Put It In Writing

The magazine article was written by a man who had been hospitalized and was awaiting surgery the next day. He told how his grown son came to the hospital and read a letter he’d written about how important his dad was to him. The son didn’t want to miss perhaps his last chance to tell his father how he felt. Reading the article made me realize I had some unfinished business with my own parents as well.

Being the oldest of six children, I’d had a rather tumultuous relationship with my parents, especially my father.  I felt I’d disappointed them several times by taking a path they didn’t approve of or understand.  Recent remarks made me also realize they still had lingering doubts about their parenting abilities and how they’d handled certain family crises over the years.

With the holidays drawing near it seemed the time was right. Dad and Mom were both in their late 80’s. Mom’s memory was slipping. Dad had had cancer recently and we almost lost him. He’s struggling with macular degeneration and no longer able to read or use the computer. Their time was drawing near and I didn’t want this opportunity to slip away.

First I found a card. Not a holiday card but just a simple card with a quote from Shakespeare: “I can no other answer make but thanks……and ever thanks:”

Then came the hard part, writing what I wanted to say. It’s amazing how we can dance around our feelings especially when raised in a home where feelings were ignored and minimized. Expressing love and hugging were never done in my childhood home. Only in recent years had we done that and still, very little. I was nervous about how this would be received. Just to be sure that I got my point across, I decided I wanted to read it out loud to them just as the son had done in the article.

It took several writings, rewritings, editing and re-editing to be able to deliver my message in the space the card would allow. This worked perfectly and I was happy with the results. Maybe this whole effort was more for me than for them, I speculated. I was already steeling myself for the response or worse, the absence of response it might receive.

We went down to see Mom and Dad on Christmas Eve and, due to other commitments, wouldn’t be able to stay for the big family get together the next day. This evening gave us some private time and they were glad to have the company.

We got there mid-afternoon and had a nice visit. Dad was his old self, trying to steer the conversation to politics every chance he got and we’d just head things in a different direction. It has been an unwritten rule amongst my siblings to simply change the subject since most of us didn’t adhere to his ultra conservative attitudes. We had a light supper and I’d planned to read my note to them sometime that evening.

I was nervous and found my mind running in circles as the meal progressed. Maybe this is a goofy idea I heard myself saying. I changed my mind several times and then realized there would be no better time. It’s now or never! This is how things have always been in my family and I wanted to do it differently! This was important to me no matter what their response would be.

We finished with supper and were just chatting when I said I had something I wanted to give them. I pulled out the card and read it.

Christmas 2005

Dear Mom and Dad,

Time passes so quickly….
And the opportunity to say things slips away…
We’ll do it later…another time, we think….
And then it never happens……
So, I’ve written this card….
To make sure everything I want to say is said
We only get one father and one mother…
Daily, I’m involved with parents
Who disappoint their children
By being weak, incompetent, even absent.
This has made me think…..
And recently I’ve heard myself saying
“I’m glad my parents were strict and had specific rules.
At least I knew what the expectations were.”
No, we haven’t always seen things the same….
Haven’t always agreed …..
But that never stopped you from supporting your kids.
And I look back now with gratitude……
I’m very lucky to have had the parents I have……

My mother is the hardest working person
I’ve ever known…
Case in point: the year I returned to school after
Christmas vacation, wearing a new Mom-made outfit.
Every day for two weeks.

My father is strong and true…
Case in point: the courageous way you’ve managed
Your health/medical adversities and accepted
This unexpected and unwanted circumstance.

Our family is fortunate……
All in all, we’ve had a good life……
Everyone is relatively healthy and happy…
Productive and resourceful…
That didn’t just happen…..
You deserve credit for that…..
I just want you to know
I love you and
Feel fortunate to be your
Number one daughter…..Karin

There was a hush when I finished. Mom smiled, seemed embarrassed and acknowledged it with a nod. My father said nothing and, as is his way, looked over my head and starred.  After a minute of awkward silence, we started to clear the table. I felt relieved. I had done something that was important to me regardless of what anyone else thought.

It would be an understatement to say I was disappointed. I’d opened myself up to them as never before, with no response, even though that was truly what I’d expected. Still there‘s that disenchantment when we’re faced with the reality of what we knew all along.

Later, I noticed my card that had been left on the table was no longer there. Mom put it away, I figured. Maybe they do value what I’ve given them. Maybe not. I’ll never know. All I know is that I’ll never look back years from now and say I wish I’d told them how I felt.



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