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making peace with dadMy 80 year old father got a call from a scammer telling him he won money, asking him for his social security number, birthday and credit card number. My dad forked over all three to the stranger on the phone, eager to have the promised windfall loaded on his credit card. When he hung up he thought it through; thankfully the process didn’t make sense to him and he cancelled his credit card.

The dad I grew up with would never have fallen for that scam, he’d be the one scheming. Deciding he didn’t want to be married he left my mom with four children, the oldest eleven, the youngest, five. He’d go underground, that’s what we called it, keep his living arrangements secret. If we needed him, he said, we could call him at work between 6:45 and 6:55 in the morning before he taught class.

He didn’t possess the skills needed to thrive at marriage. Mom and dad did what most couples of their era did in the late 1950s; at 21 and 22 they dated on Saturday nights for about a year, married and got busy starting a family. Fourteen years, and four children later, my dad had second thoughts.

I grew up angry at my father. He wasn’t always a good man, has admitted this in his elder years. Child support was always on time and came directly to me, later, when I went to college (until I felt like a hypocrite for taking money from someone I didn’t want to see). He picked us up Saturdays for the requisite lunches but never sat and talked with us. He spent our time together talking to the payphone in the restaurant’s narrow hallway, chain smoking. I don’t know who he called but assumed it was a woman, always.

All I wanted from my father was his love and attention, something he wasn’t able to give in the way an eight, nine, ten year old girl needed. In my late teens and twenties I decided it best to shut my dad off completely, thinking it would be less painful. The anger still bubbled up when friends suggested I deal with my feelings concerning my father; I’d inform them the topic was not up for discussion. Like an underage actor I had emancipated myself from him.

My dad has his story, his own version of hell he grew up in. Knowing this I could have cut him some slack. But this is my story and I didn’t; not giving dad a break left me with an open, gaping wound. To my mind, my father left for the right to date other women, play golf and party whenever he wanted. He eventually married a woman with five children, something I never understood. I imagined him dropping them off at school, teaching the younger girls to drive, talking to them over dinner. Knowing that dad, I doubt any of those scenarios played out but you couldn’t tell me otherwise then.

I finally stopped fighting the push/pull of my anger. Therapy, to figure out how to stop picking the wrong men, netted an understanding that my refusal to look at my lack of a relationship with my father was at the root of my bad choices. In time I decided to forgive my father his sins and asked his forgiveness for mine. Being the gentleman he’s always been he brushed off my apology.

So began my journey back to the sweet man, living in an assisted living facility, who takes medication for dementia and falls victim to phone scams. It’s hard to believe they’re the same man. Whenever we speak he tells me he loves me. When I visit, as infrequently as it is, there’s a lift in his body. He was thrilled when my sister and I went to the facility’s Christmas party last year, wore a festive hat, plastic eyeglass frames topped with black furry eyebrows, danced and sang. We made a fuss for his 80th birthday, invited friends and family to celebrate in a private room at a local hotel. Dad stood up, a little shaky, said something personal and meaningful about everyone in the room. Later he called my sister to ask if I had been there.

He joins the women in craft making. His friends pick him up to play golf and he goes away overnight with them when they play tournaments. He buys the staff boxes of chocolate, so much chocolate they’ve asked him to stop. At breakfast he gets his eggs over easy when everyone else is served scrambled. When asked why, he feigns ignorance. The old dad’s still in there, doing what he can to get what he wants. But it’s innocent now, no harm done.

Geralyn blogs at  www.wheremyfeetare.com

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