Monday, May 08, 2006


My father and I had a very difficult relationship. We screamed at each other nearly as much as we talked to one another, and we almost invariably disagreed about anything and everything. Part of the problem lay in the fact that we had quite similar approaches to dealing with the world, and it wasn't all that productive. Dad and I acted as if we lived in a world we both thought should be, not necessarily the one that is. To that end, we refused to suffer fools all that gladly or play political games at work, which caused both of us immeasurable frustration (and psychic pain due to career dysfunction as well).
Dad was a brilliant computer programmer, but not that good a communicator apparently--not a singular fault in that community, of course, but IBM in the 70s and 80s was becoming a company less and less concerned with quality programming and more interested in retail sales and marketing. The managers were no longer being culled from the ranks of programmers and analysts, and Dad had risen as high as he could among the ranks of programmers. He was the guy called upon to fix entire systems constructed poorly, for example; he was "loaned out" to other companies needing expertise on a number of occasions. Within IBM, however, his career path had stalled as those less skilled than he rose above him. This understandably made him fairly bitter toward a company he had given his immense talents, hard work, and devotion to, and when they had him forcibly retired after 27 years, I'm sure a part of him broke.
Perhaps as a function of seeing Dad so miserable (or maybe just a burgeoning self-awareness that my severe naivete was useless in the real world), I decided that I would attempt to learn all I could about the real world and all its denizens. I stopped taking math classes after the 11th grade, thereby rejecting my paternal genetic predisposition toward becoming another Griest engineer-type. I threw myself into learning the "liberal arts", which had always baffled me previously when asked questions needing more than regurgitation of memorized facts. Actually thinking about what authors were trying to say, or what people meant when they spoke or wrote, was incredibly difficult for me, but this was the challenge I set for myself. I wanted to understand people, not things.
I don't know if my rejection of his "skill set" hurt Dad; I guess I assume in some way he was hurt, but he never said anything to me about it. In fact, I can't remember a time when he spoke of his feelings to me at all. I, on the other hand, bled all over my friends and family with my emotions, probably causing many to reject me (or even question my sanity or good intentions)--I had simply found a different method from Dad's of intimidating and alienating people. I continued to strive to learn how to behave, however, to the extent that I think by now I might have enough savvy to be not only a good person, but also a decent friend and a reasonably insightful one as well.
When Dad was forced to retire, he sank into a real depression of the likes that he had never given himself the time to feel. I know he would have eventually pulled himself out of it; he had too much drive to lie around watching daytime TV forever. I like to believe that he would have devoted time to learning how to relate to people as I had done, because he fundamentally had a kind, good heart with a razor-sharp humor that probably surprised and definitely delighted those few who got to see and hear it. (The one thing Dad and I shared about which we had no "issues" was a love of sports; our sole bonding experience was when we would watch any sporting event and call out the cliches before the announcers would invariably use them to describe what was happening on the field. A good time would be had by all . . .) I also like to believe that he would have been incredibly fascinated with the Internet and website construction, I can only imagine the brilliant pages he would have been able to build.
I can only imagine it, because Dad died before the Internet reached the public just a few short years later--he also died before his granddaughter was born, before I met TBO, before he could do any recovering from IBM at all, before he could figure out what he would do with the other 30 or so years he should have had (his parents both lived into their 90s, as had his mother's parents). His sudden death robbed him of what probably would have been the happiest years of his life, and robbed me of being able to try helping him understand me so that we could have stopped the fighting between us. I can't miss the anger between us, or the frustration, or the disagreements. What I do miss is the possibility of mending our relationship, or even better, building one anew. I missed out on the chance to have an actual loving relationship with my father, and that sucks. IBM ironically freed him to pursue a new, more satisfying direction for his life, but death cheated him, and that is tragic.
I'm sorry Dad. You deserved better.
Alan, father of bryduck
d. 5/8/1994 (Mother's Day)


Blogger sporksforall said...

I am fairly sure that he would have figured out a better way in the world and would have liked and loved the man his son is today. I'm grateful to him for you, that's for sure.

1:35 PM  
Blogger scout said...

Nice tribute to your dad, Bry. He sounds like an interesting and complicated guy.

2:09 PM  
Blogger Slangred said...

You are indeed a good person, you are a fantastic person and a great friend. I know your dad would have been proud of who you are. And I know the regret you feel over a lost oppportunity for you to have a better relationship, and over his lost chance at finding reward and fulfillment from people in his life. I'm sorry.

2:23 PM  
Blogger Karen Preston said...

Wow! I have tears in my eyes as I write this. With my own life steaming merrily along in 1992-94, I never thought of the depths of pain in which Dad lived-you were there to see it, day in and day out. I also wonder what could have been because Dad's and my relationship was just starting to grow deeper and kinder, as we started to relate to each other as adults. Daddy would have loved being a grandparent to The Only Grandchild and I agree that he would have had a ball with the Internet.
Dad certainly deserved better from me; I guess the lesson to be learned is to make sure we shower the living with our love and attention now, because there may be no tomorrow. I love you, BS

4:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like Karen I am crying so much that I can barely see to type. Of course the presence of the amiodarone blue haze doesn't help! I don't think you guys remember with fondness like I do the dinner conversations laced with so much humor that I sat back & marvelled at how witty everybody else was! I guess I've forgotten the fights, the disagreements, etc but I will never forget the sports in our house - both played & watched. The tension over some football games was so intense I had to go for a walk! You better believe your dad would be so proud of you and Karen and the terrific adults you have become. I know I am....
Love from Good old Mom

6:31 PM  

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