My father has always been very generous. He worked hard to make things easier for our family than it was for his family growing up. He never talked of them being poor particularly or spoke negatively about his parents as he had deep respect for Nanny and Grandpa. Once when I was interviewing him for an anthropology class he divulged he had come home from school once to his parents’ apartment in Middletown, Connecticut, to find their possessions on the front lawn because they were being evicted. His eyes misted with a darkness I had not seen before. It was that particular fire, I knew immediately, that drove him to build a business when my siblings (and my mother) were young.
He is the last surviving of his three siblings — a brother and two sisters — and is doing all right but as I’ve written about before, has dementia. So naturally every holiday and event is filled with that thing you do with an ailing loved one: How many more of these are we really going to have together? How many more until he doesn’t know who I am anymore? It’s forced me into an appreciation for which I feel lucky to the point that I end up concerned about overstating it. I’m surely not the only one with these feelings. I’m surely not the only one expressing them. I feel fortunate to get to express them even if I wish instead he could just be whole and strong to the point that I felt like complaining about him like I used to. If that makes any sort of perverted sense.
My sister stood between the kitchen and dining room of her home on Thanksgiving so that all the people in both rooms could hear her say Catholic grace and my father said it with her, remembering.
She holds good space, my sister — an understatement, really. She’s academically and experientially trained but she has a knack for it. My sisters and brother live near to my father and put me to shame with their care for him. I am the a-hole who breezes in every couple of months and he’s overly happy to see because my visits are “special.” This is a gift, too — to me anyway. I’m sure a much greater gift to everyone would be if I was around more.
My Dad wants to get us all something we pick out for Christmas and I find a ring I like and he has trouble coming up with something to engrave on it. “To thine own self be true” pops into my head — a Shakespeare quote I always liked that he used to tell me growing up. My sister says that’s what it should say.
My Dad came from a generation that did not speak ill of their parents whereas I probably emoted far too much about my Daddy issues over the years — those perceived issues have since vanished (though I write that with some trepidation). I’m trying to ponder this precious time with the grace it deserves.
Jenn Sutkowski hopes you have some beautiful, complicated emotional gifts this season and beyond. No retail outlet, chain restaurant, or puissant promise of the military-industrial complex can come close to replicating the feeling of what you probably already have. Find her at jennsutkowski.com.
This piece appeared originally in the Newport Mercury.
It's me, Jennifer Bernice (rhymes with "Furnace": it was my Granny's name) Sutkowski
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