About every 3 or 6 months I accompany my dad to his Dr. appointments which he comes into town for. He lives 2.5 hours away, but when he moved away (about 10 years ago) he didn’t want to change Doctors.
Anyhow, I was sitting in the Dr.’s office with him as he talked about his birds. He buys birds pretty frequently as they tend to die on him. Like every other time he’d told me about the birds, I told him, “Dad, if you can’t give them what they need, then you shouldn’t have them.” His response today was, “but I want them.”
I looked up to the ceiling and felt my head rest on the wall. My anxiety started to kick in and I wanted to cry.
In my life I’ve had several kinds of pets: dogs, cats, rats, fish, even an iguana once that someone gifted me, but I never ever wanted to cage a bird. Although I believe that all animals deserve to be free, birds are a living symbol of freedom to me, and to cage one feels like a crime. And here was my dad, chronically caging birds despite his horrible track record.
Many times my hypersensitivity gets the best of me, and all I can do is relate. My dad wanted kids, lots of them, despite knowing how to care for them. He knew how to provide for his family in that we always had a roof over or head, food on the table, electricity, school supplies, medical care, and clothing, but beyond that he just didn’t know what kids needed. Our emotional and spiritual needs weren’t met and our identity was fashioned by guilt and obligation. Being the youngest, he would tell me “you have to be something because no one else has surpassed my success, and you’re the only hope of doing that.” Quite a lot of pressure for a kid take on.
Don’t get me wrong. I am in no way unappreciative for what my dad did do for us. Most of my friends didn’t have fathers or had fathers who didn’t provide for their family. I am grateful to have had a father who sacrificed his life so that we didn’t have to go without. AND it is also true that only half our needs were met. I understand that no parent can do it all, even if you have both present on your life. Even the most compassionate and attentive parents are going to miss something. I’m just naming the “something” in my upbringing.
So here I was, with my dad at his doctor appointment, trying to be present with him and feeling like I wanted to cry because I could see how these birds of his are so much like me and my brothers and sisters. He wants them, loves them, provides them with their basic needs, and without intending to, does them some harm despite all his good intentions. And when one dies, he fills the void by adding more as if to say “maybe this one will be strong and live”, instead of looking at why it died and changing his actions.
I think what hurt more was that he couldn’t hear what I was saying to him. I was reminded of how me and him have such a hard time communicating. It’s as if we speak different languages. He is not a shallow or unintelligent man, on the contrary he is very passionate, deep, and wise. I know he can understand what I’m trying to convey. But I feel like a part of him is too defensive and a part of me is too afraid of hurting him with (what I see as) my truth.
After the appointment, I talked to him about how I’m aware that sometimes I come across as harsh when I speak my truth, and that I speak that way because I feel like he doesn’t hear me and I want to make sure that I’m heard. He responded by telling me that he gets triggered when any of us speak about our crisis because it reminds him of the day he was told that his son died.
I know I heard him, and I understood what he meant, but I don’t feel like he really heard me or understood what I was trying to say. It is always like this.