Friends are Blessings

Over brunch, my new acquaintance and I discover we have a lot in common – both former teachers, interested in art and poetry, with a love birds. She is just getting back into life after a long stint of caring for a sick husband, who died a year ago. I am finding my footing in a new town, after years of my own isolation.

The friendship feels natural, and when we meet up again at the next poetry circle, we make more plans.

For most of my life, I have felt like the lone bird, perched below the gathered flock, wondering why I’m left out. A loner, is how I described myself in high school – a cover for shame and never feeling good enough.

I’m too old for all that self-deprecation nonsense now. I am an adult women who needs relationships.

So these days, I am letting my guard down, and giving thanks for the friends in my life – old and new.

Connection, after all, is what the heart craves.

Paradoxical

Fear and intimidation formed the basis of his power. To this day I tremble, afraid I’ve misstepped – parked the car wrong, forgot to close the door properly, or spoken out of turn. My father was a hand grenade with the pin perpetually pulled.

He was also motivational, citing the works of Carnegie, Peale, Gibran, and even Rumi. His brilliance was a light for me to follow, although I never understand the paradox between this worldly man and the ticking time bomb.

He spoke of love with tears in his eyes, as if he recognized his own failing, as if love was something he didn’t deserve. In his final years, realizing the error of his ways, he cried often.

I didn’t know how to react. The man had broken me in so many ways – broken all around him. I could not just forgive and forget.

Love is paradoxical – its’ contours seldom defined by expectations.

Am I grateful that I had the father I did? Absolutely. I recognize that in his wake I am challenged, but also given the resources to overcome. Many times I wanted to walk away, and yet, I didn’t, sensing that there was more to be uncovered in this dance of love and hate.

Father has been gone for more than a decade. I still wrestle with the paradox.

( Reena’s Exploration this week is paradox. Images are from personal collection. Maple trees and snapdragons remind me of my father.)

Extended Blessings

Children grow up, establish new lives, and if we’re really lucky they bring home new members to add to the family.

I have been doubly blessed with the addition of a son and a daughter-in-law.

I can’t say enough about them, and I’m sure they’d kill me for posting their photographs, but it’s my blog and I’m going to do it anyway.

Mr Dad over here is a warm and loving partner, and an excellent father. He is bright, accomplished, funny, athletic, and quite crafty. He also makes me feel very welcome any time I visit.

My daughter-in-law is spunky, smart, caring, and any time I get to spend with her is such a gift.

If you are counting, that is two out of five – so no doubt there are more additions to come.

I’m open. There is no limit on blessings is there?

(Featured image is a sample of Mr Dad’s woodworking skills.)

Blended Blessings

Marrying for the third time entailed blending families – not always an easy task. I had three; he had two – bookends to mine. Falling in love is one thing, but the chances that all parties will be enthused about the idea is another.

Ric’s oldest, a son, was already an adult when we met, and had his own life, so our choices really didn’t affect him. Same with my oldest daughter.

Ric and Erika

The three youngest ones, however, were still at home. We had differences in parenting styles. Being critical of each other was a quicksand pit we tried carefully to avoid, but it wasn’t always easy. Developing trust and respect, and a genuine fondness takes time. I’m pleased to say, we made it.

More than that, as a stepmother, I’ve gained a new role that enriches my life in many ways. While I refer to Erika as “our daughter”, our relationship falls outside the mother/daughter framework. She has a mother, and doesn’t need me in that role. Not sure what you’d call it – role model, friend, alternate source of support.

Whatever it is, I count it as another blessing.

Our gang

Third Time Lucky

I first married at nineteen, two years after I left home, and many years before I’d developed into the woman I would later be. We separated before our second wedding anniversary.

Certain I was fatally flawed, I jumped at the next opportunity that came along – a relationship that would produce my three children and span seventeen years.

In the end, he confirmed what I secretly believed: I was not loveable.

I would prove that to myself again and again with poor choices, until finally, in my forties, I admitted I had a problem. My picker was broken. I was choosing mates based on the wrong assumption.

What, I asked myself, would a relationship look like if I was loveable? I decided that it needed to start with myself. So I started courting me. I bought myself flowers, just because I deserved them. I took myself out to eat and focused on what I liked. I visualized what it would feel like to be loved and I set five goals to achieve before I would re-enter relationship:

  • To understand my needs
  • To be able to identify my wants
  • To establish healthy boundaries
  • To believe myself worthy of love
  • To be financially independent.

When I met Ric, I wasn’t ready. The fifth goal had not been reached. So, I told him: “I’m not ready for relationship right now. I am willing to hang out for a year, and then we can reassess.”

Golf buddies

He agreed, and exactly one year later, picked me up from work and took me out to dinner, ordering a bottle of wine to celebrate.

“Celebrate what?”

“It’s been a year; we can talk about us!”

Six months later, he asked me to marry him. I made him wait another eighteen months.

The thing about Ric is that I know that he loves me. He would do anything for me. He values my wants and needs, and my boundaries. He listens to my fears. He is my best friend.

Wedding Day

Third time has been a charm (he’d say for both of us). I am truly blessed.

To All Aspiring Dads

” I’m worried about my generation, Mom. There are so few male role models to set an example, how are we supposed to know how to live our lives?”

My son was fifteen when he shared this concern with me. Having watched his own father turn his back during our divorce, and witnessing the same with so many of his friends, what was he to think?

“It seems no one wants to take responsibility anymore.”

I had no answers. My own father was a good provider, but emotionally unavailable, and abusive. His paternal grandfather died long before he was born.

“I guess you’ll have to carve your own path,” I offered. “Stick to your values and you’ll be okay.”

I’m going to go out on a limb and state that fathering has never been easy. Women share a bond with their child from conception (and a body), while men stand by and observe. That bond continues after childbirth if the woman chooses to breastfeed. A father has to find a way to insert himself into the equation. Some hold back and wait for the child to grow older. Some, like my son-in-law, finds a role and ensure parenting is teamwork.

This week we focused on fathers. The original challenge was: Things my father said, but it soon became apparent that this was not so simple. Some dads were men of few words. Some were absent. Some proved to be awkward heroes.

I think we can agree, that all influenced us, one way or another.

Gathering from all the insights and stories shared, I have composed a message to my son and all future fathers:

Inspire perspective,
teach clear boundaries –
children need guidance
through chaotic times.
Keep your idiosyncracies
they will be appreciated, in time.
Talk about what is hard,
and also how to be soft.
Be kind and believe
in each child’s potential.

Teach us that mistakes
are inevitable, learning good.
Your life is your example –
perfection is not called for
but a demonstration of humanity
certainly is.

Anything else to add?

Thank you to this week’s participants:

chosenperspectives
Proscenium
Pictures without film.
parallax
one letter UP
Stuff and what if…
Sgeoil
Wind Rush
Abandoned Amenities

See you tomorrow for a new challenge.

The Father I Miss

Father abhorred laziness. “The idle mind is the Devil’s playground!” he’d say. Or: “What are you trying to do; win the horizontal championship?”

Well, I’m the horizontal champion now, thanks to illness. Wonder what he’d say about that? Still, I’m not lazy.

To my face he was hardcore, unless he was soppy drunk, then the he’d tell me how much smarter than him I was, and that he loved me, and ask if I knew that – all very confusing, and somewhat frightening, to be honest.

Sober, we were all goddamn idiots and didn’t know how to do anything right. “You don’t know what problems are,” he was fond of saying if I ever moaned, or: “Take that mood to your room; we don’t want any of it.”

But when severe menstrual pain would double me over, he’d sit at my bedside and apply pressure with a pillow. “Just like I used to do for my sisters.”

And when I moved away from home at the age of seventeen to escape his brutality, he called me every morning to make sure I was okay.

As I say, very confusing.

“Don’t do as I do; do as I say,” was another favourite and one that really riled me. Dad was an alcoholic, with violent tendencies: a brick wall, who declared himself omnipotent. We were to be “seen not heard” and always ushered to bed before he got home from work. He was unpredictable and impulsive, and no matter how hard we tried we could never please him.

And then he bragged about us behind our backs.

In retrospect, he likely suffered PTSD from war time combat (he was a commando on a suicide mission), plus he was born a female in a male body – something I never fully understood until after he was gone.

I know that he believed that God hated him, although he’d always profess that the “Good Lord will provide”; and I know that towards the end of his life he regretted much.

I also recognize, fourteen years after his passing, that I / we missed out on a relationship that might have been.

(The focus for my weekly challenge is: “Things my father said.” )


A Heart Full of Gratitude

On the occasion of Ric’s birthday, it’s difficult not to feel deep gratitude for this dear man I’ve had the pleasure of sharing life with these past sixteen years.

From those first witty exchanges online to our initial meetings, I was intrigued: here was a man with intelligence and passion that listened and responded, encouraging dialogue.

How our life has grown and evolved since those early days – all to Ric’s credit. Even in hardship, he has held us up, never one to back down from challenge.

On this day, remembering all the joy, and tears we have shared, I am especially grateful for the adventures, and to have said “I do” to a man who would enrich my life for many years to come.

I hope these aging years are kind to you, my love.

Bedside Conversations

“Mom, I want you to know that I don’t harbour any ill will toward our past. If I seek to know what happened, it is only to understand myself so that I might heal.”

Mom nods, considers my words. “There is so much I could have done differently.”

“No. You did what you could with what you had. They were difficult times.”

It is funny how, faced with imminent death, perspectives shift. Throughout my life, I have had a love/hate relationship with my mother: cowed by her criticisms, angry at her life choices, disappointed that she didn’t protect us. It all seems so petty now.

“The greatest regret I have concerning you,” she says, reaching a frail hand toward me; “is that I never comforted you after the rape. What kind of a mother was I to turn my back on you?”

Her words catch me off guard. I tear up. “You didn’t know.”

“No, but I’ve come across it in your writing.”

I thought I had filtered that part out, usually careful about what I let her read.

We talk about it. Clear the air. She cries with me and shares her own story of rape at fourteen. I’m the first person she’s ever told, she adds.

How life can chew us up and tear us apart. Good thing love’s bonds are so strong.

I ask her about earlier days – parts of my childhood that are foggy. We laugh at some of it, and shake our heads at other bits.

Then exhausted, we both withdraw into ourselves, and in the silence, nod off.

When it’s time to go, she tells me that I have always been her strength, her rock.

“It’s good to have you home.”

I wish I could do so much more.


Exit Strategy

One more train.

Then she’d be away.  Far enough to lose all communication.  Far enough that he could not find her.

“Can I help you Ma’am?”  a porter reached for her luggage. Passengers crowded in behind.

“Just a moment, thanks.”

Pulling her suitcase aside, she fidgeted with her purse, pretending to be searching for a ticket.  Courage was what she really needed.

She thought of her mother – how torn apart, she’d be.

She thought of her sister – confined to a nursing home, unable to recognize or converse.  Was it fair to leave her?

The porter called to her again, indicating time.

He had a kind face – open and concerned.  The face she’d left behind was not kind, his hands weapons that had lashed out so many times.  What choice did she have?  If she stayed, he would kill her.

So, she would move on.  Start a new life.  Leave behind all that she knew and loved…

The thought stopped her, a sudden rage emerging. How is this just?  Why should he live his life, and I lose all?

She picked up her bag, brushed past the helpful porter, and into the streets.

She needed a better strategy.

(Written for Twenty Four’s 50 Word Thursday – response to be written in multiples of 50 words.  This is 200.  Image provided by Deb Whittam.)