My father adopted me and my two siblings (and three half-sibs were born). Only five years old when we met, I’d so hoped he was the hero arrived to rescue us. Maybe he thought he was, in his commanding, controlling way. But he was merely a man, managing his life and ours as he saw best…with baggage and issues he didn’t discuss with me.
“God helps them who help themselves,” he told me, when I didn’t have a satisfactory answer to his query about what I was going to do with my life. Clueless, I replied that I was waiting for God to reveal a plan. Dad’s statement didn’t sound entirely accurate, but I kept mum.
He added, “You have tunnel vision…writing is an avocation”. He didn’t view it as a dependable profession, which most people agree is true…but I doubt he saw it as a worthwhile pastime either. I wrote him a poem once, extolling him as a father…after reading it, he came out of his room misty-eyed. Mom returned it to me when he died.
“Learn to play an instrument and you’ll always have a crowd of friends.” None of us followed this advice…what friends we had owned stereos, record albums.
“No matter what, you’ll always have family.” I’m certain that was his dream, and God knows I wish it had come true…but as it happened, there’s more estrangement than cohesion since my parents passed.
On learning his cancer was terminal, he said, “I’ll just have to try harder”. This was likely part of his ‘God helps those who help themselves’ doctrine, having grown up in times which celebrated self-made men, and among those who expected God to reward their efforts…with little or no recognition of Divine assistance.
He’d been a naval officer, brooked no question of his authority…and it made me sad and a bit angry, his belief that he could grip destiny in his hands—even death—turn it like a ship’s wheel. It set me up for a continuing sense of failure in my life…apparently I just wasn’t trying hard enough to garner success.
“Peggy Lee, now she’s a singer.” Like many parents, Dad had no appreciation for the new generation’s music. He was always trying to steer me toward his interests…I’ve often thought he couldn’t see I was a child, confused me with his peers.
“Children are to be seen and not heard”…in many ways it seemed he imagined children should be ornaments in his life, pleasing, to be admired.
“You’re very loquacious tonight,” …his statement was meant as a vocabulary lesson. He encouraged my interest in doing the Reader’s Digest word quiz each month, and frequently invited me to join him and mom in a game of Scrabble. An impressive facility with language was an asset…thus, while he wasn’t keen on my bent toward writing, he took pride in my ability to speak well.
“Don’t you ever be critical of your mother.” I wasn’t a child who sassed, spoke out of turn…fearful of grievous punishment. But there was an occasion in my teen years, never repeated, when I badly wanted to shake him from his delusions which kept my mother on a pedestal in his mind. He worked out of the country for weeks at a time, never observed her abusive treatment.
“As the eldest, remember that you set the example for your siblings to follow.” I remain unclear why I was appointed to be the saintly one…clearly, what my siblings learned from my behavior was that they were unwilling to pursue the same dull, inhibited course. While I was reading in my room night after night, they enjoyed a wild life of sex, drugs, rock and roll.
“You’re going to Business School—you need a job to fall back on, because you never know what might happen.” This was ordered after I dropped out of college, having had a breakdown which was never acknowledged by my parents, who seemed to think I was an irresponsible malingerer…with romantic dreams of being supported by a husband straight from the pages of a paperback novel.
My mother had taught school during her marriage to my biological father. When he “disappeared” (declared dead), presumably she would have continued teaching had ‘dad’ not appeared on scene.
Dutifully, I spent nine months studying to be a legal secretary…was never employed in a law office. Although I’d aced stenography, Dictaphones had replaced the need for bosses to holler, “Marian, come in here and take a letter!”
At some late point prior to his death, dad spoke solemnly: “Even if you hadn’t been my daughter, I’m proud of you—you’re one of the finest people I’ve known.” I recall my honest confusion, how I longed to beg him to elucidate what it was exactly that he was proud about. I’d satisfied nary a one of his high expectations and fanciful self-conceived hopes. But after years of strict training, I knew not to say anything at all.
©Ennle Madresan, 2019 ~ All rights reserved.