When your father comes to visit
Every five years or so my father manages to escape all the ties (imagined and otherwise) that keep him in England to visit me. He says he needs to see how his offspring live, but I suspect he fears that I will move and he’ll miss out on a cheap skiing holiday. It’s probably not worth testing this theory by moving to Detroit, though.
Parents surprise you with age. Perhaps it’s me. I’m finally looking beyond my child’s sphere of awareness, when young mums and dads are knights in shining armor, though children have no idea how many battles their parents fight on their behalf. At some age they slip out from this gleaming and invincible shell and become mere people who only love you more than anything else. It’s a strange transition for all.
Now I’m the organizer and protector for my dad, a somewhat absent-minded old man. Physically this is easy, but mentally its much harder to drop the old roles. I suspect he’s happy to give up the burden of parental superhero, but it’s harder for me to grow out of the “I’m only a child, look after me” syndrome.
His skiing visits make it easier. According to my sister’s phone calls, he’s “very excited” trying on ski hats, yodeling and focused only on his holiday. This for a man I remember as very controlled. While he enjoys this childlike blinkered vision, I worry about airplanes, customs problems with Stilton cheeses and a host of other things.
Good signs heralded his arrival. It snowed a lot and the discerning dogs liked him. Often they see strangers, their bags and foreign smells as annoying intrusions and they mark these appropriately. His accidental gift of a pizza (left on the too low coffee table) warmed them to him, and he quickly became a favorite petting option and soft touch.
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Last time he visited, he surprised me with his ski form: none of the locked-legged ass wiggle so favored by posing Brits that I’d expected. Instead he showed textbook turns from the Arlberg era. His clothes got me. He’d obviously found the long lost ski bag and turned out in retro ’70s garb. According to some snowboarding friends, retro is cool, so I mainly left him alone.
One gets so self-conscious about parents and it makes no sense. When he gets lost, trips over a lift maze, follows the wrong class, any of those basic unknowing mistakes that everyone does – I inadvertently cringe. All of us make dumb mistakes in strange environments and with strangers its no big deal. With a dad it’s different. This voice in your head starts nagging, “These are your genes. Wow you’ve got klutzy genes.”
Apparently your brain has built in protections to limit damage from large emotional shocks. The niggling stuff doesn’t trigger these protections and over time that’s what gets to you. Must be why a divorce is really about the rage induced by yet another uncapped toothpaste tube, rather than an affair.
While being overly sensitive to my dad’s idiosyncrasies, I saw that no one else cared or even noticed and slowly quashed that nagging voice. In fact when friends mentioned that they’d met my dad and found him interesting, funny, sweet, etc., I managed to forget my selfish fears and feel quite proud.
Before I came I worried about putting him in ski school. “Would he be safe, have fun … ?” But at enrollment time I had no qualms. I found this a huge vote of confidence, as every student is someone’s dad, mother or child.
My dad’s visit passed too quickly for all the parent child barriers to dissolve and I didn’t get to say all I planned, too.
I need to study the dogs more. They howled and wagged with abandon every time he crossed the threshold and even to my jealous annoyance slept on his bed a few times. They have no pride, only accepting love – and a love of pizza.
Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a weekly column for the Daily.