Fathers and Daughters

I still remember his deliberate movements; his even-paced, leisurely walks around the block in the late afternoon sun; the slow grin into which he would break when I read to him in French.  At 66, my grandfather was not the authoritarian he had been when raising my mother.  With my sister and me, he was all warmth, his smiles and displays of affection a constant reminder of his approval of us.  He visited during the summers, and the room in which he stayed was named “chambre de Pere-Pere” even after he returned to Haiti at the end of his visits.  After he died, my mother summarily announced that the room was no longer “Grandfather’s room;” instead, it was just the TV room.  She wore only black and white for one year to mourn his passing, despite the fact that their relationship had not been everything she wanted it to be.  One of the first colored items of clothing she wore when her grieving period was complete was an embroidered short-sleeved linen shirt that had belonged to him.  Even now, when I see men wearing Guayaberas in the streets of Miami, I am reminded of my Pere-Pere.

For reasons at once complex and simple, my daughter does not know her maternal grandfather; they have never met.  My relationship with my father is strained; and the offenses that have passed between us are made heavier by our cultural differences.  A West African man, he is comfortable neither acknowledging the pain he has caused his children, nor spontaneously reaching out to connect with his daughters; because he is an elder, we must contact him first, and keep contacting him even if he chooses not to respond.  An American girl, I’m well versed in pop psychology; I know that toxic people, even parents, do not deserve space in my life.  As a result, I’ve made peace with the distance between us, no longer needing his validation.  We talk on occasion, but the conversations are often muddled by his insistence on settling the score, noting what I did or did not do that requires his reprimand.

It’s okay, necessary even, to give myself what my father has not been able to give me.  But what of that which my father could give to my daughter?  I would love to marvel at his ability to be tender and understanding with her in a way he cannot be with his first-born, much like my mother probably marveled at my grandfather’s soft touch with my sister and me.  There must be something liberating about being a grandparent; freed from the burden of active parenting, grandparents are only expected to offer love, unfettered by the messy complications of disappointment in failure, or anxious hope for success.  And just as easily, grandchildren offer only love in return, aware that a grandparent’s love is more truly unconditional than that of their parents.

I think about the possibilities of that unconditional love between grandfathers and granddaughters when I do call him; I am always hopeful that our conversation will finally be less about who wronged whom, and more about catching up.  My daughter babbles cheerfully in the background, and instantly his voice softens.  “Oh, I can hear her,” he says wistfully.  “She must be so big, now.”

13 thoughts on “Fathers and Daughters

  1. What we’ll do for our children…my mother never had a relationship with her father, but in the same way that your mother did, she did not cut off the possibility of her children having a relationship with him when he was open to doing so. When he was willing, we’d visit with him at holidays, he’d buy us gifts. Recently, he’s been very ill; my mother took my children to see him in the hospital. I know she harbors a lot of resentment towards him that I don’t think will ever be worked out due to his failure to acknowledge his wrongdoing by her and her siblings, but the value in knowing family is just that great.

    And it is true that grandparents are drastically different beings than parents are. Both of my parents tell me constantly that the people I see now as grandparents must be aliens that took over the bodies of their parents – they are just that different with their grandchildren.

    One last thing – if you choose to allow your daughter to see your father, you can still choose to not allow the “crazy” into the space. This can be done by either explicitly requesting it with him, or by not allowing it to affect you – ignoring, saying “hmm-hmm,” changing the subject, etc.

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    1. Making a request at the outset that things remain civil would doom the entire endeavor. Suggest that he had a civility problem? oh, hell no! So, as you suggested, I instead tell myself to not let things get to me. Sometimes I succeed, but there’s always a moment when I’m like “OMG; I can’t take it anymore; what you’re saying is just not true!!!”

      Like I wrote, having them meet wouldn’t just be about the value to my daughter; I think I’d like to give him the opportunity to develop that untroubled relationship with her. It would be good for him; and probably good for me to see. But maybe the fact that I’d have so many expectations would doom the meeting to failure anyway…

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  2. Hey Moumou…. My intentions were not to cry while reading your blog, but I guess Iam a cryer. You took me down memory lane and for some unbknowst reason, my father was on my mind and reading you made it worse. I guess time will only tell what will happened. You are doing your best by reaching out….. the rest is all up 2 him. When one knows better, she does better..

    I do remember my father a whole lot (your Pere Pere).

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    1. I’m happy you read the post, Tatie, although I’m not happy it made you cry! LOL! Thanks for reading. I have many memories of your father, too. 🙂

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  3. I related to this post, but moreso as it related to my relationship with my mother. Fortunately, I was able to put aside a lot and let my mother and son connect, even if she was only alive for his first 6 months of life. I think it was her terminal diagnosis that pushed me to let things go because now, all I wish is that he could know her. She isn’t here though…

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    1. Thanks for your response, Benee; I remember your posts about your mother; it was amazing to read how you came full circle in your relationship with her.

      That’s the thing, right–our parents are not here forever. The irony is that sometimes, it is just their departure that allows us to put the proper perspective on the troubled relationship we may have endured while they were here.

      I’m not sure what will happen. I wouldn’t go out of my way to prevent them from meeting, but I’m not tripping over myself to make it happen either…

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      1. Right and you dont have to. You have to follow your own spirit.

        Part of me was concerned about what type of influence she might have over him or what impact, given the decisions she’d made in her own life and in regards to me. Part of me wasn’t sure I wanted to let her in. My ex had a lot to do with helping me push past that. And, I’d reached the point of forgiveness because of her own willingness to admit her wrongdoing. It doesnt seem your dad is at that point. Unfortunately, it is his loss.

        However, if there is one thing that brings grandparents around, it is usually that… being grandparents. Our children remind them of us and they see our children as the opportunity to try again, but only this time do things different. Well, thats how Is ee most grandparents at least.

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  4. This is such a beautifully written post ORJ. I think that relationships with grandparents can be very tricky. My mother was not treated very well by her parents, and growing up their disregard for her became more and more obvious. It meant that I felt very comfortable making their presence in my life, and particularly my older two children’s lives, a non-priority. This hurt my mom some, because I think she wanted to use her grandkids to form a bond with them she was never really able to do with her kids. Both of her parents died recently and now it will never be.

    I say remember the principle of forgiveness, and know that I have seen in my own father how much people can really revolutionize themselves for the better. However, put yourself and your children first. We start new families with marriage and/or children and we must protect those bonds first and foremost.

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  5. Tanji, that is so beautifully said: ” we start families with marriage and chidren, and we must protect those bonds first.” Thank you for that.

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  6. as always late to the game…an AMAZING post that resonates deep in my soul. the relationships with my biologicals are virtually non-existent…for different reasons I suppose.

    As far as my father. In recent months, he packed his ish, moved, changed his number and didn’t let me know. Some days I’m angry that he barely knows his 16 year old grandson…other days I’m sad that we’ve never had much of a relationship. But most of the time I feel compassionate, knowing the tragedy, sorrow, and depression of his life. I don’t know that I’ll ever see or speak to him again. He’s made it clear, on multiple occasions, that he is just NOT interested… his loss. He’s missing out on a great grandson, and getting to know his daughter. Perhaps he’s shamed, 16 years ago when I told him I was prego, he “disowned me”. I LITERALLY remember every word of that conversation: After Calling me all kinds of tramps, a disgrace to the family, an embarrassment, a shame, and the worst (in his mind) he added: “you’re just like your no-good mother. You wasnt never nothin, aint nothin, and ain’t gonna be nothing. You’re a statistic. You and your no good lousy grandmother sitting up on welfare and food stamps. I made a mistake with you. Thank God I have another child, I hope I’ll get it right with him.”

    The fact that I was soon to graduate from college meant little to him at that point. He had his hopes on me becoming a doctor, and not the teacher I aspired to become. We tried after my son was born to act-regular, as if that conversation never happened… but no such luck. He was proud, I imagine, when I was accepted to the Phd program, but still, we kept our distance, awkward silences and months and months of no communication remained the norm. It’s over now. It’s easier for me because i only lived with my father for 2 years of my life. Much of my experience with him were school breaks and long distance phone calls. Although I always knew him, looking back, I realize that it was his mother and sister who I spent most of my time with. He never really knew me, nor I him. I’ll even say that he never really liked me, I represented my mother, the woman he loathed.

    Orj-your phone calls to your father are TRULY a testament to your forgiving and compassionate heart! LOVELY!

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  7. Yes it is a beautiful testimony Samou….we came a long way to now acknowledge what is the thirst for love and we definitely want to give the best to our children, including the tender hand or the soft voice of a grandfather. There is a deeper place in the heart of a human being, when unaware of it, that pops out, like a rocket when his eyes meet his grandchild. The lesson of Pere-pere is eloquent….
    God is love and He opens many door with His divine Keys. You have a beautiful daughter and she will capture the heart of a man that once was contemplating secretly to have a grandchild, a sweetheart for whom he would want to sing a lullaby, until she fell asleep in his protective arms……
    Love always !!

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