Monday, November 02, 2009

Writing Prompt

Generally, I have more ideas for writing blog posts than I have time to write them. A writing prompt is not exactly what I'm seeking most of the time.

A few months ago, though, I was reading a magazine that offered a writing contest to its readers and I happened to miss the deadline. Bummer, especially since I was very intrigued by the subject. The question was this: what was the moment when you first realized you were a grown-up?

Thoughts passed through my head: when I got my period? When I got married? When I got pregnant? That one snagged on a piece of driftwood and caught. Not because being pregnant meant I was a grown-up but because of the questions it raised and the ultimate decision it forced.
I was 29 years old, blissfully over-the-moon married for six years and had a job I adored with a boss who taught me more than I knew was possible. And I wanted a baby. Lucky for me, so did Bubba and getting pregnant was as simple for us as saying the words. "Bingo!" said the fates. "You're pregnant."

Most of the early days of my pregnancy were spent in a typical fashion, signing up for websites that would help me track my baby's growth in-utero, planning for a nursery, looking forward to the first ultrasound. As my belly grew and the little munchkin inside wiggled and twisted I began thinking about baby names and what this baby would call its grandparents. Bubba's mom pleaded with us to avoid "granny" and "nana." My mom couldn't care less she was so thrilled to finally be a grandmother. My dad, hmmm.

At that time my dad and I were fairly estranged. I was too chicken to formally disengage from his life so we casually phoned each other every month or so to check in and I dutifully visited for an hour or so when I was in town, but the truth was that I was so angry with him I couldn't see straight. For sins both imagined and real, I was forever determined to hold him at arm's length. Andre the Giant arms. I wasn't going to let him in to hurt me again. No way.

But as my skin softened so did my heart. My stomach stretched and so did my understanding. My hair got thicker and so did my blood. I began to caress this bump that sat right in the center of me and daydream about the life this child would have. I recalled family Christmases smack in the eye of a tornado of cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents, torn tissue and ribbons everywhere and smiles all around. I remembered that allies don't always come in the forms you expect them to and regardless of how desperately I wanted to be the one my child comes to when she is in trouble, I may not be the one she chooses.

I began to realize that I wanted my baby to have the biggest, most loving family in the history of the world. I wanted her to know her cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents. All of them. I wanted her to know their stories and hear all the hilarious family antics. I wanted her to stand smack in the center of a room full of relatives and feel loved and protected and cherished.

I needed to make a decision. Either I step up and cut my father out of this child's life formally or I let him in. It was time to stop dancing around the issue and choose.

I chose Dad.

Which led to another question. If I was going to really let him in I needed to be honest with both of us. Could I confront him with all of the things that I hated about him? Could I accuse him of all the nasty, mean things he had done in his life and demand answers? Was I brave enough to do that? It was only fair to give him a chance to explain.

I knew I needed to steel myself for this conversation. One night when Bubba was out of town I lie in the darkness on my back rubbing my baby belly and imagining the way it would go. Small talk first, how are you, what's new with the pregnancy, have any baby names yet? Then, what? How do I hit him with it? This was too important to improvise.

The more combinations and permutations of each accusation I knocked around in my head the more I felt my shoulders tense and my body begin to warm. I felt righteous. I felt justified. I felt...anxious. He would deny all of it anyway, wouldn't he? And then what? Do I cut him out if he does that? The baby kicked furiously, turning somersaults and flipping inside me.

Gradually it began to dawn on me. Was there anything he could say that would appease me? Was I just asking him impossible questions? Could I imagine a scenario whereby he would say, "I did that because of x" and it would be okay with me? Could I come up with any plausible explanation for some of the crappy decisions he made as a parent?

A parent. Parent. Responsible for a child. That was me pretty soon. I wouldn't make any of the same crappy decisions, would I? Right? Please?

The baby stopped moving and I went cold. That was the moment I grew up. The moment I realized that my father, the man I'd been vilifying for over a decade, was simply a human being. He hadn't had a set of rules and tips for being the perfect parent any more than Bubba and I would when this baby came. Did he do his best? the devil voice on my shoulder sneered in the darkness.

The answer surprised us both. Yeah, I think he did. When faced with this realization I was forced to admit that I didn't honestly believe anything my dad ever did was motivated by hatred for me or my siblings or my mother. I don't think he was ever trying to hurt any of us. Of the two of my parents, the one who never fails to say "I love you" before he hangs up the phone is my dad.

I realized that it wasn't my job to make my dad pay for his mistakes. The only conversation that was necessary in all of this was the one I had with myself. From this day forward, we would start over. The starting line was here. This place where I recognized that my father, warts and all, loved me. Always loved me.

That is what I wanted for this baby. And until his too-early death last May that is exactly what she felt coming from him. Adoration. Protection. Love.


Anonymous said...

It's hard to forgive our parents but necessary too. I'm glad you were able to.

Scott from Oregon said...

Mine was when some kid pointed and said to his mom "That man over there" and I realized he was pointing at me...

Carrie Wilson Link said...

" my father, the man I'd been vilifying for over a decade, was simply a human being"

Yes, definitely the point you were grown up!

chris said...

This is a beautifully written piece. Thank you so much for sharing!

Deb Shucka said...

What lovely writing, and such a wise insight. And the gifts you received in that decision continue to manifest.

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