The innocent looking boy in the picture is quite the cutie isn’t he? He would live to be 87 yrs old before being called home, and while on this earth, lived quite an eventful life. He married 6 times, with only 2 marriages ending in death, my birth mother, wife #3, and wife #5.
He worked in the auto industry for most of his adult life. He believed in Generous Motors until the financial collapse of GM’s bankruptcy broke his heart. Life changed around him and he just couldn’t understand the why’s. He refused to believe that after all his years of blood, sweat and toil to a company he loved, he suddenly had to pay doctor co-pays and worry over the possibility of his pension being cut. The latter thankfully never happened.
I’d love to say in this post that he was a perfect father ect…. I’d love to say it, but truth was, he was blissfully unaware that he was a complicated man. He believed in simplicity and yet he convoluted his life so badly when it came to his family. With his last wife, he believed his kids should have just fallen all over the woman he loved, and love her just as much as he did, even as she was ripping our family apart.
This of course was his pollyanna, his utopia. Blood will always be thicker than water and the woman made sure that her grown child and grandchildren were to always come first in his eyes. At times I believe she succeeded and enjoyed rubbing my nose in it.
That’s not to say he didn’t love us. I think he just assumed we knew he did, and felt he had to outwardly show it to her children more. He had to prove to the new wife his loyalty, and I believe she exploited it to a high degree. I know in later (rare) private conversations with him, he later felt trapped in that loyalty, but felt powerless to do anything about it.
I loved him to a fault when I was young, and I do have many fond memories of him. My most valued memory is the father/daughter dance at my wedding. It was one of the few times I really felt connected to him, that he cared and was happy with my choice of partner. he loved my husband and thought highly of him. He even defended him against my husband’s own father. Yet another father story for another time.
After wife #5’s death, my brothers and I struggled to reconnect with him, feeling that for the first time we could have had that long awaited, and unencumbered relationship with him.
Not so much.
I quickly realized that he was the ‘marrying man’, when he announced at 73 yrs of age, that he was seeing yet another woman. This was literally months after wife #5 died. It was like a sickness, he just couldn’t be without a woman whom he wanted to give control over his life.
As an adult I began to see the pattern emerge. I don’t know much about wife #1 and 2, except with #2, he had 2 boys that he let another man adopt because he didn’t want anymore animosity and fights between wife #2 and #3, besides he had young children with #3 and another new life.
With wife #4 he had no children, and after a contentious relationship, ended up leaving her for wife #5. With wife #5 he gained 4 stepdaughters that he truly loved. It was inexplicable to me that he also dropped them all by the wayside when #6 came around, though later he would believe wife #6 when she said it was their fault and they abandoned him. It’s that ‘why didn’t they worship #6 like he did’ kind of thing. Through rose colored glasses of love and obsession, he failed to see #6’s jealousy and that she pushed us all away.
The 4 girls would never be able to have any semblance of a relationship with him again, with only one of them being able to see him once before he died. Wife #6 made sure of that. She also made sure my brothers and I were tossed out of the picture until she finally relented to having me around.
This was an eggshell walk for me, treading water carefully as to not upset the balance that allowed my continued visits. My brothers just gave up.
Now here’s the weird part, as time went on he just couldn’t understand why things were the way they were. He couldn’t see his role in the drama. Sensing that he was losing his touch on reality in his last years, I let it be and decided instead to try to persuade the brothers to make up and just be a family before he passed. It didn’t work. I spent years on this fruitless endeavor, arguing and pleading with them to no avail. I swallowed so much pride I was drowning in my own tears.
I was with him that weekend at his home, watching his chest rise and fall with each ragged breath, hanging on to life with him in his few moments of clarity, in-between blissful pain free naps. I held his hand, stroked his hair and prayed for a peaceful ending, letting him know he wasn’t alone.
I watched as the funeral home came and zipped him up in a body bag and carried him out on a gurney at 5am, after hospice came and declared him what we already new him to be.
I sat in the funeral home alone for calling hours, my husband having been taken ill that day. I was surrounded by wife #6’s family, very few I truly believed loved him, and senior center friends of his I didn’t know. My family was nowhere to be seen. It was totally awkward sitting there. Many of his ‘other’ family didn’t know who I was, since I was never spoke of by #6. I felt like it was me, not him, that was the ghost in the room. Only one of #6’s family offered a condolence to me, thankfully it was #6’s daughter, who was gracious enough to put aside her own grief to see that I too, was hurting. I dreaded the funeral the next day.
Then a miracle happened. The 3 step sisters who were still alive (1 passed away 2 yrs prior) and their spouses and children, who’s hearts were also broken by the man lying in the casket, had made a last minute decision and showed up at the funeral, swallowing their pride with me, shedding tears for the relationship they remembered with him, not what for what it became.
I don’t want my readers to get the wrong impression about this post. It’s not a bash my father for the last time kind of thing. He was, after all, a funny man with down home, countrified kind of humor. He enjoyed playing his music and was quite an accomplished singer and guitar player. He played in many bands and gave generously of his time to playing for the ‘old’ folks at the senior centers and nursing homes in his seventies and early eighties, before his health demanded he stop. He was beloved by his friends as an affable, kind man, who would give you the shirt off his back. Like I said, he was complicated without ever realizing it.
There is, of course, a huge amount to tell of his life that would have to be classified as fiction, because, well, truth is stranger than fiction. I just wanted to share this more for me than anything, to help reconcile on digital paper my feelings of undying love for this man and simmering disappointment of what could have been.
If any of you have had a parent like this feel free to comment and tell me about it. I’d love to know I’m not alone.