Holidays are not always happy.
Father’s Day, like all other holidays, brings with it expectations, often unmet. This year is my first without my father. Last year’s Father’s Day was a black day I would rather not remember, but I do. Though he was not diagnosed with dementia, & I don’t think he had it, he certainly had cranky old man syndrome. The insufficiently meek daughter–neither the adored wife, nor the ever pleasant son–was the target, of his ire last year & things didn’t work out well.
Last Father’s Day was also some sort of Swedish family reunion, with every nook & cranny of my parents’ place filled with talkative Swedes and their offspring. Most speak English, but my father understood Swedish unless spoken very quickly. He was, however, losing his hearing, and stubbornly refused to try hearing aids. Stubborn and probably vain: a normal, flawed human. So social situations were probably frustrating too him. Really, he had no interest in large gatherings, and just wanted my mother to himself. So sharing her with her large family was never much fun for him. He was an introvert.
My brother happened to be away last year on Father’s Day, so my father was pleased that his only other child appeared with a carefully chosen card. Father’s Day followed hard upon his birthday and our parents’ wedding anniversary, for which I produced gifts and baked a coconut cake, but a card may have been my only tangible offering that night.
We all had dinner together, and sat in a quiet area for a while, talking with one or two others.
Then I got up to play ping pong, which ended, boom! crash!, with my aunt’s husband falling down and hurting his foot. A few of us left to attend to his injuries and provide first aid. Never mind that Oskar was head of surgery at a large hospital before his retirement: his cuts were going to be scrubbed out & thoroughly cleaned. My cousin, Maja, and I, in pitiless nurse style, insisted.
After medical duties were performed, I started conversing with my Uncle Erik, sitting at the small kitchen table. There may have been a few Swedes around who had enjoyed the festivities overmuch, but Erik has touched no alcohol for many years, so we were having a sensible conversation. Suddenly my father flung open the cottage door and yelled at me: “Circe! It is time for you to take your family and go home!” This was odd since about fifteen guests would be spending the night, so our presence or absence was immaterial. Or so I thought. No one was going back to CA, Florida, Mass, Sweden, or New Hampshire that evening. Only to other communities north and south in New Jersey. I was shocked.
Here follows the part I wish I could rewind: I did not say “What do you mean, Papa?” nor did I say “Why do you say that, Papa?” I became upset, really enraged; I gathered my belongings, stood at my car waiting for my immediate family members, & said things I wish I could retract. I can be hot-tempered & cantankerous. Is it obvious from from whom I inherited those generally unproductive traits? Though not too useful in modern life, my “fight or flight” response is strong, and when cornered with no immediate avenue of escape, I tend to fight back, if only verbally.
Back to expectations: It turned out, according to my father’s later, revised version of the event, that he had been sitting in the chair where he was left. Rather than engaging in something else, he had been waiting for me to return and converse more with him.
Most years, I did not disappoint. I am sorry that I am left with this memory, but now that I have processed and written about last year’s incident, I hope I can relive happier memories.
Do any of you live with similar regrets? Though I wish all fathers, and their children, a “Happy Father’s Day,” life is imperfect and even tragic. These are often empty words.
On a more pleasant note, our boys helped their father plant a late-blooming native dogwood tree yesterday. Both are here today, & we are all about to go to our CSA farm to pick peas & strawberries & more. Their father seems pleasantly surprised, and presumably pleased, at all this attention. Maybe he managed his expectations well.
I’ve always equated grumpy old man syndrome with hardening of the cerebral arteries – my grandfather was that way: all his kids and grandchildren loved him and visited – and he grumped away. All I can hope was that it was out of his control, or he thought that was the way real men were supposed to behave, but it made our lives unnecessarily unhappy around him – making visiting a duty and not a pleasure.
Visiting MY dad is a pleasure – and I just realized I’ll have to call tomorrow because it got too late, and we have our own little time slot – he in Mexico and me in NJ.
I’m sorry your dad didn’t appreciate – and was demanding. It is a loss on both sides, but only one of you chose it. Like with religion, love given out of duty is not the best way.
Now, if only my sons lived close enough – there is this little dogwood I want to transplant, but it is rooted oddly, and I couldn’t dig it out myself. I finally transplanted two of them myself last year – after asking for help for years – and they are both doing fine.