Friday, February 19, 2016

Adventures in Life: Far Removed

Newborn Penguin with his father 1967

Things don't always feel real when one is far away. It seems as a flight attendant, that is a common thread in life. We miss parties, celebrations, holidays, events and time, flying the world far from home.

The funny thing, and by funny I mean odd, is while flying a trip to Canada, I began talking with my flying partner on the jumpseat. You've probably heard of jumpseat therapy. In case you've not, there is a phenomenon amongst flight attendants seated on the jumpseat. We tend to open up and say things to a complete stranger that we would never say to others. It's an unspoken bond between flight attendants.

My stories are peppered with jumpseat therapy. I've opened up about my illnesses, fights with friends, dating troubles and life woes. I hardly ever discuss my father, other than the fact that we haven't spoken in over twelve years. I'm almost always asked why, and mostly, I launch into a short version about how he drank too much and would make promises that he would never remember making the next day. He was a very hard man to get along with and used money as a carrot to encourage me to do this and that for him. He was very selfish and despotic. He was a pain in my life that was quite vexing...he was also my father.

Gary and Penguin

Not wanting to bore people with the details, I was always quick to answer and move the dialogue along to the next topic. But for some reason, on this trip to Canada, I really opened up and discussed many of the stressful aspects that my relationship with Gary had endured.

Gary bought the Harley-Davidson dealership I ran in Annapolis, making me an officer of the company. After 4 years he sold it, with me staying on as GM, being a part of the sale. I didn't realize this until after the fact, or I might have demanded a huge salary! But things were better when Gary left and after one year, I was able to increase profits 30% and retain customers better than we had in years. I loved that I was able to prove that my way of running that business was successful, and that in return led to him receiving more money from the sale of the business. I was very proud. Gary was quite silent.

Gary, Memaw and Penguin in the Harley dealership c1998

One of the broken promises that led to our estrangement was that he was going to pay me a sum of money annually. That gave way to a broken promise of assistance in buying a home or going to flight school. That gave way to promises of money from my grandmother when she passed, to another promise of an annual bonus and next thing I knew it had been ten years that he and I never spoke and not a one of his promises came to fruition.

For me, it was easier to remove him from my life than to deal with the broken promises, the rhetoric of how I cannot communicate, and the way he always made me feel small and foolish. My life was better off without the drunken calls one night and the follow up with few details remembered the next.
Gary and Penguin

He never understood me. For years he would offer me hard candy and ask if I'd like a soda, and for years I would tell him I don't eat hard candy nor do I drink soda. For him, I am sure it was a matter of being polite and offering me something he enjoyed. To me it was a man who never learned my likes and dislikes and didn't seem to care. Gary had his own way of doing things, including a language that drove me insane. Instead of wearing sunglasses, he wore sunners. He ran a sweeper instead of vacuuming the carpet. He never saw a movie, he only saw flicks. If I sneezed, he would say only, “Bless,” to which I eventually would answer a simple, “Thank.”

He reached out to me 2 years ago, just after Christmas. We wrote back and forth a few times and he continued with his lies and statements of me taking things out of context. I told him that I was not interested in a relationship that was still toxic. After a few harsh letters back and forth, there was nothing more.

Baby Penguin and his proud parents
Then, I got a call from a cousin I don't hear from very often at 9:45PM, and I knew something was wrong. I had just landed from this trip to Canada when I got his message, so I waited until I got home to call him back. His words were soft and I had a hard time comprehending them. When he told me that my father had passed away, I asked, “MY father?” It seemed such a silly question.

The phone calls that follow a death in the family are not something I'm used to. I remember when my Uncle passed and how the phone rang all day. People brought casseroles and flowers to my aunt. My father was more of a stranger to me. I don't know what his life was about or what his interests were. I had changed so much since we last spoke, I was certain he had, as well. So in a way, it was only as if a friend of the family had passed. I was sad and my family and I cried over the phone, but I didn't feel like I had lost my father.

When my mother went through a cancer scare this past year, I was beside myself thinking of her mortality and how my life would change were she to be removed from it. But I never gave my father's mortality a passing thought. I knew he'd live to be 95 just to spite me! There was still plenty of time for him to soften and even though it appeared to be only about money, I wanted the pain of how he treated me to be a thing of the past. Well, it is now.

I answered the calls all day and shed mutual tears during many of them. I had some great laughs, too. My father was a difficult, stubborn, selfish man, but he was also smart, funny, outgoing and often times just as goofy as I am. There are many great memories of my father mixed in with the pain.
A teenager Penguin with his angst meter off the charts in '85.

It doesn't feel real yet; I have lost my father, but I lost him 12 years ago, really. For the past 12 years there was always hope that he would come through, or would say he was sorry for the way he treated me, or that we could start fresh with an adult friendship of two men growing older and laughing at more jokes, singing the wrong words to our favorite songs, and disagreeing over politics along the way.

A terminal illness took hold of him two years ago...perhaps the very reason he reached out to me. However, Gary chose to keep this fact not only from me, but from the family, as well. The shock over his death brought about by his own hands to ease his pain and suffering was as much mine as everyone's. And maybe I'm not as far removed or estranged as I thought, if out of the blue I suddenly have an in-depth jumpseat therapy session about him as he lay dying a slow and painful death. We were either more connected than I ever suspected, or he came to visit me in some spiritual way to have me open up on the jumpseat at the very time his life was ending. Eerie.

A rare photo of my step father, dad and me in Maryland '97.

Where I used to see his image and frown, now I go searching for old photos and smile. My friend, Shawn, says that is because I know he won't hurt me any longer. He and I were alike in many ways. And in many ways I pray we are very different. But he was my father and he taught me many great things in life. He was proud of me, in his own ways. He took from me the chance to make amends or to hear an apology, but he left the world what I hope is a good man of strong convictions; a son of moral fiber, and a caring friend to many.

Surely the memories of the hard times I had with you will begin to fade and leave only the good memories; the laughs, the tickles, the times we watched Carol Burnett, Pink Panther cartoons and Bob Newhart, making breakfast on Sundays to classical music and the way you always expected me to be a good man. I love you, Dad.

1 comment:

  1. I hear how complicated it is, and I send my most heartfelt condolences on losing your father both times.