The many layers of loving

I'm an only child and I often consider my parents, my siblings. In some ways, we raised each other. Not always, of course. At one point I had them up in the middle of the night for feedings.

Like most kids though, I forgot the selflessness and remembered the times when they annoyed the crap out of me.

You have family. You know what I'm talking about.

If you ever want to play the game of whose family is more frustrating, let me know. I have a few trump cards.

Like the "projects" from Dad. I'm not talking about taking out the trash. He was way more creative than that.

How about moving rocks from one pile to another? Or, let's clean out the gutters! I also remember a particularly hot summer day when Mom and I were stuck resurfacing the driveway.

My favorite gem:

Someday this car will be yours, so you should help take care of it. Here's a toothbrush to clean the hubcaps.

I was 11 and by the time I could, I probably drove that car -- his candy-apple red, five-speed sports car with the turbo boost -- less than a dozen times.

While outside doing any of these tasks, often solo, I invented an "I hate Dad" song that I'd sing to myself. It was not far from the truth.

"Projects" aside, I spent most of my childhood trying to win his favor, or avoid him.

On more than one occasion, I remember Mom entering my room to comfort me, after I had been sent there by Dad for something I said or did, and sometimes it seemed for no reason at all. She'd apologize for his hurtful words, and for me feeling like I was wrong and like I didn't know how to make it right.

She was right, I had no idea, and felt the weight of wrongness whenever I was around him.

I know now that they both were dealing with adult stuff that I didn't see or couldn't understand. That life is more complicated than we make it as children.

All I knew then was that I felt alone, misunderstood, angry, and that it was his fault.

That deep hurt created an armor. Behind it I'd relive those lonely and upsetting memories, and think about Dad:

Why can't you be who I need you to be? Why can't you give me what I want?

Wearing armor puts you on the defensive, and I was.

For the decade after college, I was at the ready to argue about anything with him. Ready to see any wrong move or word by him as more proof of how he wasn't living up to who I needed him to be, and this time because I'm older and self-sufficient and ready I can really tell him what I couldn't back then.

It was a liberating adrenaline rush.

Problem was, he didn't want to fight anymore. Somewhere along the line, Dad became a softee and I was the only one yelling.

Watching our interaction a couple years ago, a friend told me how much he thought Dad loved me.

I became defensive. Clearly this friend did not understand the suffering I'd endured. And then:

So what? Dad had his chance to be there for me.

It is not pretty that I said that, but it's true.

It took some time for me to separate myself from the little girl who wanted (and deserved) more from the parents she depended on.

To see that I was holding a grudge, and ready to fight, on her behalf for something that would never be solved enough for the little girl, because we can't turn back time.

I'm not the little girl anymore, and Dad is not the dad I knew then. I can mourn for her, which I did, and also see what's really happening now.

After all that I see that my friend was right. Dad loves me.

As soon as I let down that armor and opened up slowly to the possibility that we could be friends, everything changed.

Since then, Dad has told me he's proud of me more times than I can remember. Each time I visit now, he goes for the hug first.

I playfully roll my eyes as I retell the hubcap story. It's pretty funny when you think about it, and when you're not wearing grudge-armor.

Recently he even sent me a handwritten thank you card. The first card ever that Mom hadn't purchased, written out, addressed and asked him to sign before it went in the mail. He went to the store himself with the express goal of sending me a card.

It all hit me the minute I saw the envelope in my mailbox with the familiar chicken-scratch in all capital letters. I started crying and couldn't open it for a good 30 minutes.

The little girl got exactly what she wanted. Not when she wanted, nor how she expected it. But it came.

It was worth the wait. I never imagined I'd say that.

On Father's Day this weekend, and whenever you see your family, I hope you'll see what is really happening.

See the olive branches being extended by the people who love you. The connections they want to make, the love they want to share, despite the grudges that may have clouded your vision over the years.

They are there if you want to see them, and reach out in return.

It will be worth it.