Friday, August 7, 2009

My father

I’m not sure if my father remembers that my second daughter died in my belly. I’m not even sure if he remembers that I was pregnant.

Little Bea and I visited my father today. He suffers from primary progressive mul.tiple scler.osis. He has been wheelchair bound for the last seven years. He lives in a nursing facility outside of the city about an hour and fifteen minutes from where I live. My sister and I see him once a week, to take his laundry and have lunch with him. We watch our babies crawl over his electric wheelchair and dance for him. Cheering and yelling at the Price is Right, and joking about everything, we just try to enjoy our time with him. He is paralyzed now on one side of his body, he has trouble with his speech and swallowing. I have to translate what my father says for most people who talk to him.

When I last wrote about him, I was so warmed by everyone’s acceptance and love for my father. My father drove a forklift. That’s what he did for money, worked in warehouses driving forklifts. He can pick up a nickel with one. I’ve see him do it. Ingenious that man. He is very skilled at Le System D. He worked in a frozen food warehouse. And on those days when my mother wasn’t sure what to do with me between driving my sister to ballet and shopping for the week, she would drop me off at the huge warehouse where my father would emerge from the freezer in a full snowsuit with icicles hanging off of his mustache holding a broken box of Pudding Pops.

He worked his ass off. I won’t lie, I resented how much he worked. Thirteen hour plus days. Weekends. He didn’t want to drive a forklift forever. He didn’t go to college. He went to Vietnam instead. So, he worked hard. He finally became general manager of the warehouse. Ultimately, quitting that job brought on his disease. The type of MS my father has is tempered by cold. His symptoms flare up, confound and destroy him in the heat. His late hours at the warehouse masked his symptoms until he quit his job, a year after my parent’s split. They split up, and my father got sick, and more depressed. My mother admitted that she thought my father was drinking a lot at the end, but the truth was he was suffering from the beginning signs of his disease, symptoms very close to appearing drunk and depressed.


The day after I returned from the hospital, after birthing my stillborn daughter, my father asked me when I was coming to see him. He asked me when I was bringing his laundry to him. I hung up and wept into my hands. And my sister took care of it. She took him laundry, saw him and spent the holiday with him, while I recovered from birth. But birth, dead child…he still needed his clean clothes. He still needed his clothes.

I have been bitter about people who did nothing. Yet I have a vast well of patience and acceptance of my father. Maybe that is why, because so much of my emotional forgiveness is spent on him some days, I cannot tolerate insensitivity from people who are well enough to know better.

My sick father. My dead daughter. One is enough.

Still, I have my moments where my patience is threadbare—worn so close to the surface of my open wounds that I feel I am bleeding anger onto my father. Even with our four kids screaming, my father will look at us, my sister and I, and ask us to fix the sheet on his bed, or stack his t-shirts straighter in the drawer. He will then ridicule our children’s crying, “WAAAAH HA HA.” It enrages each of them from the smallest to the biggest. It reminds me of my childhood where crying was mocked relentlessly by my father. My eyes sometimes well up, and I feel overwhelmed and so very young again. I want to scream obscenities. I want to turn around and leave and never go back. Then I think, “This is a luxury, Angie. It is a luxury to be annoyed with your father.” It means I see him enough to be pissed off at his self-absorption. Guilt, in that moment, is not my primary emotion. Anger is better than guilt.

There was so much I resented about my father. He withheld his praise. He was withdrawn and depressed. He was critical and teased us to the point of bullying. He didn’t tolerate anything out of place. Not. One. Thing. It ruined whole nights, sometimes whole weekends, if our school bags were left next to the couch when he got home from work.

Last night in bed, I stared at my incredibly intricate ceiling. Guilt encompassed every ounce of my sleeping energy. I want to take care of him all the time. I want him here, and I know I can’t do it. I’m not capable of caring for him in the ways he needs. I wish I were stronger, more selfless, more capable. That is the big guilt. The small guilt is, well, smaller. See, he had called yesterday morning, and I didn’t hear it. I didn’t check my cell phone until I was in bed and realized I didn’t have any idea where it was. He wanted to chit chat. My phone was in a pocket in the laundry. How fucking selfish am I to not keep the phone near me? Tears rolled down my cheeks.


He cried when he talked to me about Lucy in the tender days following her birth, even as he asked about his laundry. He asked me how I was doing. He sounded concerned. Now, he tears up when I talk about her, like he forgot that I was mourning my baby and more importantly, he forgot he was mourning. But mostly, he just says to me when I see him, “How’s the new house, Ang?”

I’ve owned my home for three years, and always say, “It’s great, Dad.” And tell him about our latest home improvement project. We haven’t traditionally talked much about emotions—my dad and I. My father once said to me, “I’d kill myself, Ang, if I had the balls to do it.” I was haunted by that sentence for more than a decade. Angered by it at times. Compassionate about it other times. But our talk has mostly been dominated by football and car repair, taxes and hard work, movies and television. We avoided conversations about politics and college. He didn’t ever care if I went to college; in fact, he often told me that he thought college kids were self-important and devoid of real-world knowledge. That I graduated from college didn’t much matter to him. Now, we don’t talk about football, or cars. He sometimes asks me, “How is He doing?” And I know who he means. He means my husband Sam. He can’t remember his name, but he remembers that he likes Him. And really, is the name part that important?


The first time that I felt like an adult I was driving my father home from work, and he cried. “A bathroom. I need a bathroom.” And I panicked. I never had seen my father so afraid. We were driving, surrounded by cornfields. If the closest gas station was ten miles, that would have surprised me. But I floored it, scared for myself. Scared for what could happen. I couldn’t bear watching my father soil himself. I sped in that way you do in the country, which means you drive 45 instead of the speed limit, and my father wept, repeating, “I’m going to wet myself.” He wouldn’t let me pull over into a cornfield. He wanted the dignity of a bathroom. We just made it to the gas station, and I watched him drag the dead weight of his leg into a bathroom. Those scenes are part of my everyday relationship with him now, but then, when I was 25 and no other adult had ever counted on me and I could be a fuck-up for as long as I wanted, it was a devastating day. The second time I felt like an adult I was calling funeral homes to cremate my child.

I hold his hand some days, and say, “I love you, Daddy.” And his tears well up, but I cannot take away his illness no matter how much I love him. No matter how much.


  1. I'm sorry about your dad Angie :-(

  2. Sadly, this is too close to home Angie.

    Of the things one never expects in their lives...outliving their child and becoming a parent to their truly sucks to be a double winner of the unlucky lotteries.

  3. :(

    dealing with the parental units (as my sister and I refer to our kind, always supportive and full-of-praise parents -snark) is difficult in good times. Throw a dead baby and a terrible degenerative disease in there, and I can't imagine how you can handle it.

    The generation gap is amazing - how you deal with your kids, how you show emotions. Our parents are products of their parents, as we are of them.

  4. That is too much for any person to deal with. I'm so sorry.

  5. Your love for him seeps beautifully through your words Angie.
    You are such a sweet, strong old soul...

  6. I'm sorry to hear about your father, Angie. What a cruel illness.

    Parents. The only two people in the world who can make me feel so very young and useless yet also as old as the hills, older than them. Sometimes simultaneously. All this without the additional complication of a degenerative disease.

    I'm sure you are patient and accepting of your father Angie. And it must cost you dearly. Of course you have less to spare for other people. Any of us have only so much to go round and, God knows, you've got more patience, acceptance and love than most in this world I'm sure. Certainly more than me.

    I wish that I could take the guilt away from you. But I guess that daughter guilt is closely akin to mommy guilt and not easily assauged.

    I wish that your love for your father could fix things and wish I had something useful to say.
    Love. xx

  7. I really enjoyed this sad and beautiful post about your dad. I feel the same way sometimes just about not being able to give and care for my parents the way they sometimes need it. My situation is easier than yours, though. I didn't have the difficult experiences growing up the way you had with your father. I can imagine how much more complicated and hard it must be for you now. I'm sorry about your dad's illness and applaud your honesty in dealing with him and the illness itself, especially in the brutal context of losing a baby.

  8. I loved reading about your Dad, Angie. It's all bloody complicated, more so now. xoxo

  9. Ah, there is so much to bear in this life. Your post is beautiful and painful. Hoping for some days of peace with your dad and in your memories of child.

  10. Angie,

    You are amazing. Your dad is so lucky to have such a warm, loving daughter. I hate to use the dreaded 'brave' word, so I won't, but you have so much compassion and strength it's humbling.


  11. Angie, describing yourself as selfish couldn't be further from the truth. The love and pain that permeate your words are those of a compassionate, loving daughter and mother. xo

  12. I just wanted to take a minute to thank all of you for your lovely comments.

    I have been wanting to write a post about my father for a long time. After my first time in therapy about four years ago, my therapist asked me on my last session what I wish we could have worked on, and I said, "My dad." I just don't talk about this part of my life very much with anyone, even though it is a huge part of who I am. In my late twenties, I spent every weekend caring for him, after working a 40 hour is different now, and I can appreciate him in such a different way, and truly love him unconditionally.

    This post was both scary and cathartic and started out about twice as long. I cried through writing most of it. Of course, I wish I could communicate more of the nuances of our relationship, because there is so much love there, going both ways. Anyway, thanks for being a safe place. Much love to all.

  13. You're amazing Angie. And you made me feel very lucky and thankful today.
    Thank you.

  14. Beautiful and loving post Angie. MS is such a terrible disease, its why I grew up without a grandmother.

  15. You beauty. So much here that is new, deep. And good.

  16. Angie,

    I've been so out of touch these days and I apologize for that. I am so sorry your dad has to carry the burden of MS and you watching him suffer. I am sorry, yet I also know you do find beauty in a lot of your time with your dad. Your memories of him from your childhood and your fondness for him now reveal that.

    Peace, my friend.


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