Julia and Madeleine came to the city a few weekends ago. It was a class trip and they toured all of the attractions I now avoid. Colleen wasn’t home the other night when I called so Julia and I settled in for a fun chat.
“I just loved the Wax Museum.”
“Really Julia. Do you think I would like it too?”
“You haven’t been? Oh definitely you’d like it. They have statues for young people but there are some for old people too – like the Beatles.”
“Julia, are you telling me I’m old?”
“Well yeah, you are.”
She said it so matter of fact. Reality sharpened to a fine point and twisted firmly and precisely into my ego. I flinched from the pain but knew she wasn’t being malicious. I let out a laugh instead of a howl. When I told Lisa about the conversation she said, “She sounds like she has a bit of Bob Unedited.”
Bob Unedited is what we call my father. Growing up we hadn’t realized that my mother was editing him all of our lives. They had a 1950’s kind of marriage where he came home at 4:00 in the afternoon, took a nap on the couch, we all sat down for dinner at 5:00 and then he read the paper while we went off to do our homework. We never actually interacted with my Dad. Sure, he drove us here there and everywhere but he was always the Dad and at arm’s length. He didn’t like emotions and we were brimming with them. Arms length was a comfortable distance for all of us. The only thing that was driven home to us was that our mother was our responsibility. She was 11 years younger than him and never paid a bill. The plan was he would die at a decent age and then we would take care of her. In December of 2001 the unimaginable happened, my mother was diagnosed with Leiomyosarcoma, cancer of the soft tissue. She lived another nine years leaving us in September 2010. My father was in shock. He still hoped right up until the very end that she would pull through and outlive him.
My mother edited all of us and in a way controlled the family dynamic. Without her, we were like boats unmoored in a storm. We unwittingly crashed into each other with words and actions. My father did most of the crashing as he finally spoke up and his opinions were not laced with praise. At first, we were shocked by what he would say. My sister’s and I would confer over the phone and that’s when we started calling him Bob Unedited.
The first Christmas without my mother he raised a glass to give a toast. He began, “You know I didn’t think much of you people.” We reached for our glasses as Colleen muttered under her breath, “Oh this should be good.” The thing about my father is he, like Julia, is not malicious. He just says the brutal truth without thinking to soften the edges. He’s also started making cards and is quick to tell you he loves you in poetry. It’s as though we had never met before and even though life didn’t go according to plan, I’m not sorry it didn’t. My mother is sorely missed and not a day goes by that I don’t want to call her. Yet, I am so happy to have gotten to know the unedited version of my Dad. He has a salty and sweet quality that has added richness to all of our lives. His toast ended with, “I’m so proud of all of you. How you pitched in to help with your mother. How we were able to pull together as a family.” We drank to that and to all of the unedited days ahead.