Oh Deer

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This might be the hardest month yet to write a blog post for me.  I have never missed a month without writing at least one entry.  It has been hard to find a topic during this horrible time…with the coronavirus and people being ill and losing family members and being unemployed.  I don’t want to complain because I am healthy and getting a paycheck.  I have racked my brain to find something to write about that is not negative or offensive or insensitive and I finally thought of a topic…deer skulls.

In the northeast region of our country, it is very common to see deer everywhere.  Just on my two mile drive home from my sister’s house last night I think I counted 8 of them.  Some people think of deer as a nuisance because they cause car accidents, while others appreciate their beauty.  When I think of deer, I think of a specific memory with my father.  It was a singular moment so insignificant in my life, I am surprised I even remember it at all.

One day, we were exploring some trails in the woods behind my childhood house.  My father and I were walking ahead of my mother and my sister and my dad was pointing out various wildlife and plants.  A squirrel would skitter along the path and he would shout “squirrel!”.  He warned me not to touch poison ivy and explained how to identify it (a skill I still find useful as I am VERY allergic).

“Whoa! Check that out!” My dad pointed to something round and whitish on the ground a few feet in front of us.  As we got closer, I realized that it was a skull of unknown origin.  A dead person! was the first thought I had until I realized the shape and size of it could not be a human.  My father, in true dad fashion, leaned down and plucked it off the ground with his bare hands.  He turned to me with a sly smile and then reached his arm out to try to touch me with it.  I jumped a mile and screamed, “groooooosssss!”.

My father carried the skull all the way home and by the time we arrived, he had determined it was from a deer, even though there were no antlers attached.  By this point, my initial shock faded and I was pretty interested in the skull, with its gaping eye sockets and teeth still attached to the jaw bone.  He soaked the skull in soapy water and cleaned it, while my mother disapprovingly kept asking, “what are you going to DO with that thing?” After the skull was clean, I was so fascinated with it that my father gave it to me.  This is most likely the strangest “gift” I have received. I sat for a half hour just wiggling the teeth, until one popped out into my hand.  I was able to put it back into place with much satisfaction.

I kept that deer skull on my bookshelf for many years.  Once I got my own apartment, I decided that it did not really fit with my decor scheme and that it was weird to have to explain to people why I had a deer skull in my home.  I gave it to a science teacher at the high school where I teach English and he gladly displayed it in a case in his classroom.  Over the years, once in a while, I would pop into his room to look at the deer skull, the memory of that day running through my mind.

Children remember the strangest and most random things.  My niece is only three years old and probably won’t remember anything from this time in her life.  Or maybe she will? My sister and brother-in-law are both unemployed and home with her all day now.  Maybe she will remember making tents out of all the couch pillows, baking cookies with my sister, or helping her dad rake sticks in the backyard?  I have a very poor memory and cannot recall much from my childhood.  And unfortunately, by the time I turned twelve years old, my father was a full blown abusive alcoholic, so there were not many happy memories made during my teenage years. Yet, there are these random moments, burned into my memory, that I fondly remember.  My dad was fun (and cool!) at one point during my childhood and now that he is sober, I hope that my niece will make memories with him that she can look back on someday to remember her grandfather.

My deer skull still is on display in the science lab classroom.  I am sure over the years, many students have seen it and assumed it came from a school supply magazine or they really do not think much of it at all.  Some of them are my students as well and they have NO idea that they are looking at a piece of my childhood…a tangible, albeit very odd, reminder of a happy memory with my father.

The gift of Father’s Day

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So now not only can I count the days, the weeks and even the months that my father has been sober, I can tick off a second Father’s Day!  Last year was the first Father’s Day in over 20 years that my dad was not drunk.  When I think back to last year, I couldn’t really wrap my head around that and I still didn’t trust his sobriety.  A couple of years ago my dad had a stroke and just like that (picture me snapping my fingers!) he stopped drinking and to this day hasn’t resumed.  The many Father’s Days during his years of drinking were synonymous with drama, fights, crying, disappointment, frustration, anger, etc.  He felt even more entitled on “his” day to act like a crazy lunatic.  Even though he isn’t a perfect dad, there is definitely some real normalcy in my life when it comes to my family.  So tomorrow, my boyfriend and I are going to visit my parents and I’m not consumed with worry or fear…my sister and her boyfriend are even bringing his parents there to meet mine for the first time.

On a separate/related/miraculous note: I wrote a blog once before about my father returning every gift my sister and I have gotten him.  This sadly is not an exaggeration.  It got to the point where the only thing we would even bother buying him for his birthday or Christmas was an Amazon.com gift card.  For years it was a source of hurt and disappointment, but then became an inside joke.  Those of you with alcoholic or dysfunctional families know that sometimes you just have to laugh about the ludicrous things that you experience.  But this year, the planets aligned and a curse was lifted and my dad is sober and he LIKED WHAT WE GOT HIM!  He thanked us several times and literally used those words…”I like it”.  My sister and I were together at my house and were on speakerphone with him and just sat in stunned silence, looking at each other in disbelief.  Once we hung up with him, my sister yelled out “hell yeah!!!!” and we high-fived 🙂

Well, THAT lasted long…

I went home to my parent’s house for the first time in six months for Father’s Day yesterday. As I have mentioned before, this is one of my least favorite days of the year, so naturally I had some trepidation about the visit. I see my mom all the time because she comes down to where my sister and I live (about an hour away from my hometown), but I have not seen my dad since Christmas Day.

I am happy to report that everything went fine. My friend asked me today how things were and I told her there were no issues and so she said, “oh so he didn’t drink?” Nooooo…my father ALWAYS drinks, it is just a matter of how much and how early he starts. On the rare occasions that he does not drink at all, he literally stays in bed all day. But, it was a nice day. We had lunch, my sister helped my dad with some computer stuff, I helped my mom set up her patio furniture. My dad watched golf while we all just caught up. It was laid back and there was no drama. My dad even seemed grateful for the gift we got him (now we just get him Amazon gift cards- can’t go wrong with that!) I left feeling content and made a mental note to perhaps visit more often.

Until today. My father called my cell phone while I was at work and left me a nasty voicemail. It was about three minutes long and he just rambled on and on about nonsense, but at the end he started screaming into the phone. He ended his message by sarcastically saying, “oh happy Father’s Day…what a JOKE!”

So, I erased my mental note about visiting more. Unfortunately, his behavior on Father’s Day is the exception and the voicemail is the norm. It is like a roller coaster ride and reminded me how negatively I have always been affected by his unpredictable behavior and moods. I finally think I have the guy figured out and he throws me for a loop. I should have known better and I should not be surprised or disappointed. But I am.

“Moms are better than dads”

Let me preface this blog by saying that this clearly does not apply to all dads (or all moms, for that matter). I have been fortunate to know many good fathers- my friend has a pretty great dad, my boyfriend’s dad is amazing and my own grandfather was a wonderful father to my mother and my aunt. It is just that in my case, the title of this blog is true (which is why I have a tshirt that also says it lol… which I only break out on Mother’s Day because who will argue with me then?)

My mom is amazing and even though I do not agree with all of her life choices, she has been nothing but caring and supportive of her two daughters. She is generous with money, time, advice and love. She asks for nothing in return and I know, unequivocally, that she lives for my sister and me. What makes her happy is us being happy, which is a characteristic very common in good moms. Because of this, my sister and I try to show her how special she is, especially on Mother’s Day and her birthday. It is not about lavish, expensive gifts- my mother has very simple taste and treats a Vera Bradley bag she receives as if it was Gucci. My sister and I put a lot of thought into the gifts we get my mother and that is obvious.

I have to admit, though, that I do feel a little guilty that the scales are so tipped when it comes to celebrating my mother versus my father. Many would argue (and do) that he is not deserving of anything. If you read my last blog, you will remember that he actually returns almost everything we give him. He also criticizes gifts- my favorite Father’s Day story of all time was when I bought him two polo shirts from Macys and they accidentally charged my credit card for $.50 instead of $50. I was excited about the “perfect crime” at first, but then my father started sending emails that my sister and I wouldn’t even spend $5.00 on a gift for him. Ahhh…the irony!

I know my dad does not deserve the same treatment we give my mother because he does not treat us the way my mother does. But I do feel that little twinge of discomfort when he clearly sees the things we do for her. I just have to remind myself that no matter what we did for him, he would find something to complain about. See, my mother is the “Oh my! A macaroni necklace! You MADE this all by yourself? It’s BEAUTIFUL!” type and my dad is the “I am going to say thank you when I open the gift, return it asap and then send several days worth of emails complaining about my do nothing taker daughters” type.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the great moms out there 🙂

I’m going to need a gift receipt

A couple of weeks ago it was my father’s birthday. After Father’s Day, it is probably my second least favorite day of the year. It is not because I don’t like celebrating other people’s days, it is that my father acts even worse on occasions where he feels entitled to extra attention.

My sister and I buy gifts for my parents on their birthdays and on Christmas. My father is literally the most impossible person to shop for. It is not that it is hard to think of good gifts for him, rather that he returns EVERYTHING! We are all guilty of occasionally returning or regifting something that we don’t love or need, but he does it with almost every single present we give him.

Examples:
1. My dad got a job where he had to be on the road several hours a day traveling. I thought of the best gift- a mini fridge that plugs into the cigarette lighter in the car…because he was always complaining about having to stop for a cold soda and how his sandwiches would get warm. I was so excited to give it to him. He returned it to the store two days later.

2. My dad likes mini electronic helicoptors. My sister saw a Groupon for a really cool one and bought it for him. She thought she finally hit the nail on the proverbial head and found the perfect gift- the ONE that would not be returned. Nope. He returned it to Amazon and bought a bigger, better version.

3. My dad is obsessed with leftovers and my parents’ freezer is filled with all kinds of food in plastic baggies. After coming across the “As Seen on TV” vacuum sealer, I thought for sure that it was going to be a keeper. Negative.

3. There are too many others to name: sweatshirts, gadgets, tools, computer programs, jackets, books, etc. etc. There was one Christmas about 10 years ago where we got him a few polo shirts and some candy and he kept them! My sister and I felt like we pleased the Grinch!

But, after years of this, my sister and I decided that we would no longer put any effort into buying him gifts. Many of our friends/boyfriends thought we were crazy that we even bothered at all, considering that he acts so ungratefully. Now we simply buy him an Amazon gift card and call it a day. The thing is, I am not sure why we continued to try for so long. And there are still things I see that I think, “I bet he would like that” and then I remember all the years of having to hand over the gift receipt so he could return or exchange what we bought him.

I want to say that it became like a challenge or a game…”What Won’t Dad Return”…and although my sister and I joke about this, there is a hurtful element to it. I think it also molded me into an extreme people pleaser. This has been a recurring problem in my relationships with men. On a fundamental, simplistic level it is almost like “if I can just find the perfect gift or do something really nice and thoughtful, he (dad, boyfriend, etc.) will be happy and will continue to love me.” I am not a materialistic person at all and I would always rather give than receive. But this desire to please our father, who actually treats my sister and myself pretty horribly, has always been a little confusing and upsetting to me.