Thank you for teaching me to say what needs to be said. I didn’t like the lessons, but I’m grateful for them now.
Since your accident, I wait for an update from the doctor every day. And I talk to you all the time like you’re sitting next to me. Somehow it makes me feel better.
I’m so grateful you’re still with us and for your progress. Each goal we set, you conquer. You sit for hours. You eat and the doctor says they won’t amputate. Your feet are salvageable.
I cringe at that word even though it’s good news.
As we FaceTime, you hold onto your stuffed cat. I smile as you blow me a kiss or cheer when you say a word I understand.
You’ve made huge strides in the month since you shocked us by living through the night. And I see that there’s no going back. My role is now decision-maker, caretaker. And you, my big, strong Daddy, are the one who needs my help.
I can’t name the moment it happened, but the transition is now complete.
As I pack to be more present on Team Dad . . .
I find things, like this letter you sent, the one I received days before the accident in Africa, one of your many where you say what needs to be said.
Back then, I didn’t believe you didn’t want to change me, so:
- I rebelled
- I thought you weren’t accepting me for who I was
- I chased adventure maybe even to spite you
In the letter I wrote to you two days before that accident, I said:
And it seems to be no coincidence . . .
. . . that we’re going through all this as my book is about to come out.
Like I explained, when I read you the pages that didn’t show you in the best light, I needed to share the tough parts of our relationship in order for readers to see the transformation at the end.
I’m glad you heard this when you were more coherent:
In our house, there was a right way and a wrong way to do everything. And I was always doing it wrong. My desperate attempts to please never helped. I was always “WASTING GAS!” or heat, or electricity, or plastic bags too nasty to rinse clean.
At the time, I’d never heard of Asperger’s Syndrome or “the spectrum” in reference to autism, but I believe that if Dad was going through the school system now, he’d have been diagnosed, even though he disagrees.
My sisters and I knew Dad’s weird ways of picking up food off the floor to eat it or wearing his nametag on his forehead at formal events, well, that was just Dad. We’d smile privately amongst ourselves, roll our eyes, or call him out.
He’s smart, went to MIT, and became recognized in his field of process control. Sometimes people kowtowed to him. Never impressed, Dad looks at the person and says, “Yeah, whatever.”
And that’s tame. One never knew what was going to come out of his mouth.
While others flipped him off or called him rude, my sisters and I cut him slack, understood him somehow. And even with all his anger and frustration, we knew the “Luv, Dad” on the bottom of his emails was real. His love pats subtle, we valued them because that’s what we got, what we understood he was able to give.
But I’m not saying being on the other side of him wasn’t ouch-y.
I hated getting into trouble, going to the back hall, the room off the kitchen leading up the steps, where I was to serve my sentence after being punished. Dark and cool and, for the longest time, the only place I could smell the dead squirrel that got stuck in the flue of the fireplace.
Sitting there, on my own, I despised the isolation.
So, I stuffed my pain and quit crying, trying not to draw attention to myself. I gave it up as if that was something I should do. Instead, I’d climb into Daddy’s chair, the brown rocker in the corner of the living room, and escape to a fantasy world of my own creation, a new reality that brought comfort to the chaos inside. I learned to need less and figure out life on my own.
But, Dad, I forgot to read the good part to you!
Why is it so easy to hang onto the negatives and forget the positives?
That was a bonus in writing the book.
In order to name my transformation, I needed to hunt for all the pieces. They were there in the scenes of my past. But if I wasn’t writing the book, I never would have dug so deeply and put them all together. Here is one of my pearls:
“Hi, Dad, I know you always wanted me to be an accountant.”
“What do you mean? I’m an engineer. Accountants and engineers are like cats and mice in the business world.”
“Dad, don’t you remember? You made me take those aptitude tests in high school. The final analysis said: ‘Elizabeth should be an accountant.’ You approved the idea and herded me in that direction. That’s why I always end up in bookkeeping jobs.”
“I thought that’s what you wanted, so I supported your decision.”
Ugh, another lie I believed? “Well, I want to be a counselor.”
“Then I want to pay for your expenses. All I ever wanted is for you to have gainful employment that you enjoy.”
I was speechless. Then it occurred to me, “Is that what you meant by wanting me to make a difference in the world?”
Of course? Why the heck hadn’t I clarified this before?
So as we Facetimed the other day . . .
I’m so glad I got to say what needs to be said.
As much as we have struggled, I love you.
After all my effort to gain your approval, I got it, not because I pursued your recommendation, but because I stood up for what was important to me.
Knock me over with a freaking feather.
I didn’t understand it before, but it’s because you pushed me so hard that I push myself. If I hadn’t worked so hard for your pat on the back, I’d have settled for less. Instead of chasing destiny, who knows what I’d be doing?
Dad, you caused the arc in my story.
“Okay,” you nodded as you stared into the Ipad clinging to your cat.
I’m glad I got a chance to say what needs to be said.
In an ideal world, it may not have looked like I wish it did, but this is not, well, heaven, right?
So, I have to ask . . .
Is there something you need to say while you still can?
I know, it’s hard. This whole thing, reconciliation, turned out to be a theme in my book. If I had known that ahead of time, I may not have taken it on.
God surprised me. He kept leading me back to places I didn’t want to go because I needed resolution for the book. Afterward, it always felt better.
So much so, clearing the air had become a habit.
If you missed the first chapter of my book,
. . . you can read it here.
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