You Did Good
My dad grew up during the Depression and later fought in World War II. When he was born, his own father was too old and tired to invest any time in his only child, so my dad learned early on how to work hard and make money. And no matter how bad things might be, my dad always knew how to look strong. In the postwar era, when everyone wanted to erase their horrifying memories and emotions, my father became a master at burying his feelings. After liberating the concentration camps and seeing the worst that any war had to offer, keeping his feelings inside was the only way my dad knew how to survive.
Without realizing it, my dad became domineering and controlling. As a parent, he did anything for his children and worked hard to provide the best for us. However, if he didn’t agree with us about something, our feelings didn’t interest him; his opinions always prevailed―“case closed.” When it was time for emotional intimacy or vulnerability, my father played his cards close to his chest. He kept his feelings locked in a vault to which no one, including himself, had the combination.
Still, despite our being very different emotionally, my dad was my hero.
He was a world-class businessman, a marketing genius, an entrepreneur, a singer and a true visionary. When I was learning how to dream, he taught me how to dream big. “Broaden your horizons, sweetie,” he used to say. “There’s a whole world out there and nothing’s stopping you.” I emulated him, quoted him and listened for every nugget of wisdom I could glean from him.
I was a musician, actress and writer. Somehow, those occupations just didn’t fit the bill with my father; what I did never seemed to meet his approval. Poetry and songwriting were intangible and involved an area unsafe for him: emotions.
“What are you doing out there in the backyard with your guitar and your journals, anyway?” he would ask me sarcastically when I was younger.
“I’m just writing songs,” I answered, trying not to feel ashamed.
“Writing songs? How are you going to earn a living? What are you going to have to fall back on?” he demanded, exasperated.
There were things we could never talk about, things that were painfully left unsaid. I wanted with all my heart to tell my dad what a hero he was to me. I wanted him to understand who I really was. I began to wonder if the reason he couldn’t approve of me was that he never really approved of himself. He was so hard on everybody, but he was the hardest and most unforgiving of himself. I tried to crack the door to his heart on many occasions. I tried so hard to share my feelings and create a bond of intimacy, but it was too awkward for him, too frightening. I often sent him sentimental cards and told him I loved him. He would hug me, but then crack a joke and cover it. There was so much that I needed to say to him, but I didn’t know how to do it.
One Friday night I came home late for dinner and my son announced, “Grandpa’s been trying to call you all day and is waiting for you to call him.”
How strange, I thought. It was always my mom who did the long-distance calling while my dad sat in his recliner and read the paper, calling out things that she was supposed to remember to tell “the kids.” Why would my dad be trying all day to reach me? I was tired and hungry and thought about calling him in the morning, but decided to dial him then. He answered right away and was relieved to hear from me.
“I’ve got a problem, sweetie,” he said directly, “and I need your advice.”
My advice? When had my father ever approached me as an adult for advice?
He was upset about some things going on among our relatives and actually wanted to confide in me about it. I was shocked. He was thoughtful and introspective and it drew me in.
“Oh, I probably shouldn’t worry about them,” he said trying to appear strong, “but it just drives me crazy.”
We talked a long time and as he opened up to me, I felt that door to his heart crack open, something I had waited for my whole life. The more he shared his frustrations and reached out to me, the more I felt I could cross the line and tell him how I really felt.
“Dad,” I began. “You know, you’re not only a great person, you did a great job as a father. Did I ever tell you that?”
He didn’t say anything, but I knew he was listening intently. “You did a great job,” I exhorted. “I know you’re upset now, but things will work out with everybody. The main thing I just want you to do is to give yourself credit―you never give yourself enough credit, Dad. You sent me to college, you gave me a vision, you supported me.”
I’d finally sai
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