn't glad of his death so much as I was glad that my mom could get back to some semblance of a normal life again. I already felt that my father had pretty much poisoned the ground between us, and my feelings for him were a complicated mixture of the aforementioned pity and anger, only now with an endpoint to our relationship I could add a frustrating sense of loss as well. I pitied what seemed to me to be a life wasted trying to impress people who really didn't much give a shit, while ignoring or taking for granted the people who genuinely cared for him. I was angry that his long, slow decline had denied my mother the chance for a normal wedded partnership in which two people could grow & experience the world together. And, I was frustrated that, in spite of all his failings, he'd been my DAD, dammit, and now he was gone and what the fuck was I to do with it all?

When my mom called me from the road to confirm what I already suspected - that he'd died - I cried a little. When his funeral came around and that little "casket" of his ashes was displayed at the front of his church, I cried a lot. I hugged my estranged brother & sister, knowing that he was the only thing we had in common and that I'd probably never see either of them again, and selfishly wept for the lost chance at so many relationships that might have been meaningful. And I vowed that, when the time came, the father I became would be NOTHING like the one he had been to me.

Okay, you suffered through the "dark times." One more short post ought to wrap things up, and some of my conclusions might rattle you. Tune in next time.


Blogger Suze said...

wow, animal. cathartic. i appreciate how open you are about your life here.

8:43 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

i know we've spoken about this a few times and thanks for the honesty.

While impending fatherhood changes things what about the similarities between you and your dad???

fer'instance, you both tend(ed) to seek out younger women as brides.

And your father was roughly the same age you are now when you were born.

both musicians, the list of similarities is longer than you think.

Perhaps i am looking into the next post too much....

see you Sunday

9:07 AM  
Blogger Jenn-Jenn, the Mother Hen said...

Having had (and still having) a shitty father myself, and having had (and losing way too early) a mother who rocked, I sometimes think that one truly f*cked up parent with no compassion or feeling for others can be just as instructive in the art of parenting as said wonderful parent. You and I both are/were (un)fortunate enough to have fathers who were/are the perfect people to dramatically illustrate the exact type of father NOT to be. It's craptastic logic, but it's true. Though it may be little comfort, it is comfort none the less. You now have a clear illustration of how NOT to act when little Roz gets here.


10:15 AM  
Blogger L*I*S*A said...

I can relate to so much of your post with my stepdad. It's eerie how similar some things really are.

I await your next installment.

3:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mark Fuckin said:

Wow! That's a post. Don't try to hard to not be like your dad. Just try hard to be a good father. You can't plan on what's going to happen. Some things are out of your control and you have to roll with it. You'll be a fine dad, don't worry about that.

12:57 PM  

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