Somewhere over the course of this weekend, between turkeys that came out just right and second helpings of cranberry and apple stuffing and the Alice's Restaurant viewing and the 6 a.m. Friday trip to Joann Fabrics and the walk through the woods and the trip to Quincy to watch Santa and his elves jump out of an airplane and the dinner at Betsy's that ended our Sunday, somewhere in there between thoughts of how lucky I am to have spent the day with the three people I love the most in the world, I thought about my dad.
Not David. Not my stepfather, who was en route to becoming my legally-recognized father when he died, who had long since crossed that emotional line, the man who Will will recognize as his Grampy in Heaven as he grows up. My actual, biological father. The one who was married to my mom for the first 21 years of my life, and who, truthfully, very rarely crosses my mind these days.
My father died under rather mysterious circumstances, and I truthfully wondered for a long, long time if he was really dead. I do believe he had it in him to fake his own death and start over somewhere else. He had become so good at hiding from the truth that it would have been completely plausible for him to take that one more step. My mother believes he's actually, truthfully gone, and most days I do, too, but there's enough lingering doubt in me that when the phone rings on Thanksgiving, I freeze, just for a moment, expecting his voice on the other end.
It's amazing how the last few years of my dad's life and the truly horrible things that happened between us have so irrevocably erased the first good years we had. I grew up in an essentially happy household with parents who, to the rest of the world, appeared to be living a fairy tale life. But you can only run from your demons for so long before you either face them or let them consume you, and he unfortunately chose to do the latter.
I remember one night just before he moved to California. He and I went out to dinner one last time before he boarded the plane to Oz. In the car, we were discussing a friend of mine and her jealousy toward my life. Anything was a better topic than the obvious one. ANyway, he said something to me to the effect of, "Jennifer, her life is destined to be ordinary. She's jealous of you because she looks at you and sees the greatness you'll achieve. You're destined to do extraordinary things!"
My dad had grand plans for me. He wanted me to go to Dartmouth and study to be a lawyer. When it became apparent that I had no competitive spirit and leaned more toward writerly pursuits, he changed his dream to Northwestern and a journalism career with the New York Times. He actually believed he'd read my byline on the front page eventually.
He never really asked me what I wanted.
I floundered through school after school, never really getting close to graduating, passing just well enough to (usually) keep my name on the student roster. After he died, I finally admitted that I was doing it for him, not for me, and I stopped wasting money on classes. The formal education just wasn't important to me. That was his dream.
This weekend, I looked around my life and took stock. I have a wonderful husband who loves me unconditionally. I have an incredible son who fills my days with joy. I have a house that I can be proud of. I have a job where I am valued. I have a remarkable relationship with my mom, which is the base for all the other good things in my life. I have a wide and strong support system of family and friends, all of whom I care about deeply and who deeply care for me. I think I am extraordinarily lucky.
The sad part is this: My father would look at my life, at all the wonderful things in it, and be disappointed for me. He would not see the extraordinary in my "ordinary" things.
This weekend, I took stock of the many things I have to be thankful for. Sadly, I think one of them is that Will will grow up without my dad, which means he won't grow up with a grandfather who sets impossibly high standards for him, imposes his own dreams over Will's, and can't see the good right in front of him for looking miles ahead.
Everything happens for a reason, they say. I do believe that's true. Doesn't stop me from being sad about it.