November 22, 2002

Being Dad / Being a Mom

I had a great talk with my stepsister today. She was very affirming of my progress, of the strength of my voice, which has changed in tenor and grace over the past year. That my style has evolved is evident to anyone who wanders into the archives and looks at how this blog began.

As I've begun stripping off the mask and costume I've worn for a very long time, things are changing, I'm changing. I once battled hourly with uncertainty. I fought it by imagining every possible scenario and angle, good and bad (heavy on the bad) until I was pretty well lathered up with panic. Mostly I battled it by thinking, what would my mother say/do/think/feel.

Today I'm feeling for myself, for the first time. Today I'm doing better at accepting that there's no such thing as certainty, that it is okay to accept the moment (maybe even enjoy it) without worrying about what's next. That it's okay NOT to panic over not knowing. Easier said than done, but I'm almost getting to believe all of what I just wrote.

Grief is key in my ongoing self discovery.

Grief is very real.

I don't think grief is accomplished in an instant. Sometimes, as it was for me, you find workarounds that keep you from going there for a very long time. For me at least, the process began at age 40, as I lay on the leather living room couch, and for the first time watched pieces of my childhood through my father's eyes. I saw me through his eyes, I saw my mother through my father's eyes--I distinctly felt that I was inside his skin, his skin then. He is in his grave for 34 years now. He has no skin now--he is bones and dust.

But that day, a few months ago, here in this living room, I slipped out of my mom-made body and into my father's body for what was probably five minutes. That was the day I looked out through his eyes. I was his height, I felt his flesh around me. I really was inside of him. I felt tremendous physical pain--pain that had me weeping and moaning and crying out loudly:

I feel her neck snap around, her eyes pierce me, I feel the venom land. [Do I remember this from my childhood?... maybe a dream... I'll never know.] I feel her words sting his skin/my skin. I am in that moment, the moment when my grief over my father and mother collides. I feel the sickness inside of me, I feel my middle buckle. And the wailing begins before I know it... "I'm so sorry for you Daddy... I'm so sorry for you Daddy... I'm so sorry... I'm so sorry for me..."

You should know that I never cried after my father's death. Not the day I was told at 6. Not the years that followed. Not ever.

I manufactured tears for kindergarten because I enjoyed lapping up the sympathy of concerned teachers and curious kids. I later felt guilty for this. Today I realize that I learned dramatics at a very young age.

Real grief had escaped me my whole life. I never knew what my father died of until 15 years after he died. All those years I'd been answering the question that everyone I met eventually asked (what did your dad die of?) with the last information I had (Um, a gallbladder operation). Yes, well, he did have one of those operations, in fact that's when they found the pancreatic cancer that no one ever bothered to tell me about. Not at 6. Not at 16.

I always wondered how he died from an operation six months after he had it. But then...

So as not to backtrack too far, this moment of grief wasn't an endpoint for me. It doesn't mean anything's "over with." Quite the contrary.

This is my beginning. And it is a gift.

And it is supremely important.

I've been grappling with how closely I let myself mesh--how fully I let myself engage--with my daughter. We had an amazing night tonight, she and I. We stopped for a burger on the way home. It's c-o-l-d in Atlanta tonight--must be in the 30s. We got home and got cleaned up for bed, snuggled together in our mommy/daddy bed, painted one another's nails, made funny noises with our throats and laughed until we were wheezing.

I see a hundred people when I look into her eyes. I see George, I see myself, and I see pieces of every other family member from both sides through the generations. She is so full of everyone that she is completely unique.

Let me stop the generational pain in this family now. For her.

I gazed at her a long time tonight, while we laughed and played and tried to stay warm. I'm beginning to connect with her in a new way. My own way. It's taking me a while to decipher what that is, but tonight at least, I moved a few inches closer.


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