When I was a young girl, my dad would tuck me in to bed almost every night. I’d lay, for what seemed like forever, as I heard my sister’s and his muffled talking and laughter coming from her room, until finally it was my turn. He’d kneel by the side of my bed and we’d talk about our day, laugh, and occasionally have serious conversations. Sometimes, he’d scare the shit out of me with his scary Wide-Eyes as I hid under my covers terrified and giggling, but either way, bedtime never really felt complete without our long good-nights.
When I was a little older, he’d either take me out back of our house or across the street to the little league field and practice my softball pitching with me. We’d make small talk about things as I pitched and he caught, unless I really whizzed one in there, and then he’d yelp and hop around on one foot trying to get rid of the sting. Sometimes, he’d try pitching to me and I’d end up laughing at him until I cried because it really seemed to take a lot out of him. After games, all of my friends wanted to ride with me because my dad was so cool and so fun, and would blare his late 70’s-early 80’s music so loud you could feel it beating right through to your chest.
Abba, Jefferson Starship, Loverboy. A gaggle of pubescent girls, each one of us wearing a ball cap and carrying a glove, hanging out the back window of my dad’s blue Oldsmobile Cutless Supreme belting out “Turn Me Loose”.
When I was in college, we’d call each other during Final Jeopardy and compete to see who could get the answer correct. He’d almost always win. We’d have debates about politics or philosophy and he’d always take such an interest in what I was learning. He’d read and critique my papers, then play Devils Advocate.
At times like these, we were like two peas in a pod.
And in between these times, there were epic fights. We could easily clear out a room as he was the passionate, quick-tempered dad, and I was his passionate quick-tempered daughter. I have many a memory of us throwing daggers at each other from across the dining room table. We were both overly concerned with being “right” no matter the topic, and were unable to resist the temptation to try to sway each other to our way of thinking. Or at least to just have a good rumble. We would yell and argue and swear and sometimes not speak for a while.
Twenty years later, we’re both older and in very different places. I became a parent, he grew a bit more tired, and he and I became more like friends. I’ve gotten much busier in my life while he has hearing aids and can no longer drive due to his failing eyesight. We don’t get to spend as much time together anymore and Final Jeopardy happens smack in the middle of our bedtime routine here at home. Not only has our time together dwindled, but our fights have become fewer and further between. Arguing about right-wing vs. left-wing mentality is no longer a priority for either of us. Now, we’re lucky if we can get in a few “friendly debates”, in between which, we can laugh and commiserate like old friends.
Recently, at his 66th birthday party, which included me, my sister, our spouses and kids and my step-mother, I was telling him something as we were all standing in the kitchen. He couldn’t quite hear me, as is often the case when he won’t wear his hearing aids, and I found myself feeling exasperated. I may have even rolled my eyes, although I’m ashamed to admit it now. My younger sister yanked me aside unceremoniously and snapped, “you need to be patient. It’s his birthday!”. (As a side-note, she’s always been the sweeter, nicer and more well-liked sister.) I, being the ‘older’ sister who is supposed to be more mature, felt embarrassed by my behavior. Of course she was right. It was his birthday for God’s sake. After swallowing my pride and thanking my sister for giving me a verbal slap in the face, I ended up giving him a long hug on impulse a little while later, which took him off guard. I’m not the most affectionate of his four daughters.
On the way home that night, I thought about why I had acted like such an ass, especially since I used to watch him act the same way with his parents. I can remember feeling so annoyed with him as I watched him argue with his father or be impatient with my grandma and here I was, behaving the same way.
Why could I be so patient with my grandparents and not my own dad?
And then it hit me: I miss him. I miss us. I miss him sitting at the dining room table with me at 10:00 at night helping me with my math homework until I just start throwing out numbers at random wanting it to be over as soon as possible because I just don’t get Geometry. I miss him breaking out in an air guitar to a Bon Jovi song during one of my slumber parties. I miss his infectious laugh as he sat in his chair after work and watched Cheers. I miss him driving me around in the car singing to the Doobie Brothers. I miss how feisty our relationship was, the good and the bad. I get impatient with him because we’ve both changed and I think I’m a bit sad and maybe a little scared. Our roles are different now, as they should be. He needs me more now, like I needed him then, and it’s time I manned up and stopped rolling my eyes. It’s not easy to grow old, but it’s also not easy to watch someone you love grow old either. You both change, your relationship changes and it can sometimes take a while to acclimate.
Luckily for us, all is not lost. We did get into it over the phone a few months ago, hung up with one another in a huff, kept our distance for a couple of weeks and then resumed as usual. And we just had a nice friendly debate about the school systems, which I’m still thinking about today. I’ve come up with some great comebacks I’m hoping to spring on him during the next family gathering. I also wish to God he’d wear his hearing aids more often so I don’t have to go hoarse when at his house. Oh, and just a few days ago, he sent me this wonderfully helpful critique of my previous blog post:
“Your grammar in this sentence caught me off guard until I re-read it and now I’m just not sure. If you had written, “…that it would be fun if he and I were to go into my clubhouse…, that wouldn’t have raised a red flag (ooh, major incident 🙂 ). Using the (subordinate) conjunction ‘if’ would allow you to use the nominative case of ‘he and I’. But, by using the preposition ‘for’, it requires there be an ‘object(s) of a preposition’, meaning you should use the objective case (him and me) as opposed to ‘he and I’. Capisce?”
And, we can still listen to music, only just a little louder. And now, I’m always the one in the driver’s seat.