Saturday, June 14, 2014

Not Until You're Ready

Father’s Day is here again and this year, as you can imagine, is bittersweet for me.  On one hand, it’s my husband’s first Father’s Day since Cal was born (sadly, he’s not here to celebrate it with us…), and on the other hand, it’s my first Father’s Day since my Dad passed away.  I’ve been getting emails from retailers for weeks alerting me to the upcoming holiday, and every time I read the words “Father’s Day,” I cringe a little, mumble profanities, or throw my middle fingers up at my Gmail inbox, because, you know, that’s constructive.

I have thought of my Dad every day since he passed away.  I think of him mostly in the quiet moments when I first wake up and during those few hours between when I put Callum down and I go to bed, or sometimes while I’m sitting there rocking Cal to sleep, and things are dark and calm, my mind wanders over to dad, so thinking about him now that Father’s Day is looming is nothing new or unusual for me, but lately I’ve been thinking less of the last difficult months of his life, and more about good, happy moments I shared with him.

Mostly, my mind keeps going back to my wedding day (I'm not sure if my brother's impending nuptials just have my brain focused on weddings or what...) More specifically, to the few moments before my dad and I walked down the aisle. I was standing on the side of the Brooks Museum (we got married out in front), just out of sight of our guests, feeling like I was going to hyperventilate.  I was terrified, not because I was unsure about getting married, but because I was going to have to walk past ALL these people in these really uncomfortable shoes (that I loved dearly, but would kick off the minute I got back into the museum after saying our vows, and curse at them as I put on my pink Chuck Taylor’s), and I was afraid that I would fall, or make a fool of myself, or pass out from the anxiety.  I hate when people just stare at me, and I was about to have about 100 people doing just that for the next few minutes, and it made me want to crawl into a hole and hide…, to put it simply, I was having a mini nervous breakdown.  

I watched as my coordinator signaled to each bridesmaid to make her way down the aisle, and the moment for me to go inevitably came closer, I became more and more unhinged. The string quartet sounded in my head like a musical toy that had a battery running down - all creepy and slow motion-y -  I felt flushed and sweaty and overwhelmed (although much of the “sweaty” part could probably be attributed to the fact that it was an outdoor wedding in Memphis in June…) My dad turned to me and put his hands on my shoulders so that we were face to face and said “do you not want to do this?” - I looked up at him, almost insulted that he didn’t think I really wanted to get married,  and said “yes. I want to do this, but I’m terrified. All of this attention just makes me anxious”  at this point, my coordinator was motioning to me that I needed to get ready to go, and I kept trying - and failing - to catch my breath.  She said “Charlee, it’s almost time…” and my dad, still with his hands on my shoulders and his eyes locked with mine, said “not until you’re ready. you don’t have to do ANYTHING until YOU’RE ready”

“but everyone is waiting on me….” I said

“Exactly. They are waiting on YOU. They aren’t going anywhere. Let them sit there all night!”

This made me smile and calmed me down a little, and I shook my hands and arms out, took a deep breath and said something like “okay” - he looked at me again and said “are YOU ready?” and I nodded, and I looped my arm through his.  before we took those first steps that would symbolize the end of one chapter of my life and the beginning of a new one, I said to him “dad, don’t let me fall. please don’t let go” - and he said, sort of echoing his earlier sentiment, but this time with a little crack in his voice “I won’t let go until you’re ready”

I hadn’t fully realized until right then how big this moment was for HIM, and that as symbolic as that walk was for me, it was almost more “his” than mine. I think when you become a father to a daughter, this becomes the day you deeply look forward to and also dread. You hope someday your little girl will meet someone who loves her and will take care of her and makes her happy, but you don’t want her to completely lose her.  I think dads secretly love when their daughters are hundreds of miles away and still call them for advice, even when they have a husband 50 feet away (or, if I’m your daughter, I call you from another country to ask you how to fix my car that won’t go into gear…."it's just going "MMMMMMMRRRRP MMMMMMRRRRP MMMEEEEEP" Dad! WHAT DOES IT MEAN?!?!") Anyway, it surprised me a little that my dad - the man who had spent the entire time that mom and I were planning the wedding trying unsuccessfully to talk me into eloping, and spent most of 2009/2010 in a state of constant eye rolling, and literally making fun of everything we did/planned - became so emotional on that walk.  Maybe he didn’t realize how big it was until right then, either.  

The walk down my aisle was long.  It wasn't  just a normal straight shot from point A to point B - it was a spiraled aisle lined with chairs (so that I literally walked passed everyone, and not just the people in the center of the aisle, like they would in a church or a room - a very cute idea by my coordinators) that ended in the middle where the wedding party waited under a kind of fancy pergola that had been decorated with draped fabric and flowers.  I don’t remember anything Dad and I said to each other during that long walk, but I know we frequently exchanged glances, and we both went back and forth between crying and laughing, between locking arms and tightly holding hands, and by the time we reached the end of the walk, and he hugged me goodbye, I really WAS ready - and maybe he was, too. Ready to accept the change, but not ready to let go.  I don’t think he ever really let go.  And truthfully, neither did I. (We daughters don’t, do we?)

This memory plays over and over in my mind lately. I find great relief that it has kind of taken the place of the things my memory went to before - the bad things of the last few weeks of his life.  Next week, I may be back to dwelling on that, but it’s good to know that I have moments like this in my memory bank to dig out and remind me how lucky I was to share such an amazing moment with my Dad while he was still here.  So many people I know are robbed of this moment with their dads, and it really was, for me, one of the most precious moments I ever had with him. 

I’m still mourning (I’m starting to think that you can mourn someone eternally), but  continue to have issues with allowing myself to full-on grieve, but I’m working on it. I think with G being gone and me having Callum all alone 24/7, I feel like I don’t really have much time to fall apart, but it’s coming. I feel it creeping up and I fight it back.  I’ll get to it in my own way, in my own time. whenever I’m ready. cause according to my Dad, I don’t have to do anything until I’m ready…..

So for everyone who has a father who is still with them this Father's Day- call them, send them a card, invite them to dinner, shoot them an email, send them a text and if you’re geographically close enough, give them a hug and tell them about a moment you shared that meant a lot to you. Let them know how much you appreciate them, love them, and cherish them. 

and if your dad is gone, like mine, do something on Father’s Day in the spirit of your dad.  Drink his favorite beer while you eat his favorite meal….go play a round of golf or a game of his favorite sport….go fishing if that’s what he was into or mow the lawn in his honor….sit around with your family and go through old pictures and tell stories and have some laughs about the funny guy your dad was…..OR (and this is what I’ll be doing…) download a month’s worth of Days of Our Lives episodes, eat some popcorn, and pretend your sitting in the recliner next to him while he makes witty comments about the goings on in Salem.  

Celebrate them, remember them, miss them, love them, honor them - not just on Father's Day, but ALWAYS. 

 Dads like mine deserve more than just a day, really.