Unconditional Love in the Time of Teenaged Angst

Once upon a time, a thousand years ago, that was me. I lived above a print shop in a small town and went to college six blocks away, down the hill, past the New Haven Pizzeria and the laundromat where I once watched a crazy man with a tin foil triangle on his head talk to his mother on the pay phone, trying to convince her he needed money and couldn't risk coming home because the aliens were everywhere and nowhere was safe.

I lived in this two story apartment with three other girls and my dog, Wombat, or as I like to refer to him: The Great And Mighty, All Powerful Wombat...The dog who set the standards for all other canines and who, still today, was a dog's dog and a swell being if ever there was one.

In fact, when Dad wasn't able to talk, just a day or so before he died, Sister Flea and I got him to smile when we told him Wombat would be at the gates of Heaven to welcome him.

I loved Wombat, but he was Dad's best companion when we kids were older and Dad was still driving all over suburban Philadelphia, visiting shut-ins and taking communion to old people. Dad would swoop into my apartment, whether I was home or not, spring The Great And Mighty, and off they'd go in Dad's tin can of a Ford Fiesta, or Vega, or Datsun B210.

Wombat was part-terrier, part-schnauzer, with only a nub of a tail- but when he saw Dad, he'd wag that stump so hard it would knock him over. Wombat was happy a lot, so most of the time it seemed Wombat walked like a crab, sideways, because he was always wagging that nub.

I suppose that's why he and Dad got on so well...but then, everyone got along with Dad.

All my roommates adored Dad and it was a mutual thing. JackOHarps is right when he says Dad was "open and honest and funny as hell!" We girls made over him like he was the coolest guy in the universe, even then, when we were still teenagers. In fact, even in high school my friends wanted to see Dad...when things were bad at home, or they'd done bad acid and needed him to talk them down, or when they just wanted to sort out how they felt about God or life or whatever. They sought him out because he never tried to tell them what to believe or how to be. He never condemned them or tried to control the outcome of their lives.

It's that kind of unconditional respect for another's ability to be okay and sort things out in the end that I miss in my life right now. He never made me feel small for not knowing something. He was too secure in himself to need to make anyone else feel small with his emotional and intellectual superiority. He didn't talk about other people unkindly. He always tried to see the world from the other person's perspective. If he felt you weren't quite "getting it" he would work to understand why you thought the way you did. If he truly felt what you were feeling then he could better offer you a platter of wiser alternatives...but if you chose to stay with your original stance, he never treated you as if you had failed to grow.

When Dad visited the Rubber Rose Ranch 2 we never had to clean up, put away, or be anything other than who we were.

So we decorated the place with antiques from one roommate's attic and barn, wore antique ballgowns to our parties, served champagne and home-made egg rolls, always had live music at our gatherings and sometimes Dad was there, hanging out in a corner, listening to us grow up.

Sometimes it would make me mad that Dad never took my side when a boyfriend broke my heart. I wanted him to be like TV dads and threaten to kill the poor kid. But my father never would. He would listen to me rant, let me run out of steam, and then, just as with every other issue, serve up a healthy dish of compassion and understanding for us both.

I can't find that kind of acceptance and understanding now and I don't really expect to. I can't be that perfect with my friends and family either-I am too insecure. But knowing how it felt to be loved like my father loved me makes me want to strive to be half the person he was.

I know I'll never be on a par with Dad. Really. And that's totally okay. But I would like to be more like him because I know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of that freely-given respect and compassion.

Being so loved by my father makes me want to be a better person.

I think that's a pretty wonderful legacy for a father to leave his daughter.

1 comment:

Bea said...

A beautiful tribute to a loving father. No one can love us like our Father... that photo brings back my own near hippy days! Bea