Monday, April 4, 2011

A Letter to My Dad

Even typing the title of this post bring tears to my eyes.  I am not sure how I'm going to get through this, but I have felt for weeks that I need to write this post.  I'm not sure how to start this post.  I guess the beginning is as good a place as any.

My parents got married very young.  My dad was 21 and my mom was 18.  They had been together for 3 years, but my dad was in the Army in Germany for almost 2 1/2 years of that time.  They wrote each other every day and got married 10 days after he returned home.  They got pregnant almost immediately with my brother.  It was a hard time for them, and for my brother.  Both my parents completed their education while my brother was a little boy.  No small feat - they were the first to leave Southern Illinois and to get a college education on either side of their families.

According to my brother, my dad was never a real compassionate, loving father.  I was born about 8 1/2 years after my brother.  I was named Donna because it was the name that my father would have had if he had been a girl.  My grandma named him Donald (called Donnie growing up) because it was the closest thing to Donna.  So my name was very special.  I have a tender picture of my dad holding me as a brand new baby.  I love this picture.  I think about how he must have felt, holding his new daughter.  Full of hope for me and the person I would become.  Not knowing anything about what the future would hold.

My sister was born 22 months after me, probably only because my mother wanted more children.  My dad, on the other hand, was done.

And so the years passed.  My dad was a CPA and owned his own business for as long as I remember.  He didn't really talk to us much when he came home.  Music was turned down when he came home from work, the evening news played while we ate dinner, and mostly, he sat in his chair and read who-knows-what most evenings.  I don't remember being tucked in at night - not to say this didn't happen - I just don't remember it.  I don't remember him reading to me or really even talking to me.  Raising the children was my mom's responsibility. 

My favorite childhood memories are family vacations and skiing.  I grew up in Santa Fe, NM, and we skied several times a month all winter.  My dad was a different person at these times.  He loved to play games and loved nature.  We rode motorcycles through the spring and fall.  But the day to day life was not much fun with him.

I started smoking when I was 12.  As a former smoker, this made my dad insane.  When I got caught smoking, he would make me sit and eat cigarettes or chewing tobacco (I was allowed one glass of water) until I threw up.  Ironically, we usually had a pretty good conversation during these times.  I assume that's because I had his undivided attention.  I continued smoking, just tried to be more careful in not getting caught.

We had a lot of run-ins when I was a teenager.  Sneaking out, bad grades, lots of parties and drinking, bad 80s makeup, boyfriends who were always bad news, and lots of lying.

I caused endless problems between my parents.  My mom always believed my lies and my dad saw right through them.  Eventually, it got to the point that my dad went through the application process to have me admitted to military school.  (I was accepted.)  I told my mom that if they made me go, I'd run away.  I had a boyfriend that was 5 years older than me and I think they knew I was serious.  She asked me where I wanted to go because I couldn't live at home anymore.  I said to live with my Aunt Judy and Uncle Gary in Indianapolis.  I was on a plane two weeks later.  It was the only time I ever saw my dad cry.

It was a long journey to get to the point that my dad and I could have a decent conversation.  Years.  As I got older I could recognize what a complete brat I was as a teenager.  Over the last few months I have started to really grasp the extent of rage he must have felt towards me. 

I remember sitting in an LDS Stake Conference several years ago with President Jim Kearns conducting.  He was sitting on the stand and surveying the people as they walked through the door.  He would jot notes on index cards and hand them to his "helpers" to deliver to certain people in the congregation to speak on a particular topic.  I remember being so touched by the Spirit throughout this meeting as I listened to these inspired speakers.  I felt so honored to be surrounded by these compassionate, loving men and wishing that my father had been more like them.  I've had feelings like these over the years, and even today, as I watched a BYU program between General Conference sessions called "Turning Point," I couldn't help feeling this way again.  I listened to 21 adopted children describe their feelings about their father and mother - and yes, all 21 belonged to the same parents.  I couldn't subdue those feelings again of wishing my father had enjoyed being a father.

Dear Dad-
This June, it'll be 5 years since your death.  Not a day goes by that I don't think of you -- sometimes good and sometimes bad.  I look at my kids and feel sad that their memory of you is fading.  Except for playing games with you.  When I play a game, I act just like you -- a worse winner than loser, that is -- and they tell me so.  I tell them I'm just trying to keep your memory alive!  

You'd get a kick out of Darcy.  She is such a firecracker, and yet very sensitive.  And Abby too.  You'd just love to spend time with her.  Such a quick sense of humor.  Independent, organized, and motivated.  Vena is very much the same as she was when she was little -- a very deep thinker and remembers every mean word ever said to her.  She doesn't like sarcasm and for this reason, you would have a hard time with her and vice versa.  Her memories of you are not entirely good and this makes me sad.  A few harsh moments with her went a long way.  Further than the good ones, I'm afraid.

It is my experiences with Daymon, however, that have caused me to reflect on you and our relationship lately.  I see a lot of the same characteristics in him that I possess or did possess as a teenager.  His number one love is music, both playing it and listening to it.  I know you would not have this in common with him!  He is quiet at home.  When you died, none of us were on Facebook.  You would hate it, trust me!  Daymon seems to have a highly addictive personality, just like his mother.  He really enjoyed Facebook, but more than that, he really loved to text.  I use the past tense because he lost all those privileges in January, after having 15,000 texts in one month.  

We've had a hard time with him lately and it makes me realize that so many of the things he does -- or sometimes doesn't do -- remind me of me at that age.  I can't begin to tell you how frustrating it is.  I really do know what is best for him and what would be good for him.  I've been around the block a time or two and if he would just listen to me, I could save him so much pain! 

I remember very well how I felt at his age and so I feel like I have a good understanding of how he'll handle different situations.  You tried to control my every move when I was a teenager and it had the opposite effect.  I ran the other direction and lied to cover my tracks.  You really never knew me, but you didn't take the time to get to know me either.  Had you talked to me when I was younger, maybe I would have talked to you when I was older.  

Something I have learned, we can't make people do what we want them to do.  Daymon has horrible acne.  I tried washing his face for him, but at 14 years old, it's ridiculous!  I can't brush his teeth for him or make him wear his retainer.  Does it make me completely insane that he chooses to not do these things sometimes?  Of course.  But he has his free agency to make his own choices.  I try to teach him the right things to do and talk with him, but at the end of the day, it's up to him.  No matter how much I'd like to, I cannot make his decisions for him.

I can say all these things right now at this very moment because I'm not mad at him!  Several weeks ago, he got caught lying to us.  It was a pretty big lie, too.  David and I were in a heated debate with Daymon and I finally had to walk out of the room.  I spent the rest of the evening crying -- not because of our fight with Daymon, but because I think I had an glimpse into how you must have felt towards me because I was feeling the same way towards Daymon. 

I have determined that you must have hated me.  I'm not saying this looking for sympathy, just stating the facts.  I know you loved me because I am your daughter, but I think you really, really disliked me as a person.  I can't blame you.  You always hear parents say things like, "I hope you have a child just like you when you grow up."  I don't know that you ever said that to me, but now that I have a child that is similar, I understand.  I was much worse than Daymon, however.  

Dad, more than anything I wish you were alive so I could look in your eyes and tell you how sorry I am for putting you through all those years of hell.  I talked with Judy this week about those years and she agreed that you didn't like me until many years later.  The damage had been done.  It's such a tragedy that many parents and teenagers don't realize exist.  It may last for many years.  Even when I was 25, 30, 35, I knew I had been a difficult teenager.  But it is 25 years after the fact that I finally get it!   I feel fortunate that you and I did get to a point where we got along pretty well.

I have no bad feelings -- never did -- over being sent to live with Judy and Gary.  So much good came out of it in so many ways.  Thank you for loving me enough to let me go.  I know it had to have been so hard to give me away to someone else.  I never saw you cry before that day. 

I hope that one day, you and I will get to sit down and have a good heart to heart and get to know each other better.  I can't blame you for who you are any more than you can blame me for who I am.  I am sorry for dishonoring you and for all the heartache I caused you.  This has been a difficult few months for me as I have had these realizations. 

I love you Dad. Despite wishing you were different in many ways, I wouldn't change a thing -- except that you would still be alive so I could say these things face to face. 



Thanks for your patience on this post.  I had a lot to say.  I do feel that all things parenting related are relevant to Banned From Baby Showers.  Parenting teenagers is not fun so far!  It is challenging in totaling different ways that parenting small babies or children.  It's even causing me to enjoy the "tween" years more.  Abby (10) keeps watching Daymon, saying, "I will not act like this when I am 14!"  Should we believe her?  Of course not! 


Alisa said...

What a moving letter.
Coming from someone who only saw interactions between you and your Dad after you were married and had children, you would never know that there was so much heartache between the two of you. I only saw the love he had for you and your family.
I loved seeing him play games with you when they would visit your family while you were attending BYU.
I still laugh at remembering his stories. Especially about the one in the middle of the night with the mirrors and window and door and not being able to find his way out of the room.
Thanks for sharing such a moving letter. I hope that in doing so, it will help soothe the hurts that you have and help others to work through some of their hurts to become better parents.
Love you ...

Regina said...

My mom has said that to me before...that she hopes I have a daughter like me so I will know how it feels. I actually thought that was a really mean thing to say, even though I know she didn't mean it that way. Really, she was joking, but I still thought it was mean and it hurt my feelings. I would think that a parent would want better for their child and to save them from some of the heart ache that they went through....even if it was caused by me.

But then again, who knows how I will feel when my kids are teenagers.

And by the way, I can TOTALLY see Abby saying that!!

Janet said...

What a beautiful, insightful letter Donna. I am weepy.

Raising teenagers is SO hard. I find that the further into parenting I get the more forgiving and understanding I am of my own parents' flaws and mistakes and I pray that my children will, in turn, be gentle with me as they come to understand how difficult it is to be a parent some times--how your heart breaks with your children's decisions at times, how you often want to force them to make the right decisions. Thanks for reminding me about agency--it is something I am constantly trying to keep in perspective.

As I get further into parenting I also marvel more and more at how amazing our Heavenly Father is--how does He love us so completely when we (people in general) do so many things contrary to Him and His teachings? This is what I am trying to learn . . . how to love unconditionally.

I know your dad loves you. As he watches over you from the other side I am certain that he feels very proud of you and the life that your have chosen. I feel blessed to have seen the transformation that occurred in both of you over the years.

Love you D--J

Eric Jorgensen said...

Thanks Donna, for the brave letter.

As it happens, I called my dad this weekend to tell him sorry for an incident long ago when I got him boiling mad at me, deservedly so. (Must be something about our age!) Suprisingly, even though that day is burned indellibly into my mind, he couldn't even remember it. I apologized anyway and was glad to let that go.

I'm sure your dad loves you and has forgotten about all the hard stuff. If he's like my dad, he wishes he had been kinder and gentler to his wayward teenagers.

Jolee Burger said...

Oh, Donna, this line started my tears and is so true:
Had you talked to me when I was younger, maybe I would have talked to you when I was older.

Thanks for sharing.

rachel said...

Thanks for sharing, very special.

Donna Ryan said...

These were the comments from my sister. She had a completely different relationship with our father.

Sister, our memories of dad and feelings towards him are so different. It makes me sad you don't remember him being more loving or thinking he didn’t enjoy being a father… Don't you remember being little girls together, dancing in Dad's pip...e smoke, making designs in the air? And dad would take our hands so we could climb up his legs and chest and then he'd flip us in the air while we squealed in delight, begging him to let us do it again and again?

Frankly, I can’t remember either mom or dad reading to us much or tucking us in. Since you and I shared a bedroom growing up, I mainly remember talking with you at night. It was you who helped me transition from daytime to dreamtime.

As I got older, it was dad who really talked to me, not mom. Maybe this was after you left. Maybe it was because Dad was so sad to have lost one daughter; he didn’t want to lose another.

On a motorcycle trip to Denver, I remember Dad telling Matt and me how his own father rarely spoke to him or Gary and didn’t offer much guidance or direction. He said he regretted not offering more to all of us and that he felt he had failed as a father. Many years later, and most certainly by the time he died, Dad knew that all of his kids had “turned out alright.” I believe this gave him some peace and I hope he was able to forgive himself, knowing he did the best he knew how. In the end, isn’t that all any of us are trying to do – do the best we can?

I’m sorry you are going through such a rough period. But be gentle with yourself, be kind to Daymon, and know that love always prevails.

P.S. For the record, Dad read two daily newspapers (the Albuquerque Journal and The New Mexican), trade journals, Newsweek and motorcycle magazines most evenings, and he started his own Accountancy firm in 1983! ☺

Joni K. Martin said...

What a touching letter. I know how it feels to have a distant father... I'm so happy that David is very close to your children so they don't have to go through that.