Random-Lee: I’m sorry dad

Last week marked the third anniversary of my father’s death and I feel sadder today than I did three years ago when he died at 89.  Not because I miss him more with the passing of time but because I think I finally started to have an emotional bond with him this year, long after any possibility of sharing my new insights with him or changing my past relationship with him.

I can’t remember ever being emotionally attached to my dad. He was a typical man of his generation.  He did not do things with “the girls.”  My sister and I were my mother’s charge.  She taught us to hang out laundry, clean bathrooms, wax the kitchen floor, take care of a household.  Dad was in charge of the boys.  Little league, midget football, cutting the grass, washing the car on Saturdays and taking out the trash every night after dinner were his — while the girls did the dishes.  It was pretty cut and dried.  He was the sole wage earner and we respected him, but I don’t recall any love feelings, and certainly no one ever called me “daddy’s little girl.”

When I went away to college, I called my mother weekly and wrote letters to my grandmother and cousins, but I never thought much about my dad.  It perplexed me when I heard other young women talking about their dad as their “best friend.”  Later, when I graduated and married someone from a totally different background, someone with a much broader perspective who had lived and travelled around the world, I began to look down on my dad’s humble roots from first generation immigrant parents and a dusty coal mining town in western Pennsylvania.

For the next three decades I felt he didn’t fit into our life.  He wasn’t used to fancy restaurants and only ordered steak well done.  He drank Miller Lite or Corona with a lime and didn’t know the difference between a Bordeaux and a Burgundy and he sure hadn’t travelled to many exotic Caribbean islands.  All dad could talk about was football, JoePa (former Penn State football coach Joe Pagterno), and his local Italian Club, not everyday subjects of conversation at our house.  So we didn’t invite him often.  Didn’t introduce him to our friends for fear he would embarrass us.  By not inviting him into our life, I somehow wrote him out of it — though I persisted in telling anyone who would listen that family was my top priority.

I’m not sure when things began to change; I just remember one day last summer when I was working in the tiny yard of our new downsized retirement house.  This one didn’t come with a cleaning lady or gardener.  Here I was, for the first time in 30 years, out in the yard, getting ready to weed and trim and cut the grass, super excited and so proud to be doing this “real” work and taking care of my new home.   When my husband rolled over the brand new electric lawn mower – the first we had ever owned – and offered to show me how to use it, my automatic reaction was “Of course I know how to use it.  My dad taught me when I was a kid…”

And then the memories came rushing in.  Of this happy man who spent every evening after work and every weekend mowing and watering and washing cars and cleaning the garage, never complaining, so proud to be taking care of his home and family – in the only way he knew how.   Of the good man who worked every day of his life for the same company, the only child who turned down promotion after promotion to stay in the area and take care of his elderly parents; the hard-working son of a coal miner who fought his way out and earned an engineering degree, not only the first in his family but the first in his town; the good citizen who fought for his country; the good husband who supported his family single handedly so that mom could stay at home and take care of us, and who put all four kids through college (never burdening us with college loans).   And a father who never said “I love you” because he simply did not know how.

I don’t know how I missed it for so long.  But in that one moment of bonding over something as simple as yard work, I realized how wrong I have been all these years.  So today, I want to thank my dad for showing me how to cut the grass, clean the garage, wash the car, be a good family person.  He may not have travelled far, but he did all the right things.

* Lee Miller welcomes responses. Please email them to leemiller229@gmail.com

About Lee Miller

Lee Miller began her writing career with four books about Pennsylvania/east coast wines and the creation of Wine East magazine. She then went on to found the Chaddsford Winery with her husband Eric, where she turned her pen to promotion, advertising, public relations and marketing of their successful business venture for 30 years. Last year Lee co-wrote the new wine book, “The Vintner’s Apprentice” with Eric, and retired from the Chaddsford Winery to pursue other interests. She is currently working on a book about her life in the wine industry and exploring the retirement life. Her goal in writing a column for Chadds Ford Live is to generate dialogue and elicit reader response.

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