A few days ago I got the unsurprising news that my Dad has died. He has been struggling with many health problems, which when you are past 80 years old is always a precarious situation. Finally, he succumbed to some sort of internal bleeding and the end has come for him. I hope it was mercifully quick. He was in pain.
When I heard the news, I realized, I’m not sad about the loss. Partly because it was quite expected, but also, because my father and I were never really that close and there was really mot much left to lose between us. In fact, I had to debate whether to go to his funeral or not. You might think wow, Rich, you’re kind of a dick, aren’t you? Or maybe, wow, what kind of monster was your father that you would not go to his funeral? I hope the reason for my indecision is not the former, and I know it’s not the latter.
He was definitely not a bad guy, in fact, he had lots of good qualities. But being a good father to me was not one of them. My parents were divorced when I was seven. Before then, my childhood seemed pretty normal. I was a shy kid, I liked soccer, my Dad seemed to take an interest in me and support me.
My experience of him, after my parents got divorced and he remarried, was that he just disappeared and never made much effort to be involved. That effort lessened over the years to the point where he was just basically gone from my life. He seemed more interested in my life once I joined the same Church as him, but it was always pretty shallow and I felt like I was putting way more into it than he was.
I think every relationship between parent and child is unique, and the distance between father and child was not the same for my other siblings. It seems to me that my oldest brother and sister both understood the divorce, saw it coming, and went mostly unscathed by it, maintaining an already established connection to their father. But the three younger kids had worse experiences, because he basically just completely ignored his “old family” and started focusing on his “new family.” In particularly my next older brother Bob and I really got the short end of the stick, but I believe that Don suffered too a lot at times. Looking back, I see that he was very stingy with his time, his money and all forms of his attention toward us.
I could see he was deeply involved in his “new family” with his new wife, and honestly yes, it hurt to see him ignore his own kids that needed him and turn all his attention on this other set of kids. I attribute this not to any maliciousness on his part toward us, his reasons were complicated I think. Nor do I harbor the slightest ill will towards his new family; they are awesome people who live great lives. I really admire them. But for my dad, the bottom line, I think he was weak, afraid and powerless most of his life where it mattered most to me. His character was deeply flawed.
My character is flawed too, we all are imperfect. But as a man, I cannot respect someone that says they love someone or something but takes zero actions based on that love. That’s either laziness or weakness or fear. I forgive him his weaknesses, but since he never seemed to see that it mattered or act like it did, I could never really respect him as a father.
He had a stroke, and I tried to be there for him, to encourage and support him, and to support others who were helping him. I was by no means making a heroic effort there, but I showed up to some extent and did what I felt I could. In that time, I saw how strong he could be, and how everyone around him loved him. Again, the shadow side for me was, if this was because he was such a great guy, why not pick up the phone and call his “other kids” once in a while?
Over the years, I heard many stories about how he continued to neglect and damage his relationship my brothers, my sister, and my nephews and nieces, and saw how he continued to neglect them in his thoughts and actions right to the end of life, all the while making excuses like “I’m just not a good communicator.” By the time of his death, it had become difficult for me to visit him because of a sense of emotional dissonance, and started getting a sense that I was wasting my time. I felt deep compassion for him as a suffering human being, in pain and unable to move half of his body. But I just didn’t feel like I owed him any of my time or resources and it was too painful to continue just so he could keep up some illusion of something special between us.
So now he has died and his funeral is this Friday. I have decided to go and participate. Am I going because I feel like I should go, because I would be judged for not going, or to make my siblings happy? These seem like bad reasons, because even though I do want my family to be happy and don’t want to cause negativity at this important event, I don’t think they would want me to go if I’m only going for them or for appearance’s sake, and those things aren’t going to make the funeral meaningful for me either.
I try not to act out of anger or fear, and want all my actions in the world to be positive if possible, so I would not want to avoid it as some sort of angry statement against him or his memory as a person or even as a father. Those just do not seem like good reasons to NOT go.
In the end I decided to go because regardless of how I feel about our relationship, he was an important person to me, and I want to mark his passing with dignity, support my family and honor the good I could see in him, then close the book for myself and move on. I saw how strong he could be when he wanted to be and admire that from afar. He was funny and smart and kind and stoic. He passed on some good genes and I’m grateful for the things he gave me, such as the ability to think linearly and logically and a quirky sense of humor. It’s worth the 26 hour flight from Thailand to me, the money, the awkwardness, the religious sermonizing, and whatever other inconveniences might come. I will get a lot from this and my presence there is going to be meaningful, supportive and full of love. That’s my commitment and that’s the way it’s going to be.
I feel like this funeral is not for him, the dead, but for us, the living, to remember and to let go, to mark his passing each in our own way. He’s gone, hopefully to a better place, Heaven, the Borg, whatever. I will cry at his funeral, not because I miss him, because you can’t miss someone you never spent much time with, but because I lost him a long time ago, and for me this is a final letting go of everything that means, the anger, the disappointment, the hope, the jealousy.
This is not a complete statement of everything I think on this matter, but it’s what’s swirling through my head at the moment. I might revise it in the future, I might come to feel differently if new information comes to light, but right now, this is how it is. And I think I’m doing all right.