Learning to Hope

I was crazy thankful that my first baby was a big baby. He didn’t feel quite so delicate that way. As can be the case in military families, the timing wasn’t really good. It was September 30th and since Rocky was leaving for Japan the beginning of November, we had scheduled 30 days leave to move me back East so that I could have a support system, new baby and all. As I nested prior to the baby’s birth, most everything was in boxes and ready to be moved into storage by the time we got him home from the hospital. Anything that needed to be moved with a truck had been done by Rocky and a few friends while I was in the hospital.  I came home to a mostly empty apartment although they had saved all the couch cushions to create what they assumed would be a comfortable sleeping space for a brand new mother. Um-hm. None of them comprehended – in any form – the consequences of a four degree episiotomy (look it up). Nor did they consider that I would be up and down every two hours from the lowest position in our apartment. I may have been better off attempting to sleep standing up. It took some time for me to experience gratitude for the fact that our furniture was appropriately stored and I didn’t have to worry about it.

The baby – also called Francis Marion Rockefeller – and may I digress just a bit to discuss the name Francis. It was a ‘Rockefeller’ family name. For my husband, it had shifted sideways a generation (from his Uncle Frank) so that the name could be carried down-line and let’s just say that I had absolutely no choice in the matter. There was no annotation of numbers (i,e., the III or IV) but I was always told that there had been someone in the family with that name since the civil war. I have no documentation of that fact but it always made a great story. I came from William’s and Patrick’s and Edward’s. I had trepidations about the name Francis. When I met Rocky (obviously a nickname he garnered while in the Navy) he talked about how he loved his nickname.  I actually shortened it to ‘Rock’ pretty quickly and he would tell me it made him feel strong. Funny what a name can do. My step-dad was Francis a.k.a Frank. Rocky’s family called him Francis – Frank’s family called him Francis – Neither of them were Francis to me. What in the world would I end up calling my son?? It’s funny that he turned into a Francis for me…. Within days of his birth it felt natural and authentic. I had my own Francis. Years later it would get really confusing again but for now, everyone was distinguished with a name unique to them – for me at least.

So Rock and I are parents. He is leaving the country and we have to get from San Diego to Cincinnati, OH where my dad and stepmom have  loving prepared space for us to hang while Rocky is overseas. Ten days after giving birth we all pile into a little Ford Pinto and head across country; an infant, a male cat, and over 30 stitches in my bum. I sat on a donut and moved sparingly. I know we stopped in the (then) tiny little town of Texhoma, Oklahoma for the night and checked into a classic Route 66 style strip motel.  It may have been our second night on the road, I can’t exactly recall. It was THIS night however that stands out in my mind clearly. Francis (the baby) was hungry and crying. My milk had come in – my breasts were rock hard, my nipples were cracked and bleeding, and I needed to sit in a pool of warm salty water. I hurt, the baby was hungry and needed to eat but I couldn’t cope with the notion of allowing anything near the petrified coconuts on my chest. Rocky felt helpless and was getting mad at me for not knowing what to do It was 1983 – the world before cell phones – long distance was expensive and collect calls required someone be home! He simply needed advice from a woman who had experience because in a matter of days I had become a tired, restless, and hurting, bitch.

My mom was finally reached and she suggested that I sit in a bathtub with warm wet towels draped across my milk factory while offering to nurse the baby. I can only imagine what it must have looked like just two weeks postnatal. THAT was love…. For better or worse. The baby finally latched on while I cried and we got through the night. By late the next day we were in Clay Center where I finally had some experienced help (thanks Grandma R) and rested. We begrudgingly left the cat in the good hands of Gpa. We moved on to Cincinnati. It was great fun to watch my father turn into a Grandfather and we settled in just a few days before Rock left for his tour of duty.

He was gone for 6 months. In that time, an infant changes daily. I was so sad that he may miss even a minute of it so I invested in a Polaroid camera and took daily photo shoots of FMR Jr. They would get folded into a letter that professed love and sorrow for the distance. I stamped, and mailed one every day.  Eventually I learned to date them on the outside because he usually received them in a stack. To keep him motivated to come back to me, I added a personal Polaroid from time to time. ; )

Sometimes I think it was then that we really fell IN love with one another – those letters were our hearts poured onto paper. They were absent of defense mechanisms and blaming. They lacked rhetorical pieces of our brokenness and focused solely on the ways in which we supported and cared for one another. For a solid six months there were no arguments, no conflicts, no power struggles; we simply shared ourselves in the most vulnerable of ways.

We started to plan the rest of our lives and shared hopes, dreams, and aspirations. We began to develop a clear vision of what we hoped for our lives to become. We wrote letters to one another that were clear in intention and specific in our picture of the future.  The map to the rest of my life was being drawn.

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I split the time he was away by spending half with dad in Ohio and then the final three months in Virginia with mom. I loved being back on the East coast and fell in love with the Virginia Beach area. Rocky and I came up with a post-navy plan. He would only have 30 days of his Navy commitment left when he returned and we agreed to move east – all the way. We counted down the days with each letter. I washed windows in big houses with newspaper and vinegar for months as I earned enough money to get back to California so that I could be there when he got back Stateside. I made enough to fly out there and rent a trailer on the Camp Pendleton beach for the last month of his service. It was a surprise. He didn’t know I would be there and I was able to watch as he got off the bus – perhaps a bit envious of other family members running up to their loved ones – and then he saw me. I remember it as a movie moment, a bit sappy, probably cheesy, but everything I wanted it to be; surprising, joyful, and romantic.

We were three again. We had persevered. We still wanted one another – he came back to ME. His desire for me had withstood the test of separation and time (six months is a life-time at the age of 23). I began to believe that dreams can come true, that families can be happy, that life was fair. I was learning about hope and counting on it.

Silly me.

Daddy’s Girl

Continued from The Fam

To really understand me, you must understand the relationship I had with my dad. They say, a girl’s relationship with their father is extremely important.

From infancy, girls draw conclusions about what men are like from the men in their life. If there is a father (or a male in her life who takes a father role), that man becomes her guidepost for what to expect of men and what to expect of men’s attitude toward women. (http://psychcentral.com/lib/daughters-need-fathers-too/)

My dad used to tell me that I could do anything in the world I wanted with one exception – I could never be a dad. Hahaha.

Yeah…. Dad was funny.

dadDad wasfunnydad a dreamer. He was awesome at fantasizing about what to do with lottery winnings. From those discussions, I learned that Dad was generous. He wanted to do good things. Dad was handy. He could do anything!! Dad was a great thinker. He was creative. Our town had great Halloween parades and on more than one occasion, dad created amazing costumes. On one specific occasion he used chicken wire to fabricate 6 ft tall top hats that stole the show in the parade that year. He loved. He was a helper. He was the first in line to search for a missing child in the woods near Harvey’s Lake one year.

My dad was a great dad.

Why is this important? First and foremost, it is because it set the stage for how established expectations; not only for how a man treated me, but for how a man loved and interacted with my children.

I’m not sure that my dad was a great husband. Of course I wasn’t married to him but I know that he struggled as a provider. Being a dreamer created the potential for expectations that were unrealistic. He had a lot of BIG ideas that were simply unpractical under the circumstances. He may have used resources he didn’t have to chase dreams that were improbable at the time. He saw potential in EVERYTHING – including me.

Dad believed in me. He never questioned my intent – he simply helped me figure out how it may be possible.  After watching Now You See Him, Now You Don’t, I was convinced that I could figure out how to become invisible. My dad and my 8th grade science teacher encouraged me to pursue my thoughts.  Bravo to them for allowing me to believe!! Dad was a realist yet not too restrictive. He gave me room without allowing me to strangle myself.  He guided gently with great wisdom.

Consequently, I expected the father of my children to be the same.  I didn’t understand or realize that fatherhood could be anything else. I ultimately married with the idea that my children’s childhood and paternal experience would mimic mine. FAIL.

My husband failed. He was (without my awareness) held to a standard that he knew nothing about; that was impossible to achieve.

Without being aware – my dad had embedded a standard of fatherhood onto my psyche. He formatted an expectation that my consciousness simply expected. The stage was set for massive disappointment.

I mentioned in another post that my dad had inadvertently emotionally abandoned me while he was falling in love with my step-mother. Totally human. He didn’t realize it – it was unintentional. He was doing what people do when they are focused on falling in love. All of the other times that I can remember – he was there; present and ready to offer wisdom or support or whatever it was I needed at the time.

In early 1980 I was living alone in an apartment in Hayward, CA. I woke in the middle of the night – looked at the clock – and saw the red digital LED lights say 2:59.  A few moments later I was aware of light – that sensation which occurs when you notice it is daylight. I open my eyes. There is a man standing at the end of my bed with his t-shirt pulled up over his nose and mouth so that only his eyes were visible. His pants were down and his penis was being stroked by his right hand.

As the scene before me registered in my brain, my mouth opened and a scream escaped. I had always wondered if it would really happen – if I could actually formulate sound when needed – and it did. A blood curdling, shrill escaped through my vocal cords and the man ran.  I’ve always wondered how he ran, pulled up his pants, and grabbed my purse on the way out (it was missing when I took stock of the apartment).

I called my dad.

That would be normal except for the fact that my Dad was then living in Cincinnati and I was in California.  He told me to call the police and he hung up. He was the one to whom I looked toward for safety and security. Hands Down.

I later realized that I transferred that expectation to my husband. I EXPECTED him – without understanding it – to be my protector in the way that my dad had (seemingly) protected me. Hmmm…. Mistake.

My dad fixed my problems – at least it felt that way. When I was first pregnant and growing out of my normal clothing with no money to buy maternity clothes – it was my dad who sent a $50 Sears card and $20 for fabric so I could make some. My husband at the time had taken all the money we had left after payday to rent a boat, buy bait and beer, and go fishing. I was heartbroken. I called Dad.

His message was this:

An afternoon of fishing may produce a month of happiness and so its value is priceless.

He knew that self care was of ultimate importance and he took ‘care’ of me in exchange. I’ve never forgotten the primary message.

One October day I was preparing for a conference in Orlando when he called and wanted to chat. Dad was great about calling and checking in with my busy life.  I said I’d call him when I got back. We flew to Orlando, checked into the hotel, and got a message within the hour that Dad had died.  The only thing that I could think of is that I would never be able to call back.

It was years before I truly grasped the notion that I couldn’t just call and share my life with him or ask for advice. He has been sorely missed….

Dad, I love you and thanks … For all the love and lessons.

The Fam

I am the oldest child. We have an ecellectic family.  Here’s how it goes:

My mother had five children, my father had five children. I am the oldest of seven. My two little brothers and my two little sisters are not related however I have a sister related to all of my brothers and a brother related to all of my sisters.

If you figure it out – message me.

My parents each remarried within a couple of years of divorcing and I became one of those kids having to ‘adjust’ to step-parents. It was obvious, much to my chagrin at times, that they were happy and better with their newly chosen partners. Although I perceived that they were perfect for one another – in the beginning, they weren’t all that great for me.

My step dad reminded me of Sergeant Carter on the 60’s television show Gomer Pyle (see the YouTube video I linked). He was ALL Army. My recollection is that he would come home at lunch and change uniforms so that they were fresh and crisp. He demanded perfection. He was younger than mom and had been a confirmed bachelor before meeting her. I believe she was his queen.  Until his dying day, he attempted to make her life everything she dreamed. At any time if I – a typical teenager – failed to be completely and totally respectful to mom – he generated consequences that were foreign and in my own mind – completely unjust. He grew to be a hero in my mind. He battled cancer with a dignity that I didn’t understand but hope to model if I am ever called to.  His death was at home surrounded by all of us and if death can be beautiful – his was.

My stepmom – well she wasn’t my mom. My dad was different when she was around. I think one of the things that was particularly hard is that Mom left – she joined the Army (another blog post entirely) and so Dad was the person we needed for stability and he just wasn’t emotionally there for us as he was falling in love.  I know he tried. He was a great dad. I don’t blame him but as a 14 year old I was unable to have any perspective about the falling in love process so to me – it felt like he left too – at least for some of the time. I imagine that I could have been pretty demanding in the attention department so it is entirely possible that no amount would have FELT sufficient. The end result was that I developed resentment toward my stepmom. Life with her was culturally different than it had been with mom. She was more religious, more stern, more educated, not as soft, not as playful, not as tolerant. She was secure and patient however and we plowed through our differences until respect and friendship developed. She was a trooper for sure!

I want to say that today – 40 years later, she is a friend. She is the only parental figure left in my life and I count on her wisdom, insight, and love. Today I am aware of what it is that I didn’t know then. Many times, the information we don’t know – is imperative to  the development of compassion and understanding. Yet – we don’t know – we are mostly unaware – of what we don’t know. It is later… down the line after we learn, grow, and mature, that we are able to develop perspective. Knowing this – I am sometimes impatient to know. I’ve learned how powerful insight can be.

My step parents taught me. Not just the parental stuff but about change, differences, and acceptance. Don’t get me wrong – as a teen – I was awful. I was unaccepting and demanding at times. I was obnoxious and unrelenting. It wasn’t until I fell in love, until I experienced adult relationships, until I had children of my own; that I was able to explore a more realistic idea of what life offered back then.

Those years significantly molded elements of my personality, some might say scarred it. The changes in family dynamics were only one aspect of immense upheaval. I attended 3 different schools in the 8th grade as my dad moved us back to his California homeland from Pennsylvania and settled into a new life. Halfway through the 9th grade I felt that I needed to live with Mom so I moved to Germany where she had been stationed. Then – she got sick and they transferred her back to the states where I started 10th grade – and when she got settled it was in a different school district. By 1976 her health conditions made it necessary for us to live with Dad who was living in a yet different West Coast city so I started my 5th high school as I began my Junior year. I graduated from that school. I took more Greyhound busses and United airline flights than any other kid I knew.

I can’t imagine my life without all of these players and I experience daily gratitude for their presense through the years. I may not have understood the universe’s intention as the havoc and chaos developed but I am so thankful to have loved them.