My dad and I are polar opposites. He’s a conservative man who lives by the rules. I’m a leftie bleeding heart who likes to colour outside the lines.
Building relationships with close family is not like those at work. When it’s someone you care about, someone you love, or even like, it’s different. If they’re family you can get away with being more badly behaved because they love you anyway. And there is no doubt there were many times where both Dad and I behaved badly.
But as I got older I found a new tolerance for Dad’s ways. After all, I do teach this stuff, so I can’t get away with bad behaviour as much as I’d like. I could see how much he struggled to get a word in when the family was together. I’d watch as he formulated sentences and arguments in his own time as others drummed their fingers or just jumped in and talked before he could. And I found myself becoming more protective of him. Imagine (and you know what I’m talking about ,Limes), being talked over ALL your life?
When my 86 year old table tennis playing mother fell and smashed her hip whilst going for a winning shot, I started spending more time alone with Dad than I ever had. Weeks at a time. And I learned there were advantages to slow, deliberate ways and systems.
How when you take an hour after dinner to scrub saucepans with a special powder and buff them up they can last a lifetime. How when you arrange 100 Dilmah teabags one by one in overlapping circles they can all fit into a teensy weensy tin. And how when you put everything back in the fridge in EXACTLY the same spot (cheese ON TOP of butter, not the other way around) that it’s easier to find everything. Who knew?
We lost my dad on the 13th January. And damn it hurts. No matter he was 87, and death is the natural way of us humans as we age. It still seems impossible that he isn’t here, chiding me for not doing things his way.
The old saying that you can choose your friends but can’t choose your family rings true. Sometimes we get saddled with a relative we have to spend time with but wouldn’t necessarily do so, given a choice. If you met that person in a bar, would you want to hang out? Probably not.
And yet, as with everyone who is different to us we can learn something if we choose. But you must feel it worthwhile, of value to you, to choose to do so. When you decide to be more patient, more tolerant with someone else’s differences, you often expose qualities you may have missed before. My dad was a kind, good man. His generosity knew no limits, whether he was listening to problems or distributing boxes and boxes of fresh produce from his hobby farm. He was always there whether you needed a cold washer on your forehead or money in your account. When I decided to take the time to listen to Dad, I uncovered so many wonderful stories that helped me understand him.
Dad and I worked on our relationship all our lives. And I’m glad I did. Because at the end, it’s not the number of houses you have or the awards you have won. The quality of your special relationships is all that matters.
I may not scrub my saucepans like you did Dad, but I now arrange my teabags in overlapping circles. And think of you. And smile between the tears.
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