Many thoughts crowding for attention
As we age, we are often presented with situations that will test us, will push us, and will make us stand up, or fall. The last two weeks have forced me to do some of this and be the victim of some of it, mostly because of the memory of the man who raised me.
I don't misuse the word raised. In every sense of the word, my father did just that. I was fortunate enough to have him in my day to day life from a much earlier period in my life than my siblings and that had a profound effect on the woman I am today. I know many people would say this same thing, I just wonder if their reasons would be the same.
My father was my parent, my teacher, my warden, my hero, my friend. Mostly my friend even when I didn't feel that way. He came from Czechoslovakia on a boat to escape war torn Europe as a young boy of 8. He didn't speak English. His parents, his sister and he were brought over by family. Sounds nice, right? Wrong. They were brought over as manual labor. They worked long hours for very little. Let me give you an example of what I have been told in "family lore" to be the beginnings of the "great peanut butter ban" from the <insert name here> Household to give this a little more context.
As kids, a staple for lunch for any child would be PB&J. We did not have PB in our house, and as a child and non-shopper for household staples, I never thought about it as a purposeful action on behalf of the shoppers. When I was in my early 20's I started dating my husband, and this man whom I was chasing after in my bumbling idiot fashion, decided one day that he wanted PB&J on white bread (another thing we did not have in my house). So we go to the local Grand Union grocery store and get Wonder-bread and "Goober Grape", the all in one PB&J and we head back to my house to make some snackage. Upon arrival back at Chateau De <insert name here> we enter and I, in my usual spastic fashion, blurt out to my 'Rents that we have sandwich makings and if anyone wants one, just place an order. So into the kitchen we go to make the sandwiches. My father comes in and has a sandwich. I thought nothing of it, because my father was a food-a-holic. I never understood it, but there was no food that was not available in our house. We had steak, we had lobster, and there was nothing that I didn't try. My father didn't make us eat anything, but we had to try it, we didn't have to eat it, but we had to TRY it. So in my mind, him eating PB&J was a no brainer. Only it wasn't. The female 'Rent was speechless, which as you can surmise from previous posts is almost never heard of. I had to ask her what the deal was. She told me that in all of the years they had been together she had never seen my father eat peanut butter because when he first got to the United States and working for his mother's brother and sister in law, many times the only food they got for their labor was rancid peanut butter. Ever since he was old enough to earn his own money and buy his own food, he NEVER ate peanut butter.
I might have been twenty years old at the time of the female 'Rent telling me this, but it has stayed with me. That ONE bit of information probably provided me the basis to understanding my father as I never had as a child. To me he was always the stern person who scared the crap out of me. He expected a lot of us as children. He had no patience. He was not FAIR. All of this was from my childish brain.
What he was in reality was a father who wanted his children to never know the hunger he knew.
He wanted his children to know the joy of seeing hard work pay off in earning not only your own way, but the respect of your parents for a job well done.
He was so amazingly smart, and I never saw it. The reality was that his lack of patience was that his mind was so far beyond ours, as children we just could not keep up.
He was a loyal and loving man, who believed that you gave your word and you lived by it.
The greatest gift he taught us was what Unconditional love is. It doesn't mean you don't see the warts and scars, it means you see it ALL and love the person, not in spite of them, but because of them. I never got up in the morning, or went to bed at night, walked into or out of the house, where I did not hear the words I love you. He may have been disappointed at times, but he always loved us. Integrity and respect were not concepts but actions in how you conducted your life. He told me a long time ago that if you could count your TRUE friends on one hand you were a very lucky person. I always knew who he counted on his hand because they were my "Aunts and Uncles."
When I was 25 my father passed away. I try to explain to people that it was the worst and best day of my life and even typing it reads like I am some psycho... It was the worst day because I lost my moral compass and best friend. It was the best day because if forced me kicking and screaming to grow up and be a responsible adult. Something I had been avoiding for at least 7 years legally, and longer than that emotionally. Even in passing he had left me a wonderful gift of his friends who would continue to influence my growth whether from an encounter or just from knowing that they, like my father, would be disappointed in me if I didn't step up.
My father's best friend sat next to me 3 weeks after my father's passing, for the celebration of my finally getting my college degree. This man who had children of his own, and a whole life outside of our wounded little world, took the time to sit with me when I needed it most and just TALK to me about my father. I can never repay that gift. He was there for my family when we lost my brothers and my brother in law, for no other reason than he cut from the same cloth as my father. When you love people you are there for them, and love is not mandated by blood, but by the heart.
4 years later, when my husband and I finally tied the knot, he walked me down the aisle, and if I couldn't have my own father, I could not have asked for a better guide. This is another gift I can never repay.
My life's path has taken me away from that life and time and circumstances have made a journey back to visit all but impossible.
He passed away two weeks ago. It was unexpected and every bit as emotionally devastating as losing my father. I didn't think I would get to go back to pay my respects and I know my father would have been so disappointed in me. We are doing better than many but most days I still feel like I would be a disappointment to my father. I was crushed that I would not get to say goodbye to him and tell his family that I love them, and how much they mean to me. But apparently I learned more from my father and uncle than I realized. That lifetime of friendship was teaching me by example to be the person I wanted to be and I had put it into practice a long time ago and didn't even know it. When this whole thing happened MY friend stepped up and used her resources to get me there, a place to stay and a car to use just because. Many friends made an unexpected trip to her house to visit and see me, and I realized in that moment that the gift my father gave me was greater than I ever knew. He taught me how to love and how to be a person that can be loved in return.
I think about that a lot. All the time in fact. In spite of every bad thing that happens in the world, if you are blessed to understand the miracle of what love is and how to give and receive it with no expectations from others, you have lived a glorious life. For all of the pain of losing someone I love, I would not trade one second of that time. I would rather live a life full of love and loss than be safe and exist in a void and know no pain. Because the fullness of being in the presence of the people you love... There is no better feeling.
So for my father and my uncle, and everyone who isn't here with me anymore, THANK YOU. For loving me and letting me love you in return. My blessings are many and I know to count them because of you.