I mentioned in Part I that when I first heard this song, I was reminded of my relationship with my father. I didn’t realize, until later in life, my father was the one that was imprinted on my heart and mind. He was the one I measured all men by and if they didn’t measure up, I either wanted them or I rejected them. To this day, I am not inclined to respect a man with “soft hands”.
Of course, he was the one who was the most distanced from me as a child. After the birth of my youngest sister, he ran from the idea that he had a special needs child. The doctor told him that he was the reason for the extra chromosome and he was a perfectionist in all his ways.
Naturally, he didn’t want to be reminded that he did not produce a perfect child.
In today’s understanding of Down’s Syndrome, I don’t know if that “fact” still holds up to the light of day, but it didn’t matter then. He went from playing and giving attention to me to being out of sight. He would go to work before I woke up and he didn’t come home until after I went to bed. He was there on weekends, but he was always busy or fishing.
I learned to fish from an early age. He bought me my first fishing pole at the age of 8 years old and I caught a 5 lb small mouth bass on 2 lb test line…I proved my worth. If I wanted time with my dad, it was done by fishing with him. There was always pressure on me because if I failed to catch fish, I wasn’t allowed to go the next time.
The other part of my life with my father was being his “gofer”. The gofer was the person that ran after whatever part or tool that was needed by whatever engine or piece of machinery that he was working on at the time.
I learned the names of the tools in the tool box. I learned the basics of the combustible engine and, even though I don’t put my hands on things, I am not half bad about diagnosing what is wrong with an engine by listening to it.
That is what it took to spend time with the first man that I ever loved. I learned to step into his world and he never crossed over into mine.
My father and I were very much alike, however I learned in my teenage years that I didn’t respect his volatility and his emotional decision making. That seemed to bring intense arguments that resulted in a slap across my face. Usually, that was where he would strike because, by the time I was 16 years old, I was taller than my father.
The last time he slapped me, I remember hearing him walk down the hallway and I knew that I was going to get one in the mouth. After he found me, he slapped me for talking back to him. I remember looking deep into his blue eyes and I told him, “You will be sorry for that.” I turned and went into my bedroom and locked the door.
If he wanted to, I knew that he could burst through the door and, if he did, he would deliver a sound beating. Maybe he knew that the beating would have only made me more resolved. Like I said, we were alike in many ways and a beating would have only solidified my stubborness and, by that, set the stage for another argument. I had ideas of my own and I would not let them go until someone proved them wrong.
To my surprise, (I am sure my mother intervened) my father finally read the brochure that I brought home. I wanted to go to a music camp at Indiana University. It was an honor to be of a caliber of voice to be able to attend this camp over the summer months and I wanted to learn more about voice and have the experience of singing with some of the best in the state. ( IU was known nationally for its School of Music). My father was opposed because he believed that nothing good could come out of Bloomington. He believed that it was “Sin City” and no daughter of his was going into “Sodom and Gomorrah”.
In the middle of the night, I woke up and went to the bathroom. I saw my father reading the brochure that he refused to open. For the first time, I saw him in the process of reversing himself and really thinking about making a decision. It was a milestone. By morning, he said that I could attend. By this simple action, I regained a little of the respect that I lost for him.
My relationship with my father was changing from that point forward. I wish I could say that it was for the better, but it wasn’t. I became the voice of reason in his fits of anger and he resented the fact that one of his children would say what they thought. On most occasions, my thoughts ran counter to his. There was always the threat that I may have a better idea. I was not welcomed into his life.
Sadly, he could never see that independent thinking was the lesson that he taught all of us. As children, my siblings and I were never allowed to say the word, “Can’t”. We always had to accomplish the task even if the usual way didn’t work. We were required to find a way that would work. Today, I think it is a college couse called “Critical Thinking”. My father was the professor and we all learned this lesson, not with grades, but rather with approval.
He never realized that his standard pushed all of us to achieve regardless of education or lack of it. He never allowed anything to stand in his way and he was not going to allow his children to get by with “standing still” in the face of a problem. He gave a great gift by insisting on this kind of thinking. Yet, when it came to him, he lost sight of this lesson that he taught so well. This kind of thinking became the corner stone of all his children’s success. Funny, he never saw us as successful. Maybe, it was because all he saw in us was himself.
I wish I could say that my father and I had a moment in life where we could have said all of the things that needed said. But, like in the song, his pride and mine kept us from saying those wonderful things that a father says to a daughter and a daughter says to a father. Even at his death, I wondered if he loved me.
I have no memory of being “Daddy’s little girl”. I never was that to him. I was his “gofer”… the fisherman that could out do him if he took me along. I eventually ran his business after the death of my brother and my “style” was successful, but he didn’t agree with it.
To know my father’s approval was something that I seldom achieved.
So, when I hear this song, I understand the verses so well. And when I hear other songs that sing of a Father’s love and protection, I don’t have an earthly pattern to refer to. I wanted one. I needed to know what it was like to dance in my father’s hand without critism or watch his face smile at my performance. I never knew if my father would come to my rescue because his kind of love was so conditional.
In response to this uncertainty, I found It very difficult to trust a loving Father God, yet somehow, I do.
Maybe I do because I watched my husband with his children. It was wonderful to see how he would be the father that I wished for. I watched as he quietly worked behind the scenes to do for them, at a great personal expense, the important things that showed them that he would always be there for them.
I saw his love for them as he watched them play and how he would take up for them when anyone was unfair or when they were hurt by others. He was always in their corner. He was a good dad in spite of how many things that their “mothers” told them about him. He was their protector.
His heartache came from the lack of a “Father-Son” relationship with his own dad. He and I knew the pain of having a father, but even when they were home, they were not there. I think that children of divorce know a terrible pain, but it is no less of a pain than having a father in the household, being able to see them in front of your eyes and realize that they are not present for you.
It is all pain. In the next part, I will write more of my husbands hunger for his father and mother and his desire to tell them how much he loved them while all of them were still in “The Living Years”.