When I heard the story about when my father somehow convinced our very straight-laced church organist to play the theme to “Dark Shadows” as prelude music one Sunday, it irrevocably put to rest the wonder if somehow I was actually adopted and that I wasn’t my parent’s biological daughter.
My parents have always been powerhouses of work and endless effort while I had a really, really stubborn streak of lazy going on all my life.
I have come to understand that aspect of myself much better.
I am not actually lazy.
Do I adore really hard work?
Uh…not really. UNLESS, I am what is called, “hyper-focused”.
I have written before that I was diagnosed with severe ADHD: Impulsive/Hyperactive a few months ago. Just knowing what the heck was going on with me started a complete and fundamental night and day change about much in my life. Even before you get “treatment” it is like you suddenly realize that three decades ago you were born without a right arm. And when you know why you do what you do you suddenly realize that maybe you should, um, stop trying to write and grab objects like the majority of the world that are right handed, learn how to write with your left hand, buy those notebooks that make writing easier, and lefty scissors and when someone asks if you want to play baseball you say, “SURE! Just keep in mind that I don’t have a right arm, ok?” It just helps immensely to even KNOW. (So many were diagnosed after that post and just me talking about it that I am going to write about the other kind of ADHD. (Inattentive) because really…that is a quiet disorder that can be so much more common in women and so much more damaging because they don’t get nearly the attention that my kind of ADHD does. That is a post for another day, though.)
I realized that (as unbelievable as this sounds) that if I am left on my own, without an appointment or school or just being accountable to someone else, I have NO CLUE how to schedule or start anything.
So, I just sit there.
That has done about a 180-degree turn around.
I have a LOT of heavy responsibility hitting me at once. One of those things is that my parents suddenly moved in with me permanently 2-weeks ago. Right now, they are in hospital beds in what used to be my family room and we are drawing up plans to refinish my basement for them and also moving and selling their home. And that is just one thing going on.
It has been hard, but honestly…I’m good.
I’m exhausted but I also feel capable and strong and have just worked through the problems as they are thrown at me. It has been a bit surprising given my history but like my brother said, ‘Everyone should feel totally uncertain and scared about this situation with you and the parents but we don’t. It’s the right thing and you are the right person to do this.”
And I am.
But it has been a bitch, frankly.
My dad has needed a constant and insane amount of unending reassurance.
And a lot of that is tied to the moving, selling and storing of his antiques.
I have only seen my father cry twice in his life.
Once was in the ER after everyone found out that my son had passed away.
The other time was when I was 6-years-old and I broke his Cranberry Glass Hurricane Lamp.
From the time he was about 10-years-old, my father has used all the small amount of spare pennies he had and a large percentage of his time and focus on collecting, refurbishing and just breathing the life back into antiques.
I remember spending countless hours sitting in the garage with him learning what products and tools to use to peel off endless layers of old paint and seeing beautiful wood appear. It was not long before I tackled a solo project and refinished a dresser and then sold it.
I was 8 at the time.
For those who don’t know, this is what a cranberry hurricane lamp is:
This is a new lamp and it prices at $200 bucks.
The lamp *I* broke was from the early 1800′s and so rare that they can rarely be found, let alone bought, at ANY PRICE.
And I broke it.
My father heard the noise, saw what I had done and broke into sobs.
I had never seen this, never even imagined that my father could cry like I did all the time. And given my past history with his anger, I was so scared that I ran outside and hid under a blanket in the back of a sweltering station wagon for about 4-hours.
It was so painful and big for him that he didn’t even get mad at me.
All of you who are parents know exactly what I am talking about here.
As I have been planning this move the worry about his bazillion antiques, where all of it will go, how it must be transported so, so gently and HOLY CRAP, WHAT IF I BREAK SOMETHING ELSE?!!! has been very, very, very, strong in my mind. Even though I have told him that I don’t care if it looks like Victorian-meets-Shaker-meets-early Mormon Pioneer Furniture has puked all over my house, I will take every antique, glassware, china and painting that can be crammed into every square inch of my walls and home if it makes any of this easier. We have rented a huge storage unit for all the things that do not fit so that he doesn’t feel pressure to sell anything until he is good and ready to do so.
I want nothing more than to make this gentler on him but that is just impossible.
This hurts him to his core.
My father and I have had an extremely complicated relationship.
This part is really hard for me because I need to stress that my Dad and I have a really, really great relationship now.
However, this was not so while I was growing up.
I was afraid of him.
And I had reason to be.
I don’t want anyone’s imaginations to run away with them, but my dad was a pretty angry guy a lot of the time.
And he was raised in the era of belts, yardsticks and really whatever else was in reach of his hand.
And my dad is loud.
And well…the best way to put it is this. Despite the fact that I attended church as a kid and much of my adult life, I have never actually been religious or spiritual at all. A good part of that is because of my relationship with my father I found the whole “Heavenly Father” scenario to be foreign and um…NO.
My dad was fun. And so freaking interesting. And odd in that good way. I recited The Jabberwoky in Kindergarten for show and tell because that man taught it to me by about the age of 4. A few months later for show and tell I explained the concept of “Taxation without representation” because my father made a very illustrative point of it by taking the top 1/4 of every ice cream cone from McDonald’s that we had worked to own. (My Kindergarten teacher probably wondered if I was a genius or weird as hell. Probably both.) He has nicknames for absolutely EVERYTHING. Even oatmeal cookies. Even oatmeal cookies that have chocolate in them. And all his children have nicknames (as do mine). Some of those nicknames get more mileage than others. Mine is “Darlin’ Jill’ and one day one of my friends asked me why my father didn’t just freaking name me Jill in the first place. (I don’t overly blame him. It may be due to residual bitterness that he lost out to my mother in the naming bid. HE wanted to call us “Scarlett” and “Vivien”, but since my father had already named a “Rhett” and a “Melanie” my mother was totally done with his Gone With The Wind obsession.)
I actually loved hanging out with my dad, but he also scared the crap out of me.
It was confusing.
And I have spent the last 38-years carrying a whole lot of weight of my childhood around with me.
I didn’t think that would ever change.
Then, one day, I was sitting there talking to my parents after I was diagnosed with ADHD and since I found out through research that this disorder runs very strongly in families, I was questioning my parents about their lives to see if one of them gave it to me. I actually assumed it was my mom. The reason for this is that my son, Christopher, has Inattentive ADHD, which is about as night and day different as me as you can get. She has some similar traits and so…yeah…it was probably my mom.
Then I started talking about their childhoods and how they functioned. Because you CANNOT have ADHD as an adult without having it as a child. It’s impossible. And childhood is often where it is the most obvious because you have less life suck and balls to juggle and burden to cope with than you do as an adult.
And it hit me.
My father has ADHD.
And like me, it is severe. (This is unusual. ALL people have some occasional ADHD symptoms. Many have mild to moderate ADHD. Severe ADHD is not common, but this man HAS IT.
And it floored me.
Until I started thinking about it. How in the world did he work at one place for 38-years? Holding down a steady job is quite a challenge for the ADHD person, especially if it is severe. Then I realized…he worked at a major daily newspaper. He started out as a beat reporter and at the end of his career he was the assistant City Editor. He switched positions and every story was something new to catch his attention.
Once I realized that everything suddenly came into focus in a completely different way.
And my heart utterly broke to pieces for my father.
Because I suddenly understood so many things about him in an intensely personal way. (And I realized that as every parent and child knows, that there is SO MUCH a parent goes through that their children will never know.)
I suddenly understood all the anger, frustration, exhaustion, and struggle my father has gone through and it explained just about EVERYTHING about my childhood.
I know how difficult it has been for me and I was not raised by the mother he was. When doctors ask me when my father was born I often say, “February 14th, um…sometime during The Great Depression”. (I’m bad with dates. Sue me.) Just about everyone born and raised in The Depression has a fierce work ethic. My grandmother would have had one no matter when she was born. She absolutely provided him with the work ethic, tools and order needed to pull off a lot of what he has, but man…his childhood was so, so tough.
It explained why he struggled so hard in the military. No one at 17-years-old who went and enlisted in the Navy during the Korean War had a party of a time, but added to that the order, discipline and attention to detail that the military utterly demands almost makes me break out in hives thinking about my teenage father who had no idea what is biological limitations were went through.
It explained where all the self-doubt and self-loathing I know is wrapped up in him comes from. Everyone LOVES my dad. You can’t help it. Like I said…he has a great personality and is very social and extroverted like his daughter. (Only the force of four decades as a newsman means that he refuses to use exclamation points, CAPS, and emoticons. I feel he is just missing out. ;) )
I have often said that as far as I knew of, there was nobody I knew who even came close to touching my level of self-flagellation and basic hatred of everything about themselves. (Constant and perpetual frustration and failure without knowing WHY it is happening will do that to you.)
I was wrong.
My father beats me by a long shot.
How could he not?
It was the greatest relief to finally and forever dump my negative feelings about myself and gain a true level of self-respect and just…really liking who I am.
My father will probably never get to feel that. And he has had about 4-times the amount of damage that I went through.
And what physically hurt my chest and brought tears to my eyes was when I remembered that since the time I was small my father got up every day at 3 am to go into his work. He often stayed there all night and sometimes he would let me come with him. I loved the newspaper. My father gave me his love of words and reading and writing and even when I was small it just…SMELLED like excitement to me.
I assumed all these years that the paper just gave him very weird work hours because, well…it’s a paper and someone has to man a ship like that at all times.
This was not so.
Not at ALL.
My father came into work REGULARLY at least 4-hours early just to finish all the work he had to do as an editor. And on his days off and on the weekends he was often asleep just from the sheer amount of work and effort it took to hold himself and his family together.
And I suddenly knew why.
All those details.
All those mundane tasks.
All those things that are at best a challenge for someone like us to finish had to be done or his family would starve.
My father has worked 10-times harder in his life than the person to his right or left. He has held his life together by the sheer force of who is IS.
I still remember all the bad of my childhood. I always will. But I have utter compassion and peace about it now.
Is it excusable?
But it is so understandable for me.
Even with what I know, my head cannot wrap around not JUST the fact that he has managed to mellow, mature and has lost most of his upset and anger as he as aged but also just the weight and pressure and hell my Dad has waded through to simply be my dad and provide for us all.
I had a moment that I am planning on writing through on Sunday that tested my compassion and ability to coax my dad through this move and it nearly broke me because I was just that done and tired.
But it did not.
And part of that is my sheer compassion for him.
And I don’t care if I have to work my fingers to the bone, give up every square inch of my house, chuck every extra activity or enjoyment that I personally take for my selfish little self, I will spend the rest of his days trying endlessly to give back even a tiny dot of everything he has given me.
And it will be an honor to do so.