I talk to my dad nearly every Sunday. He calls me because I never use the phone unless I have to. The very idea of calling people makes me squirmy, even my dad. Saint Daddy has made hair appointments for me before because calling someone up and bartering over dates and times and stylists seemed like such a daunting task that I could hardly fathom beginning it.
I think my dad tries to call each of his grown children once a week. Nearly every time I talk to him, he tells me about a different sibling that he just got off the phone with. I mentioned having a large family in my last post. I do. There are eight of us. Biological, full-blooded siblings. I am one of the oldest. In case you were wondering: we did not grow up on a farm, we are not really Catholic, and no one is part of any “weird sects.” Eight kids is what happens when Mom wants ten kids and Dad wants two and there is a lot of Coors Light involved. Ten minus two is eight. It works out. Trust me.
My dad is a good man. He has worked at the same factory making tool cabinets for a very well known company since he was in his late teens. Growing up, I knew I was his least favorite child. My mom would tell me I was just being overdramatic or applying too many emotions to that situation, but I knew it. I knew it the way I knew the sky was blue. It did not hurt me. I was not beaten and broken by that information. I was always close with my mom. It was fine. Dad and I just had nothing in common.
When I was four, Dad signed me up for t-ball. My older sister and I were a year apart, so we were on the same team. Dad was the coach. He was great at that sort of thing. I was not. I refused to put on my glove, no matter how many innings he sent me to the outfield. By the end of my second season, he gave up on the glove entirely. I became “the first designated hitter in the history of little league baseball.” He joked about it, but I knew I had disappointed him.
I did ballet the following year. I loved dance. I was not good at it. My body was awkward. I did not know how to move it, but I loved dance anyway. I continued with ballet until I was twelve when I told my parents to stop paying for it because I was not going back after we moved, I started at a new place, and I felt the weight of cliques bashing up against my mediocrity.
My dad came to my recitals, but he did not get it. He also forgot to pick me up from dance class on two separate occasions. I waited there, alone, with an instructor who clearly wanted to be home with her family and let abandonment wash over me.
My siblings bowled and wrestled and played baseball, basketball, and football. I danced. I was a Girl Scout. I read. I did well in school. When report cards came home, Dad would not even glance at mine. “You’re boring,” he would say. I did not need external motivation to perform well. He did not have to bribe me with money or special favors. I was going to do well in school because that is what I did. So I was not even worth the glance. My brother received praise for his C in math while my As went unnoticed. But it was okay. Like I said, I did not need external motivation to succeed in school. I just did.
It was not until undergrad that I first felt my dad’s pride for me. He loved me. I knew he did. He does not say it. He is not that kind of dad. He was raised differently. His parents were not great at the parenting thing. They were absent, and he and his sister often fended for themselves.
But in undergrad, my dad began calling me once a month. I talked to Mom on Sundays, and Dad called once a month. He missed seeing me around, even if I was an “emotional pain in his ass.” When he came for graduation, his face beamed with pride. And that, that is my dad’s love. He tells his coworkers about me on the factory floor. Names of men I have heard a thousand times in my life. “I was telling Gary about how you landed your dream job. He wants to know if you can help his son get in. He’d love to work there too.” That is Dad saying, “You did great! I love you!”
So he called me yesterday because yesterday was Sunday. “What’s new with you?” He says that every time. And nothing is really new. I am off from work until Tuesday, the boys hit the television with a toy curling iron and ruined some pixels, they both walk now, and oh yes, my anxiety is making me stay up all night thinking about head lice. I did not tell my dad my “Did I Love Her Enough?” freak out. He would not quite grasp that one. He is not that kind of dad. But I told him about the head lice panic. How I felt like a failure because, in my five years with Sunshine, I had never considered telling her how to avoid head lice. How I wanted to wake her up in the middle of the night to tell her about it.
He says, “That’s anxiety, you know?” Of course I know, Dad. I have known that I had anxiety since I was fifteen. I was working my way through eight summer reading books for Honors English 11, the hardest class at the school, and I had convinced myself that I had Toxic Shock Syndrome, even though I did not have my period at that time and I spent the next three months constantly afraid that I was going to upchuck in stores, the car, or class.
And when I was dealing with that at fifteen, I told Dad about it and he offered me some of his medication. It was a joke. He did not take my anxiety seriously. What could a kid have to worry about?
When I got older, I realized that I had been dealing with anxiety attacks most of my life. It was why I often felt sick on holidays or in the back of the car or at large events. And not just “butterflies in the tummy” sick, but the world was ending, I think I might be dying sick. It did not become a problem until I was fifteen, though. That was the year I stopped going to movie theaters. I would not return to another one until my early twenties. When anxiety changes your behavior, that is when it is not just “feeling anxious.” That is when you need help. But I was fifteen, and I did not know that and Dad was not helpful.
So, yes, Dad. I know it is anxiety. “You get that from me, you know?”
I do know. I did not know as a child, but I know as an adult. I remember your obsession with punctuality and proper dress. I have that too. I have yelled at Saint Daddy on more than one occasion because we were going to be late to a family event as though no one would understand why we might not be there on time since we have the longest drive and very young twins. I am obsessed with the appearance of my clothes. I do not sport the leggings and a t-shirt look because it reminds me of pajamas and Dad always said, “Just because we are poor doesn’t mean we have to look poor, so you’ll dress right.”
And that knowledge of Dad’s anxiety and my anxiety is one of the things I feel anxious about. I have three children and anxiety. Saint Daddy has depression. Mom has the depression. Dad has the anxiety. And of the eight of us, all but two battles one or the other in various ways. So I look at my children and wonder, “What are we giving you? How can we help you? What can we do to lessen it?”
I wish I could save them from this. I am not sure I would want to remove my anxiety from myself. It is part of who I am. It makes me incredibly reflective and introspective. My anxiety is why I can fake it around people when I need to. I have figured out ways to manipulate it so that it works for me sometimes. I have also discovered my triggers and ways to ease it. I have had it named for half of my life, I have spoken to medical professionals about it, and I am open and honest about it. I am, more often than not, okay with my anxiety. Not all of the time. Granted. It can be crippling. My word, do I wish I could sleep! It makes me testy and angry and irritable, but it is part of who I am, and ultimately, when I am not a flipping mess, I am a happy person. I have so many blessings.
My children, however, are so small. Nothing has ever really hurt them. If I could do something to prevent them from having to think about triggers and calming aids, I would.
I worry that my behavior might dictate their future behaviors. That if I obsess over my fears too much in front of them, they will develop those same fears. Like where we sit at the theater. Always on an aisle, in case I need to leave quickly. I said I go to theaters now, but there are rules. Saint Daddy knows the rules. He accepts them unquestionably. Like I said, he is a saint.
So that title? I wrote it in jest. It is exactly what I said ironically to my dad on the phone yesterday. “Oh really, Dad. So that’s where it comes from. I had no idea…”
Can I stop it from continuing?
I probably cannot. I went on a retreat with work a couple of years ago. While there, I was asked this question: How would you parent your children differently from how you were parented? I said, “I’d always believe them.”
Because I remember that day and the joke about Dad’s pills and how I did not feel heard. I can probably not save my children from mental illness. It is in their blood. Saint Daddy and I gave it to them. But when they come to me and their world’s are crashing down and they feel hopelessness battering their hearts, I will believe them.
Hopefully, I can save them from years spent trying to figure it out on their own so that they can find their peace and happiness with the people that they are sooner than I did.
Yes, I know where it comes from. I cannot blame Dad, just like I cannot blame myself. But I can do better. I will do better. I will always believe them.