I’m in church most Sunday mornings. Letting go of old patterns and trying really hard to not actually pick them back up, I get a recharge and I’m held accountable. Today was no exception. Dad wanted to go, so I picked him up. He’s getting older and right now he’s in need of more help than he’s willing to admit. He loves my new Camry. He feels like there’s plenty of legroom and in that way it beats out my sister’s BMW. He tells me each time he gets in the car, like I was supposed to be competing with her. What he doesn’t understand is how easy it is for me to celebrate with her success and just be happy that she’s successful in what she does. I feel that love means doing what you know is best for the person you love, even if it’s not what’s best for you and not looking at it as a sacrifice, but as a gift because in the end, their wellbeing is what’s best for you. She doesn’t ask for anything so I can give her all of the praise she deserves. He walks from his apartment to my car on his own, but needs help getting his seatbelt on because my car will beep at you if you don’t buckle up. We take the 5 south and he always freaks out a little when we transition to the 110 north because I love that curve a little more than I should. There’s a huge difference in driving when you trust your tires and brakes.
We arrived at the church and I walked in and picked a seat where he’d be comfortable. He tends to like to sit along the sides in the back and not right next to people. In restaurants he’ll want to be able to watch the exits and windows. His PTSD tells him there’s going to be an ambush at any moment and it’s his need to be vigilant and in control. I usually prefer front and center. Even in school, you were likely to find me in the first or second row, to the right side of the class unless there’s a sunny window. In that case I shift accordingly. He took his time with coffee and donuts, and joined me once he’d had his fill. He sat beside me and dozed off and on throughout the service. Right after worship, there’s a meet and greet time where we mingle with fellow church members and he reaches for me, and wants to start a conversation with me to keep me planted by his side, and that’s when I see it. That’s when it becomes undeniable that I married a man who was just like my father. They both loved that I was outgoing, but used me as a shield against the outside in a way that made them appear to have my confidence. For Dad it was the ghosts of war. For my husband, I may never know. People started coming toward us for hugs and handshakes. I’m a hugger, so it makes me happy. I used one of the hugs for my escape to see everyone I look forward to seeing each week.
After the service he wanted to sit and talk which means he talks and I listen. He asked if I noticed how respected I was in my church. I told him that respect is freely given when it’s been freely received. Then I had to tune out. I never understood his need to push and place agendas in relationships. I didn’t have to work to be friendly and I will take that for granted as long as I can. I remembered when I had a similar communication dynamic with my husband and instead I focused on watching the pastor’s son. He’s a handful of years younger than me and he was tossing a toddler in the air. He’s great with kids and my youngest adores him. He was guiding those baby hands on the drums and chasing him up and down the aisles. There was so much joy in that and I loved watching. A man who is great with kids is so attractive and it doesn’t hurt that he’s in the Air Force, but I had only had a few errant thoughts about this particular man, and never a conversation worth remembering. I really just enjoyed watching the baby joy.
There is so much good in comfortable silences. I was comfortable being silent. Dad was comfortable telling me what the meaning of life was and in my few non committal responses, he would pause and tell me I should ask God, letting me know he doesn’t approve of my thoughts. I’m in a new place and I will not be guilted into changing my mind. The first voter ballot that came in the mail with my name on it was filled out for me by him. I threw it out and went with my gut. I decided to have a moment of enjoying what I saw. It was such a rare moment. Most waking moments I have a million thoughts going in all directions at once. There are to do lists, and shopping lists, chores, phone calls and letters to start and emails I need to follow up on. And this is me when I’m job free. I spent about 5 minutes and just watched a giggling boy exploring his limits. The men in my life rarely have moments like those and I just loved watching it.
He asked what I wanted to eat and vetoed my pho request. We went to Lucky Boy’s in Pasadena instead. I remembered the times I stopped saying what I wanted because it stopped mattering in my marriage, and all I could do was try not to laugh out loud. They didn’t ever see eye to eye but they were so alike.
I once reacted so badly to seeing something similar in a Rite Aid. There was a little girl being choosy about her ice cream flavors and her Dad was getting impatient. He tried to tell her what she wanted. I should have kept my mouth shut but I didn’t. I pointed out that he wanted to raise a picky daughter. He wanted her to be able to make up her mind on her own, and know that there’s value in her decision. If she doesn’t get it from her Daddy, he has no right to complain when the boys she dates start to make her feel like there is no value in her thoughts and opinions. Build your kids up at home, and they won’t believe the boys that try to make them feel that they’re the only ones that can see how amazing she is and they control her value. It’s the same reason I don’t force my kids to hug grown ups. They’re in control of their bodies and personal space.
I dropped Dad off and started driving up to the Observatory. When traffic told me I wasn’t the only one that saw the clouds clearing, I turned around and took the streets home. The full weight of my Daddy issues started bouncing around in my mind. My Dad was always there. He was never abusive. He just didn’t know how to be the Dad I wanted him to be. In reality, my Daddy issues are my boundary issues and I give him too much authority over me when I don’t try to establish healthy boundaries.