My Dad Died Today, Was He Still Angry?
I grew up in the Midwest, moderately normal childhood. My Dad was my idol- never made mistakes, knew everything about anything, what Dads in older days were supposed to be, I guess.
It wasn’t until I was well into my 20s that I realized that there was a lot my Dad didn’t know much about, but that was ok. He was a successful business owner, a multi-term politician and publically, a Christian.
As I stumbled around, trying somehow to find my own success in my Dad’s shadow, I found my own scary reality. I was angry, yet not even clear on what I was angry about. Worse, my Dad, my hero, was REALLY angry.
My Mom? She stoked the fires in her own, “if it’s not my way, it sucks” kinda way. I vividly remember a conversation with my parents where my Mom, as usual, was talking shit about my Dad’s Mother, my Grandmother.
To be clear, I was the first grandchild and my Grandmother was VERY clear on my status. So, were my parents really surprised when I let my Mom have both verbal barrels, wondering out loud why she was so hellbent on not letting me just enjoy my own feelings about my Grandmother instead of trying to show me that those same feelings were flawed? And, why wasn’t my Dad pushing back?
To this day, my Grandmother is the prototype for the woman I’ll choose as my partner- never let the bad shit stick, love no matter what, quietly lead so I don’t know when I’m being guided and keep it all very, VERY simple.
So, Dad’s a success, until he’s not. He buys into a good business idea with ZERO chance of success. Worse, he mixes family with business. And, he breaks every single rule that he ever suggested to the thousands of business owners he managed and coached. He dumped good money into a clear loser, over and over and over. And, he got really, really angry.
He projected the rage onto family that was involved (and they probably deserved a fraction of it) and onto me and my failures and pretty much onto anything and everything, except what, or who he was really angry at.
See, my Dad was angry at himself. He didn’t see all of the success that he had piled up.
He ignored the tiny businesses that he guided in their early days, the ones that were now household names in his city.
He didn’t remember the many positive marks that he left on the community he served as a councilman and then mayor. Newcomers to that borough won’t see the ugly concrete train bridge borders that he successfully had removed, nor realize the negotiations he lead with the transit authority so that the area could develop two huge transit centers. But, them not knowing is understandable.
And, worst of all, he didn’t realize that in our own very unique ways, he had founded 3 human beings that were living their own versions of success. Instead, he focused on our failings.
Insecure people do that. It’s a great distraction from what they don’t want to face- that their self-view is a bucket with a hole in the bottom, never filled because they focus on the wrong stuff.
And so, after another ridiculous conversation where my parents reminded me who they were again, I simply hung up on them. And, with one exception that I’ll mention soon, I have never spoken to them since.
Fast forward to a few years ago. My Grandmother, the one who would tell anyone within earshot that I was her firstborn grandchild as she proudly smiled, was dying, then she was gone.
Try, if you’re not the angry type, to imagine the rage, the insecurity and the spite that would keep my Dad from calling me and letting me know from across the country. I can’t imagine it.
My parents had already played this game before, not letting me know that an Aunt who I had lived with and who I actually understood was gone. I used to love watching her intentionally get under my Dad’s skin, just for the sheer sport of doing it.
Fortunately for me, this time, my Aunt called me and let me know.
Imagine my Dad’s surprise when I showed up at the funeral. But, I wasn’t there for him. I was there to honor a woman who tried to show him and his siblings how to not be angry like their Dad, my Grandfather.
Because although he mellowed near the end of his life, my Grandfather was a first-class prick. Most in the family would be surprised to learn of the beatings that man dished out on my young body.
But, if you start connecting the dots, you see how I almost got caught in the same trap. Fortunately for me, a medical crisis let me be dead for a few hours and, waking up angry, I committed to living the rest of my life closer to my Grandmother’s modus operandi than the men who had raised me. And, I decided that angry people would no longer be welcome in my life.
I don’t mean that anger can’t exist in my life. I can get as pissed as anyone. The difference is that I get angry, then get over it and move on.
It means that I have built a life on my terms. People who accept that are welcome, those that don’t aren’t. Simple.
But, making this choice didn’t mean not loving my parents or hoping that time would mellow them to the point where they could be a part of my life. So, at my Grandmother’s funeral, I sat down next to my Dad and mentioned my worry about his recent health issues. I could monitor him thanks to my sister’s posts on Facebook.
And my Dad, sitting within feet of his Mother’s body and knowing how she lived her life, got up and walked away. That was it, the one time I tried to reconnect.
My sister tried to referee. She worried that my Dad didn’t know how to get out of his own way and pick up the phone. To me, that was the point. Was I now supposed to raise my Dad while I was trying to teach my sons that life was too short, that is was all about the experiences and hoping that they would be at least 20 years smarter than me?
And the months and years have passed. To me, my Dad had been dead for a couple years. Today, he is to everyone else.
I haven’t decided if I’ll attend the wake. If I do, it will be to watch the huge group of people who my Dad touched paying their respects.
But, I can’t help but wonder. In his final moments, did any of that shit he was so angry about matter anymore? And, will the people closest to him use his anger, his internal misery, his death to realize that whatever it is that they think they should be mad about won’t mean squat in the end?
If I’m sad, it’s only because I didn’t get to ask him that question. “Dad, does any of that truly matter right now, as you go through the motions while exhausting hospice staff and the family that can still handle being around you? Don’t you miss all of the friends you chased out of your life, while you were more worried about being right than happy?”
His answer really doesn’t matter much. Because despite his flaws, he already taught me, by his teaching or his twisted example, that it doesn’t matter to me. I CHOOSE to be the opposite of you, Dad. I KNOW I touch people, every day. And, I enjoy the journey more than I think you ever did.
So, Dad, while they’re prepping you for your big day, the one that you’re gonna miss, I can only tell you that you got it right, even if you had to sacrifice yourself to do it.
In me, the cycle that your Dad and his Dad began, is broken.
I’ll cry for us, privately, but only for a while, because I’ve been mourning your loss for years.