Gillian Jones: Respecting my dad this Father's Day

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WILLIAMSTOWN — I have referred to my mother as a single mom in this column space. I don't speak much of my father, because this column is primarily about my mom and our experiences with dementia. My mom is my muse, but my dad is very much a part of my life, even if he wasn't around much when I was growing up.

Recently my dad Googled me and one of my columns about my mother came up.

"How come you refer to her as a single mother?" he asked.

It was a tough question to answer. But I told him the truth. While my dad supported us financially while we were growing up, he simply wasn't around that much. To his credit, he worked. He worked a lot. He worked more than one job at times, and even tried to follow his passion for theater in his spare time.

My parents met when they were both working at Blue Cross Blue Shield of New York in Manhattan in the mid to late 1960s. My dad told me that when he saw my mom, he couldn't stop staring at her. My mom noticed and perhaps it annoyed her, but she was used to men staring at her. She was a gorgeous young woman. She made her own clothes. She had a petite, but strong dancer's body. She was a knock-out. She could have been a model.

"She's the Greta Garbo of the office," coworkers would say when my dad asked about her. That basically meant she was "aloof and wanted to be left alone."

My mom lived and worked in Manhattan for many years studying ballet. My dad came to the city to pursue acting in the '60s. He was passionate about it and claims he was one of the founding members of the Roundabout Theater Company. But when he met my mom, all those dreams were put aside as he fell head over heels in love with her.

They married in September of 1968 and I was born just days before Christmas in 1969.

I was born in Queens and when I was two we moved out to Long Island. My mom worked up until she had me and didn't go back to work until 13 years later. So my dad was the breadwinner and when we moved out to the island, he had to commute into the city every day.

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SPLIT CHANGED WORLD

My parents' relationship was complicated. As an adult, I think that neither of them were especially equipped to have a successful marriage.

I was only six years old when they split up and my world was forever changed. It was when I first went into therapy. I still remember spending that first Thanksgiving with him in the city in his tiny apartment. I slept on a rollaway bed and felt such pity for my father and what his life had become. I missed him. I remember being on his shoulders as we watched the Macy's Thanksgiving day parade. I remember dinner with one of his friends.

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But when I got home to my mother, I was all out of sorts. I cried and yelled at her. I remember a conversation where we spoke about how it made me feel to see dad and it was somehow decided that I wouldn't visit him again. Instead he came out to visit us on Long Island, usually on Sundays and on holidays like Christmas day, but never Christmas eve. Then his visits became less frequent. I'd expect him to visit and then something would come up.

My brother was two at the time of their separation and has more intense memories of my parents arguing. He has a very different experience than I. While my brother and dad did have a relationship, my brother stopped speaking to my dad more than a decade ago. To this day, my dad doesn't understand why.

"Sometimes I think your brother has my worst qualities," my dad will say.

"Well he and I have your best qualities too,dad," I reply.

My dad is a complex person. He watches the news and is passionate about politics. He is talented in the arts. He plays piano by ear and apparently had a good singing voice, although I have never heard him. I've seen him perform in one play, and I was impressed. My mom said that he was a good director too. My dad used to bring VHS tapes of the plays he performed in for us to watch during his Sunday visits. Usually I'd fall asleep. I prefer live theater, not a recording.

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Both my brother and I have talent in the arts which comes from both sides. I think we have the best, and more complicated aspects of our parents, in both of us.

So I think I've gotten a lot of good qualities from my dad. I have his work ethic for sure. While he often worked at least two jobs, I always have at least two jobs and sometimes three!

I play guitar and sing in front of an audience. I enjoy entertaining my friends with my stories and making them laugh. While I am introverted by nature, I am way more sociable than my mom, dad and brother.

My dad is younger than my mom and healthier than she is. He lives in New Jersey and I don't see him often.

Despite the complexities of my parents' relationship, my mom always told me it was important to respect my dad. Honor thy father and mother, the Commandments say.

And to this day, my dad still cares very deeply for my mother. He even supplements her meager Social Security each month. Neither of them ever remarried.

I think he appreciates the benefits of the upbringing my mother provided me in making me the person I am today. While we have, and continue to have our "moments," I have come to accept my dad for who he is and am grateful that he is in my life.

Gillian Jones, an Eagle digital visual journalist, is writing a monthly op-ed series on caregiving. Her email is gjones@berkshireeagle.com.


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