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Growing up in a strong matriarchal family, I always wondered what my dad’s role really was. He was and still is the most typical father figure: his main responsibility was that of a provider and second came that of educator.

The women in the family had the sacred duty to raise and enrich our lives. Most lessons about life, in all its complexity, the preparedness for difficult challenges that might arise, the vast and intrinsic values of our destiny as women were taught by my grandma, my mom and my aunt.

While little boys seem almost entirely attached to their mothers’ skirts for most of their growing up years, little girls, on the other hand, choose to “fight” every waking hour for the love and attention of their fathers. 

At first, I was debating if I should write this in Romanian, because it seemed natural to do so, but I chose English instead just because my parents might find this writing posted somewhere online and they might not understand; but most of all because my dad might get hurt by some words or the poor choice of words I used to describe our relation.

The story is long but in just a few words I’d say that most of my childhood had been tormented by the image of a dad that did everything right up to a point when he no longer found that purposeful. That is when he himself became the tormentor. Long battles with his alcohol addiction followed by his complete inability to deal with my mother’s illness have led to a cruel infidelity episode and temporarily abandonment of his home and family.

Tata

My dad, in the center of the picture.

I don’t even know what hurt more: my dad’s refusal to get help or my mom’s suffering while trying to help my dad. Being the youngest in my family has been a blessing and a curse. A blessing because I felt as if everybody loved me more and a curse because I stayed at home the longest and I had to witness all the scandals, sleepless nights and the vicious emotional shutdown that followed.

Raised by my grandma from my mother’s side meant that for almost 9 years she took the role of both parents, teacher, mentor, friend, companion and everything in between. She was my everything. When school started and I was going on 2nd grade I moved back with my parents and I thought that is going to be a great adventure, not knowing that the quiet and safe years of my childhood were coming to an end.

With both my siblings moving out of the house, my parents living under the same roof but not speaking to each other – I had to be something myself, either continue to be a kid and do what kids do at that age, or just mature abruptly and suck it up. It’s been a combination of the two, like a crazy growing pains emotional experiment.

I do feel that I was a little bit socially awkward, did not have many friends, but otherwise just like any other kid out there. I continued to go to school, being above average, studious, but non-conformant, great grades, respectful. My most rebellious moments were outbursts of anger and a faint warning addressed to my parents here and there: “I’m going to move back with grandma”. That never happened though, which really pained me.

As an adolescent I still chose to see my dad in great colors, meaning that almost every mishap was forgotten. I wanted him to be around, to help me with my science homework (he was a Physics teacher among other things), take me out for ice-cream. You know, simple things. In my head I always knew that I could count on my mom to always be there. She was a constant reminder that we can still have a family. But I was yearning for my dad, which put me in really embarrassing situations. Every drunken moment when I was sent by my mom to pick up my dad from the bar (which happened a lot) was digging deep in my mental well-being and scarred me for good. It was fear, and embarrassment and a lot of anger. I hated him every night he came home looking and sounding like a complete stranger and loved him even more the next day when everything was back to normal.

Dad and I

Playing backgammon with my dad a few summers ago

In my 30’s now and I realized that my dad and I have never been on a trip together (considering my parents took both my brother and sister to the seaside during their summer breaks for over 10 years in a row). My school breaks were spent mostly with my grandma and my mom (especially after she was forced into early retirement because of her illness). I had a few trips with my sister and my first vacation away from home with my brother was 2 years ago.

My sister moved out in her early 20’s, so did my brother. I went to college at 19, moved to the capital city but spent every weekend with my parents. With time, things got better at home. My parents reached a reconciliation point and just like many Romanian families, they decided to stay together through thick and thin and work it out. I was mad at my mom for a long time because she decided to give my dad another chance. I truly wanted her to leave my dad and move on, but back then I did not realize what love can do. It changes life, perspectives, it changes everything. My parents were meant to stay together, live together, suffer and be happy together. 

Time has passed and old wounds have healed, but I can’t help wondering how my life would have been without my dad in it. My relationships with men have been deeply influenced by the connection I had with my dad. All his mistakes were projected unto the men that at a point or another were part of my life. And after all these years I still hold my dad responsible for some of my failures. He was not a perfect family man but in a way he was an amazing parent. I learned from his mistakes more than I learned from his good example; and that it’s something good to be left with.

It’s amazing how much we are willing to endure when we love someone. As a mature women I feel that I owe my resilience and endurance to my mom, and the power of forgiveness to my dad. I wish I could pay them back one day; all their endless love, and support and all the grace that came from offering their best advice every time.

My biggest wish is to take my dad on a trip to Rome (it has been his biggest wish for a long time). He is a sort of a history nerd, just like me, and the eternal city fascinated him for many years. So, I either have to start saving money today for that trip or win the lottery. One way or another I will make that wish come true for him.

 

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