A Life Misunderstood

My sister’s and I do this thing where one of sends a pic from when we were young (usually it’s me) because it triggers a good memory, or a chuckle from me.  Sometimes, it may even tug at my heart in a melancholy way.

It always starts the same way with good vibes and added insights from each of us as we remember.  Then we head down our normal rabbit hole where the negative memories somehow start to push out the good ones.  It is never intentional, it is just how it is.  It almost always ends with Roxy vehemently defending mom, me defending dad, Dawn struggling to be the peacemaker and Ally, well, I know she is reading the texts, but she usually goes MIA.

The thing is, we are all right in our opinions.

We all see our past through very different eyes.   What I saw as a 15 year old, looks much different to an 11 year old, and even more different to a 7 year old.  Our maturity and life experiences play a part in how each of us perceives our environment.  One does not have to be a rocket scientist to figure all of that out.

Growing up, I would have to say that outwardly Roxy was the hardest on mom.  As an adult, Roxy softened immensely to her, and she realized quickly that mom did have some valid reasons to be frustrated.  It was the opposite for me.  As a young girl, I still always naturally gravitated towards my dad, but I was also a step behind mom, I had to be, to pick up the pieces in her lowest moments.  I remember the times that she was frustrated.  I remember the times that she cried over her frustration.  My dad was not perfect and often it seemed that grandma, grandpa and the farm came before her and us kids.  More than often, dad was late and more often than that, events or outings were ruined.  I did understand mom’s frustration.  I even got some of her hurt.  What I didn’t understand was how she dealt with all of that.  Often her frustration was then focused on us, and/or she would drink heavily for days.  As a young girl, and then finally as an adolescent, I became angry at her, for what I believed to be her failings.  Really and truly Roxy is right, she was human and flawed and she never learned how to overcome her innermost demons.  We all have them, some can just hide them better than others.

Of course, you will notice in most of my writings, that I was more forgiving of my father.

I suppose their is some Freudian triangle to this.  We know his most common theory; daddy-daughter/mommy-son, and so I suppose that also plays a part in my overall relationship with my parents.

Mostly, I think I somehow understood my dad in a way that many did not.  If you have read any of my blogs, you know that I always say that life is funny, and this is one of those times.  Not in a ‘haha’ way, but in a ‘hmm’ way.  The very thing that most aggravated my mother, was the one scenario she created for me in my own adult life (and yes, I let her).  She despised grandma for “meddling” and truthfully, I think she was jealous of the hold grandma kept on our dad.  And it was the truth, often it would seem that dad did choose the farm and his parents over his wife and his kids.  I don’t think it was ever an intentional thing, but instead it was more of an obligatory ideal.

And that right there is where dad and I become amazingly similar.

For much of my adult life I was thrust into that same situation, and I am sure often it seemed that my mom and my families needs back home left Bruce feeling as though he was in the backseat.  And there is so much truth in that.

I think that is why I understand my dad more.  And I defend dad because of this, and probably in some deep seeded subconscious way I am defending myself as well.

And I think that is why Roxy understands mom more.

Our adult lives have mirrored our parents lives as we grew up.  I, my dad and she, my mom.  And therein lies the conflict when Roxy and I go down memory lane.

The great thing is that we don’t head down that road with loaded guns for long, as we both realize that we are both right.  The shoulda, woulda and coulda’s are just that, ideas that can never be changed.

I think we also realize that we are not perfect either (okay well I am, sorry Rox ;), and we have made our own mistakes.  Often, I just find myself hoping that along my way, and with all my missteps, I don’t leave a trail of carnage.

The greatest thing about these rabbit hole tours via our past that we do every so often, is that we work out some of the ole’ past family heartache together.  We also realize that no one got out of our childhood unscathed, including our parents.  I remember once when my dad was here at my home, towards the end of his battle with cancer, again, like so many years before when I laid by him on the floor the night my brother died, I found myself laying by him once again on the floor.  He was sad beyond measure that he was so young, and his time was nearly up.  He said that he thought he would have accomplished so much more in his life.

Me:  But dad, you did…you have a bunch of kids and grandkids that you love you.

Dad:  Yeah, I guess you’re right.  <pause>  <quiet>  <then>  But I didn’t do that very well either….

Me:  <quietly and with a husky voice filled with emotion and deep sorrow for this man I loved more than anything>  I think you were the best dad a girl could ask for…..

Dad:  <quiet>  You have always seen the best in me, even when I did not deserve it Carla.

My dad was easily the most misunderstood person I have ever known.  He was also one of the most flawed.  But he was also the man that I loved and adored more than anything, only paralleled by my love for my kids.  I don’t know why.  I don’t know how.  More than once he let me down, but always his soft way endeared my heart to him like no other.  When dad would leave on a road trip (he was a “trucker” as well as a farmer). he would call me and we would talk for hours, literally.  He was the quietest man and definitely not talkative, but in those times while he was gone on the road, he would call and that would change, suddenly we could talk about anything, and everything.  I miss those calls more than ever.  I remember when it was imminent that we would lose him, the sheer panic of that thought enveloped me, and to this day I can literally feel my heart constrict when I think of those last months.  I miss him more than I could ever put into words.

My mom was also one of the most misunderstood people I have known as well.  When I was a young girl her flaws seemed many, and unfortunately just more obvious.  She was the one person whom I both loved and loathed more passionately than any other.  My emotions were a seesaw when it came to my mother.  Also more than once she let me down, but still I longed to make her proud of me.  My mother for all of her misgivings was still one of the most creative people I have ever known.  Her mind never stopped working on the next idea.  My dad always said that she was one of the most talented people he had ever known.  It is the truth, she was.  So often I wonder what she could’ve accomplished in a different scenario, and with a healthier psyche.  So often people will say to us, “how do you know how to….wallpaper, paint, build things, fix things, do hair, give perms, etc?” and truly, we learned ALL of that from mom.  There was a time in my life that I thought I wouldn’t miss her when she was gone, sadly, it took losing her to realize how much I truly do love her, and I also miss her greatly.

Mom and Ally

I think the thought that I settle on the most is that together, they had the most misunderstood lives.  And the thought that I settle on even more than that, is that it saddens me greatly that they couldn’t find a common ground when they were younger.  I think of them in my “fantasy family world” and I envision them the most successful couple possible, even rivaling Jo and Chip Gaines.  My dad was easily one of the smartest people I have ever known.  He could look at ANY math problem and come up with the correct answer, no matter if it was general math or algebra.  There was nothing he couldn’t fix, that man got more mileage out fridges and washing machines than anyone else (which is why we had the B52’s of every appliance there was).  He could build anything that my mom could envision.  His passion was cars and auto body.  He always had a dream of owning an old restored red pickup.

My mother, easily the most creative person I have ever known.  She could look at anything and see the possibility.  Roxy is right, mom got easily distracted (a family trait) and often, she was off to another project before completing her current one.  Seriously, I cannot tell you the number of projects that sat half finished as we grew up.  To save money through the years, she sewed much of our clothing (yeah, we were not excited about that!) but again, the talent it takes to put together clothing still amazes me.  My mother could spend hours at thrift shops and garage sales, envisioning new life into old castoffs.

My parents were easily such a handsome couple.  My dad, blonde with penetrating blue eyes and a soft smile.  My mother, dark and striking, with almost a regal air about her.  Both of my parents had a wicked sense of humor and when they laughed, it was music to my ears.  And the rare times they worked as a team was heaven to all of us.  

Unfortunately, they both had their own agenda’s and in that, they never realized their potential as a couple.  They were also both incredibly strong willed and stubborn, and when either was hurt (which seemed often), they each retreated farther from the other.  None of that would ever make for a successful union.

In time we came to expect that our home life would always be somewhat tumultuous and that our parents often at odds.  In this we learned to take sides to a degree.  Keep in mind, my parents did not do this knowingly.  It just happened naturally, as we were sideline spectators.  For me my mother seemed domineering and abrasive, and my dad soft and almost fragile.  That is how I saw my parents and in that way, I formed my opinion.

As adults, even though Roxy and I can travel quickly down the rabbit hole, each taking a side still to this day (we are almost 50), I can truly start to see both “sides”.  I just wish that in our minds, there was no Team Shirley and Team Darryl, and instead that it was Team Parents.  And maybe right there is where we all have to get to.

Maybe instead of letting the bad override the good (because their was some good) we need to instead realize that no one ever intended the path ALL our lives took.  It just went that way because as always life tends to come at us quickly, and with no rule book.

And so that is where I am trying to get to.

I am learning to realize that BOTH of my parents had some inner demons that as much as they tried to not let them, they still overcame them at times.  And more so realizing that they both had a love for their children and although our lives didn’t go the way of fairy tales, maybe it went the way it needed to for us to be who we are today.  There is something about life experiences, and challenges immeasurable that are humbling in adulthood.  Possibly it could even be said that the very demons that haunted my parents could’ve haunted us had we not seen it played out daily, and decided to try to do things differently with our own children as adults.

Regardless, I am realizing that both of my parents were simply…..human.  And as humans, they were quite flawed (as are all of us).  And there is beauty in that, in it’s own way.

So Roxy, maybe we are both right but maybe, we are both wrong?  Maybe there is no Team Shirley and Team Darryl and instead, it is Team Mom&Dad and for all their misgivings, we loved them and together, we desired their love and pride in return, which we did receive.  


Roxy read this post as I was writing it and she texted me with this thought: ‘even though mom and dad struggled for so long, towards the end, before dad got sick, they were starting to find common ground and they seemed closer, and mom was devastated when dad was sick and then when he died’.

And she is right.

I find this irony happens so much in life.  Whether it is in retirement, finding a love renewed, or starting over with a new found hope, things that all seem so happy and beautiful can often end with life handing us a lemon, as too often seems to happen in these situations.  That is how it seemed with my parents.  Finally their children were gaining independence and finding a foot hold in their adult lives.  Truly, the future seemed easier financially for my parents as we slowly were requiring less of them.  And in that, maybe the stress that had invaded their daily lives for so long seemed lessened somewhat, and in that way they did seem to find a new closeness.   Of course, that would come to a quick end once dad was diagnosed with cancer.  It breaks all of our hearts that they both died so young, before they had a chance to enjoy their older years, possibly finding a new peace together?

I remember sitting in the oncologist office with Ally, mom and dad, when we were getting results and seeing the Petscan, which showed that dad was peppered with cancer.  It was everywhere and I will never forget just how quickly my hope dissipated.  I will also never forget sitting next to mom, and as they delivered the news and the prognosis, seeing her quietly lay her hand over dad’s.  She was truly devastated.  I think that even with all the horrible news of that day, the thing I remember most was that.  It was so unusual for me to see any kind of physical display of affection between my parents.  But in that moment, all of that fell to the way side and as she laid her hand on dad’s, she was saying in her own way, “even after all of these conflicting years, I am here for you……”.

She fought hard for dad.  They both wanted a miracle and it did not happen.  They both were so deeply wounded when it became apparent that dad would lose his battle.  Dad spent a lot of time with me in those last months, and in my tainted vision I thought it was because mom didn’t care but truly, it was because she struggled to see dad so weakened.  I remember she would want him to go to the farm, etc.  I thought she was being inconsiderate of his illness when in fact she was trying hard to have things “normal”.  She wanted so badly for dad to be okay.  She admitted this to me on one of my trips with her back and forth to Rochester when she was later sick with cancer.  She says she regretted that but she didn’t know how to deal with it all.  Looking back, I now realize that her only “crime” was that she succumbed to her own fears of losing dad, and in that her strength waned.

So now in my middle age, I find that I am also softening to so many things that happened in our childhood.  I am realizing that my mother, though imperfect, is still my mother and because of her, and the challenges that she placed in my life helped to both strengthen and embolden me, and made me who I am today, and I am thankful for that.  Truly.  And my dad, though also imperfect, gave me the softness and fragility to realize our human imperfections, and to recognize forgiveness when needed.

And I know that together my parents, admittedly both imperfect, gave me unconditional love, in the most unconventional of ways.

I can only hope that one day, my boys can say something similar.  


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