Saturday, May 8, 2010

Honoring My Father on Mother's Day

“Conscience is a man’s compass.”

- Vincent Van Gogh

My relationship with my mother is complicated. She’s blissfully unaware of this fact since she can take anything complicated and reduce it to its simplest form, even if she’s wrong. Buying her a Mother’s Day card always makes me fraught with melancholy. These cards stroll down memory lane to express sentiments about our past and present relationship that don’t exist.

Last year, my father had his own BIG BIRTHDAY. It was decided that I’d host a surprise party. Even though my parents divorced twenty-years ago, he had a girlfriend and he’d retired to Maine, my New York family on my mother’s side still considered him family. So quite a few people made the trek to my house to celebrate.

One of things I hate about attending funerals is that none of the relatives who have died on either side of my family were particularly religious. This leaves priests to talk about a stranger. On top of the fact that I don’t agree with the Catholic view of death, the priest’s words always leaves me feeling hollow. But there’s always a relative who steps up and speaks, a person who knows the deceased family member. In those words, we come together and celebrate the life of the person we miss. I remember this happening several years ago when my aunt died, her only son got up to speak and his words made me laugh and cry because he summed who she was in such a moving way.

In the weeks leading up to my father’s party, I thought about how we often don’t tell people how we really feel while they’re here. What they really mean to us. How we wouldn’t be who we are without them. We’d be some other person, not nearly as good. Who they are is stamped on us, making us who we are.

And so I thought about making a speech. The speech I’d make if I were to speak at his funeral only he’d be alive so he’d know how much I appreciated him. I mentioned this to my husband, who scoffs at public declarations of affection. So, I became unsure and didn’t write down the words that played in my head. This was bad. If I don’t write words, I can’t remember them properly.

The day came, and I had waffled about whether or not I’d speak. It was time for cake, so if I planned to do it, this was the moment. I looked out at the twenty faces, most of them traveling at least five hours to be here. I tried to convey who my father was and what he’d been through and how much he’d sacrificed for my sister and me, but the words stumbled out of my mouth. I got choked up, which is not something I’m used to doing in front of other people.

This is what I wanted to say:

My father waited many years to retire and start his life over. He toiled in a job that he didn’t like, and with the stress he was under, I often worried he wouldn’t make it. When my parents divorced, the agreement was that my mother got the house and he got the kids. He sacrificed everything he wanted for my sister and me.

We didn’t always get along. But I got my moral compass from my father. He always did the “right thing” even if it was at the expense of his own happiness.

My father finally retired and got to live in a quiet place, surrounded by nature like he’d always wanted. He gets to hike and kayak. Then he met his girlfriend and got to share all that he loves with someone else. I’m so happy that he’s finally happy. He waited too long.

Dad, I want to thank you for everything you’ve done for me.

But I only got part of it out, twisted so it wasn’t in the right order and I didn’t say all I wanted in the right way. It wasn’t so much the words but the private meaning behind the words that made me emotional. I’d blown the moment and I was embarrassed. My father knew what I was trying to say, and so with teary eyes he hugged me.

Later, one of my cousins came over and said, “Your father didn’t sacrifice everything he wanted. He had you and your sister.” That meant a lot.

For years, my father did most of the things a mother and father are expected to do. And he did them without a big trail of men who’d done the same before him. When he fought for custody of my sister and me, few had done it and succeeded. The legal system was against him and the battle dragged on for years. His lawyers told him if he left the house, he’d never gain custody, so my family lived together in the midst of a divorce for four years. Only when my mother finally “compromised” did it end.

And when we moved and got a new start, I got to know him for the first time. And even after all he’d been through he never spoke badly about my mother. He always supported her. How many people would be able to do that? My father has always been and continues to be my moral compass.

I’m proud of him. I’m proud to be his daughter.

My father doesn’t normally read my blog. But I’m inviting him to read this one.

Father’s Day doesn’t feel as important somehow, so I choose to honor my father on this day.


  1. Theresa, what a wonderful tribute to your father. He sounds like such an honourable man. I am a huge believer in the parent who takes the best care of their children should be the one who gets custody,regardless of sex. How wonderful that you got to say those words at your father's birthday celebration. But you know, no matter how not in the right order, you got them, he knows I'm sure how much you appreciate him.
    The words your cousin said struck a chord in me, as a lot of people say that to me since I gave up my career to take care of my son. I don't feel I have sacrificed my life, I feel I have been giving a challenge but like your father, my challenge is mixed with a lot of love everyday.
    Have a wonderful day!

  2. ...That almost makes me regret that my family didn't celebrate mo- anything in specific really.

    It's great that your father got your message the first time around... Regardless of how the words came out, he got your intent.
    And now you get to express yourself with the control and mastery you have over the written medium.

    I hope he gets to read this, though it might not say anything he doesn't already know, it is sometimes worth saying these things the way we mean to say them.

  3. Awww Theresa Miltstein!

    This is so moving - your great Dad!! What a dad! Bless his heart!
    Now I see where you get your determination and drive from! Truly you are your father's daughter.

    I don't know why Dad's day doesn't seem to get the same importance heaped on it like Mum's day does. So this is a great step to rectifying that imbalance.

    So a big cheer and a wave and a great big hug to your lovely dad - what a man!

    And for you - Happy Mother's Day!!

    Take care

  4. Wow. That was a beautiful tribute to your Dad. Parents make our lives wonderful. I respect your Dad for what he did. Sacrificing everything he had for his children is great!

    Happy Mother's day to you!:)

  5. Brigid, thanks for the nice words.

    Giving up a career to take care of a child is a big thing. Your son is lucky that you want a make a difference in his life like that. I'm sure it's a challenge, but it's one worth doing. And hopefully you get a little writing done.

    Alesa, you're right that it's much easier to properly express myself with the written word than saying the words aloud.

    Old Kitty, thank you. One of the reasons I wrote this now is because Father's Day feels like it's about neckties and golf. And all of the "Happy Mother's Day to my favorite woman, my mother" sentiments on Facebook depresses me.

    Mr. Stupid, thank you for the nice words and Mother's Day wishes.

  6. this is fantastic. Now if I could just use the feelings I have from reading this to motivate me to tell my own dad (and eeryone else who deserves to hear what I have to say about them) what I love and appreciate about him...

    Happy Day to you, today and every day.

  7. Your father sounds like an amazing man! You may think he sacrificed everything for you and your sister, but think about your relationship with your own kids. What he gained was far more important, and I'm sure he knows that.

    This is a beautiful tribute, Theresa! And I'm sure it means the world to him. Thanks for sharing it with us, as well.

  8. What a wonderful tribute to your father, I loved reading a little bit more about you while learning about him!

  9. Lora, if there's anyone who can write a moving post or letter, it's you.

    Happy days to you too.

    Susan, thank you. I'm just glad he got to have life after the years of sacrifice, even if it had been worth it.

    Sheila, Happy Mother's Day to you. Look back at the Thanksgiving Contest post for a partial tribute to you.

    Jen, thanks. It's a little more personal than I usually get.

  10. Thank you for writing this - what an incredible tribute to Dad!

  11. This is a wonderful post! Sometimes fathers have to be mothers as well. My husband has a complicated relationship with his mother and he has the same melancholy that you do while picking cards. I totally get where you're coming from on this.

  12. Kathleen, thanks.

    Aubrie, I don't meet too many people like your husband. There are probably many people who wrestle with card choosing and what to write in the card, but they're quiet about it.

  13. What a wonderful tribute to your father, Theresa. And your speech was wonderful! How lucky you are to have someone who cares so much about you. Sounds like he did a great job with you!

  14. Soooooo beautiful and the fact that he knew what you wanted to say. I am so glad you wrote this down. If there is one thing we should learn it it is express to someone how we feel while they are here to hear it.

    Simply beautiful!

    Happy Mother's Day!

  15. This is a great dedication to your dad. I hope he reads it and enjoys it, too.

    I like that you said he was your moral compass. I think my dad is mine, too.

    How awesome to have such a wonderful father!

  16. You are so right about funerals! especially catholic ones where the priest doesn't really know the person who has passed and reduces them to a generic "good man"... we have wakes here in ireland that still go on for three days and thats so comforting because everyone shares their stories and fondness for that person during that time... but it's a pity to wait for a day of sadness, a day when its too late to tell the person themselves how much they mean.. (often that day comes before we've got a chance)...good for you for being wise to this, your tribute to your father is inspiring, moving and heart felt, he sounds like a wonderful man and its certainly made me think about those people who haven't heard yet what they mean to me. thankyou Theresa

  17. Bossy Betty, I appreciate the comment. It's important to tell people how we feel when we're hear, but somehow it's hard to do.

    Tiffany, thank you. I'm glad your dad is your moral compass too. We all need those.

  18. You're dad sounds like a great father so here's wishing him a Happy Mother's Day. :-)

    Since he fulfilled both roles for you, he deserves to be honored on both Mother's and Father's Day.

  19. Niamh, Irish funerals going on for three days sound a lot healthier. Too bad that tradition is gone in my family.

    Thank you very much for your kind words.

    Mary, I'll pass on the wish and I'll make sure to celebrate him again on Father's Day.

  20. I love that you wrote this. I am sure that your father would be very touched. And I'm sure that he knew exactly what you were trying to say to him that day. I have a feeling you could have said nothing and he still would have known.

  21. Beautiful. I have always honored my father on Mother's Day. It just feels right

    Happy Mother's Day

  22. Carolina, I don't think my grandmother ever told my father how proud she was of him, but she once told me. He broke that pattern.

    Jenn(ifer), it's good to know I'm not the only one.

  23. He sounds like a fantastic man, and how wonderful that you can appreciate him!

  24. A very touching heartfelt tribute to your nurturing parent. And you are right; sometimes we forget to tell the important people in our lives how much they mean to us. I am sure you father is delighted you felt it important to actually tell him and not presume he knew. Well done you!

  25. This has totally made me tear up. Thank you for sharing it! It reminds me to talk to my own parents...

  26. Devon Ellington, thank you for the nice words.

    Ann, It's so easy for me to tell my children how important they are to me, so why is it so hard to tell adults? There are more people I should tell more often.

    Beth, it teared me up to write it. Your parent post was sweet.

  27. Lovely post, Theresa. I am so happy we have gotten to know all of you and look forward to getting to know you more.

  28. Lynda, thanks. I was nice meeting your family this summer. Hopefully we'll each other again soon.

  29. I love this post. And I TOTALLY understand the card-buying emotions with your mom. And then I stand there in the Hallmark store, feeling guilty that I am not feeling all these wonderful things I'm supposed to because, hey, the card says it! Someday I hope it will be better.

  30. Michaele, it has gotten better over the years. I think I stopped grimacing when I read sappy sentiments and now I just put it back with only a pang. As long as I can find a card that's pretty neutral, I'm okay. I hope it gets better for you too.