A Weekend With My Dad

This weekend we took P’s parents to my home town, about a five hour drive from our New England abode. My dad, who spends most of his time in Vermont these days, was back at the old house for the week, and was able to host us on Saturday night.

There were a few reasons I wanted to take them to my home town. First I wanted to show P’s parents where I grew up. We currently live in a city, and P grew up in a city, but I’m a country girl at heart. I grew up in a wooded area, climbing trees and going on adventures in the woods with my dog. We spent a lot of time outside, riding our bikes, swimming, picking wild blackberries and raspberries and eating them off the bush, planting vegetable gardens (and eating cherry tomatoes and small cucumbers off the vine as well!) If was a pretty fun childhood.

I also wanted to bring them to visit my dad because I wanted my dad to have the opportunity to bond with P’s parents a little.

My parents are divorced, something that P told his parents early on (and for a little while reinforced P’s mom’s view that—“See Americans will divorce you!”). They have met my mom a few times (in 2005 my mom came to P’s graduation and met his dad, in 2008 they stayed at her house in Virginia for a weekend, and my mom stayed with us a few days before the wedding) and they like her a lot. She is very entertaining (bordering on showy sometimes), but she is a great person to have when there is awkward silence, because she fills the silence with idle chatter (or embarrassing stories, which was the case during the wedding weekend). She is very extroverted, and animated, and easy to get to know because she lays it all out there for everyone right away.

One reason that my parents are divorced is because they are very different people. My dad is opposite to her in nearly every way—where she is loud and boisterous; he is quiet and reserved; where she likes to hustle and bustle, be close to the action and the city; my dad is happy to sit on his own, do things at his own pace, and live in the wilderness apart from others; where she is carefree, extroverted, and easy to know; my dad is difficult to know, introverted, and relatively serious (unless you get to know him well, then his dry sense of humor comes out).

P’s parents know very few divorced people (practically none). My theory is that they probably assume that in a divorce situation one partner was essentially “good” and one was essentially “bad.” Now my parents’ divorce is very complicated (much too complicated to begin sorting out in a blog post) and there are good and bad things on both sides, but the basic assumption that one person was totally wrong and “bad” and the other was totally right and “good” doesn’t fit this situation in the slightest. However that was the schema that made the most sense to P’s parents. Although they never outright said anything, since they met my mother first, and she is so bubbly and entertaining, right away they assumed my mother was the “good one” (I could tell by the way they would ask about her, but never my dad). I tried to explain to them in 2008 that the divorce was complicated, and they were only seeing one side (my mom’s side), but I think it was difficult for them to understand.

P’s parents first met my dad in 2008 when they stayed with my mother in Virginia. He drove down from New York to attend a program for my younger sister, and my mother insisted that he attend the “P and C family meeting” at her house, on her territory. Although everyone essentially behaved themselves (no arguments, etc), it was a bit of an unfair advantage for my mom, and I’m sure my dad was uncomfortable and more awkward and happy to escape to his hotel room once the meeting concluded.

I remember we were all sitting on my mom’s back porch. My mom was filing in the silence with stories (I remember one such story where she was telling about meeting P’s cousin MK for the first time, and how MK kept having to take smoke breaks—now the family kind of knows that MK smokes, but it’s one of those “she does it in secret” and they “pretend not to know” type of deals. I was standing inside the kitchen looking through the sliding screen door motioning with my hands for her to stop the story, and she said, “Oh look, C is trying to get me to stop, ha ha, anyway—so then…”)

My dad sat there mostly in silence. I remember P’s dad looking at him, hopeful for some “father to father” chit chat, but P’s dad didn’t know what to say (I think P’s family was relying on my parents to guide conversation since P’s parents were shy of their English), and I don’t think my dad felt that comfortable speaking. Eventually I said, “Hey dad, why don’t you talk with P’s dad.” And my dad turned and said, “So, how about the weather?” and that was pretty much it for conversation.

This awkward situation probably didn’t help their vision about my dad. He looked serious, quiet, and tough looking. Prior to their 2008 visit, when they would call and talk to me, P’s dad always asked about my mother and sisters and told me to say hello to them, but never mentioned my dad. After the 2008 visit he rarely, if ever asked about my dad (but at least slightly more than before).

Likewise, at the rehearsal dinner, between my parents, my mother dominated conversation again. She is just better at it, more comfortable, she doesn’t mind if P’s parents don’t really understand what she is saying, it’s easier for her to chat then sit through silence.

At the wedding my mother was dancing up a storm—dancing with everyone, including P’s dad. My dad mostly stood with his relatives on the porch, drinking beers and catching up on stuff. It’s the age old introvert/extrovert dichotomy.

I felt my dad needed his time and space to adequately share his personality with the P family. A short weekend trip to his home seemed like a good idea.

I’m glad we did it, because I think being in my dad’s space and on my dad’s time helped a lot. My dad had the opportunity to share his hunting stories without being talked over (my mom would surely find an extended conversation about hunting boring and dull). I think P’s dad really liked the one about my dad being on a bear hunt, and having a giant grizzly bear itching it’s butt on a tree no more than eight feet away from my dad’s hunting perch. My dad decided not to shoot it (P’s dad: “You had a gun ready, pointing at the bear?”) because his friend had killed a bear the night before and they were going to split the meat, so my dad just watched this giant animal walk around, so close he could practically touch it. Or the story about crawling two miles through the grassy plains of Montana stalking elk. Or about hiking out of the northern Canadian woods in waist high snow dragging a sled with 100 pounds of freshly killed caribou meat (my dad had pictures of the caribou hunt to help visualize his story).

My dad made a “Central New York” dinner—grilled deer meat (and veggie burgers for me and Mamu), fresh local corn on the cob, salt potatoes and melted butter, and apple pie made with local apples. We sat on the screened in back porch listening to the crickets, while my dad talked about things he was familiar with or that he enjoys—like how to make maple syrup (while we ate homemade blueberry pancakes in the morning) and which trees in our backyard were maples, what New York is famous for, what vegetables are locally grown, how he built our house himself, etc (again, conversations my mother would have found totally dull, but P’s dad seemed interested to hear).

My favorite questions that P’s dad asked that night were, “Do you have lions and tigers in America?”

Dad: “No. But we have mountain lions, which are big cats out in the Western US [He went inside and came back with a hunting advertisement with a mountain lion on it to show P’s dad what it looks like and how big they can be.] We don’t have them around here.”

P’s Dad: “Do you have elephants?”

Dad: “Nope.”

P’s Dad: “Monkeys?”

Dad: “No monkeys either.”

(I liked these questions because these animals are “normal” for P’s family, but exotic for mine. For P’s family it’s kind of strange that we don’t have monkeys running around, where as my dad probably thought the question was from left field.)

They talked about the animals we do have—skunks, beaver, opossum, fox, porcupine, etc—and which were also found in Nepal.

I think P’s dad liked being in the countryside. He desperately wanted to see animals (my dad told him there were generally some turkeys and sometimes deer around. We showed him a salt lick that my dad uses to attract deer to his backyard). On the screened in back porch P’s dad said it was like being on a jungle safari in Chitwan National Park—looking down into the woods to find the rhinos from a high perch. He told me in the morning that he got up in the night to watch the “jungle” from the porch to see if he could spot any animals but sadly didn’t see anything.

I think it was a successful trip. I think they realize that I don’t have one “good parent” and one “bad parent” but two very different parents, with different interests, energy levels, and personalities.

I feel confident that once they go back to Nepal and we chat on the phone again, they will now ask about and say hello to my mom and my dad.

My dad and I taking P's family around the sights in town-- including the city harbor on the shores of Lake Ontario

P's mom and dad pose outside my childhood home

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5 responses to “A Weekend With My Dad

  1. Such a good story teller merf. I’d probably have summarized our weekend trip as “Oh we had a good time visiting C’s father in New York this past weekend.”

  2. I really loved this post! I can imagine P’d dad asking all of those questions to your dad, I couldn’t stop laughing for some reason. Wasn’t mamu all freaked out with the hunting stories?
    I am so happy you guys had a good time – I would love to listen to your dad’s hunting stories sometime.

  3. Waw; you are so good at this! If you ever decide to give up blogging/student support, you would easily get a job with the United Nations!
    The start of this post really freaked me out! My in-laws haven’t met my parents yet, and thoughts of the eventual meeting always fill me with dread! My parents are very white, Scottish Protestant and my in-laws are all Iranian! There isn’t much synergy there! moreover, my parents are both working, and live very separate lives; they are not very involved with me, and thus my in-laws have decided they are bad, careless and unfeeling; doesn’t make for a good start! You’ve given me some tips though; I’ll think about the territory and maybe bring along some “uniting forces” like yourself to ease things; and hey; maybe my dad finding a ferret in the back yard qualifies as a hunting story?

  4. I really liked your description of your FIL asking your dad about local animals. Things like that help us see how much we’re still nestled in our own worldviews — “Who on earth would think there were monkeys running around the US?!? Oh, probably someone who has only known areas where monkeys run around!”

    I’m sincerely glad you got to have this weekend. Divorce can bring a sense of relief and other wonderful things, but it also brings many hard things. I did side strongly with my mom, but it’s still hard to feel like I’m not supposed to talk about my dad to most of my mom’s family. In a situation where two people decide they’ll be happier apart than they can be together, it must be so much harder to feel like there’s a perceived “bad guy” and to get subtle reminders every time you talk on the phone. It sounds like you put thought into what would help your in-laws see your dad the way you see him, and it worked.

  5. What a lovely post!
    L told me when he first moved to Australia he couldn’t believe there weren’t any monkeys here. What kind of continent doesn’t have monkeys right ;)

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