I shut my mouth slowly, whatever question I’d been about to ask dying in my throat. She patted my hand with her warm, pretty one, her long pink nails catching my skin a bit as she squeezed my palm. She smiled like she understood the gravity of what she had just said to me and announced she was going outside to smoke a cigarette.
(day 13 of 30 in 30)
A few years ago, seated at the breakfast bar in a far flung aunt’s kitchen in St. Louis, my grandmother said the thing I have been avoiding admitting to myself for quite some time. We had stumbled onto the subject of my daddy, both of us lamenting the fact that he was missing yet another holiday with his family (this one Thanksgiving) due to work and shaking our head knowingly at each other. She turned to me, her eyes the same greenish blue as my daddy’s and said, “He is just like his daddy was.” I opened my mouth to ask her a question but before I could start she interrupted saying, “And you are just like your daddy.”
We went on happily the rest of the weekend, with me smiling and talking to family members on this mostly unfamiliar side of my daddy’s side of the family, but that moment stayed with me. It still does. As I have gotten older and a bit more objective about who my father is, I have often wanted to talk to him about his proclivity for working longer, harder, more often than the average father of two. He was, while physically always around, largely absent thanks in no small part to his abnormal work hours that had him awake and working while the world was asleep. This has gone on for as many years as I remember. My daddy is probably the most hardworking man I know. I admire him.
But then there’s the fact that I could not name for you the single name of a single friend he has. Not one person he calls to talk about the game or has a beer with periodically to catch up. I can recall him taking only a handful of vacations in the entire almost three decades I have been alive. And only a fraction of those consisted of him actually, you know, vacationing somewhere. While my daddy loves me to the ends of the earth and back, around and back and forth once more, there is a distance there, an unfamiliarity. I see it with he and my little brother as well, an awesome if awkward kid left largely to his own devices in a house of hard workers that was usually half empty or wrapped in quiet even during daylight hours. I could not tell you the last time my daddy saw his extended, out of town family.
On the other hand, I could recount for you all the holidays he’s missed. I could tell you every game or science fair or theater performance he wasn’t able to attend due to work. I could tell you how many birthdays have passed without so much as even a card. Or how many meals or rare outings were cut short because he had to rest up to head to work long after we had all laid our heads on our pillows. He hardly sees his siblings with the exception of some holidays and funerals. He has no deep personal relationships with his own aunts or nieces or nephews. There are children my cousins have had he has never even laid eyes on. I am not sure what to make of his marriage.
I’ve always wanted to ask him if it was worth it.
The irony of it all is I see this in myself. I work too much. And when I’m not working, I am so damn exhausted all I want to do is sleep. I have worked two jobs fairly consistently since I was 16 years old. Even as a child when I wasn’t working, I was studying or taking some sort of class or performing or volunteering or otherwise exercising my need to overachieve. In college I took double the class load of everyone else, managing work on campus and work off campus and clubs and activities and still trying to maintain a social life. Now, even as an adult, I work strange hours and miss some events I can’t manage to juggle with my schedule. On the rare occasions I don’t have anywhere to report to, I am running myself ragged trying to catch up on all the things I have otherwise neglected; my errands, my house, my friendships, my dating life, my family, myself. Or I am just so positively, entirely exhausted I can’t manage to take on a single thing more than all I am currently carrying. At any given time, something is always suffering.
Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful. My tireless hard work has afforded me some things that a lot of people don’t get. I have travelled. With the exception of my god-forsaken student loans, by the end of this year I will be completely debt free. And I’m one of few people I know who is able to somewhat reasonably handle my student loan payments. I have reaped the rewards of my hard work.
But it is not all rewards. The wisdom says that I would know better. That I would view my daddy’s life as a cautionary tale and work to better balance my inherent need to work longer, harder, more than my counterparts with some attention paid to the things that are important to me. But here’s the truth; there are few if any family members I am close to (though for many reasons other than work). I have friends and adopted family that I adore but rarely get to see. (Though that is more about geography and less about work.) I am awful and returning phone calls or picking up the phone. And I am regularly so distracted when one of my friends does catch me for a conversation that is longer than 140 characters that I forget things and confuse details and more time is spent catching me up on what I already know than actually catching up. I am lucky they all love me anyway. I am more compelled to work out of duty than passion. And that seems a strange place to be in at my age.
I recognize clearly, with eyes wide open, that if I continue on the track that I am headed, I stand to lose so many things I am unprepared to sacrifice.
But I am not entirely sure how to stop being my daddy’s daughter.