Communication, or rather effective communication, was not something I learned in my childhood home. My father was always a man of few, usually authoritative, words. And my mother was always a woman of many, oftentimes sarcastic, words. There was always love, in abundant heaps and piles, and there was always humor, by the truckloads, but there was rarely a successful conversation about what was ever really going on or about what anyone ever really felt. Luckily, I’ve had many patient friends and boyfriends in my nearly thirty years. I’ve learned through trial and error. And I like to think that because of it all, I’m fairly capable of having a functional conversation about things that matter. I judge this mostly by the success I have in discussions with The Brit, though I think the fact that he is entirely too reasonable has a lot to do with it.
As a family though, we’ve spent the years since the divorce of my parents fumbling through the difficult conversations that carried us through the pain of a broken, over two decade old family, and beyond to better times. We’ve all grown up, together. With Mamacusa, once we peeled away the layers of a deeply seated Hispanic temperament, sarcasm, and conclusions too quickly jumped to, talking became easier. I’m happy to credit Mamacusa with this as she found herself someone to practice with when she set her all-too-determined sights on The Love Muscle. Not only is TLM lovely to my mother but he’s fully capable of stringing together a series of well-formed words to create a meaningful sentence. Often many at a time. So she and he communicate very well together…and likewise, so do she and I.
With my father, things have always been a bit more challenging. Which is not to say that he is not capable of stringing together a series of well-formed words to create meaningful sentences; it’s just that he doesn’t seem to do this out loud. In his writing, he does it quite eloquently. But face to face, there are often long pauses, intermixed with some sputtering, a funny joke or two, maybe even a prank, and then an entirely prosaic question about something like how my car is running and when the last time was that I took it in for an oil change.
We’ve each made our moves to open up the lines of communication. I made mine first and I will never forget the visceral fear persistalsing though my GI tract as I ventured into then unknown territory. Several years ago, he and I were sitting in my truck after a brunch where I’d tried my hardest to muster up the courage to broach the topic of what seemed painfully obvious to me to be a decaying marriage between him and my mom. I’d failed abysmally and succeeded, instead, at stuffing myself nervously with sugared French toast. We’d gotten all the way back home and were parked outside of the apartment about to go back in. His hand reached for the door handle. In a panicked verbal spasm, I blurted out that I noticed he and mom weren’t sleeping in the same room anymore. He froze, hand on the door handle, and stared straight ahead. I was struck simultaneously with fear and relief. Too late to back out, I proceeded forward. Scared that I’d lose my nerve, I let words, the order and sense of which I do not recollect, fall out of my mouth…words that relayed that I didn’t think they seemed happy anymore…that I wanted for them to be happy…but that if they couldn’t figure out a way to be happy together, then maybe they should be happy apart…that there was no more use for “staying together for the kids”…we weren’t kids anymore. When I ran out of things to say, I held my breath and waited. Slowly, he turned his gaze away from my truck’s bug-splattered windshield and looked at me straight in the eyes. He looked at me almost as if he’d never seen me before. He said, “I had no idea you’d feel that way…so...mature about it.” There was surprise there. In his eyes and in my mind, I think I became an adult that day. An adult who didn’t necessarily need discipline anymore, but who could be confided in (and who, apparently, could also be trusted to eat an entire stack of French toast). We’d crossed a threshold that day, he and I. Suddenly, it was ok to talk about the difficult things. Not easier, or any less awkward, but ok.
The years since have been a series of chess moves, all made with the earnest intention to really get to know one another but always with a bit of nervous apprehension. Neither one of us wants to push too hard or intrude too much. But the recent announcement of his upcoming wedding came with a fresh new set of blanks to fill in. And behind the shelter of the written word, in emails and letters, we’ve made moves to do this. Today, though, he made the nearly two hour drive up to see me and spend the day with me. We talked about his wedding, his brothers, Cuba, my work, The Brit’s travels…it all gets more comfortable each time. For old time’s sake, we also watched a movie…an activity we did so often in my childhood that I might be able to blame it almost entirely for the fact that I have a rather large ass. (Well, that and the French toast.)
When it was time for him to go, I was half expecting him to reach in for a hug and slip in a wedgie or a wet willy…or worse, for him to pull his favorite prank: running his index finger along the underside of my nose and saying, “Guess where my finger’s been?” But no. There was just a hug and a kiss goodbye. And thank goodness for that, because Lord only knows where his finger’s been!
Good move, Dad.