Competing with a Ghost
"Dad would have done it this way..."
"Dad would have let me..."
Here's the thing: dad isn't here and I am. One of the most difficult thing of being an only parent is the comparison game. I know divorced parents deal with this too, but on a different level. They sometimes get played against one another...and so do we widows only our competition is a ghost.
It's easy to idealize those who've passed on. I'm guilty of it myself. There are moments I catch myself thinking about Sean and only remembering the good things. I forget his addiction...the insanity of it...the hallucinations and paranoia...the fear. It's easier to remember the good looking man with the smile who could ski and build anything. So it's no wonder that my kids, who were very young when they died, idealize a father they wish they'd gotten to know.
But as the one who's here putting up the good fight every day just to make ends meet and who's dealing with all of the challenges of only parenthood, competing with an idealized version of a man long gone is beyond frustrating. It's downright infuriating.
I lost my temper about this last week. I've been under a lot of stress working non-stop seven days a week and preparing for my daughter to leave for college. My son started talking about how "if only dad were here, things would be different and he'd be happier...He'd be able to go skiing as much as he wanted and he'd be able to get the skis he wanted because dad would be 'into' it."
I'm a downer, you see.
I'm the one who is here, the one who needs to be both mom and dad. I'm the one who needs to say 'no.' I'm the one who pays the bills and manages the budget. I'm the one who makes--and enforces--rules. I'm the one who 'used to be fun' but now works all of the time.
My late husband took the easy way out that day he hung himself. I have forgiven him--mostly--but there are times like these when I get pissed off. He left us. He left his two beautiful little kids who needed him to be here to take them skiing and every other thing he could have shown them. He abandoned his wife who once had a good and thriving career, but chose to stay home with the kids as part of our 'deal' as a married couple. Starting over sucks...especially over the age of 40 and especially when the bigger than life memory of the man we all loved looms over us.
I lost my temper with my son last week. I started yelling because his comments struck a chord of insecurity within me at the exact right time. I told him, "If you're looking for a hero, you're looking at her. I'm the hero. I'm the one who hasn't given up even though it's been damn hard. I'm the one who stays no matter what. I'm your fucking hero." Imagine that being screamed at the top of my lungs while waving a doggie toy around like a crazy woman. Yeah, I lost it.
Sometimes we need to lose it, just let it all out rather than trying to hold it all together. No one got hurt, not even the dog toy. My son looked shocked and just blinked at me from where he sat on the sofa, but he shut up about the blissful life he'd have if only dad were here. He's 16, by the way. He can handle the truth.
What-ifs and if-onlys serve no good purpose. All they do is make us believe in a fantasy that will never come true and make us question a reality that is actually pretty damn good.
I don't blame my son. I had a momentary blow up from stress and my feelings of losing time with my daughter (I'll write more about that next week). I have done the comparison game when talking to new men I meet. I hold them up to all the good qualities that Sean possessed and try not to remember the bad. Perhaps because he died I feel a need to honor the man I loved without tainting his image, but that's not okay. Not really. I honor him by remembering him as he really was, with all of his flaws, because I loved him so much that I still ache for him. He wasn't perfect, neither am I. No one is. I honor him best by remembering his human nature rather than an ideal I created from loneliness or longing. I have been guilty of holding new men up to an ideal that is truly unrealistic and unfair.
My son has done the same with me by comparing me to a parent he doesn't actually remember. He looks at photos and hears stories and conjures up a fantasy of the father he missed out on knowing. I can't compete with a fantasy. I'm too real, too flawed, too in-your-face to be mistaken for an ideal.
If I can't compete with a ghost, then it's not okay for me to ask others to do so either. Those of us who are alive, who are flawed, who 'stay' to fight the good fight every day, we are the heroes and, in real life, heroes are never perfect.
Peace to you.
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