|The Good Life: Through my fatherís eyes|
|June 13, 2013 Lisa Betz|
Fatherís Day isnít my favorite of holidays. It seemed to lose its steam little by little. After my dad passed away when I was 25 years old, I still had Grandpa Cleo to honor. But since he is gone too now, there isnít much to celebrate anymore. Of course, I could spend the day reflecting on the important men in my life. Though they are no longer here, I could think of them, smile at memories we shared, and remember the wisdom they passed to me.
But some years I just donít want to do it. Sometimes itís just too much for me. In thinking about men, the roles they play in our families and how they shape us, I thought I would share a bit about my last few months with my dad.
I miss my dad, a lot. When I think about my dad, Don Betz, itís always a bit surreal because the man I knew all my life until the summer of my 25th year, was not the man I knew in his last months of life.
My dad, like a lot of men in our area, was an outdoorsman. He loved to camp, fish, hunt, and golf. He was an active, busy man, always on the go. When he was diagnosed with a brain stem tumor the Denver doctors said he needed immediate surgery. He did the surgery and came back home in a wheelchair.
His left side had been damaged, leaving him unable to find his balance, sporting a lop-sided grin and an uncooperative left arm.
My dad, who had been running to and fro most of his life, was parked in a chair with a lot of time to think. We used to sit together on the front porch and watch the squirrels, the flowers, anything happening around us.
I took that opportunity to ask him a lot of questions I needed answers to, such as, Dad, why did you always go to the Scottsbluff games with your friend, instead of attending my games at Gering High School and watching me perform at half time? I asked other questions too, such as, Dad, why did you always want me to be an athlete instead of what I am, an artist? And another, Dad, why werenít you ever home? Why did you always seem to be running away?
These questions were uncomfortable to him, to say the least. But I asked them, and I insisted that he provide answers because I wanted to understand him and our relationship.
Once he told me that I was being mean, that he was dying, and I shouldnít treat him that way. My answer to that was, but dad, someday I wonít be able to ask you these questions and I need to know.
Often, his answer to my questioning was ďI donít know.Ē
One day, mom and I were sitting with dad in the hospital cafeteria waiting for an appointment. Dad was strangely quiet, and seemed sad. I asked him what was on his mind. He could barely speak. In a tiny voice, he managed to say, ďI have been a terrible father,Ē and then he broke down. Mom and I didnít know quite what to do and then mom took his hand, made him look up into her eyes, and she said: "Honey, you werenít a bad father, you just didnít do some of the things you could have done, but you werenít a bad father.Ē It wasnít easy to convince him, but I assured him that this was true.
While it was difficult for my dad to express his more subtle emotions, I always knew that he loved me because as a little girl, he played with me. We rough housed, and heíd scoop me up into his arms and rub his whiskers on my cheeks, much to my squealing delight. He was my everything until I turned twelve and got interested in boys.
During one of our conversations dad told me that when I got into junior high, he felt that my mom had turned me against him, and it broke his heart. I asked him for examples and he said that I didnít want to stay out at the lake with him, and wanted to go into town for dances. I never even realized that my process of growing up had wounded him. He felt a personal rejection, and I was completely unaware. Dad didnít know how to make the transition with me and there it was left, with disappointment on both sides.
Despite what some might think about me asking my dad those hard questions, I believe that I did the right thing, as I believe that nobody dies without facing their lifeís choices. In this case, I was merely the instrument of my dadís spiritual awakening.
From the day that my dad made the realization that he hadnít been a very good father or husband, he set about loving us as fiercely as he could in the time remaining to him. He was loving, he was kind. He could no longer watch TV because the violence saddened him. When my mom and I had a bit of a fight, the look dad gave me stopped me in my tracks. He was very different, a glowing being, like an angel.
Not only did he make amends to everyone he felt he had wronged, and try to heal broken relationships, but he also tried to tell his friends how they were not living the right priorities in their own lives and that they still had time to make changes.
He begged them to appreciate their wives and children more. I think his intensity scared some of them. But hopefully his message got through.
Today my dad is just a thought away. I know that his spirit flies to me the moment I think of him. One time, I even asked him to go talk to the great Shakespearean actors up there in Heaven and ask them to help me get better roles. I started getting cast in Shakespeareís leading roles soon after.
Dad has never failed me, neither on earth nor in spirit. He had a role to play in my life and he played it. He also helped me to do my own healing with regard to the disappointments in our relationship. And since I had that experience with him of being his daughter and friend at the end of his life, I have not feared my own death because I know that life continues.
A note to the fathers out there, do you know that your eyes are a mirror to your daughterís self-image? What she sees in your eyes will set your little girlís confidence in herself, in relationships with men, and in the wider world, for life. What messages are you sending your daughter about herself? If you donít like what you are sending, there is still time to change the reflection. Donít wait until you are dying to realize that you have lived your life with the wrong priorities.