My world in Queens, circa 1960, revolved around my mother. To me, she was the end all. The bee’s knees. The most beautiful mother who was always there for me. My father, on the other hand, was of a different ilk. He wasn’t around much and didn’t go with us on family outings to the city. But that’s probably because he was spending his time downtown, getting an education.
It seems that when he came to the United States, my father decided that if he was going to make a decent life for himself and for his family, he first needed to get a degree. He enrolled at New York University and he must have been there day and night, attending classes and studying late in the library, because his presence in our lives was minuscule at best.
And when he was around, he would yell and throw fits about anything and everything which absolutely terrified me. He also enjoyed a good scare. Like when he crept up on me when I was by myself in the basement, sent there to fetch the laundry basket for my mother. Pouncing, he began to make strangling motions around my neck. I cried in horror, which made him keel over with crazed laughter. I was only five.
Yet, despite this, my father had his “Father Knows Best” moments. At least when he wasn’t in his hyper Latin machismo mode. Like when I was 18 and about to go on an interview for a summer job. I had applied to be a live-in nanny for the Pellicane family’s four children (three boys and a girl). My father insisted that he come along for the interview so that he could meet the family with whom I might be spending the summer. He poured on his Latin charm for Mrs. Pellicane, taking her hand gently in his, admiring her well appointed Manhasset home. A regular Desi Arnaz meets Ricardo Montalban. During the interview, he asked questions and offered anecdotal information about his daughter (“She’s shy,” “A picky eater,” “Very impatient.”). I sat meekly beside him, silently mortified, and willed myself to disappear into the furnishings of the Pellicane home. I wanted to forget this interview ever happened. But the next day, when Mrs. Pellicane offered me the job, she cited as the key reason the fact that my father cared enough about me to take part in the interview.
Over the years, my first inclination would be to seek out my mother when I needed advice. Not my father. I considered him bull-headed and demanding. Yet, he was always there in the background, trying to be as invaluable to me as my mother. I resisted. That is, until my marriage began to fall apart.
My mother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Confiding in her was out of the question. I needed to talk, to get her insight, but since that wasn’t going to happen, I found myself turning to my father. He was 81 years old now and didn’t seem so macho anymore. During this time, my parents had moved to Florida and my father was receiving regular kidney dialysis. His legs were swollen, his body drained and he was just plumb tired of living. But his mind was intact.
The first time I called to tell him the news about my marriage, as a reflex, I braced myself for a scolding. I expected angry outbursts. I expected accusations that it was my fault, that I could have done more. I anticipated unequivocal fury. In its place, I got empathy and love. He listened as I cried and poured out my story. He quietly listened and when I could cry no more, he told me what I needed to hear. That he loved me with all his heart and that I would be ok.
Suddenly, with my mother in her own world, my father was there for me in a way I’d never seen before. It was as if my mother’s pre-Alzheimer’s spirit had taken over his body and, in a surprising twist of fate, it was now my father listening to me and sharing his wisdom. I knew he was in pain from the dialysis, but during our conversations, he never let on. It was the closest we’d ever been. My mother now in la-la land and my father a beacon of hope and compassion. The world was upside down and the impossible had come true.
Within the year, we buried my mother. A few months after that, my father. Hot headed and super macho, my father transcended all that he was, in order to give me what was there all along: his love. And maybe he didn’t always know best, but in the moments I needed him, he came through.
This is beautiful, Monica.
What I would do to experience that kind of love from a father! My dad(s) are very much alive, but the experience was let’s say…different. I can’t wait to write all about it. Your father had real “swag”, and by that I mean that he did well by you as his daughter. You effortlessly communicated in words, his style and commitment to some core values that he, coupled with your mother, tried in earnest to instill in his children. You are because they were!
That your dad came through at such a delicate and critical turning point in your life with unconditional love and empathy is a beautiful memory. I’m so glad you shared that with us.
Thank you so much, SomerEmpress. As you might discern from reading this, my father was, overall, a difficult man. But, when push came to shove, he came through for me. He spent his final years living in pain, but kept going to take care of my mother. After she died, in May he lost his will. Within five months, he too, had died. It sure was a tough time. I hope to know your story, of your two dads, sometime. Cheers to you, SE!
Such a heartwarming post 🙂
Wow, that brought me to tears.
Monica, This was beautiful. You convey so well what you feel and how you experienced your parents. I appreciate it and, I can identify with your story as well. Gracias!
I have a similar experience with my Dad. He wasn’t the macho type like yours. He just let Mom take the lead…until she died and I only had him to talk to when I got divorced and came out. He stepped up to the plate, told me he loved me no matter what and that he would always have my back. It was awesome. I’m glad you had that too.
Thank you for sharing your personal story. You’ll need to read my post next Friday, when I write about my father’s brother. He was gay but never able to come out.
That was so beautiful. We are struggling with the every-quickening decline of my grandmother’s health and my grandfather’s mind and it’s SO TRYING.
Hang in there. All you can do is be there for them and take care of them. Also, remember to take care of yourself. That’s so important.
I think you’re right. He did have an epiphany. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long. Once my mother died, he fell into such a depression and lost the will to go on. That, coupled with the kidney dialysis and pain he was in, took over those last few months. There was little we could do to lessen his plight. He was a good man who loved his family very much. His heart was in the right place most of the time. He just had a funny way of showing it.
Wow, awesome post!
After seeing your mom in her incoherent state, he may have had an epiphany and thought he’s it now. He may have reflected back, realized he wasn’t the father he should have been, had barriers up, couldn’t relay his affection (could be the way HE was raised) and decided that he didn’t have many more years left on this planet, he better step up to the plate and let his family know he did love them. I’m SO glad he was there for you. My mom has passed and my dad has his own issues. My MIL is 92, and my FIL is gone. I only have my friends, and believe me, THEY are extremely patient with me. I don’t know where I’d be without them! I rarely speak to my husband about my pains or problems. He has is own issues as well. What tangled webs we weave.
What a lovely, heartwarming post. Your parents sound like they were both wonderful blessings to you.