From Chicken Soup for the Father & Daughter Soul

Understanding Dad

Love is the most terrible and the most generous of the passions; it is the only one that includes in its dreams the happiness of someone else.

Jean Baptiste Alphonse Karr

It was August 1970, and at eighteen, I differed with Dad on many things. Over the last few years, my relationship with Mom had become much stronger—we now had a bond that only mothers and daughters shared—womanhood.

I wanted to celebrate my August birthday with friends and was eager to make plans with “the girls.” As I rushed home from my part-time job, I found Dad in the living room, sitting on the sofa, staring pensively into space.

“Where’s Mom?”

He looked up at me and immediately I could tell he was struggling to tell me something difficult. “Your mom is in the hospital. The doctors want to run some tests. I’m sure it’s nothing serious, but she’ll have to be there for a few days.”

“Are you going to the hospital now?” I questioned. “Because if you are, I want to come. I need to talk to Mom about my birthday.”

“Maybe this isn’t the time to bug your mom about your birthday. Can’t it wait?”

Sure, I thought, it’s not your birthday. By the time Mom gets home from the hospital, my birthday will have come and gone, and she promised me a set of new golf clubs.

“Dad, Mom said that I could have a set of golf clubs, and I’ve been planning to golf with my friends on my birthday—but I can’t do that if I don’t have clubs!”

“You can rent them; a lot of people do that when they first take up the sport. I have more important things to worry about. Golf clubs are not a priority. You can rent them or you may use mine.”

Yeah—right! I thought. I’m four feet, eleven inches tall, and you’re five foot eight; your clubs will be too long for little me!

I pouted in my room, feeling oh-so-sorry for myself, never giving a thought to what Dad must have felt, how frightened he must have been, how he must have missed Mom.

For the next week I was unbearable. I thought only about myself, not about what my mom was going through or what the rest of my family was feeling. The only time I thought about someone else was when I stewed about my father and his stupid golf clubs.

Finally, my birthday arrived. Dad woke me early that morning and said that he and I would visit Mom because she wanted to see me on my birthday. I really didn’t want to go; this was my day and I had plans, though obviously I wasn’t going golfing.

Dad did not offer me the option of staying home, and I was given no choice. When we arrived at the hospital Dad told me to go ahead, that he would join me in a few minutes. I walked into my mother’s room and looked at her in that awful bed. I was overwhelmed with guilt. She looked so pale, so sickly. I could read pain in her face. Yet she looked up at me and opened her arms for me to fall into.

“Happy Birthday, Mar,” she whispered. “I can’t believe my little girl is nineteen.”

“Mom, are you okay?” I knew she wasn’t, but I wanted her to tell me differently. I wanted her to be okay—so that what I was feeling about Dad and those golf clubs would make sense. But nothing made sense now, and all I knew was that I needed my mother at home—now!

She held me in her arms and read my mind. “You know,” she said, “your Dad loves you so much. He has always expected great things from you, and I think that he’s having a difficult time with your independence. He still thinks of you as his little girl, and it’s hard for him to let you grow up.”

Just then, Dad walked into the hospital room toting a shiny set of new golf clubs, cart and all. “Happy Birthday, Peanut!” Dad shouted. And as he looked into my eyes, he began to cry like a baby. I ran to him and held him in my arms. I wanted so much to tell him that everything would be okay, but I knew in my heart that it wouldn’t. Somehow, I knew that things would never be the same again.

Mom came home from the hospital the next day, and at dinner that night Dad told us that she was dying. She had only four months to live.

That night, I looked at Dad in a different light. This man was human. He made mistakes like everyone else, but he was also my best friend, my mentor, my hero. All that I expected from him as a parent was on the line. And he knew it, too.

For the next four months, my dad ran the house like a fine-tuned instrument. He made our lives as bearable as possible. His spirits were always up for us. Life went on as regularly as it possibly could. Even Christmas went off without a hitch, all because of Dad.

Mom left us on December 31. I watched my dad, waiting for him to fall apart, to scream and yell, to push us away. He never did. He instructed us on our futures. He supported us, as both Mom and Dad.

I only used those golf clubs a few times, mostly with Dad. He taught me to golf. Today, at ninety-one years old, he is still one of the kindest, most intelligent men I have ever known. My children have heard many stories about “Papa,” but there is one thing they will never fully know: My dad loved me unconditionally, right or wrong, good or bad. I have tried throughout the years to be half the parent he is, making my children my first priority and sharing the unselfish love he gave me.

Marianne L. Vincent

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