I’ve been staying with my adult daughter and her husband for the last three months, while we’ve all be sheltering at home under the Coronavirus. The other day I asked her: “Was I a good father to you?”
“Why are you asking me this again?” she asked. “Why do you still need reassurance about this?” The “still” refers to the fact that I am 92 and she is 68. But I still ask. Apparently regularly.
The little boy in me needs to be hugged.
What I’ve come to realize, is that the little boy in me needs to be hugged and told he is OK. That he will be loved and cared for.
My mother died in 1931, when I was 3 and a half. My father took me to live with his married sister, Aunt Bea. She had two sons and a husband, who worked in a movie theater. His job was to run the movie projector.
My father did not live with me in Aunt Bea’s apartment. She was not mean to me. But my mom was dead, and my dad was not there. I slept in the living room on a cot, near a fake fireplace. There was a small stuffed alligator on the floor in front of the fake fireplace. Was he there to protect me or to eat me as I fell asleep?
At age 7 my father remarried. My stepmother was cordial to me and I had my own bedroom. When I was about 10 years old, however, I told my stepmom she showed more love towards her dog Ginger than she showed me. She didn’t deny it.
Roles change as we age.
My wife Margaret of 52 years died in 2003. It is now 2020. As previously mentioned, because of the crisis my daughter Ellen brought me from my condo in Deerfield, IL to her house in California. She is now the one providing care for me, for my safety and health. And I know she loves me as my wonderful daughter.
She is an amazing professional, the Chief Operations Officer at a large not-for-profit social service organization. I could not be prouder of her. But sometimes she is still my little girl. How do I express that emotion to my 68-year-old daughter (oh, sorry—I suppose I didn’t have to mention your age twice…)
Driven to be the best father EVER!
I shared my thoughts on this with my son the psychiatrist, including my age when my mom died, the year that Margaret died, and my daughter’s age now. He thought maybe this was about loss and the role of strong women in my life.
But I realized it was more about the loving, nurturing parents that I missed growing up. Not to any fault of their own—my mom died young and my dad, also young, had to figure out how to provide and raise me on his own, at least for a spell. What drove me was wanting to be the best dad ever, to provide for my children what I missed.
Reconciling a lifetime.
It should be no surprise that at 92 I want to know that I’ve made a difference and did a good job at the most important job, being a parent. What I’ve realized, as I sit here enveloped in the love of my daughter and her husband, cared for, and lacking nothing, watching her work and succeed…I don’t need my daughter’s verbal reassurance. After all, I worked hard to be a good father. I know that sometimes I failed. Maybe I focused too much on work. Sometimes I was too hard or expected too much from them.
But we love each other and are connected to each other. We have weekly calls by Zoom with everyone—children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. We have agreed that if anyone in the family needs help, family will help and we do it.
Intellectually I know that we are a success story. And then there’s that little boy inside. The one who remembers all those years ago. The one who is 3 and 92 at the same time.
He’s the one who, sometimes, just needs a hug.