Tuesday, April 19, 2011

You Can Hear It, If You Know How to Listen

Yesterday, I picked up my glasses and realized that they were dangerously close to falling apart. A screw had worked nearly all of the way out on the right side and it was on its way to becoming a situation. "That's no good," I thought, and I went to my toolbox and pulled out the set of tiny screwdrivers and set about fixing them; it was no easy task when you realize that I'm nearsighted and can't see to fix my glasses without wearing my glasses, which is clearly not possible, but the fact that I had the right tools made it a bit less difficult.

I can hear what you're thinking: You, the current president of the Clumsy Girl Society, have a TOOLBOX? And it has TOOLS in it?

Well, yes. And ... yes.

My father gave it to me.

I've written about my mother, but not as much about my father. Partially because I don't think he'd enjoy it, and partially because I don't ever know exactly what to say. My father really wanted a son and instead found himself with two daughters. He wanted athletic children and got one with asthma and one who was much more interested in dance than she was sports. Despite this, my sister and I both played little league and he coached, because coaching was what dads do. I think he enjoyed coaching. I didn't enjoy playing. When I got old enough to choose something else, I went with music and drama. My sister also did her own thing.

My father is also outdoorsy. He likes to hunt and fish. I liked to fish, but my dad didn't like to take me because in addition to liking to fish, I have a habit of falling down. Or in the water. Or out of a canoe. Not only does this scare fish, but it has a tendency to lead to potential drowning. My dad really wanted to fish for actual fish rather than fishing his silly daughter out of the drink. He didn't think it was fun to go for a walk in the woods when there was a good chance I was going to come out needing crutches. So we didn't go. I learned to stop asking if I could tag along.

When I was a teenager and in my early 20s, my relationship with my father became more strained. We are both strong willed, and our wills often pull us in opposite directions. Neither of us likes to give way. When I was younger, I often said that we didn't get along because my dad is a difficult man. This may be true, but as I look at it now, I am able to see that I am a difficult woman. I also see this: all he ever has wanted was the best for me. All he has ever dreamed of for both my sister and I is that we live in safety and happiness.

So he wasn't good with the words, I think now. So he still does things that drive me completely crazy and his temper is unpredictable and he's ridiculously stubborn. Have I looked in a mirror lately? Isn't it about time that I recognize that I do things that drive him completely crazy and am sometimes a little erratic and "ridiculously stubborn" is an understatement when it comes to me?

He's not good with words, my dad. I think that perhaps this is a result of living in a house with three women who almost seem to share a secret language. My mother and I frequently finish each other's sentences. My sister can say two words to me and it will trigger an entire private joke that only she and I would understand. The three of us talk a lot. Perhaps he never felt like there was anything to say. Perhaps he never had the chance to get a word in edgewise.

It's not a perfect relationship. But it's one that has progressed. And if I don't hear my father say very often that he loves me, I know that he does.

I know because he shows me through doing, rather than saying.  That's who he is. When I was a kid, every time he paid the bills and bought me shoes -- which he did ponderously, thoughtfully, wanting to make sure my feet were protected and supported in something sturdy (even though I still never looked where I was going) -- he was saying that he loved me. The time he sat with me when I was having a terrible asthma attack and talked me through it. When I was getting divorced and he came and helped me move out of my house. All of those things were how he told me, even when he didn't say the words.

And when he made me a tool box and carefully filled it with tools that he thought I might need. A hammer. Wrenches and pliers and tape measures and stud finders and, yes, a set of tiny tiny screwdrivers that I can use for things like -- well, like repairing a set of eyeglasses.

They were all ways to say "I love you".

I have finally learned to listen.

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