Saturday, October 20, 2007

documenting change: four.

On my globe-trotting dad.

As I reported, he left Ghana after only two weeks and jetted off to India after a stop in Dubai. My dad is at once practical and impractical. It’s something I love about him, but also something I loathe, depending on the particulars when this quality comes into play. I’ve tried, in story form, to write about characters who embody this contradiction, but I haven’t got it quite right yet – other than to come up with a great line of dialog: “If I’m a poet, I’m a practical poet.” [NO STEALING LANGAUGE, please. That’s MY line. I own it.]

Two weeks into his stay in India, he emailed us to say he might cut his trip short, that he was already tired of traveling. And a week later, he emailed to say he was getting married.

How does one, oceans away, make sense of this all? Days later, (a mere six days after his 70th birthday - and that milestone birthday is of no small significance to his action) he was married. To a woman twenty years younger. Younger than that, even. Married. I’m trying to get over my embarrassment in saying this, because I know in my heart that embarrassment is not really a productive or even reasonable emotion for this situation.

After days of crying more tears than I knew I was capable of, I began laughing about it. Sarcastically telling my friends: I’m a stepdaughter. My stepmother is just old enough to have been my teenage mom. Oh, and she’s not old enough to be any of my sisters’ mom. I’m so happy.

So, what is this really about? My dad is in a new phase of his life. He is beginning anew. And so have I been. That’s fair. He had my mom for forty-three years, and he loved her. My practical poet dad can be quite romantic, quite sensitive. He cries unabashadly during sad movies, and that, without fail, moves me.

But even in trying to accept and respect this change, I am sad. And I am angry. Selfishly, I have not been ready for my life, for my family make-up, to change the way it has. As if I have a choice. You couldn’t normally say that I’m the kind of person who fears change. Now, for the first time in my life, I empathize with people who dread change, even as I am working so hard to embrace the changes I have no control over and to steer changes that I am capable of steering.

This is what I hope more than anything at all – beneath layers of sadness, anger, confusion, fear, feeling insulted and wounded and unprepared, and even embarrassed – this is what I hope. I hope this woman is a good woman. A really good person. I can literally see what that hope looks like in my head – it is like a light, a glow of orange and pink and red – the colors the sunset turns in the dessert. Have you seen a red/pink/orange iridescent sunset transform the sky of southern New Mexico in the wintertime? That is what the hope for a good woman for my good and deserving dad looks like when I shut my eyes and tell myself the truth about what I believe should be, given the reality we're now living in. My mom would want no less for him.

But I’ve got to find a way to be a more forgiving person, so that I can feel happy about that hope, so I can toss those other layers, thick like sweaty woolen blankets, off of me. So that, if indeed she is a good person, I can learn to love and feel grateful for her.

It’s a difficult change to maneuver, easier to resist.

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