Difficult Father's Day Reflections

Difficult Father's Day Reflections

by Debra Woods

This is hard to write.  I have to acknowledge something that is bewildering.  I knew a long time ago that during my teen years I had been disrespectful, resentful and even critical of my father, and that I had been wrong to do so.  I chalked it up to being a teenager.  When I joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at age 16, I had an about-face in regards to my father.  It wasn't instant, but that's when it started.  He died of cancer at the age of 61, when I was only 22 years old.  

My mother died in my arms of cancer when I was 43, after spending the final 10 years of her life living with me and my two sons.  After her funeral a conversation between me and my siblings revealed just how differently we thought of our father.  I objected to their harsh criticism of Dad, like he was pretty much to blame for everything wrong in the entire universe, to which my brother replied, "Of course you don't agree.  No one would expect you to agree. You had a different experience with him than us."  That was veiled for, "He spoiled you rotten."

I was and am still the youngest of four siblings.  I wasn't there to see how they were treated, or I was too little to pick up on it, and I have relied on their retelling of just how strict he was, how spoiled I was by comparison.  The story of the "brussel sprouts" my brother refused to eat and had to sit at the table till he did - for hours - only to throw up when he finally took a bite around bedtime, while years later, I was coddled when I complained about peas (or any of a number of foods I was repulsed by as a kid), and Dad would separate out three peas and smilingly encourage me to "eat just 3", was repeated many times to me.

So I shut up.  My brother was right, I guess.  Had I been treated like that, I'd hate Dad too.

It took years before I realized he was not quite right. He may not have realized that I had been judgmental about Dad from adolescence till college.  A series of incidents after I left home at 18 began to change my view of my father.  Had those incidents not happened, I most likely would have kept my resentments and disdain for good ol' Dad as they had.  I realized it was not really about how he treated us or anything else about him that we resented him.  I wasn't sure what it was, but we all became critical, even angry toward him as teenagers and into adulthood.

Well, this is the hard part of the story.  It wasn't until about a year ago that I saw some things I'd never picked up on before.

  1. My sister Kathy and I, just two years older than me, experienced a lot of sibling rivalry as kids and even as adults.  I thought it was just because we were so different and we got on each other's nerves.  But suddenly I realized that all our bickering as kids was only when we were around our mother, or alone together, never when we were with Dad.  In fact, Daddy, Kathy & Debbi made quite a threesome when we were alone together.  Every night he'd read Winnie the Pooh to us before bed amidst a lot of ceremony and tradition.  Every summer he'd take just Kathy and me camping to Mammoth Caves and The Great Smokey Mountains.  We'd go to town with him and each get a nickel to spend at the little Italian market owned by the Corso family, to pour over their large wooden table filled with penny candy boxes to choose how to spend our nickels. He took us to the Cincinnati Zoo and the Opera there.  AND WE LOVED EVERY MINUTE OF IT!  We didn't fight when we were with Dad.  We were forbidden to hit or call each other names in his presence, and we honestly had no desire to.
  2. Mom, Kathy and I were alone together a lot.  Mom would let Kathy be rude and mean to me without correcting her at all, in fact, she encouraged it in subtle ways, amidst my loud protests.
  3. When my mom and her sister were together, and I was playing with my cousins, I'd overhear frequent conversations between them making fun of my dad.  Auntie Helen had a penchant for bragging about her kids, and Mom had a penchant for complaining about hers and ridiculing her husband.  It was a big laugh.
  4. Mom would talk about the other kids whenever they were not present.  What I didn't know, was she talked about me when I wasn't present - and in a subtle way, she pitted us all against each other, and especially all of us against our dad.

I could go into greater detail, but that isn't the point.  What I finally see, what I never wanted to see, was that Mom had issues and we were all her victims.  I never knew anything about mental illness but what was depicted on TV - not in everyday families all around me.  Not at MY house.  But now I know it was a well-worn inhabitant in our home.  So familiar I didn't know it was "a thing."  

Now, due to a number of relationships I've had over the years and my research into mental illness, I see it, and all the ramifications of it as it influenced all our relationships and our self-images and coping skills.  And it is profoundly disturbing and very very sad.

Both my parents are gone along with all their siblings. That generation has gone on without detailing their secrets.  But those secrets, their sufferings, are hidden in veiled memories at best, and still impact subsequent generations on and on.

Piecing things together, well, it is a lot of guess work on my part, because I have a personality that cannot let things well enough alone.  I NEED to understand.  And with no one to ask but God, I feel I am often guided to answers.  They are like missing puzzle pieces.  Finding the piece is one step, but fitting it into the right spot on the puzzle is a whole other step and can take years.

I've asked my deceased parents and grandparents for help.  And I truly believe they have helped me.  Along with others I can't identify.  Along with old records in my possession and ones I find while researching family history online. One little piece of the puzzle after another.

I am certain that Mom inherited not just brown hair from her ancestors, but generations of unresolved issues, besides any traumas she faced during her mortal life.  I've heard it said that when a person heals from inherited trauma, (see here also) it heals those who carried those burdens before.  I don't know, I'll have to wait and see for myself when I get to the other side, but it would be nice to think that is possible, and is more incentive to heal myself, or accept the healing power of the atonement, to benefit the generations I owe my very life to.

I know I carry on many of my mother's traits and ways.  Some I am damn proud of - she was truly amazing in so many ways.  Others, I hope to overcome.

If fathers are disrespected these days, and there is no question they are, how much of it is because their wives did not respect them?  I discovered much about my father when I was back home in Ohio just prior to and for several weeks after he died. Things he didn't talk about and Mom certainly never did. National engineering awards he won, files he kept on all his kids, correspondence and commentary by others who highly respected him. 

Here is a picture of my family in our Oxford, Ohio home just days before Dad's death.  Just shy of a year since the one on my wedding day above.

He is holding his third (Alex Woods) and fourth (Billy Andrus) grandsons. I am kneeling next to them. Mom is right behind Dad, Judy to the right of her and Bill next to Judy. Chris, my husband at the time, and Sherrie, Bill's wife at the time are standing behind me. Kathy was having a baby right about then in Utah, so wasn't able to come before Daddy died.  He aged 20 years in a few weeks with the cancer and chemotherapy.

Probably the last day he was conscious or at least able to move or speak or even open his eyes, we had a little visit and when my mother came in and asked what we were talking about, I said we'd talked about Charlie Taylor's deep sea fishing trip.  But Daddy, with the last ounce of strength he had, patted me on the arm and said in a rasping whisper, "and she told me she loves me."  That is a sweet memory I own and it has blessed me ever since.  I knew that Daddy knew I loved him.

A couple months after his death, I had a dream that was an answer to prayer.  I relived the day of his funeral, except, he was there.  I saw several scenes from that day that actually happened, but he was there watching, and only I could see him.  He spoke to me and said, "everything is fine."  He was my height.  He had a look of transcendant peace on his face. Finally in the late afternoon, early evening, while we were out on the back porch, he said it was time to go and he walked off into the trees and disappeared.

I know Daddy IS fine. He has come to me in many ways over the years with love and support and messages he wanted me to have. One was to never leave my mother alone, since he was no longer there to take care of her.  So I followed through.

Well, I'm blubbering now.  Time to go - so I'll just walk out into the trees - disappearing is sounding rather lovely.

Addendum - in the past year or so, I felt prompted to learn more about my dad's dad, my grandfather, Arthur Page Woods, Sr.  I felt prompted to learn about the company he worked for as an engineer with a Masters degree from Cornell.  I found photos of Timkin Axle Company in Detroit Michigan and found it on a map in relation to where they lived.  Grandpa could walk to work.  Months later I was so troubled by my brother's angst since he was a boy that his father didn't even like him - I can't even imagine how much that has troubled Bill over the years.  And one morning I woke up with a new understanding.  

Dad was no athlete, he was a tall lanky boy with glasses who loved science.  The neighborhood was mostly other factory workers and their sons were my dad's classmates.  He couldn't have escaped his childhood and youth without being the brunt of much abuse from these tougher more athletic boys.  

When my brother was a boy, he came home one day bleeding and bruised from being beaten up by some older boys in the neighborhood - and according to his recollection, Mom and Dad did nothing about it.  He concluded they didn't even like him.  (He was in his late 40's when he told me this story with tears in his eyes.)

At the time it happened, we lived 5 minutes from the steel factory where my father was an engineer.  Many factory workers lived in our town.  This was a throwback to his own childhood to see his son come in beaten up by the tough boys in the neighborhood. 

The clarity came to me that this was the very reason we moved from that little town so close to Dad's work to a little college town 30 minutes away.  No factories in Oxford, Ohio.  There was really no reason to move so far away.  Nearly everyone in Oxford was affiliated with the University, but Dad wasn't.  I'd heard some statement that our parents thought we'd get a better education in a college town.  But that wasn't particularly accurate.  Monroe had good schools.  The real reason we moved was to get Bill away from the types of kids who beat him up in Monroe - away from the types of kids who beat up my father when he was a boy in Detroit. Away from factories.

This was nothing Dad would ever admit - about being beaten up as a boy.  About going to that length to prevent that continuing for Bill in Monroe. Something he wished his own father had done - moved farther away from the factory.  Saved him from all those years of sticking out like a sore thumb in a blue collar neighborhood where he was friendless.  But he didn't know till Bill came home bloodied up that it was, in his mind, necessary.  It took a few years, but we moved when Bill was in the 6th grade.

Funny thing is, Bill was VERY athletic - he was a star baseball pitcher - and he used that pitching arm to come to my rescue one day in Oxford, when the son of a college professor two doors down, was threatening me and my friend. Mom sent him out to get rid of the bully boys, and Bill picked up a handful of gravel from our driveway and threw the tiny missiles very accurately quite a distance and very fast at moving targets and sent those bullies yelping as fast as they could go in the opposite direction.

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