I Never Danced With My Father

Originally uploaded by baruchinbar72

I always had the dream of placing my small feet on top of father’s big wingtips as he guided me across the dance floor.

But that never happened. What happened was that my father left my mother and I one day when I was six. The memory burns as much as the assassination of John F. Kennedy did that year – 1963. Caroline Kennedy and I are almost the exact same age and we both “lost” our dads that year. Mine was just a few communities over from us, but for all my understanding of what divorce was, he might as well have been dead. Of course, I’m glad he didn’t die and am incredibly grateful that he’s still alive. But to a six-year-old, death and divorce seemed pretty similar.

Every so often, I saw my father, but it was clear that he felt ill at ease and didn’t have a clue what to “do” with a girl. Should he take his 6 foot 5 inch frame and get down on the rug and play Barbies with me (hey, I would have liked that)? Would I want to go with him to the UCLA football game (I did go and remember it as one of the happy, if somewhat chaotic, times with Dad). So we got in the habit of having ‘dates’ where I’d dress up a bit and we’d go out to dinner and we’d try and have a relationship, but it was one that had few role models.

I look back and have compassion for him because even with his sense of being the outsider, he did make an effort to have a relationship with me, all the while dealing with his own pain over the divorce, beginning to date again with all that that entailed, and dealing with my mother and whatever rules she set for him. Nobody was to blame for this turn of events and both were clueless about what would be best for me. Because clearly what would have been best for me would have been no divorce to begin with.

This wasn’t a couple who yelled, screamed, threw bric-a-brac, hit, or punched. This was a couple who probably had a fairly bloodless relationship, but at least it wasn’t violent, either physically or emotionally. But in 1963, women were beginning to stir from their long beauty sleep of the 1950’s, and the thought of being married to a man like my father must have seemed as stifling as being in a room with most of the air sucked out of it. I think my mother just couldn’t breathe.

And you know, I understand that, but my mother’s decision to save her self had huge consequences for two other people and she never did understand my loss of a father, because her father had been so ever-present in her life. Years later, I have a clear memory of my mother asking me why I cared so much about my father and his reactions to me – in essence, why couldn’t I just “forget him”. Well, I just couldn’t then and I can’t today, either.

My parents, like all parents, were flawed human beings who just happened to live in a time when women’s nascent sense of self was just beginning to be explored. Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique in 1964, and the book was a beginning to naming and describing women like my mother who had bought into the idea that good women gave up their dreams and aspirations for home and hearth. A couple of generations later, it’s interesting that many educated and accomplished women are deciding consciously to forestall their own career aspirations for home and hearth, proudly becoming SAHMs and WAHMs. They are starting internet-based businesses to bring in some income between taking care of the kidlets and couldn’t be happier. What a full circle world it really is.

So that’s my basic understanding of how my parent’s divorce happened – I just remember it as such a shocking event mainly because there was no yelling or screaming in the house – although the amount of tears is hard to determine. If they existed, they were definitely behind closed doors.

A few years after the divorce, my father met a woman with three kids and they got married and then promptly moved to the Midwest. I then became the shuttled kid, spending summers with my father and the step-monster (oh, sorry, step-mother) and her kids. I really hated this, because my Dad would try so darn hard to treat us all alike. I didn’t want that – who does? I wanted his undivided attention as, after all, I’d just spent most of the year without him, and those kids had him every day. That’s how it seemed to me. I think how it seemed to him was that he was living in the worst kind of “no win” situation. If he favored me, he’d hear about it from his wife, and if he didn’t, he was disappointing me, and let’s face it, he was living with her, not with me.

Then came the final straw with the step-mother. They’d moved again, this time to the south and I was visiting. I’d spent a portion of a school year about a year or so earlier, which didn’t end so wonderfully. It was one of the times when I tried to figure out what it would be like to live with my dad. But again, I didn’t see him all that much, since he worked an awful lot, so I was stuck having to live with another woman’s rules and resentful step-siblings. So here it was a year or so later, and I was doing my obligatory summer sojourn. And we were all in the car, driving somewhere on a short trip. And in the middle of nothing (or so it seemed) my step-mother announced that I just had to go – that it was either her or me. And here’s my dad, driving along, being broad-sided by this as surely as any truck running the stop sign.

For all I know, they’d been feuding about this for weeks and months – but it sure seemed like it came out of nowhere. I think silence ensued and the rest of the drive was laden with unspoken anger and resentment. Eventually I think there were probably some heated discussions and fights, but the upshot was, as you all can figure out, I was put on a plane and didn’t see my father for the next five years. The next time was after my step-mother was dead and buried and the step-siblings had fled the scene.

The last act of this drama ended up being a bit of a let down. I saw him for one weekend, he was a wreck because his wife had just died and his step children had left him (temporarily as it turned out, but you have to wonder about a woman who’d allowed a man to raise her kids and pay everything for them, but denied him the ability to adopt them because she said he “wasn’t blood”. No, maybe not blood, but certainly a checkbook, as it turned out.) After that weekend, there were years before I saw him again, and by then I was myself a mother, approaching my own divorce, and he was remarried, but this time to a wonderful woman.

I started this piece by remembering that I never danced with my father, and part of this is because he never attended either of my weddings. I regret this, as I’m sure he does, too. I didn’t attend his last wedding, either. Nor did I hop a plane to visit him or my grandmother who lived in the same town as him – I never had the money or time to do this. And I didn’t even attend my grandmother’s memorial service. It was always ‘understood’ by everybody and they’ve been nice enough about it, and the facts of my lack of daughterly duty at least on the surface, makes sense. But it sure feels bad.

I remember a small scene in Desperate Housewives where Bree is railing about her mother-in-law after Rex dies; basically she tells her son, “grandma’s a bitch” and her son replies, “but she’s OUR bitch.” And that’s how I feel about my Dad (and my mom, for that matter). I don’t know if I’d even like him all that much because so much has come between us over the years – caused in some cases by others, some from ourselves, and some of the distance caused by nobody and nothing in particular – it’s just become a habit. But no matter the reason for the distance, no matter how awkward seeing him again might be, no matter all of that . . . he’s still MY dad. And I’m hoping that one day soon, we can just cut a rug.

Hope everybody had a wonderful Father’s Day today. And Dad, I love you, Laura

9 thoughts on “I Never Danced With My Father

  1. Hi Laura,Beautifully written. Thank you so much for sharing that part of your story.The paths our lives take can hurt and I just try to remind myself, being a mother & grandmother, that my parents, my children and I, have & will do the best we can with what we have to work with.My father made choices also that were not in my favor and I ended up making choices that I was not happy with concerning my children. I’m sure my grandchildren will have something to say about my daughters too.I used to call my step mother the Wicked Witch of the West and believe me, she did earn that title with flying colors.Unfortunately, I imposed that wickedness onto my first daughter until I was able to see that was not the true me and got some help to bring out what my blood mother had instilled in me.My second daughter reaped the benefits of that “rehabilitation” and was able to be the type of mother my blood mother was to me for the short 7 years I did have her.Hurt, guilt and regrets are so hard to let go of. I’ve learned that letting go or forgiveness of myself an others can be a bit of a struggle sometimes.Your post really touched me and I hope I didn’t go on too much ;0)Have a great week.Jean

  2. What a wonderful post. Thanks for sharing. Life is never easy. I am married to my other half who has two kids from his former wife and he NEVER sees them anymore (hasn’t in two years) mainly because his ex-wife brainwashed the children and found them to be the only influence she could still have on him. Eventually he backed out in order to ‘save himself’. I am sure his kids will not understand this. I am not sure I do. But it is his decision. I know he suffers from it. And I am sure your dad suffered too. In a divorce noone comes out unscathed. I hope yours goes well. Remember: the kids are the ones that have to be protected from it all. They should not be used in the adult wargame under ANY circumstances.Good luck

  3. @ jd – Yes, our lives definitely have some similarities. One of the reasons I went into extensive therapy many years ago was that I was afraid (deathly afraid) that I would inflict upon my son what had been inflicted upon me. That’s not to say that I haven’t had difficulties in being a mother. You can read that in my post on Mother’s Day! But yes, I needed to break some patterns before too much time had passed. And I’d say that both of my parents made choices that weren’t in my favor. Such is life!@ mindful mimi – thanks for your comments. Just a point – I divorced many years ago – I’m not sure that was clear (I guess it wasn’t). I’m currently very happily remarried – 25 years after my first wedding in 1981 (my divorce was in 1987). @ kim – thank you!~ LauraP.S. – as the next phase for me, too, is grandmotherhood, I just hope that I’ve tried to be a more conscious mother and step-mother (not step-monster!) to my male brood. Time will tell . . .

  4. This post made me cry, thinking of tbose millions of children feeling the same way you do because of their parents’ divorces.You had expressed it well, touching the hearts of readers, mine for example.And I liked mostly what you had written at the end, that in spite of everything ” he’s MY dad.”A nostalgic and heart warming read. Keep posting.

  5. Laura, I’m speechless and very much teary-eyed right now. That was such an open and honest and beautiful post – and oh, how I can relate. My father recently remarried a woman without kids who couldn’t understand why he should need to have any sort of involvement with me or my brother. It’s so sad, and like you, it caused a major strain in our relationship.Thank you again for sharing. I love your blog!

  6. Wow! Wonderfully written. I cried for you and your childhood. I never danced with my dad either. Our stories are very similar. However, I can say that as of about six years ago, my dad and I finally came to live in the same time zone, for the first time in over 35 years. We have developed a wonderful relationship. I can say that I now view him as the flawed individual we all are, and not some mysterious, super-human, godlike man. So… now, finally, at the age of 50, maybe I won’t compare every man I meet with Dad! Families are funny, huh? Even though we do love each other, we just don’t always give the people we care the most for the things they need from us the most.But it’s never too late to build a better relationship…Pam

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