My father’s tie hangs in the “His” closet of my His & Hers set. The “His” to my “Hers” moved out, pre-divorce, five years ago. So, while the tie looks a bit lonely amidst the formal dresses and snappy stilettos, there it sits.
Odd that my father’s tie is still with me, although he is not. At least not physically. I feel him in spirit, hovering near on the days I feel less than my best self.
It is silver, with a gentle patina, much like my dad in his later years. It serves as a reminder of the flawed man who loved me as best he could — and sits in stark contrast to the other flawed man who loved me, the one that still likes to needle me as an ex-husband.
I ask myself why I need the reminder. Perhaps it is said needling that leaves my heart searching for the good in men. The true. The honest, however flawed. I don’t believe in living life in reactionary mode — in response to needling from ex-husbands — but I do realize that I am only human. And that in my weakest moments, I may let some of the vitriol seep into my soul.
Dad’s tie is an antidote, a reminder that the best men live true to their selves in their earnest attempt not to hurt others.
I often wonder if I made the wrong choice in marriage because of my upbringing. But, I have little patience for people who blame their parents for their own choices. They less mold us than herd us in higgledy-piggledy fashion, trying to keep up as best they can.
But it is true that my dad had me running from the dinner table in tears many evenings, as his own unhappiness spilled over onto the mashed potatoes and green beans. My grandfather’s admonition: “Eat, my child, and then get mad” was much used in my household. Fleeing in angry tears too soon meant a hungry evening.
I used to ask my mother how she could have married such an “awful” man, in my worst moments. And she would say, “For all of his flaws — short temper and all — your father loves you more than anything. That man would lay down his life for you in an instant.”
And even in my foolish teen years I knew she was right, although the realization did not make me stop cursing him under my breath.
For every time he had me in tears, there were other times he was the one who was misty-eyed with sentimentality over a daughter in a prom dress or the goodbyes after a college visit. You can’t say my father did not use the full spectrum of human emotion — and usually, he liked to hang out at either end but not so much in the middle. My passionate nature is in the genes, or so I tell myself.
In the last years of my marriage, I had accepted my husband’s flaws. I did not know if they were flaws I could live with — but I was more than cognizant of what they were, which is something I could not say before we got married. And I’m sure he more than realized mine (See: short temper, critic).
My aha moment (I’ll always thank Oprah for that turn of phrase) came when chopping vegetables for dinner one night. I had just learned of my sister’s advanced stage ovarian cancer. My then husband came home to find me crying as I diced. After about 20 minutes, he asked what was wrong. When I told him, he said, flatly: “Oh. I’m sorry to hear that.” And walked into our office, shutting the door.
I won’t go into the gory details of that evening, but suffice to say I had a come-to-Jesus moment at the chopping board. I realized, thanks to my formative years with my dad, that I could love a flawed man if I knew that despite those flaws, he loved me with all of his heart. With painful clarity, it hit me that not only would my husband not lay down his life for me — let alone hug me when I was in tears because a sister’s cancer — but that he was not a man that deserved the “His” in my “His & Hers” any longer.
My old college roommates came to my rescue shortly thereafter, swooping in for a weekend to help me clear his things out of the house. I cried, yelled and laughed in crazy succession during that weekend.
In a short 48 hours, I came to terms with the fact that I had grown up with a flawed man and married one also, despite my best intentions. Not that I believe any of us is perfect. But, some flaws hurt more than others.
My hope for the future is that a flawed man (perfect is a mirage) is heading my way, careening toward me on a crash course in which we’ll happily collide. I’ve fixed some of my wobbly bits. And now am wise enough to know it’s worth it to find a man who has fixed his.
Because fathers we can’t choose. We can love and forgive, but we don’t choose them. After that, what we choose in a man is entirely on us.
Funny how one necktie can remind me of so much, eh? Even if a new Mister gets the “His” closet someday, I think the tie will stay. It speaks to me, wordlessly, of a hard-earned lesson.