This was not a talk I planned to have with anyone. Especially not with a parent.
I was working on our deck the afternoon my Dad called. It was nearing dusk, and the shadows were long over the backyard. I was rushing to finish before dark. With a cellphone in one hand and a drill in the other, I was multi-tasking poorly. The conversation was the usual — mostly questions about the boys and what they were up to. But I could sense that there was something else that he wanted to talk about.
He then told me that he had started seeing a woman. My Dad was nearly 80, and my Mom had passed eight years earlier. As he went on, I realized that he was asking if I was okay with him starting to date. I put down the drill to engage in a conversation that I could have never have anticipated. Why was he asking my permission to date? The man was almost 80.
Dad had gone to a class reunion and rekindled with a woman who was a few years his junior. At his age, class reunions are grouped into 5-year bands due to declining numbers of attendees. They knew each other from high school, and she had been in the same class as my aunt. She was widowed, living with her son in a house on the next road over from my Dad’s place, less than a mile as the crow flies. After the reunion, they had started meeting for coffee and then for dinners and trips. It had begun to take a serious tone, and he wanted to let us “kids” know about her. About them.
More importantly, he wanted me to know that his dating someone took nothing away from the life that he had had with my Mom. He said that he’d had a good life with her, but she was gone. He was lonely and liked spending time with his friend. I listened as my Dad apologized for wanting to date eight years after my Mom’s passing. I was dumbfounded and a little in awe that he wished to involve me in this decision.
Of course, I said that he could see anyone that he wanted to see. If it made him happy, then, by all means, date.
The thing that struck me though was how he remembered his good life with Mom. I saw those years much differently. I recalled him as an angry, screaming, 3-pack a day smoker whose presence in the house made us kids scatter. The nightly arrival that was usually announced with the slamming of a door, followed by shouting then stark silence. My Mom took the brunt of that for all of us in those years. I asked why she stayed and put up with it. She said she really had no place to go. Things were different back then.
I understand now that those were rough years, with tremendous financial stresses and the trauma of a son who died in a car driven by a drunk driver. I know Dad hated his horrible job at a textile mill — the one that contributed to his first heart attack. He had been forced to retire because of his health, but the relief from that job was ultimately what saved him. Life became better for all of us, but more so for Mom. There was a whole lot less shouting and slamming. Maybe this is the time with her that he remembered fondly. We kids were mostly gone from the home at that point, so it’s not something I actually got to experience.
Dad and his new friend spent most of the next year together, developing plans for their future as a couple. I lived 2000 miles from my childhood home and was only able to travel back infrequently. At the time, I was being transferred to another city for work. I was preoccupied with overpriced real estate and overcrowded schools. But I did get to meet her once, and they seemed happy and caring toward each other. We had an enjoyable time on that visit, and I got to see a part of my Dad that I never knew existed. He was kind of fun.
Unfortunately, this period was short-lived. Dad passed from a second heart attack later that year. He’d finally found peace and joy in this new relationship, along with freedom from a harshness that clung to him for most of this life. He deserved to enjoy that part longer.
Life can be so flipping cruel.
At the time, my Dad’s asking permission to date seemed so antiquated and unnecessary. I’m glad that he did ask, and that I got to see a bit more of the good in him. The life lesson for me is to not wait too long to undo all those bad times from my own mid-life. I am about to retire from a position that has already taken too much from me and made me cross. I hope to make the best of this transition.