“I’ve been a terrible father.”
My father sat on his hospital bed in his thin gown, tears filling his eyes. I sat there on a pleather chair frozen in place. This is where I’m supposed to warmly rush to him and wrap my grown-daughter arms around him and deny all of that and uphold all the many good memories…
But our family and relationships were not like that. Instead, I stated the facts that he had been generous and always supported us so well. That we had had wonderful vacations and that he had supported us so very well…
And this is my memory of a moment I wish I could rush back and change.
How I wish I could travel back and tell him what I know now.
That what he pulled off, being a working class Irish kid from Somerville with big, grandiose dreams, what he worked for, what he tried to be, was just amazing. That although I annoyed the hell out of him with my talking back, arguing with him, thinking I stood eye to eye with him (and I still do, because I am Mark Brady’s daughter), and that he hurt me with his rolled eyes and scornful disgust, that now I know he loved me. That he was exactly the best father he could be given he was still on his own journey when all of us 4 kids showed up. I wish I could Save Mr. Brady.
I would never have dreamed that I could find ANY connection with a movie about an out of control alcoholic father who lovingly and magically engaged his quiet and fiercely-loyal and protective daughter. Saving Mr. Banks is not my story at all. My father was not playful and childlike; I was not silent and loyal.
I recall trying to convince him of my various points of view, and of his taking it as argument and disrespect. I recall spankings and banishments, and my brothers and sister wishing I would Just. Shut. Up. I recall being my mother’s confidante and shoulder when he descended into alcoholism and emotionally left the family for some years. Painful rejections when I would reach out to him. The stain on my own heart of being a failure as a go-between for two parents angry and hurt with each other. How I felt compelled to take each one’s side when they complained about the other. And that I felt guilty for doing that and wondered if they knew I was a double agent. How at the end of it all, it really just felt like Mom loved me, and Dad kind of hated my guts.
But also he waved to me each and every time I came around the bend on each and every carousel he ever put me on. And he put me on every carousel I ever wanted to ride. How his eyes filled when he dropped me off at my first college dorm room. How he thanked me profusely for taking him down to the hospital one of the many times in the last year of his life.
How he reached out to me to say,
“I’ve been a terrible father.”
He might have thought I had it in me to say something better than, “Oh, you were so generous. We had a great childhood.”
I would listen and ask him to tell me why he thinks this. Now. I would finally try to hear what his heart’s wish was for who he really wanted to be. And as I listened, I would hear his real song, and I would sing it with him in my heart. I think I would stop trying to prove myself to him, and it would give him rest, and he would maybe stop trying to prove himself to all of the universe.
And just rest.