22 August 2016 – You’ll be interested to hear that dad’s passing up a fishing trip to go off on a proper holiday vacation with his missus. Resort in the Caribbean, if you can imagine. Kind of a big deal, I’d say. He’s pretty stoked. We had a good long chat about it. Him going, I mean. How liberated it’s making him feel. Like he’s 20 years younger. But without the entanglements.
Entanglements? I had to ask.
Turns out that taking trips was something of sore point between him and mom. The only place she ever wanted to go was the lake. He didn’t fight it too much when we were younger, but once we got a bit older he thought it important for us, you and me, to broaden our horizons. See new things, go different places.
He asked if I remembered the roadtrips we used to go on in the summer. At first I drew a blank, but as he reminisced about Detroit and Montreal, and the longer hauls to Boston, New York, Chicago, certain grainy memories unraveled that couldn’t have taken place on the patently lugubrious trek to the lake. Crossing borders. Roadside diners. Motels with little blue pools. Watching pay per view TV. American flags. One dollar bills. Big American buildings and endless tracts of urban fare. Going to ballgames and taking guided tours and visiting museums. Most of the specifics are a blur to me, like being able to distinguish one city from another, but dad remembers the trips well. And had to remind me that it was always just the three of us, you me and him.
That was the deal mom and dad made. She wouldn’t put up a fuss so long as she didn’t have to go. So it was that, for a period of three summers there, to the time when you were maybe 7 or 8, dad had his way and took us on two or three of these big city adventures a summer.
And then we all went to Disneyworld. I don’t how much you’d remember of that trip. It was a shambles. Mom wouldn’t leave the hotel room. She trembled and cowered. Barely even got out of bed. After a couple days dad couldn’t take it anymore. He raised his voice (not quite yelling, but for him the effect was the same) and cursed and started throwing pillows and bedding around. It was a terrifying scene. I remember covering your ears and taking you out into the hallway. We were in our swimming gear and had big white towels over our shoulders. You had your diving mask on, as I recall, with the snorkel attached, and might’ve been in your flippers too (you were never much of a diver but once you got in the water there was no getting you out). Anyway, I got us out in the hallway somehow. Maybe we crawled, I don’t know, because we were on the ground out there and I had my back against the wall. Beside the door. Which was open a crack. So we could hear dad’s raised voice, albeit dampered to aggravated mumbles. You were crying, fogging up your diving mask. I removed the mask and held you as tight as I could. You kept saying you wanted to go home. I rocked you in my arms and said shhh. Shhh. Shhh. I don’t know for how long, but after awhile I began to hear dad saying the same thing. Shhh. Shhh. I remember peeking in the door. Shhh shhh shhh. Dad was holding mom like I was holding you.
He was so tender and loving to her. Stroking her hair as she wept in his arms. Softly shhh-ing her struggled attempts to say sorry. When he saw me watching from the door he brought a finger to his lips (quiet). Then held out his palm, fingers up (stop). Finally, he turned his head a bit so that I could see him pinch his nose shut and puff out his cheeks and close his eyes (how he taught me to not get water up my nose or in my mouth or eyes—sign for me to take you to the swimming pool).
Dad figures we went home the next day. From then on he did everything he could to learn about and help keep mom’s anxieties and previously undiagnosed depression under control—and hidden from you and me. (They did such a good job of it that I didn’t know until I was in high school. Their explanation for her behavior in Florida: a simple case of homesickness.) None of this changed how they were as parents. Mom was never a bad mom and, growing up, I was always able to talk to her if I needed to. About anything. And she always listened and did her best to let me find my own answers.
The one thing our failed family vacation did change was that dad started to take his buddies up on going fishing again, like they all did before me and you came along.
As I say, it was a good long talk. The longer we talked the more candid dad became. I don’t know why but at one point I asked if he regretted being with mom. He chuckled and said of course not—and after a short pause added, Dolly.
I couldn’t and can’t remember the last time he called me that. Neither could he.