Today I have given my husband a cart blanche to do whatever he wants. Both kids are out of town, but the day is officially his. He still hasn’t forgiven me for the year that I bought him a wagon and sent him out to Mundy Park with the kids first thing in the morning. I thought it was brilliant. Him – not so.
He walked around for the rest of the day saying “No really, where’s my real present?”
Today apparently, his only desire is to just stay in bed. I am an early riser and sleeping in, is anything past 9 am. It’s now noon and he’s leaning into this rare gift.
My parents were separated a year after I was born and divorced long before any clear memory of my father. I grew up with my father in a different house. Different city. Different country. My conception of “Dad” grew out summer holidays down in Los Angeles, road trips to Vancouver, postcards, letters, and time together negotiated by a step-mother. My best friend in Grade 5, Carla, decided that both of us not having fathers was another way that we were “the same.” I regret the words that spewed out of my mouth that represented my insecurity more than anything else. I was trying to make sense of myself in relation to my father. I clarified that I did in fact have a father who loved me and wanted me to live at his house with him, even though I didn’t want to leave my Mum or Vancouver. We were definitely not the same. School and communities provided one paradigm for family in the 60’s and 70’s. My mother and older sister had their own struggles navigating through our reality. I was on my own to figure it out.
My husband, Brad, had memories of his father before his parents divorced. Those were the days where mental health was not understood or discussed. We continue to fight that stigma today but at least there is hope of a path forward. His father went from a vague presence to a complete void. His father was completely under the radar until Brad set out to find him after we had our first child. His father believed until the end of his days, that the Air Force, Brad’s Mom and his kids were the best things he had done in his life. The pride he radiated towards his son filled in the huge gap left by years of silence. And somehow it was enough for Brad.
There were four kids in both my Mum and Dad’s families. I have been surrounded by large extended family, my husband’s extended family, friends, my colleagues, my students, and their parents. I have seen incredible examples of amazing fathers who nurture their children, my husband included. I have seen examples of fathers who love their kids but are somehow ill equipped to nurture their children. I have seen men who have fathered children but who are so egocentric that there is no room left to consider the needs of their children. And always, there are the children trying to make sense of themselves in relation to their father. Whether he is good, bad, indifferent or absent.
I have been told I look like my mother but think like my father. Yet, in summer I’d be at my brother’s baseball practice or game and someone would walk up and say: “Well, obviously you’re Peter Dyck’s daughter.”
I was always taken aback. When I graduated, my mother chose a grad picture of me and a grad photo of my father around the same age and had them blown up for me to send to my father. A silent communication between parents. My father and I do have striking similarities. Both of us had a similar drive to do hard things that are scare the shit out of us. To learn new things. To push ourselves. To make a difference. To win. To climb all the way up to Gem Lake. To make a really good golf drive. The common understanding that you do not show vulnerability or fear at all costs, seems positively genetic. I had no need to go out into the world to do battle and overcome fear. I had my father to sharpen my tongue, my thinking, my understanding of myself and develop the backbone not be intimidated into silence.
As my husband and I were going down the elevator to our room in Hawaii on a family trip, my husband quizzically stared at me and said, “I have no idea what that was about, but it had nothing to do with apartheid in South Africa.” In any fight or any debate, it was “to the death”. It was usually about him dismissing me. It was always about his quest to control and my fight to not be controlled.
I refused to make my life easier by acquiescing to my father, or the way he wanted me to be in the world. Perhaps it would have been different if I had been a son. Not with the demeanor of my younger brother but like me. Would he have been quicker to appreciate the tenacity or see another perspective? I wanted my father to respect my right to have my own ideas, to express them, and to own truth rather than a version of life manufactured for his own personal gain. I got glimmers of it when he would tell me that I was “like him” or tell true stories of his childhood and relationships, or when we got very rare times alone or discussed travel or Edgar Allen Poe or Victor Frankel or the neuroplasticity of the brain. I never aspired to be Daddy’s little girl which was a good thing because my father was not that kind of guy. I do wish that he would have golfed with me after he bought me my first set of clubs. And if I’m honest, it matters that he acknowledged my intelligence and achievement.
My father is now tucked away in a home and is likely eating shrimp cocktail for the Father’s Day brunch with a false narrative being spoon fed to him. Perhaps that is the least disruptive for patients with dementia. Yet, what he gains in calmness he loses in unconditional love. Tragic. I pray that in the end of my life, I am immersed in the messiness of the life than is authentically mine. When my Nanny Keenan had dementia and my heart was breaking, my father told me that dementia was God’s gift to Nanny. “It’s best she doesn’t understand that she has lost all control of her life. She’d hate that,” he mussed knowingly.
My Dad was someone who loved and respected my Nanny too. Perhaps, dementia is now God’s gift to my Dad. He would hate to be completely aware of all he has lost too and unable to do anything about it.
For my husband, his kids are not in town. Yet, he’s good. He is shrouded with unconditional love from his kids, whether they are near or far. Our FAB 4 Messenger group has morphed into FAB 5 with the addition of Larkyn’s fiancée, Justin. The banter continues. Although Brad bemoaned the gift of the wagon, the kids carry happy memories of his pulling them to McDonald’s as their “special secret” when I was not around. The wafting smell of grease filling the air with anticipation of forbidden fruit. They fondly remember the massive loading of that wagon and heading to Sasamat Lake or Spanish Banks with their Dad lugging all the necessary supplies. Memories of hiking, biking, camping, skiing, snowboarding and swimming and boogie boarding at the beach house provide the stories for endless reminiscences. Time spent enjoying each other and showing it. And Brad is a good sport and laughs along with the stories of “Was that a body?” and “Brad Froese, 82!” And his pride and appreciation of his kids is equalled only by their pride and appreciation of their Dad.
Makes for a Happy Father’s Day!