This is my mother at about 60, me @ 55 and my dad at 85. My mom died August 1999, and my dad just died in December of 2018. I feel like I am a 50/50 version of them. As a kid, I always thought of them as a unit and I can’t think of one without the other. I can’t think about them without thinking about my sisters as well. We are us. Somehow connected and somehow intertwined.
My father was an interesting man with an eccentric personality who was full of energy and charm. Our nicknames for him where Wild Man Schmechtig and Carlos. He was a victim of WW2 trauma, which he only ever spoke of two times. My mom said he had nightmares through his late 50s where he would wake up in a sweat screaming, “The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!” I am sure he had post traumatic stress disorder, which was the underlying cause of his alcoholism. The alcoholism made him a very imperfect father, but somehow he was still good enough.
To me, he was much more than that funny, extremely stubborn, unusual man from Eastern Europe with the thick German accent no one could understand who liked to go to the tavern a lot. He was more than that gifted cabinet maker who did work all over Milwaukee. He was more than the guy who would insist on bringing home more meat even though my mom always told him the freezer was at capacity. He was more than a professional soccer player. He raised rabbits and loved animals. He cooked and made a mess for my mom to clean up. He liked sports and taught us how to fish. He was all of these things and none of these things to me. He was just my dad. He was far, far from perfect. But, he always showed up.
When my little sister was three years old, for a period of time she had repeated nightmares. Every time she had one my dad would rush into the room asking, “What is wrong? Are you okay?” Saying, “It is okay. I am here.” Every time. No frustration as far as I could see. He just showed up, regardless, letting my sister know she was not alone. When I was five years old, I had a series of severe strep throat infections. I was very ill. I had extremely high fevers and would hallucinate. “Daddy, my hands are growing. Look, they are getting big. I am scared.” He was there each time to reassure me. No matter what time of day or night. “No, no, no,” he would say. “Put your hand in mine. See your hand is tiny. My hand is big. You will be okay. I am here.” I was not alone.
One year of Junior High I went to summer school. Riding my bike up a hill to get to school there was some weird Wisconsin summer rain and hail downpour. I am peddling to get to school. I am soaked. I am crying. I have to get there. I am determined. Beep, beep. My dad, out of the blue, is right behind me in his truck. He just showed up. He was there saying, “Come on. I’ll take you home. Don’t worry about summer school.” Again, I am not alone. I am important enough for him to come home from work and get me. My mom hadn’t learned to drive yet.
I babysat a lot as a teen. I loved making money. Once a kid I was babysitting got stung by a bee and had an allergic reaction. I call my dad saying, “Dad, his lip won’t stop growing.” Dad responded, “Evelyn, calm down. Put ice on it. I’ll be there in two minutes. Call his mom and tell her to meet me at the ER.” He was there, again. I was no longer scared.
On a funnier note, he had to show up another time when my sister was babysitting. He helped her when the child she was watching got a peanut M&M stuck up his nose. He just did it. No complaints. He was there within minutes when she called. No matter how big or small, he would come when we called. He was always available.
Another time after I graduated from college, I took a trip across Wisconsin. I hit a deer while driving several hours north of Milwaukee at sunset. My old Ford Pinto was totalled. My dad was there within a few hours, not only to take me to my destination but to tow my car back to Milwaukee. No questions asked. No complaints. No frustration. He just showed up and took care of me. I am not an inconvenience. I am his daughter. I am important.
I could go on and on with examples about how my father had this capacity and ability to be there for me out of the blue in unexpected ways but I won’t. What I do want to go on about is how deeply this has affected me. I am not sure why but it has given me a deep sense of knowing I am somehow worthy. Worthy of love, care, and responsiveness from others. Will others come to me when I call? Hell yes! My daddy did.
As I reflect, I think that this is something that can’t be taught. It has to be experienced in concrete and visceral ways. And, if I were to guess, it has to be communicated in more than words and empty promises. This, the true ingraining of worthiness, is what we hope to do for each other as families and even as broader community groups. We are not perfect. We sometimes say and do the wrong things. We mess up all the time. But somehow, if we can show up and are there for each other when needed, the mess-ups matter less than the implicit messages that say, “I love you. You are important to me. I’ll do anything for you no matter how inconvenient, because you are worthy. I will come to you when you call.” This is the important stuff. This is the stuff that will matter in the end. Right? I think so. I do believe so.