July 23rd, 2009:
During the past several months, my relationship with my Dad has undergone a profound and unexpected change. For most of my life, we were stuck in power struggle and unhappiness. I spent a great deal of effort trying to grow away from him, yet our force field held both of us in serious bondage. My dreams of moving away from home, my pleasure at living in San Francisco and creating life on my terms was done knowing that I'd get little if any support from him. He didn't like my gayness, didn't appreciate that I had avoided getting drafted, and it seemed from my perspective that he seriously didn't like me.
In the past couple of years, as my Dad's mental acuity has softened and shortened, he's become sweeter and more loving. I now think that his childhood and adulthood were very hard for him. The responsibility of maintaining a family was not only challenging, it was often terrifying. He felt fear and resentment. Having an effete son traipsing off to Europe and grand dining and the opera wasn't part of his life plan. But now, with deep retirement and old age, his sense of responsibility has evaporated. He is taken care of. His job is to get to his meals, visit with his neighbors, grieve the death of my mom. So that prickly edge and trigger-happy anger has given way to a much more relaxed guy. His inner sweetness is out and functional. His new contract with the world is, "I'll be nice and you'll love me." And it works.
I would say that my Dad has called me on the phone maybe eight or nine times in my life. Half of those times have been in the past couple of months. Clearly, I do most of the initiating when it comes to telephoning. And no matter. I now enjoy reaching for the phone to check in with him. As soon as he recognizes my voice, he says with heartfelt warmth, "It is so GOOD to hear you!" Followed by his questions about how I am and his concern for my health, my job, my daily life. I am still getting used to his concern and empathy after a lifetime of blame and not good enough. It is a very healing shift. Very healing. As I listen to his voice, I can feel the father that was always there, but eclipsed by anger and confusion. Now, he's completely exposed as someone who loves his family. It's his greatest joy to talk about my sister, myself, and my departed mom.
After decades of struggling in this most troubled and unhappy relationship of my life, I am enjoying a totally different experience. "I am so proud of you," my Dad will say. "You've been such a wonderful son," he claims. "It means so much to me that you call." Loving, caring warmth that I have been waiting for all my life. Now it's happening. And yes, it was worth waiting for.