discoveries…

I wasn’t looking for it. It wasn’t even a blip on my radar. I have been focused on and reflecting on this man I lost. Discovering my dad. Delving deep into the relationship we developed, studying the nuances, reliving the conversations…I never dreamed the life altering discovery would be my own. It happened without warning, without any sort of build up or suspense. It just…happened. Mom and I were reminiscing about dad and she casually asserted her suspicions about his placement on the spectrum. The Autism Spectrum. It wasn’t the first time we broached this subject, but it was the first time since his death that I gave it serious consideration. After all, if it could assist me in any way with greater understanding and insight into my father, it was worth a second glance right?

Mom had suspected for several years that dad had Asperger’s/Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). As she relayed some of the symptoms and traits and triggers associated with ASD that she witnessed manifested in dad, all the bulbs on my brain board started to light up and blink uncontrollably, as they do when I’ve happened upon a major new discovery about myself. My stomach instantly knotted and I realized that mom was not only describing dad’s disorder in perfect detail and relation to him, but she was also describing me. I needed to know more.

Thank God for Google. I devoured article after article describing Asperger’s and autism, my mind coaxing and encouraging me onward as if it knew this was something BIG, and it was. Every article, every journal I read and re-read described myself to me in painstaking detail. This was my answer to over 30 years of silent suffering. The social awkwardness, the proficiency with which I express myself in text, the endless fascination with details, the inability to organize and focus and prioritize effectively, the feeling that my brain is always in chaos and cannot be shut off …I could go on and on. Everything in the words I’ve digested so far is me. All my pain and confusion and self-persecution over the decisions I have made in my life have an answer. An explanation! Of course, it does not absolve me from my choices, but I am not crazy. I am not crazy! My wacky weird little brain just processes information differently than everyone else. I needed proof. I needed someone to validate this self-discovery, and I was terrified that I was prematurely and erroneously hopeful. Everything just fit so well in the patterns and formulas I mentally checked off in my mind. I received an official diagnosis this weekend and the relief that flooded and washed over me was overwhelming. I have Asperger’s Syndrome. I’m not ashamed of it. I am enormously grateful that I have answers to the seemingly endless questions that went unanswered for so many years.

Dad had it too. I am certain. There are too many correlations to ignore. Mom tried to discuss it with him, but as was typical with my father, he dismissed it. I am now reassessing everything about our relationship against this new found knowledge. I have to because my brain will not allow the pieces of the puzzle to remain displaced, and for the first time since his passing I am longing and yearning for him to be alive in this moment so I could thank him. He may not have believed anything was different about him, but he saved me a little. My puzzle pieces are slowly fitting together now. My life is making a little more sense and my dad played a role…Thank you dad.

milestones…

Milestones

It’s been a little over four months since my dad died. The day to day minutia of life has returned, and even though he still floats across my conscious every day, the pain is different and the tumultuous emotions that had previously accompanied the pain have dissipated. Time has appropriately medicated my heart and I wonder if I’ve reached a milestone in grieving. I’ve painfully acknowledged and accepted (again) his role and place in my life; but unlike my previous attempts to wade these waters without resolution, this time I am consciously…rigorously trying to redirect my focus on the good…because there was good. I can torment myself forever and rake my frail emotions over the coals of uncertainties and doubts and I will get nowhere. He is gone. I am now faced with the choice of how I want to memorialize him. And as easy and comfortable and familiar as it is to recall the anger and hurt and victimize myself over and over, it is not healthy. It is not healing. I am pragmatic, a realist at my core. I cannot live in a constant state of victimization and anger. It is not who I am…not who I choose to be. I have no rose-colored glasses to use when reminiscing and I will not romanticize our relationship. It was what it was. Nothing more. Nothing less. I loved him and I miss him.

And I am allowing myself to miss him now without the “but” attached to the end of sentence. It is a clearer purer emotion, not clouded by the other anxieties and complications that I felt I needed to focus on. I accept him for everything he was and was not to me. I realize that my anger and resentment was concealing the pain lying underneath waiting. It was easier. It was familiar. This is not. Once I started to let go of the anger and resentment, the emotions that remain run deep and penetrating. It is not the jagged aimless and unfocused tormenting pain of four months ago. This pain is so different. I am healing. I am letting go and it hurts. It hurts like hell. I am finally acknowledging the parts of him that I loved and the pain that accompanies that acknowledgement is exquisite, because he is gone. I can still hear his voice and I can still feel his bear hugs, and I would give anything to have one more inane conversation with him. I loved his laugh…and how you could literally watch the progression of his animation escalate when he was discussing one of his many passions. He would have loved his funeral service. Every minute of it. All the people he cared about and who were important to him in one room. His excitement barely contained! He would have talked to everyone. Every.One. No one would have escaped his infectious energy. His casket was loaded into the hearse and driven away after the service and right before his favorite part. My dad loved activity swirling around him and reveling in the thick of it. He would have been the last one to leave, not wanting the day to end, and in the days and months that followed he would have revisited that day over and over sharing stories and conversations with us. I miss that.

But he is still with me. I see him in my son. I catch glimpses of him in myself. These bits and pieces of him live on in me, and I don’t want to waste them. There is a sense of responsibility to give him a legacy, to seize the best parts of him that exist in me and to make the most of them…to finish what he started and was perhaps, too afraid to complete. I got this dad. Love you.

correlations…

faa
I can always tell when I’ve gone too long without emptying my mind of the jumbled thoughts and emotions that seem to fill it. I get anxious without being able to pinpoint why. There is a knot in my stomach that doesn’t go away and I get teary watching commercials on TV. My internal voice, which starts as a meek little whisper, turns into a shout demanding to be heard.

It would be easy to say I’ve gotten lazy and life has been busy, but that wouldn’t be completely true. I spent many evenings camped out on my sofa trying to decompress from the day and the persistent thoughts that seeped into my conscious were ignored and thrust aside. Intentionally. I just didn’t want to delve into it. Life is so good right now. I love being married to the man of my dreams. I love this time of year when the trees are displaying their true magnificence and preparing for the cold barren winter ahead. I love cheering for the Lincalope at his football games and dressing warmer and pumpkins and crunchy leaves under my feet.

Lincalope

And I’m tired of grieving. I’m tired of handing over the reins to the little girl inside me that desperately misses her dad. I’m tired of navigating the dark troubled waters of my relationship with him. It is far too easy to shove those thoughts and emotions to the far recesses of my mind and turn focus to the present day to day….but…

Eventually I am forced to confront the consequence of this intentional snubbing. My conscious is pricked. It nags at me to sit, to type, to bleed emotionally…hemorrhage if necessary…to heal. I remind myself that if I do not grieve, then I will not heal. If I stuff down this wad of sadness and confusion it will rear its ugly head and will destroy me. I have travelled this path before, and am a master of flight, not fight; much like my father. I’ve improved at confronting my emotions head on (thank you Dr. McBride), but I still instinctively avoid emotions too painful for my mind to process. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…

Although dad and I had different stories to tell; my life is so similar to his. Our lives, as a whole, have not been easy. The decisions we made, the paths we took that defined who we became, resulted in much heartache and soul searching. I acknowledge that many of the decisions I made, especially regarding my relationships, were directly related to my father’s indifferent influence. I wonder if he also ever came to this realization; that his indifference deeply affected us. That the decisions he made influenced our life choices.

Up until a few years ago, I’d never been comfortable in my own skin. Up until a few years ago, I had no idea who I was. I think he struggled with the same obstacles. He did not share those intimacies with me, and only rarely let me catch a glimpse of the man behind the façade, but as an observer, it is clear to me.

under the microscope…

microscope

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been contemplating who my dad really was and what made him tick. What drove him to act and respond the way he did to the things that life presented to him. This has come under my microscope of scrutiny because I am my father’s daughter. I respond to things in very much the same way he did, and I am determined not to travel the same path. My life story was scripted and has acted out eerily parallel to his in terms of unmet expectations and disappointments. We did not necessarily live the same unfortunate set of circumstances; but we suffered the same feelings of inadequacy, of not quite measuring up, of the seemingly ceaseless combat for validation and possession of a voice. I know he struggled with being a good dad…a good husband. Emotions that, unfortunately, I also became all too familiar with on my journey.

Motherhood was not easy path for me. It did not come naturally or organically. I struggled with connecting and bonding with my son. It is a harsh consequence of my past, and something I strived laboriously to {still sometimes} overcome. I, too, was not immune to the judgement and opinions of those who felt they “knew better”. My love and consideration for my son was second guessed and questioned…harshly, without thought to the damage it inflicted on a new fragile mother. As a result I constantly doubted my choices and struggled to accept that I was a good mom and did know what was right for my son. On occasion, I will get trapped on that same merry go round again, and the vicious cycle of self-doubt and condemnation threaten to cripple the confidence I’ve cultivated through the years. But I know how to combat this now…how to prevent the incessant onslaught of internal damnation. I don’t think my father was ever given that armor. Our internal voices inflict immeasurably more damage and carnage to us, especially when we believe and accept the outward verdicts of those around us. My dad sought the approval and validation of those around him so I can only imagine the internal dialogues his conscious would force upon his mind and the battle that would ensue.

Looking back, I have a particularly clear memory of talking to dad about being more present, more involved as a father. He revealed that he was trying and would try, but it was so hard. It was so hard for him to be my dad. The statement was raw and painful and his truth; and I never completely understood…until I had a child and my place in his life was also questioned. I was confronted with a similar set of emotions. Granted, my own unique circumstances came into play, but it was hard. It was hard to be and to be present in my son’s life. The path I chose ushered in nearly 14 years of perpetual exhausting discord with my son’s father and the battle continues still…

I am so quick to point the finger at my father and his self-absorption, his selfishness, but what of my own? Were the decisions I made years ago not seeded in my own selfishness? My own need for validation and acceptance? These are the harsh realities that I examined years later to ensure I was not travelling the same road with my son. It was a painful truth to accept as the truth often is; but my son will not grow up resenting me, or questioning my love for him. This was and is my commitment to him.

My father’s apathy was not exclusive to his children only, and my parent’s relationship was always difficult for me to define or explain. As their daughter, I did not know all the intricacies of their story; but as a participant in their lives, I sadly became very tolerant with the dysfunction of their relationship. I did not know any different. I have the utmost respect for my mother who remained steadfast by my father’s side, but I also cannot discount the impact their relationship had on me and the partners I chose. My mother is a supremely strong woman. Recalling her relationship with my father now through the years, and even more so as an adult woman; I ache for the relationship she lost, not two months ago, but over twenty years ago. And yet she stayed. She persevered. I did not have that same strength. I processed and examined, tormented and emotionally flogged myself for years; and finally accepted and acknowledged my contribution to my failed marriages. And while I cannot in good conscious place all the blame at my father’s feet, he did play a part. Because I did not have a strong male presence or father figure to guide me and protect me, I had no idea what to seek in a partner. I did not know what behavior was and was not acceptable and I made very poor decisions as a result. Lessons of the heart are often the most painful to sort out and overcome. The scars I bear serve as a reminder of the exquisitely painful education I received. And again, the realization that parts of my father reside in me and I must acknowledge the selfishness I possessed. Acknowledge and commit to change. Something my father was unable or unwilling to do.

I only have bits and pieces of a larger puzzle to explain the complexities that were my father. All I am able to do now is seek to understand those parts of him that I have inherited. Perhaps by gaining a better understanding of myself, I will receive a glimpse into the window of his soul also.

dad reading

anniversaries…

My dad died 2 days before his birthday. He kept telling everyone he wanted to make it to his birthday and I believed him. I kept thinking that he’d make it to Wednesday and then after that, whatever was to come would come. But he died on Monday, and I wasn’t ready. I was prepared for Wednesday. I was not prepared for Monday. My brain had to race to catch up with the shock and pain that mercilessly invaded my heart. I was pretty numb for a few hours until the shrieking inside my mind quieted and I faced the reality that my dad was now gone. It was a brutal jolt. The emotions that crashed into the wall I carefully pieced together to protect myself, was violently destroyed in an instant.

And so on his birthday, a day we would have celebrated with laughter and stories and German Chocolate cake and a delicious roast beef dinner, we instead gathered in a quiet softly lit room and gazed at his face as he lay motionless. He looked amazing! All the years of pain and sickness and hardship had been erased. So…peaceful. I couldn’t help but reach out to stroke his face and then recoiled my hand almost immediately as it touched a cold hard surface. Once again the reality of his absence struck its mark. Dad received a birthday card from his best friend in the mail that day. What a thoughtful gesture. I thought it was such a sad paradox that he left this world so close to the day he entered it. I couldn’t help but reflect on his birthday the previous year, surrounded by his family. We were all there. And he lowered the wall and came out of isolation and allowed us to enjoy him and love him. It was a wonderful time and one I look back on fondly. At his funeral the following day, the ladies who prepared refreshments also included a birthday cake for him. So intensely wonderfully bittersweet.

dad cake

In the aftermath of dad’s death, I find that I am acutely aware of time. The sixth day of the month, I consciously mark and remember the time, the day, as I go about my daily activities….I wonder when the moment will come that I don’t mark time passing in relation to my dad’s death. Will I be able to talk about him, think about him without my heart responding intensely with pangs of loss? I know as days turn into months and years, it will happen, but I also dread it as it means I am letting him go. I am fighting it. Even now as my parents would have celebrated their wedding anniversary last weekend, there is a small space deep in the recesses of my mind that hasn’t quite accepted his absence. Because he and I did not see each other with any sort of frequency, it is so easy to get lulled into the lie that he’s still here; and the irony is not lost on me that even though he had little impact on my life when he was alive, now after he is gone, I am fighting with every ounce of my being to keep him relevant in my thoughts and life. I am creating anniversaries in my mind to mourn him and to process our relationship. One month since dad died. Two months since dad died. This time of year always provokes a sense of dreaded anticipation in me. My school experience was not a positive one and I’ve never really lost that feeling like I’m a lamb headed to the slaughter house come the end of August. Dad loved this time of year. Sports! And so as September marks the beginning of his passions, football season especially, takes on special relevance. My son’s first football game is next week. Dad loved watching Lincoln play football and basketball. I started to send videos to him last year when he became too weak to attend the games in person. Another anniversary…another instant of time where his absence is powerfully felt. My delicate mind cannot even begin to formulate thoughts and emotions about Thanksgiving and Christmas yet. But they will come, whether I am ready for them or not. I cannot stop them and I will be forced to face the onslaught of overwhelming emotions that will inevitably invade my healing heart. And then they will pass, as time does, and another anniversary will be marked…

dad alpine

intentional grieving…

survive

When I first heard the phrase “intentional grieving” I must admit I was a bit skeptical. I mean, my dad just died, why would I need to intentionally grieve him? And then…Life. My life hasn’t stopped. It hasn’t stood still and I’ve gotten busy…negligent in my reflection of this man, my father. Time slips away and the grief is pushed into the far recesses of my mind because the items at the forefront need attending to. Getting back to this place of contemplation and reflection is hard. I feel like I must mentally turn off my brain to all other pressing items trying to monopolize my thoughts and search for that area in my mind that is still raw and emotional….it takes time for my brain to relax and decompress, to let go of the everyday busy-ness and let the emotions and the vulnerability sink in again. And then it comes. The flood of grief and confusion and anger and more grief and I realize I waited too long to revisit it. It’s overwhelming again. I miss dad. Regardless of what he was to me, I still miss him.

My last post was pretty raw, I know….but it is me. It is my internal conflict. It is real. My hostility and contempt towards my father had faded and dulled over the years to an almost comfortable co-existence. We exchanged pleasantries, discussed the weather, sports and any other inane subject to avoid delving below the surface and confronting our dysfunction. For someone who seemingly had such a non-existent presence in my life, the void left is almost palpable sometimes. I am left to ponder why.

why?

Because it wasn’t always like this. My earliest memories of my father were of a man engaged and fully participating in life. I vividly recollect him walking home over the grassy knoll in front of our apartment building to greet us after his bus ride home from work. We always ran out to meet him and he would kneel down to catch us as we’d laugh and giggle with delight. He loved to play with us and many evenings were spent in epic tickle fights, playing games and devouring his fantastic popcorn-pot popcorn. He allotted time in his day for us and sought us out to check in. My favorite childhood memories with my dad involved him singling one of us out for a “sneak’. He would “sneak” into our room and as quietly as possible, gently rouse us at some god forsaken early hour, like 6:30 AM (soooo early for an 8 year old), to take the lucky recipient out for breakfast. No one else in the family would know about it (pretty sure my mom knew about it) and he would bring us anywhere we wanted to go. Just us. I don’t remember any earth shattering in depth dialogue, but I remember the “sneaks” and how special and loved I felt.

dad hugs

He eagerly shared his passions with us then. Anyone who knew my father knew the role sports played in his life.  He especially loved playing baseball with us and would regularly rally the neighborhood kids to the open field near our home for a rousing game before the sun surrendered to the night. I only recently learned that he was scouted by a professional baseball team in California when he was younger. My dad. Apparently, it was his dream to play pro baseball. He was really good! My dad. So many things I did not know about this man. So much he kept from us. After he died, our local paper published an article about him and how much he meant to our sports community. I have never been so proud and so sad. I didn’t know this man they wrote so eloquently about, fully engaged and participating in life…{cue light bulb}…Or did I? Perhaps this was just an older version of the man I use to know? I am beginning to reflect on him a little differently, through my adult eyes. He was a person. He wasn’t just my dad. As we grew older, we grew resentful of his passion for all things sports. It took him away from us. It was his escape. His way of disconnecting from our family…so I thought. Granted, I still believe his passions significantly and adversely affected our relationship with him, but I believe I am being fair in stating that none of his children were stellar athletes. We all tried in our respective chosen sport to make a go of it…and dad was there to champion and cheerlead, but they never panned out and were replaced by passions that were more suited to our personalities. Did that disappoint him? I wonder. I’m sure he would have loved for one of his children to follow in his footsteps and mirror his passion for the sports he loved so much. None of us did. Did he view that as rejection? That we were rejecting him? It is cause for pause…

As he became more immersed with sports, he received the accolades and the recognition he seemed to be longing for. He was validated. His life meant something. He was surrounded by people who shared his passion and accepted him enthusiastically. He was human. We gravitate to things and experiences that validate us. That bear witness to us as human beings. That state “Your life is important. Your life matters and I am a witness to that.”  In many ways I did not accept him. I did not validate him, and I too, was selfish. And I know how it feels to desperately yearn for acceptance and validation, and to have it withheld. It is a painful cruel reality that eats away at ones self-worth like festering gangrene, and is something I still struggle with. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. As I grieve and mourn and reflect, it often comes full circle, and I am forced to confront the reality of my own short comings and faults. As hard as it is, I must acknowledge it. I must process it…and I must find my way to forgiveness.

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