Like a lot of the kids I grew up with in San Diego, my dad was in the US Navy. What did this mean?
For one, my dad would sometimes go overseas for months at a time. For me, that meant my siblings and I (especially my sister and me) could fight like “cats and dogs” (as my dad often put it) with no worries about the glaring evil eye appearing in the doorway. Whenever he’d hear my sister and me fighting, he’d tell us to take it out in the street. Sometimes my sister would trick me and look at the doorway when I was in the middle of whining/crying/screaming. Sometimes my dad would be there, but most of the times he wouldn’t.
My dad was the stricter one of my parents. Being scolded by him sent a chill down my spine. It still does today when I think about it. I think my dad’s strict upbringing made him this way. I didn’t like my dad when I was a kid. Just recently my mom reminded me that I asked her, “When are you getting a divorce?”
I just thought my dad was mean. According to what I’ve heard from my siblings and my mom, I had it “easy” compared to what happened to my siblings. I remember my dad throwing away things, such as if I left something out where it shouldn’t be. For instance, one Christmas I had received a Snoopy gumball machine. I had left it out on the coffee table in the living room. The next day, I found it in the trash.
Despite enjoying times when my dad was away, it was nice when he came back home. It was a brief time of happiness seeing him step off the ship. One time after a longer deployment, he came back with so much stuff – t-shirts, shoes, wallets, knickknacks, etc. He was like Santa Claus.
There were low times too. I can remember a lot of yelling happening between my dad and other members of our household. Being the youngest, I always had the feeling it was my fault somehow.
There were also moments of tenderness. My dad has definitely lightened up over the years. One of my most recent moments I will never forget was when I had to tell my dad that our cat had passed away. My mom, boyfriend and I had just dropped her off at the emergency vet to start dialysis treatment. The next morning, around 4 AM, the vet called me. I cried for a few hours, then slept. Then when I heard my dad wake up, I struggled for another hour on how to tell him.
God, I don’t care what anyone says. A pet is a member of the family. It still makes me cry just thinking about that moment. My dad just started crying and saying our cat’s name. I felt sad on another level — it was like my parents had lost their last “child” who was still at home.
Earlier this year, my dad lost his younger sister, who died from kidney cancer. He didn’t attend the services, and sometimes I wonder if he’s really okay with that.
I’ve never been close to my dad, but I think our relationship is much better than when I lived at home. For one, he accepts my boyfriend and that makes me feel good. A touching moment was when I first moved out of the house, and my dad was helping me move in to my apartment. Before he left, he said to my boyfriend, “You take care of her now.”
Lesson Learned: My dad may have been strict, but it was all out of love.