I just had a yelling match with my daughter over the phone. She’s 30, recently married, and just moved into their first home, a condominium on the West Side. “Stop screaming at me,” she said, using her therapist voice (that’s what she is).
“I’m not screaming,” I screamed. “You just don’t get it. You have no idea how I feel.”
“I can’t talk to you if you yell.”
“Don’t go all psychobabble on me. And I’ll yell if I want.”
“You just said you weren’t screaming.”
I had lost control of my emotions. She’s got a lot on her plate at the moment and the last thing she needed was for me to add to it. But I was upset and it had to do with the fact that when she and her husband moved into their new place this week, they didn’t accept my offer to help. On the contrary, they preferred I not get in their way.
But this was a bigger issue than them not accepting an extra hand. This had to do with being a parent. There are only a set number of milestones in a parent’s life with their children. Birth, of course. Pre-school. Graduations. Trophies and awards won. Speeches given. Marriage. First house. Grandchildren.
We experience these things with and through them. We watch them grow, take wings, and fly. But we are always there, and sometimes we even want to feel needed. And included.
So when they made the decision to move out of their apartment and look for a place they could own, it was a milestone decision, and my wife and I were part of it. We looked at places with them and sometimes without them. We joined them when they met with the lending company. We suffered with them when the floors weren’t done on time, when some of their finances were delayed. And when they were ready to move in, we wanted to help.
Now, I know the rap on me: Between my wife and me, I’m the lame one, the one who needs his comfort, who doesn’t like to get his hands dirty, who is clumsy and will probably scuff up the new floors with his dirty shoes. My wife, on the other hand, is the handy one, the one who pitches in and does whatever is necessary. And I don’t disagree with this “surface” assessment. But what they overlooked was that this, to me, was all part of the process of being a parent. And also part nostalgia, of having done this once ourselves and remembering the feeling. Moving boxes until your bones ached. Shuffling furniture. Painting walls. Installing new toilet seats. It’s not work you ask casual friends to do; it’s something you only ask of family and close friends.
So when my daughter told me that Bill, her father-in-law, had offered to come down from Seattle to help, I wasn’t surprised. Bill was feeling what I was. His child was moving into his first home. He wanted to be there to help, and to see it. Because he was there all the years back when his kid was playing ball and taking tests and doing his high school TV show and taking wild car rides. He’s away from all the action now, but this was a big one, so he wanted to be there. As I wanted to be there.
I actually wanted to lift boxes and sweat and complain. I wanted to paint walls (which didn’t need painting). I wanted to sit on the floor because there was no other place to sit, and just look at the mess and think about how far my firstborn had come to get to this point. I wanted to share, because it was my right, as a parent. As someone who had taken the trip all along the way and saw this as the next step.
So when I was told that my services weren’t needed, I was hurt. It made me feel old, removed, unwanted, in the way. That’s not a nice feeling to have, at any age. And when I was told that I should send my wife, but stay away myself, I wasn’t upset that our daughter wanted her, who wouldn’t? I just wanted to be included. Selfish, I guess. But honest.
Then when we talked over the weekend and I got the “I can’t talk I’m busy” routine, I tried to make some suggestions. I could come on Sunday, help in the morning, go to a friend’s house nearby to visit while leaving my wife with them if they didn’t need me anymore. I got from my daughter, “Let’s talk tomorrow.” So, I waited to see what would develop. And then she called saying that she’d go out of her way to come get her mother to go to the Burbank Ikea, and bring her back to the West Side condo so she could help show her how to work the washer and dryer, clean shelves, and make creative suggestions, and that I could come in the evening to pick her up…and, oh, by the way, take a look at the place. Is there any wonder I blew my cool?
I didn’t want to come just to look. I didn’t want to go pick up my wife. I didn’t want my daughter going out of her way to go to the Burbank Ikea just as a “sacrifice” for me, and to keep me away from her place during the day. It was just so…offensive. And so disappointing. And too much of a reality slap about how I’m no longer needed. I’ve done my job, she’s on her own, I can visit when they invite me….
So, that’s what set off all the yelling. I apologized for that. She couldn’t know what I was feeling because she didn’t yet know what it means to be a parent and what a parent looks forward to. She may not get it now, but one day…she will.