This is my favorite Betty Davis quote, from “All About Eve”.
A few years ago, my former husband made his first airplane trip,ever. He flew to Las Vegas to attend our daughter’s wedding. I have flown a kagillion times before, and still find it a rather boring experience. (I fell asleep during takeoff when I flew to Vegas, that’s how exciting it was.)
When he arrived at the hotel where we were all staying, I asked him how his flight was. ” It wasn’t bad”, he said. ” Was there any turbulence or were you scared?” I asked. (There was turbulence on my flight, but nothing major. Again, just another boring flight.)
“Oh, no…smooth sailing all the way,” he replied, with a sigh. ” I was disappointed. I figured with the price of an airline ticket, there should have been some excitement.”
This conversation has been going through my mind for the past few weeks, ever since my father was diagnosed with cancer and has had surgery that will, the doctors predict, add an additional year or two to his 84 years. This hale and hearty man, who loves hot weather and working all day long gardening, cutting up firewood, building a cabin, sweating it out on a bandstand playing accordion at one Germanfest or Czechfest or another, is now a frail old man lying in ICU, in pain, and putting up with the humiliation of having a bevy of young nurses feed him, bathe him, and coach him on coughing. I doubt very much that he’s ever allowed anyone to see him nude, except for my mother, since the last time he was hospitalized, which was in 1946. Humiliation, fright, and weakness has made a mere mortal out of the man who was always, at least in our minds, bigger than life and more stubborn than a herd of mules.
Living with a man like my father was difficult and, at times, painfully embarrassing. He has always chosen the path less taken, bucking the system, giving anyone a piece of his mind when he felt they needed it, which was always. He raised his family of 12 children on the bare minimum of necessities, cursing the suggestions that perhaps, because of his low income as a tv/radio repairman, he should apply for food stamps or other government-funded entitlements. Instead, he and my mother just worked harder (and, in turn, made us kids work harder) to provide for us by the sweat of their brows. Big gardens provided all of our vegetables, rummage sales provided most of our clothing, and wood burning stoves warmed our home (and still does, I might add).
My father is a brilliant man. He’s also loud, impatient, and not one to show physical signs of affection. Or show affection at all. We were expected to do what he said, not what he did; if we dare question or challenge him we suffered a wrath of psychological and physical punishment that, in this day and age, would have had us taken from our parents and put in foster care, at best.
We feared our father.
Most of us, when the time came when we could make the decision, chose to leave home as soon as we legally could. Off to a faraway college, into the armed forces, or, in my case, marriage at a very young age. We didn’t know that we would be taking Dad with us. He manifested himself through the way we treated others, including our own children. This brilliant, frustrated, angry man begat brilliant, frustrated, and angry offspring. Through the grace of God, psychological treatment, and medication, most of us have become tender, loving, and calm people whose families did not have to suffer the wrath of Dad. But many of us carried a 60-ton grudge on our shoulders–we were resentful toward our father. That ” he did the best he knew how “ didn’t matter to us. We made the effort to give our own families the nurturing and love they needed to become well-rounded people…why couldn’t HE have done the same?
After years of asking that question, we have learned to accept that what was our childhood, make ourselves better for it, and learned to forgive, if not forget. We have learned to look at our father from the perspective of a stranger–and learned to see him as a unique, intelligent, hardworking, funny, talented individual. And we have inherited those traits from him,pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps and making something of ourselves.
Our lives have been a bumpy night, a bumpy flight. We’ve paid for the turbulence that was our childhood…and we’ve gotten our money’s worth. Would we– would I– do it over again, paying less but getting a calm ride through life? No.
The flight was worth the cost.