Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dad's 75th Birthday

Warning: this blog is long, so get a drink of your choice, a small snack and perhaps a pillow. I waited a week so I could give you the more entertaining, rather than the painful ranting version. So here it is, I spent last weekend celebrating my dad and his wife’s 75 birthdays. His actual birthday isn’t until August, but he and his wife had a big party in my hometown at the local “bar/grill/supper club”. It’s the typical small town dance hall complete with brown paneling on the walls and vinyl orange chairs for the d├ęcor; the bar completes the Hicksville appeal by using various taxidermies. This party was a big deal; my brother even flew in from Arizona. My step-mother has three children who live in Chicago, Minneapolis and Indiana. They all came back along with her two youngest grandchildren who are in their twenties. The wife’s youngest granddaughter is 20 going on 5 1/2. She literally made LOUD random bird calls periodically throughout the night.
My relationship with my dad has been quite strained for the past five years. I am learning to accept I can’t expect him to be the dad/grandfather I want and need him to be, so I have to lower my expectations. I just find it so incomprehensible how a parent cannot love their children or grandchildren. It’s not like I’ve done anything shameful. I have a successful career as a teacher, I’ve worked hard and gained a lot of education, I don’t visit the area drug dealer or loan shark to pay for a gambling habit, never been in the clink and I’m not a screw-up. The kids are really well behaved, smart and act mature. I understand how a person can fall out of love with someone else, and how friends drift away because you have nothing in common; I even understand how you can love someone but have to set up a ten foot thick barbed-wire wall for boundaries because they are not good to or for you. However, I don’t understand how you can fall out of love with your child.
When I found out Henrietta’s children were planning this party, I got a sick feeling deep in my stomach and contrary to popular belief, it was NOT the gut rot you get from drinking too much. Friday I met up with my step- siblings, at the dance hall to plan our decorating. We also drank beer and my step-brother Dan and I decided we need to step up our campaign plan for our presidential election in 2012. Our platform is sponsored by Coors Light and Miller, and we plan to get the religious vote. He wants our first line of action to be the legalizing of growing your own “plants” because that should eventually take care of the health crisis by itself. Friday was fine; it was actually a good time. Saturday, the day of the party, was a different story. I woke up with what I thought was a hangover from hell, but turned out it was more likely the party. I am not trying to come off as petty, and if any of the things that happened would have happened signally, I’d blow it off, but they kept on adding up and up. I felt literally sick the whole way to the party. I felt this deep dread that makes you sort-of light headed and it hard to breath. I told myself to plaster on a smile, suck it up and get it over with.
Henrietta’s daughter in-laws created a power point with photos of dad and Henrietta growing up, their younger years and them together now. It was a really nice gesture and fun to watch. There were photos of my dad holding my cousin’s son when he was a baby in 1985, which dad has always referred to as his “grandson”. The photo even read, “Russ with Great nephew Cory”. There were photos of Henrietta holding each of her babies and grandchildren along with her grandchildren while they were growing up. There was not one single photo of my children with dad. It was as if they don’t exist. Right after I got done watching the picture video, dad wanted to introduce my brother, my kids and me to the band. Dad is friends with the band, which everyone thinks is hilarious and calls him a groupie. I think it makes him a weird old man who thinks he’s 16 and wants the latest Joan Jett poster. Anyway, he introduced us, and one of the members said, “Oh is this the grandson that has an answer for everything” as they were looking at Ethan, I said, “Yes,” Dad interrupted and said, “oh no, that’s my nephew’s son. These kids don’t talk, they are real quiet, they just like sports.” Five minutes later I stood near dad as they greeted their guests at the entrance. One lady shook my hand and said, “Now who are you?” I said, “Sara, Russell’s daughter.” She replies, “Oh- I didn’t even know he had a daughter!” Really? Cuz he has TWO!!! You would think one time of that happening would be enough? Nope! It happened three more times!
Next, as we sat down to eat, I realized that they didn’t count our family and there weren’t enough chairs for us. This really didn’t come as a surprise to me because growing up, I was the tag-along on my dad’s side, having a six year difference from my cousins who were pretty much all the same age. I think they were all sick of looking at, and being around kids by the time I arrived. On my mom’s side I was plopped right in the middle with my next older cousin being 9 years older and my younger one 8 years younger. Until my little cousin came along I was pretty much on my own at every family get together. I don’t think my invisibility factor was ever on purpose, I like to think of it as just bad timing on both sides of the family. Anyway, I took the table right next to the head table, only to be told by my dad’s wife, “we need that table for the guests!” WTF? I replied, “OK. I will take my children and sit in the bar where there is room for me!” Somehow they made room me (not my family), probably as they were thinking ‘wow! She really IS a freak.’ The whole time I was eating I was on the brink of tears, I was literally shaking. My best friend’s parents walked in. Gloria hugged my dad, and dad’s wife said in front of Gloria, “Who’s THAT?!”… wow- THAT’S charming. Then I hugged Gloria and burst into tears. It was kind-of ‘thanks for coming to the party where one nutcase yells at you as you get in the door and the other starts crying.’ The majority of the night went better. There were over 200 guests. That’s more guests than I had at my wedding. 93% of them were his wife’s relatives, friends, or friends of the couple now. Seriously? How can someone so mean and nasty have that many friends? It’s like the school yard bully. You better be their friend, or they’ll beat you up. I knew about 24 people there, not including the ones that put it on.
Also while we were eating, her youngest grandchild (the bird caller) blurts out, “How much did that necklace around your neck set you back?” Considering the only necklace this girl would wear would be a studded dog collar, I was torn between saying, “none of your damn business,” and “This? Oh it’s nothing. I was a gift from the hit man I hired for your gra...” Then clamp my hand over my mouth and whisper, “Crap. I said too much.”
In the middle of the party, dad’s wife took my beer and told me to dance with my dad. “You don’t need to drink all night, get out and dance.” I wanted to say, “I will have more dancing and less drinking ON YOUR GRAVE ONE DAY!…” But I held back.
I had some drinks with my cousins who I now consider my same age, but they literally think I just graduated from high school and have 10 and 7-year-old children. That was fun. I spent a lot of my life wondering why I didn’t fit in with either side of the family. Now I spend it wondering why I don’t fit in with either side of my children’s families. As the night was ending- at 10:30… The super club turned on the lights as a hint “get the heck out, you don’t gotta go home, but you can’t stay here…” I helped dad’s wife’s daughter-in-laws (whom also loath her) pick up the decorations and extra left over cake. Dad’s wife cornered me and said, “Your dad is so upset that you didn’t call to see how his colonoscopy went. He waited all day and you kids didn’t call. They found a whole toothpick you know.” I asked how he swallowed a whole toothpick to distract the attention of my negligent behavior when one of her daughter-in-laws asked when it was. “June 3.” Hmmm. Let me see. June 3 I was scrambling to pack up my classroom so I don’t lose any of my crap, put in final grades, fill out my student’s cum cards, and try to keep straight what the sporting schedule for my children- whom I left home alone because I forgot I’d need daycare that day- was and where. I worked a 13 hour day. Apparently I didn’t leave enough room on my calendar to write “Dad’s colonoscopy” Then I thought what I would have said, “Hey dad, how’s your ass? Does her knee still hurt? Does she still hate the cats? How the hell did you swallow a whole toothpick and not know it?” I hope HIS 90th birthday celebration will be a bit better. My children will be recognized and he’ll apologize for the years known by my brother as “the sleigh ride through hell.”Until then, I am planning on finding and collecting the most unflattering photos of his wife to plaster on his next video slide show.

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