We buried my mother this week. My family flew to New York for the service and we stayed with my father for two days. When we got to his house, we sat in his living room and he immediately went into the kitchen to wash dishes. My two-year-old daughter, having just met the grandfather she’d only seen in pictures, kept saying “Where’s Papou?” Then she ran back and forth between rooms saying, “Hi Papou!” He responded but continued to wash dishes.
When he finally did sit down with us, my husband kept up our end of the conversation. We didn’t talk about my mother and I realized that without her, my father and I had nothing in common. He calls me every other week with long stories about dental work or cataract surgery or how his lawyer “fired” him, but when we get in the same room, there’s nothing. I worried about this visit, because the last time I saw him, I was six months pregnant with 16 extra pounds on me. He called me later to tell me that I should check with a doctor because obese people have back problems during pregnancy. In six months of pregnancy I’d gained 16 pounds. Obese? But I still haven’t lost the baby weight. He didn’t make any comments this time but I guess without that topic of argument, there was nothing left to say.
We did talk about some things. I mean, we must have, but nothing important because I don’t remember. My husband said that we create a lot of tension when we’re together. And I said “Well, we haven’t had a good relationship since I was ten.” Did he expect that my mother’s death would change anything? I didn’t.
But it has. My father and I no longer have a thread to connect us. I can’t ask, “How’s Mom?” to spark conversation. I don’t know what will happen now but I expect the frequency of the phone calls to fall off. I don’t think they’ll stop because I’m his daughter and my father has a strong sense of duty. He cared for my mother for so many years, after all. But I don’t anticipate our relationship improving from here. Even at the funeral, he didn’t sit in the same row as me. We’re not sure if it was because the service started rather suddenly and he couldn’t move or if he really was avoiding me but it doesn’t matter. When I was right in front of him he didn’t want to bother with me.
I lost my father and my mother the same week. And I’m sad. I’m not sad for my mom, because she’s no longer trapped in the body that betrayed her. I truly am grateful for the release. But for some reason, I’m sad about my dad. And I don’t know why. I never call him unless my day can’t get any worse. I keep the phone calls short, because if I let him talk he launches into the rhetoric of the extreme right or he says something racist or insulting and I have to hang up. When I’m at his house, I can’t wait to get out. Yet somehow I can’t imagine my life without him. And I guess that’s it. He was a constant in my life. I knew I’d always get those phone calls. I knew he’d always make racial comments. I knew he’d take care of my mother. But not now. He’s made it abundantly clear that he’s not interested in me anymore. And I’ll get over it. I have my own family now. They love me. It’s just that I expected the loss of my mother. I didn’t expect to lose my father with her.