The Life and Times of Florence Knitingale

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Bittersweet

The lousy thing about growing up, about growing older, is that you get to see the things you gave up in the brutal light of whatever wisdom you may have acquired. I was thinking about that today, thinking about the price of moving along the paths we take, and how we should maybe stop and negotiate that price but, by the time we see that, we’re way further down the road and you don’t ever get to retrace your steps. Let me try to explain where I’m going with this (bear with me—the story is a journey, too, and you kind of have to take the steps in order).

It’s Sunday, and it’s autumn—which means Seahawks football at the Knitingale house. And it was a hell of a game, played right down to the wire and won in an impossible, last minute save by the magic foot of Josh Brown. But there was a bittersweetness to it for me. It’s about my dad.

My dad is actually my adoptive dad but, with that, he is also the only dad I’ve ever known, and the only person worthy of the title in my world. We met him when I was about 9 or 10, although I didn’t really get to know him for another 15 years. He is a quiet man, a man gifted with his hands who can find the furniture hidden in wood and the buildings aching to be released from steel. He was in his 30s, I believe, younger than I am now, and he had never had a little girl. He has both sisters and brothers, but he is the youngest; I was definitely an enigma to him. Truth to tell, I had issues of my own and I was probably an enigma to everyone. I thought myself unlovable and didn’t entertain the possibility that I might be wrong. So I felt awkward with him. I don’t doubt he felt awkward with me, as well. We were like strangers at a dance, circling warily, trying not to miss the steps or the rhythm and mostly looking at our own feet when we should have been looking at each other, even if it meant falling down.

Dad loved—loves—football. Loves it to death. He works insane hours all week and, for as long as I can remember, likes to spend weekends watching football or basketball. We sometimes shot hoops together, but I was not a coordinated child and honestly, I still wasn’t sure how to be with him. Moreover, I was young, and with the self-centeredness of youth, I couldn’t see further than my own difficulties and my own path. On the weekends, my mother expressed exasperation at my dad’s football habit. She saw it as a waste of time, dull, and she hated how it seemed to take him away from her. And, to my everlasting regret, my desire to be like her, to BE her, caused me to ape that attitude. I decried football as “a bunch of men in tight pants falling down” and I never tried one time to sit with my dad and watch it.

This is what I mean about that cost, that price. I wish I had taken even one Sunday to ask my dad if he would teach me about football, and I wish I had sat down on the couch with him and watched the game and let him explain the rules to me. I wish I had been with him even one time, jumping up and down when the team scored or yelling at the ref when the calls went the wrong way. I might not have taken to football then, but I might have. And, even if I hadn’t, I’d be remembering that time with him now. Today, when I shouted at the quarterback for wasting their last time-out right by calling it right after the opposing team made a false start, I wish I’d been reminded of yelling at the tv with my dad. Once you’re down the road, you don’t get to retrace your steps.

Don’t get me wrong. My dad is still alive and he lives about 4 hours away, and we see each other and we get along fine. Sometimes I call him and talk about the game and he shakes his head in disbelief and says he never thought in a million years we’d ever have a conversation about football. And I wish that wasn’t true. I know you’re thinking that it’s “never too late”, but I think it both is and isn’t. It’s not too late to form bonds, to fatten up a relationship with more connections and to build new memories. But it’s too late to have THAT memory. It’s too late to remember being a teenager with my dad. In truth, I rarely spent much time with him at all when I was a teen. I remember squabbling endlessly with my mom, and I remember my poor dad, helpless in the middle. But I don’t remember much about him as a person, and I’m ashamed of that.

I’m not trying to get anyone to say that I was or am a good enough daughter. I’m the kind of daughter I am, and he’s the kind of dad he is, and neither one of us is perfect at it. But I wish I’d recognized how much he loved me, and I wish I’d taken the time to realize sooner how much I loved him. I wish I could say that my dad taught me all about it and that we almost never missed a Sunday afternoon football game.

My mother and I have issues--in the same way the Titanic had a few leaks, if the truth be known--but her health is failing her now and every time I go over to see them, my visit is consumed by her needs. My dad is a gentle and patient soul who will never complain about this, even if he only gets a few stolen moments of my time. I sometimes wish that wasn’t true, that he would demand that I come watch football with him, but that isn’t who he is. He takes what he can get and I give him what I can give him and we both know it’s not enough—it’s never enough—but it’s what we have. Sometimes we have quick, whispered conversations while my mother sleeps and we make it be enough. Always, my dad pets my head and hugs me tight and I feel in his touch that he treasures our stolen time as much as I do. He’s a man of few words, but I know. We both know.

I don’t know if those afternoons of football would make now any easier. That’s the hell of it—I’ll never know. When you’re a teenager, you don’t know how valuable some things are, and you give them away as readily as you’d hand over loose change or an extra pencil. He was there pretty much every single day and while he didn’t always know what to say, he loved me utterly. I don’t understand how he got to be 62, and I don’t understand how so much of our lives together have compressed into what seems like seconds and I can’t get anything back and it was just a lousy game of football and I swear to God—if I could go back, I’d watch football with him every Sunday and I’d jump up and down and yell and do all the uncool, un-girly things that I couldn’t bring myself to do. But there it is, isn’t it? Once you go down the road, regardless of what you paid, you never get to go back.

9 Comments:

  • At 6:13 PM, Blogger Peg said…

    Your story touched my heart, Ms. K. I did not have a great relationship with my Dad either, but I know that he loved me and I hope he knew that I loved him. I cannot go back and I don't want to. I am older than your Dad, and you can write beautifully - if you cannot say it out loud, say it on paper. He will take it out and read it and who knows, it might prompt him to write back. We don't have to be miles and miles apart to write. If it were my child, I would cherish a letter! I love my kids and know that they love me, but you know the cards I have kept are those in which they told me how much I mean to them. Try it!

     
  • At 6:50 PM, Anonymous Marianne said…

    Does he read your blog?
    I very much know what you speak of.
    You have spoken well of it, and I feel for you, I would also urge you to take advantage of the time...he still walks the earth...make.good.time.
    D'ye ken how much I love ye?

     
  • At 11:49 PM, Anonymous angie cox said…

    A very thought provoking post.My Dad was an alcholic who also loved to watch soccer. I tried sometimes as I knew he hated having three daughters ,but I never really understood it.I do remember 1966 when England won The World Cup and he was so happy. I shared his humour absolutely but he was scary at times.He is dead now but I talk to him still .I really think he hears me . I now see Holly growing away from her Dad ,not knowing what to talk to him about at 16.I must get her to read your post because before it is too late maybe they should try harder.He tends to spend too much time with his guitar and her with books. She is sad that she can't think what to say and he is a man of few words. A moving post indeed.

     
  • At 6:05 AM, Blogger lisalou said…

    Your latest posting was very moving. My father is alive and due to circumstances after my mother's death, we are not in contact.

    As others have mentioned, it is not too late, letters can be very profound and I'm sure that your dad would cherish one from you very much.

     
  • At 9:33 AM, Blogger Kit Is Knitting said…

    Thank you for this. My dad and I have a strained relationship due to his excessive negativity. It's hard to want to spend time with a man who can only talk about how much he abhors your mother and her mother and his job ad nauseum. But when he goes out for his walks in the wild, I sometimes wonder if I shouldn't come with him. See what he sees...

     
  • At 9:55 AM, Anonymous Marianne said…

    Kit, I think that may be just the thing, who knows, perhaps it's the only time he feels 'real' and even if not much is spoken in words.....it may be quite the time for you both...walks in the wild, I love those walks.
    Hopefully he'll be alright with you going with him.

     
  • At 2:59 PM, Blogger Jo said…

    We can only start from the point where we realise what we must do. There isn't any point in regretting the past (though we all do it) because you did what you had to do then. Now you have the knowledge and you're lucky enough to have some time left to use that. Dump the guilt and the regrets for the past and what might have been. They're put there to distract us from the present. Go right up there and give your Dad all the love you can in a big hug RIGHT NOW.
    (And take one from me for yourself)
    Jo
    Celtic Memory Yarns

     
  • At 7:24 PM, Blogger Charity said…

    This was beautiful, Ms. Knitingale. I'm so sorry for the regret you feel. We all know how thoughtless children and teenagers can be. I'm sure your Dad knows this, too, and knows you love him.

     
  • At 6:59 PM, Blogger Lynn said…

    Beautifully written. My father was 46 when I was born and just shy of 85 when he died. One of the deep joys of my life is that I got to see him before he went, and I got to serve him a little, and he got to see and hold all five of my girls, particularly the five-month-old baby, who looked around for him when we went back to Mom's house after his death. Dad was born in 1905. I used to curl up with him on the couch and watch the prizefights when I was little and had been especially good [not often, LOL]. But as I grew up and grew away from him, I loathed sports and still do.

    Kudos to you for thinking about this. I agree with Peg; if your Dad doesn't read your blog regularly, print it off and mail it to him.

    I think we all have regrets about how we treated one parent or another, and those of us who are parents have similar regrets about how we parented our kids. I'm still learning, and I expect that my grandchildren and great-grandchildren will benefit from that.

    Most of our parents did the best they could, and most of us, parent or child, are doing the best we can. I believe that the most important lessons we learn in our families are love and forgiveness. Plenty of opportunities for both, in my experience.

    Thank you for putting me into a thoughtful mood.

     

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