Friend #55: Dad (and Ilene)

I left breakfast with Cathleen and family to meet my dad and his fiance, Ilene, for lunch.  Obviously, I saw my dad in the days I was at home, but this was a more visit-y time together.

It’s a little bizarre to talk about my dad in the Facebook friend context, but Facebook friend he is.  There are times when I look at pictures people post and think–my dad can see that!  Show a little self-censorship, people!

My dad is a classic engineer, analytical and methodical.  I often joke that he would wear a pocket protector if he could.  But as a bit of a daddy’s girl, I’ve always known a softer side of him.  He has been working in the aeronautical field at Boeing (formerly McDonnell Douglas) since college, and he has consistently said that he enjoys what he does.  As a family, we weathered the threat of layoffs in the 1980’s, unsure of whether dad would come home at night with a job.  My first semester at Michigan, I was taking Calculus 3, when they teach double and triple integrals, and the ensuing questions becomes “when will I ever use this?”  Dad told me that he actually takes double integrals in real life to determine the flux and divergence of air over an airplane wing.  I often tell the students I tutor that when it comes to math, I’m the dumb one in the family.

Ever since I can remember, Dad has gotten up really early to go to work (the above picture was taken at about 5am the day I left because I hadn’t gotten a picture yet–and yes, I just publicized a picture of what I look like when I just wake up).  He has a 25-mile commute one-way, so he would get up early to beat traffic.  Now that I live in Los Angeles and deal with the busiest freeway interchange in the nation, I think he’s a bit of an amateur, but as I was driving around the city on this visit, I realized what a daily trek it was for him.  My parents chose our neighborhood because of the great schools, which provided me a wonderful set of academic and extra-curricular experiences, as well as the lifelong friends on the other side of so many of these visits.  And my dad made a daily sacrifice to make that possible.  I’m truly grateful.

Dad and I have been on quite the journey together these past few years since mom died.  We actually have conversations about more than just work and sports and talk about our feelings now.  We have grieved at different paces, which has been difficult to navigate at times.  He has dated and gotten engaged, which is something I didn’t plan on experiencing in my lifetime.  It’s weird.  And I don’t know how children of divorce do it because I really can’t imagine what it would be like if my mom were still alive.  It’s new territory for all of us, as we’ve had to learn new ways of being in the world and around each other.  We’ve had a lot of conflict, but through it all, I know that my dad will be there for me in the best way that he can, no matter what.

When we met for lunch in St. Louis, I was actually meeting my dad’s fiance, Ilene, for the first time.  Of course, I’ve heard a lot about her, but it was good for us to spend some time together.  We met at the mall by our house (as in “the mall” from the days of junior high yore) and ate at one of the restaurants there.  After lunch, we walked a few laps around the mall, which Ilene does several times a week.  She is very active and health-conscious, which has gotten my dad to be active, too.  Recently, the two of them took a trip to Gatlinburg, TN, and they texted me a picture from a hike they took in the Smoky Mountains.  a) My dad texted me a picture.  b) He was hiking.  These are both new behaviors.  Ilene is also socially connected to a wide group of people, who have all welcomed my dad with open arms.  She is a very easy person to get to know and talk with, which made our first meeting smooth and enjoyable.  Dad says that he’s told Ilene that this trip is, for me, similar to a post-college jaunt through Europe, and she asked so many good questions about what the journey had been like.  She was enthusiastic and supportive in the best way.

Dad and I have had some good moments on the trip even after I left home.  As I was high-tailing it back to Los Angeles in early August, I had one 14-hour day of driving.  I was blaring some music and doing some thinking/grieving about my mom.  I realized that there are some kinds of care that I used to get from my mom that I just won’t get anymore.  I was thinking of care packages as an example.  My life is perfectly fine if I never again receive another care package, but my mom was the type to send care packages, and it was nice every once and a while to get a little love bomb dropped in my lap with cookies or tsotchkes or what not.  And with mom gone, those little moments of thoughtful care are gone, too.  In the midst of all these thoughts, my dad called, but the music was so loud that I didn’t hear the phone ring.  On his voicemail, my dad offered to get me a nice hotel room in whatever city I landed for the night, so I could get a good night’s sleep after my long day of driving.  It was exactly the care that I needed at exactly the right moment.  It touched me so much that I started to cry.  It is very rare occurrence that a Scharnhorst family interaction involves the shedding of tears.  I know that it’s been hard for my dad to learn how to be a mom and a dad, but sometimes he gets it just right.

And since I’ve been back in Los Angeles contemplating how/when/whether to finish the trip, Dad has often defaulted to asking about whether I’ve applied for full time jobs.  But as I’ve explained to him what the trip means to me, what writing could be for me, that it is more than a whim and the realization of a dream, he shirked all his fatherly instincts to protect me with stability and health insurance and said, “Well if this is your dream, then you have to go for it.”  He may not always understand me, but I know that I always have his support and love.  And I love you right back, Dad.

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3 Responses

  1. Great post, Ann. You are a great writer and I’m glad you are pursuing your dream.

  2. Thanks for that beautiful tribute to your dad. All is well!

    Margaret

  3. Ann, I so thoroughly enjoy reading your blogs. Writing is your forte! Please keep on posting them and sharing yourself with all you FB friends.

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