It wasn’t until after my dad died that I realized how much of my life revolved around him. It’s ironic because I had so much disdain for women whose lives revolve around some man. The physical distance between my father and I blinded me to my own truth. Even though I wasn’t literally sitting around waiting on him to be the father I desired, I was managing my own life and my relationships around others based on my heart’s longing to heal him.
I recently purchased my ticket to move back to the States and after I bought it, I thought, “Your daddy won’t be there when you get there,” I waited for the wave of grief to wash over me, but it never came. All that transpired was the voice in my head said, “Let’s be real. He wasn’t going to be there even if October had never occurred. Your dad has been gone a long time.”
Pops died of nigga failure. Then he died of kidney failure.
The first time I heard this verse in Jay-Z’s Glory, I was elated. Finally, someone could relate to the agony of watching someone exist in body, but not in spirit. And the cause of death had a name now. My healing is always predicated on my ability to speak truth to light. If I can articulate my pain, I can start heading down the road to recovery.
My dad died a long time ago and he had been sick as long as I had known him. For most of my childhood, his symptoms were intense and we all suffered from the violent attacks. But when he was having a good day, a good weekend, or a good moment, oh he was pure life, so it was easy to forgive and forget the last low.
But these last few years were the worst. No more good days. I couldn’t bear to see him like that. When I would visit him, it would be clear that he didn’t have a life. He would just sit in his house for days on end. Where was my dad who used to walk into a room and command attention? Who was this man who was content to sit around day in and day out with no job, just waiting for his wife to come home, so he could talk at her for hours on end with only the sound of her “Yes, Roger” to indicate that he was interacting with another human being? When we would visit, he would yammer at us for hours without ceasing as if he had forgotten how to have a conversation. There was no back and forth, just one person running his own battery down.
Talking on the phone was worse. He had a stroke after my first year of college and never regained the full use of his mouth. I would pick up the phone to call him, but then put it down because I knew I wouldn’t be able to understand the garbled speech that would flow through the receiver and the call would just leave me in tears.
Recently, I’ve been wondering why his decline agitated me so much. Why couldn’t I just make the best of the situation? Everyone’s parents grow old. This was part of the human struggle. That’s true, but my parents had children young and the benefit of having young parents is that you shouldn’t have to live out that particular grief until you’re much older yourself.
Furthermore, his decline was self-imposed. He could have gotten better and have lived a longer, more fulfilled life, but he had decided that his existence was the best he could do and I couldn’t accept that. I saw way too much of myself in him and it was that part of him that I was trying to free and let break out over the whole of his being.
I had a hundred and one fantasies about how I would heal him. Once, my dad told me that I saved my grandmother when I was born. She told him that she had gone into a depression after her mother died and when I was born, I brought her back to life. That story made me feel like I was born with the power to heal. If my very existence had brought about restoration, what couldn’t I achieve with intentionality?
I was always trying to save somebody. At any given time, I always had a friend that I was trying to steer down the right path. It never turned out well. If someone complained to me about something, I would try to help them see the issues contributing to their problems and when they didn’t heed my advice, I would explode in anger or become overwhelmed with sadness to the point that I couldn’t be around them because their burdens were too heavy to carry along with my own.
I could sense that this over investment in the problems of others was abnormal, but I would justify my actions by saying that I just loved hard. There is nothing wrong with being really into love.
And then October happened and I stopped cold turkey. I barely had enough energy to get out of bed in the morning; I did not have superfluous energy to expend on saving other people; especially people who didn’t want/ask to be saved. People would come to me with a problem and I would give my advice and when they continued on as if they hadn’t asked me a darn thing, I would shrug my shoulders and wave it off with, “Well, just suffocate your fool self for all I care.”
After I came out of my mourning period, my appetite for involving myself in the problems of others never returned and I started to worry. Was I losing my empathy? Was this a permanent change? Am I turning into a terrible person who only cares for her own well-being? What happened to me?
I couldn’t save him. That was the problem. My mother, not one to dwell on the past, engaged in an infrequent storytelling one day and told me that her mother, who had died from cancer, had stopped fighting and was ready to die. “When someone is ready to go, there is nothing you can do to stop them.” I wanted so much for my dad, but he died from heart failure at the age of 56. If I couldn’t save this man who I loved more than words could ever express, then how could I save anyone else?
I can’t, so I don’t. Other people’s problems glide away from my consciousness like water moving gently through a stream. I’m more at peace with the world, but still, I wondered if self-centeredness was on the horizon for me and worry began to creep into my subconscious. I shared my observations and concerns with a co-worker and she smiled and said, “But surely, you must recognize that it wasn’t fair for you to force everyone in your life to pay for the actions of your dad.”
I love how she cut to the quick of the realization that I had been tiptoeing around for weeks and years. I was trying to fix my relationship with my dad through my relationship with others. I was obsessed with fixing their issues because if I could do that, I could fix him. It was an unhealthy and futile practice.
Since I have stopped engaging in the God-complex business, I have gained a deeper understanding of the people around me. I used to feel like people went out of their way to waste my time. Why ask me for my advice and then go do the exact opposite, just come back and whine to me about the same issue? Oooo, the devil.
I have found my patience, though. Since, I have lost my dog in all of these fights, I have gained perspective and can be more objective. Objectivity has helped me see that these situations are a lot more complex; there are a number of reasons why people continue looping their cycles of destruction and desperation and none of them have anything to do with me.
So when they come vent to me, I listen, I nod, and then keep it moving. When I feel this need to channel my inner Olivia Pope and start fixing the situation, I remind myself that Andrea has more than enough issues for me to handle, so I need to mind my own business. Surprisingly, I feel like by focusing more on myself, I have become a better friend. I’ve started giving less, but more is being gained.