This is the one where I talk about my Dad. The blog post where I will discuss all the complicated feelings I had about my father, the complicated relationship we shared and how I came to be where I am with my feelings about all of that. I truly hesitated to write this post as it feels like Daddy Overkill. In the podcast that I share with a couple of my doula friends, on the day after Father’s Day, we drop the episode where we speak about our Dads. And it is a doozy. The Pragmatic Doulas podcast. http://anchor.fm/thepragmaticdoulas In this episode, I cry, and if my tears are at all a source of intrigue for you- go listen to it.
So, here we go. His name was Eddie. Yes, I did say WAS. My father passed away in 2017. It was a short illness (lung cancer) and he had as beautiful a death as one could hope for; surrounded by all the love in his life. That’s the end of his story. The beginning was not that ideal. He was the 3rd of my grandmother’s 4 children. His father was the 2nd of the three men with whom my grandmother would have children. She never married any of them. She minded them on her own. So, they lived apart and my as a child, my father was shuttled between the two of them. Neither one of them provided him with a stable, loving, environment. My grandmother was raising all 4 of her children alone and to be fair to her, who knows what she faced in that struggle. It was 1930s/40s Jamaica and I can only imagine what things were like for her. My father’s childhood existed under the canopy of depression and war. When I think about those days I imagine everyone being desperate, scared and hungry. He was born in 1935 and was 10 years old when WWII ended. It was the times. Listen, passing judgment is a mean thing to do. And this isn’t my intention with any of this. I truly have no clue what my grandmother’s upbringing was like and how she came to be who she was but I remember her as a sharpish, slightly miserable woman who rarely had a warm word. I don’t remember her ever hugging me, even though I lived with her for the better part of my first 7 years. She complained a lot and judged others harshly. That’s what I remember of her and this was my father’s first imprint.
My grandfather, I remember only vaguely. I probably saw him a couple of times in my life, even though we lived in the same city. He lived with my father’s younger sister and her family. My sister and I learned a little more about our grandfather when we made contact with a cousin a few years ago. Contrary to my very close ties with my passel of cousins on my moms side, I never had a relationship with my cousins on my dad’s side. Making contact with her felt delightfully fulfilling. She told us what she remembered of our grandfather. He lived with her and her family, so she saw him on a daily basis. He was a distant, emotionless man who took no part in the life of his family. He worked, gambled and kept to himself. We THINK he was born in China, although he came to Jamaica by way of Singapore. Why did he leave Asia? Who did he leave behind? Do we have family there now? In all the years she knew him, our grandfather never spoke of himself or his life in China/Singapore so these questions remain unanswered. Our cousin has no warm memories of our grandfather. This was my father’s second attachment person.
It is no wonder then that when I came along, my dad had no idea what to do with me. He had no example of what fatherly responsibility looked like; fatherly love and affection, family life, emotional connection and intimate communication all were foreign concepts. In his twenties, my father was a bit of a playboy, a compulsive gambler and spent a lot of his time playing the horses and charming women. In my very early childhood, he simply wasn’t physically there so I barely knew who he was. My mother had left Jamaica and I was being cared for by my Aunt. He never came to see me nor did he support me in any way. He used to come to the place where I lived to drink and gamble and even though I was literally 3 minutes down the road, he never came to see me. That still stings a bit. Later on, when we did actually live together (we immigrated to Canada in 1974), he was so emotionally distant, it was as if he still wasn’t there in body. At home, he came and went with no hellos or goodbyes. To this day, this irks me an unreasonable amount. When my children do this, I yell at them through the upstairs window. Don’t leave without saying goodbye! My Dad did not participate in any family gatherings and did not maintain any social connections-he had no friends. In terms of adaptation, I had the all encompassing nature of school, the acceptance of friends, the cozy belonging of my mother’s family and ultimately the resilience of childhood to help me with me with my transition to life in Canada. My mom also had her family; two close cousins and their families and we all lived in the same apartment building. I also now know that my mother possess a resilience of spirit that remains firm to this day. It has always served her well. It’s something I know that we don’t all have. She also was raised within a family that cared deeply for each other and whose relationships were based on love, support and co-operation. That was her foundation. My father came to this country, found small work at Gulf Gas station, observed what Canada expected of him and in as much as these things are conscious, decided exactly which bits of Canadian life he would participate in and which he would not. He chose hockey, baseball and nature shows on television. He kept up with his horse racing and he lay down on the couch a lot. And that was all. Family, friends, socializing and happiness seemed like they were for other people.
Modern psychology now tells us that early infant and childhood attachment is crucial to healthy emotional development. Babies need tons of physical contact and attention to their needs so that they can move on to the stages of development that require them to be more independent. They need the anchor, the life line, the safety net of a good solid support system. The luckiest of us get all of that. At the very least, most of us get a good semblance of that in our early formative years and it enables us to move through life with that as our foundation. When I think of my Dad, I am very grateful that I am able to picture him as the emotionally lonely little kid that he most assuredly was. I am grateful because it has allows me to see him separate and apart from ME which I think is a sign of a sophisticated maturity. Or- a sign of being old? I mean, he was 31 years old by the time I was born. He had had a childhood of being shuttled from one parent to the other; neither of them capable or willing to provide him with stability and grounding. That was his foundation. Yet, he survived and he was able to make a life for himself. In his late twenties, he found my Mum and in doing so, he found the first person to ever truly love him. She displayed a kind of straight up love to him that I can only imagine he had only observed. Over their life together, she showed him love in all it’s forms – of a woman for her man, the love of family, a parent’s love for their children and the love of Self- as she maintained her autonomy and independence throughout and within their relationship. He absolutely learned from her. Slowly but surely, he did evolve and by the end of his life he was a different man. Admittedly, the differences were subtle. His childhood foundation of instability and rejection allowed his lens for love and family to only see so far- but he did his best. I know that now. I think he grew to understand the value of love and family even if he struggled to show it outright. Love came into his life even if he wasn’t looking for it and it transformed him. My father’s entire life is an example of the transformative nature of love. It is his legacy. A broken little boy was shown that there is more to life than just getting through it; that unconditional love is a Thing and that it can redeem you.