A couple of days after that crazy speakerphone conversation, the phone rang - the land line, almost always a sales call or family, so never fondly anticipated. Our phone speaks, saying aloud the name listed on the caller ID, so even before I got to it, I knew it was a "call from... YOUR DAD." These days, this announcement freezes my arm in mid-reach, and I am sometimes so undecided that the call goes through to the answering machine while I curse my cowardice, and realize I'll most likely pay for it later, since no one is much fooled by my call screening.
This time, I answered, dreading the discovery that I had made the wrong choice.
My dad had finished his workout at the gym, and was driving nearby. He wanted to come over for coffee and a talk. I hate these quick "convenience calls." It's much harder to refuse a visit when you know that the person is already en route in your direction. After our previous discussion, though, I couldn't say yes. I repeated my assertion (feeling like a broken record) that I didn't think it was a good idea to meet at my place, for all the reasons previously stated. He wanted me to take a chance so he could prove that he could "behave." I said that even if he did "behave," my messy life would still grind on him. He may not mention it today, or next week, but it would inevitably burst forth again, just like it always had. I would feel immense pressure to prevent it, and inevitably fail, since I physically can't attend to all the flaws he perceives in my home and life.
It was particularly sad for me, this phone call. My dad wasn't angry, as he had been the other night, and he really did want things to be fixed between us. His way of fixing things, though, was to forget that destructive things had been said, or done, and get "back on track," so things could be "like they were." I felt terrible reminding him of all the key points that had emerged from the last discussion: my house was a mess; I was an eternal disappointment; and he had twice suggested breaking off our relationship.
My dad is a successful relationship terminator. When someone crosses him in a way that he considers to be irredeemable, that person drops off the face of the earth. Did you miss his father's funeral? You're off the list. Did you refuse to shake his hand for any reason? Off the list. Did you thoughtlessly finger the ham right in front of him? Off the list, my friend.
In fact, back when I was "on the list," we used to joke about how easy it was to lose your List privileges. We would run through many names from his past, and label each as being "on," "off" or "dead." Most fell into the latter two categories, and some were still "off" even after they were dead!
When my dad said that we could break off our relationship, I knew he was considering cutting me out of his life completely. He was angry, sure, and he may not have meant to speak so strongly, but I knew this was one step he was absolutely willing and able to take. It was not an empty threat that I could feel secure ignoring. This was the ultimate threat: "Do as I say, or you're off the list." Ignoring it would not make it go away.
This is why, when my dad called that morning, I couldn't immediately continue as before. I was still reeling from the shock. Didn't he know how much I needed him? Didn't he understand what losing him would mean to me? I needed time - time to deal with the hurt, and time for things to get back to normal between us for a while. "That's what I want to do. I don't see how time is going to help. We need to just get back into it," he insisted. He was very persistent!
"You've said that you are thinking of breaking off your relationship with me. You said it twice; once before Christmas, and once after."
"I don't think I said that."
One of the most frustrating aspects of this conflict has been the denial. Luckily, I was able to point out that, "mom was right there when you said it the first time, dad. And John and mom were both there the second time. You definitely said it, twice. And you know you've cut people off before. So that really hurts, dad."
The conversation wasn't all on topic, though. Sometimes, we talked about other stuff, unimportant things. I think he was trying to demonstrate that we could have a relationship without continuing this fight. It just made me more sad. I did want to talk about those other things.
For some reason, I was dumb enough to mention that although my dad shouldn't let my house offend his eyes again, at least anytime remotely soon, mom could still visit. It's the kind of thing that you can't fix once you've said it. I'm doing the very best I can with this conflict, trying to set things right, even though they're all wrong, but I'm still making mistakes. I'm just so very sad to lose my dad at this point in my life. If it means I have to lose my mom as well, it takes the breath out of me.
And I'd like to scream: WE'RE NOT EVEN DEAD YET!! Why, WHY does it have to be this way!?