One of my earliest memories was riding in the back of a car, looking through the rear window as the city lights receded behind me. I was glad they were gone because now my 10 month old sister had stopped screaming. She must not have been outside at night before, because for some reason she had started screaming as soon as we were brought out of my mom’s apartment building. My young mind thought that was the explanation for the way she was acting, but I know now that it was probably the fear of separation from my mom, the only parent she knew that far.
My sisters and I had been living with her for a while after she and my dad broke up; my memories are few and spotty of the time we lived with her. I was about 4 years old and the most vivid recollection I have is my sister crying incessantly in her crib one night and my mom not waking up to go to her. Instead of waking my mom, I had gone to the fridge to get a bottle of cold milk and put it in her mouth. She closed her eyes and went to sleep and so did I. My next memory is that car ride.
My dad and my grandmother had come to pick us up and we were excited, as we had been away from dad for a while. My youngest sister never knew him much and was pretty scared though. My grandma sat in the back with us and held her (carseats weren’t really a thing then) and off we went back to his home. We lived with dad for a while and then he and mom got back together. They built a house on a small farm together before things fell apart again.
I remember standing around the corner listening to my parents arguing about us. Mom wanted to leave but didn’t think she could take care of us, but she didn’t think dad would be able to take care of 3 young girls either. She was pushing to have us turned over for adoption, and when I heard that I was terrified that we would never see our parents again and that I would be split up from my sisters. But my dad would have none of that. He insisted on keeping us and taking care of us; our grandma would be able to help when he was out in the fields. Mom was gone a few days after that and somehow dad was able to keep going. We were not very well off for money and I remember how diligent he was with washing Jen’s cloth diapers. He was a terrible cook but always made sure we had balanced meals followed by the inevitable bowl of ice cream for dessert. He loved to give us little treats like chocolate bars from the grocery store just to hear us squeal with happiness.
Dad was from an old school generation and wasn’t the greatest at talking about feelings or communicating in general. Sometimes I would wonder if he really loved us because he couldn’t come out and say it. But he spoke through his actions. He always wanted us to come hunting with him, to check the cows with him, to spend time with us in general. I recall the look of terror in his eyes after I got hit in the face with a Jack-all handle, getting thrown off my feet, and checking to see if my face was broken or if my teeth were all still there.
I think his greatest struggle was when we left home. I wanted to go to post-secondary but he was from a generation when women were housewives. He wanted me to stay on the farm, and refused to even come out to say goodbye when I moved out. I felt heartbroken by his perceived lack of support, but I think he was just struggling with loss and didn’t know how to cope. Men in that generation were not allowed to show feelings and he had very few tools in his toolbox. I know now that he was proud of me because his friends would always tell me about how he would brag about what I was doing with my life to them.
He got angry a lot but I realize now how much he had on his plate. He grieved his marriage for a long time. My entire childhood he refused to sleep in the bed he had shared with my mom; he slept on the couch downstairs “so he could watch the woodstove”. I doubt that was the real reason. Only recently, in his sixties, has he felt comfortable looking for someone new to love. Even though that relationship is a little rocky at times, he has been committed to making it work.
As I get older and my own children have become teenagers, I realize more and more what dad went though to raise us. We often had a chip on our shoulder and could be difficult to manage but he loved us anyways.
So thank you dad, for not giving up on us. thank you that we didn’t have to be raised by strangers. Thank you for teaching me about the value of hard work. Thank you for dealing with out ingratitude as children. Thank you for what you have taught me about parenthood and unconditional love.