By Carmelene Melanie Siani
“Look at dad!” my daughter laughed as we sat on the patio a couple of years ago going through old pictures, “He’s got his hippy look on!”
I glanced at the photograph of my former husband that she was pointing to and out of nowhere felt a kind of emotional stab near my heart.
The picture had captured the image of a handsome 40-something-year-old man. A man who in the 1970’s had entirely changed from the Catholic school boy he’d always been to the groovy, long side-burned, hair down to the collar, man with the mustache that was staring back at me.
He’d been the father of my three daughters, the one I married in 1961 when I was 19 years old and who I had stayed married to for 30 years. The one who I always viewed as having a narrow perspective on life, as being black and white in his thinking and as not being flexible.
I reached over and picked up the picture, holding it between my thumb and forefinger.
I looked at the man in the picture closely. He was smiling, yes. But there was something else about the picture as well. Something I had never seen before. Something that felt new.
“You know what?” I said to my daughter, more or less without thinking but knowing that I didn’t want to stop myself from saying what I was about to say, “We had a great family life with your dad. We had all the things that a family wants to have. Vacations. Holidays. BBQ’s on the weekends, knee-deep Christmas presents, grandparents, cousins….”
My daughter had stopped her sorting and looked over at me.
“I gotta’ say,” pausing in that way that we pause when a new truth is about to make itself heard, “Ninety percent of it was because of him. I guess I’ll always be grateful to him for that.”
My daughter eyes were brimming. “It just feels so good to hear you say that mom, like a missing piece has fallen into place.”
I knew what she meant. It felt like that for me too. In looking at my ex-husband’s picture I finally saw something that I’d never let myself see before. “What I always complained about as your dad’s faults” I told my daughter, “Were actually boundaries that kept our family defined and contained and clear. They were a sign of his good character.”
My daughter’s father, my first husband, had actually taught me a lot about boundaries—about being able to say yes to this and no to that. He and I had grown up together and he’d carved out a life for us in those 1960’s days when my only goal was to be a great housewife. More than anything, however, while he struggled to adapt, he also held his ground when the world beneath our feet was rocking with the societal changes of those very same 1960’s and 70’s.
I carefully put the picture into the box that held all the pictures I wanted to keep for myself.
“I’m gonna take this picture of your dad,” I told my daughter. I didn’t want to forget the new awareness I had in my heart—the feeling of gratitude for all that he had been, for how hard he had tried, and for how much I and his children had needed him.
“I think I should tell him what I’ve realized,” I thought. “I think I should tell him—after all these years—how grateful I am to him.
Thanksgiving is coming. It’s a good time of year to do that.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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