a middleSage publication

The Stranger, My Dad and Me

This week begins Father’s Day  Week on my Facebook Wall.  There are dated pictures of all of my friends and their fathers in Norman Rockwell type pictures with their Dads doing all kinds of activities with them as children.  Most of them have bad haircuts from the 70’s and porn mustaches, but all contain loving and often funny tributes.

My Dad and I

As I looked through pictures of my Dad and I, I thought I can’t post those, we look like we’re on an early episode of NBC’s “To Catch A Predator” only this one’s from 1962!  My Dad was a Cop, kind of a “Joe Friday” type of guy (if you know who Joe Friday is I hope you’re enjoying menopause as much as I am).  He only spoke when spoken to, so we didn’t have much of a relationship.

My earliest memories about my family especially my Dad, alerted me that we were not like most families, but I didn’t know why.  I just knew something was different and I didn’t feel like I belonged as part of the family unit.  I wasn’t connected to anyone in my family and the vibe was all very different than all of my friends; very cold, no communication, no playing games, no hugging, no loving words.  I saw this kind of behavior on TV and in other friends homes, just not in mine and at an early age it registered with me that it didn’t exist in my house and I was uneasy about it.

When I started school at 5 years old I thought I was on to something that was going to explain the sad state of dysfunction between me and my family.  Looking back at it, the entire scenario seems a lot like a movie.  It would have been completely avoidable if we would have communicated like a normal family, but because nobody talked to me, I didn’t have the knowledge that my Dad had volunteered to be the model for a brochure the Police Department produced for the school system.  It was the annual “Stranger Danger” Campaign.  As Kindergartners, a Police Department Representative would come and talk to our class about the importance of not talking to Strangers.  There had recently been a murder in our town and the body of a little girl  was found not far from our house.  Everyone was on high alert!  The local Police Officer handed out brochures on Stranger Danger and on the cover of the brochure was the picture of “THE” Stranger.    There he was tall under Grey Skies, Big Fedora Hat, Big Wool Over Coat.  I took one look at the picture and knew immediately who the stranger was.  My DAD!  No Doubt about it.

stranger dangerI turned my brochure upside down on my desk so nobody could see (even though they all had one of their own) and looked around the room.  Surely, someone would recognize him, Everyone knew my DAD!  What should I do?  My 5 year old brain wasn’t capable of figuring out who I could trust and who I shouldn’t.  The panic that was starting to rise inside seemed like it could make me blurt something out, something I couldn’t take back.  I wanted to start running and never stop.  I was 5, I didn’t know where to go.  That’s where the memory stops for me; just Panic and Paranoia. I just remember My Dad was THE STRANGER!

A Regular Joe Friday, My Dad

When my Dad died in the late 90’s, I flew down to Florida to be with my Mother.  She called me on Christmas Day and said she couldn’t “handle him” any more and took him to emergency.  My Dad had battled a variety of Cancer’s for long time and he was getting weary.  I remember calling one Sunday on my regularly scheduled times to call her and she had told me he was getting so weak that he had fallen and couldn’t get back up.  She didn’t want any one in their neighborhood to know that she couldn’t take care of him anymore, so she made him lay on the floor until everyone in the neighborhood was gone to church until she called the ambulance for help.  I pleaded with her to get him help but she wouldn’t hear of it.

When I got to Florida that Christmas Day and walked into the hospital room, I wasn’t sure if my Dad would still be alive or not.  I really didn’t have anything to say to him.  We didn’t have a relationship and I didn’t intend to start one now.  What I thought was strange was her position in the room.  She wasn’t sitting at his side.  She was sitting by the door way on the other side of the room.  She was wearing his sweater.  She looked beat up, defeated.  She admitted to me that she hadn’t been very nice to him.  What was I to say? Seriously?  We waited for my brother from California to get there and decided one of us would stay with my Dad during the night and the other one would go home with my mother.  I would take the first shift with my Dad at the hospital.

I wrapped myself up in a blanket and wandered the halls of the hospital.  I had nothing to say to him, not even goodbye.  When I finally had to sit down, I found an empty room and slept in a chair.  This was easier than going home with my Mom.  It only took a couple of days and then we had to prepare for the funeral.  I think the hard part is all the people coming in and telling you how terrific he is and you think….Really?  Didn’t know him.

My mother was extremely pragmatic, she had all the funeral arrangement already made.  My folks belonged to the National Cremation Society.  They had prepaid for Cremation, so we just had to make a phone call.  The church they attended would have a service and the Neighborhood would rally and throw a giant potluck.  So Funeral arrangements were not stressful at all, that’s a plus in the Narcissist column.  They want full control, so they’re great in times like this.  I remember laughing with my brother though when the minister asked if any of us wanted to say anything thing.  A simple “No Thank you” would have been enough but for some reason  all I could muster was a vigorous “Hell No!”  When we both heard that come out of my mouth we couldn’t stop laughing.  Needless to say, the minister was rather appalled.

And now after sleeping in a Lazy Boy Chair for about 10 days I was eager to get home. My husband had gone to Michigan to be with his family over the holidays.  For some reason, I used to think things like this were easier to get through alone.  I finally arranged my flight home and once I got to the Orlando airport I wanted to kiss the floor.   Just the thought of getting out of Florida was such a relief.  Once I got back to my home I felt better.  My husband was gone visiting his family, but had set the computer to play the song “Welcome Back” (Theme to Welcome Back Kotter Show).  I’ve never been so happy to be home in my life.  Even though I wished he was there, I was glad to have the time alone.

Here’s what surprised me.  The first night I got to sleep in my own bed I had a dream.  A dream that was as real as the hands in front of my face.  To this day.  I dreamt I was having dinner with my Dad.  My kids were there, but it was about 10 years earlier.  My Mom wasn’t there, just my Dad and my kids. We were having a casual dinner, no emotion, no gut wrenching conversation, just idle chit chat.  At the end of the dinner, I very calmly with no emotion got up  and picked up a Shot Gun from the corner of the room.  I pointed it at my Dad right in front of my kids and said, “You could have stopped her [my mother] and you didn’t.”  Then I pulled the trigger and I killed my Dad.

When I woke up the message was clear, I blamed him for my Mother’s bad behavior.  I didn’t realize I had resented him for this until then.  I felt like I guess I did have something to say to him and he came back to let me say it.

Now, almost 10 years after his death and on father’s day I know he had no choice in his enabling behavior.  He was built that way.  He needed to be that way for their marriage to work.  He went through the same tragedy that she did.  If he had supported me it would have created a chaos effect that no one in the house could have lived with, maybe it would have changed me too.  He was doing what he had to to survive within her web.

So today I hold no grudge.  I forgive, even though I don’t condone.  I still believe you should have been a better actor, but I still forgive.  The ominous image of the Stranger in the Fedora and Trench Coat standing on the Hill under grey skies will always be the Father I never knew.


  1. Interesting post. I feel similar about my dad having let my mother be the tyrannical bitch she still is. But unlike you, I don’t think he didn’t have a choice. I think he made a very decisive one. Part of why I feel this way is because I made a different one. Personally, I think people like my parents took the easy way out in life and every bad decision they made justified the next one. Changing and admitting you made mistakes takes a ton of courage and effort. My parents continue to do neither.

  2. “He needed to be that way for their marriage to work. He went through the same tragedy that she did. If he had supported me it would have created a chaos effect that no one in the house could have lived with, maybe it would have changed me too. He was doing what he had to to survive within her web.”

    I often wonder about this…the psyche of the enabling father…how does the choice happen? That in order to make the marriage work this is how one has to behave and that the thought of it not working is scarier?…I feel that my father made choices to keep peace and to get through it…maybe motivated but his own belief that this is the ‘right’ way to handle it and I should go along with his plan…not upset mother.

    My own enabling father is distant but at the same time so much at the center of it.


  3. annonypotomous

    18 June

    I always remind myself that, in my father’s eyes, my mother is a strong, caring, lovable, smart woman. She is the woman he fell in love with, married, and raised a family with. Of course he wants to preserve their marriage of thirty years; he cares about my mom and wants her to be happy. So, even though the way she treats her daughter (me) has caused me emotional pain and distanced me from the family, my dad will always take her side because she is the most important person in the world to him. Sure, I wish he would at least validate my point a view sometimes, but I can understand that his top priority is keeping mom happy.

    Anyway, that’s how I think the enabling father psyche choice happens. They believe that their wife, the mother of their children, knows what’s best when it comes to interacting with the kids.

    Very thoughtful post, Barbara Joy

  4. These are all interesting points. In my case, it became very clear that my father has some awareness of what he’s done and that he asked me to make the same choice as him: appease the crazy person or she’ll make life miserable. The problem was that life already was miserable. I see my mother’s legacy in my siblings and now their children. When does it stop?

    I know it isn’t the same for everyone, but in my family no one benefitted by the choices my dad and mother made. I think my mother might’ve had a shot at reality if anyone had called her on her nonsense before it completely made her live in la-la land. Maybe.

    I think it’s a terrible thing for a parent to blind themselves to their child’s pain. If she beat me (and she did on occasion, but never enough to land me in the hospital), no one would tell me he was acting in an acceptable way. I’m not saying hang them up for payback or that I have any interest in getting back at them. Truth is, I want nothing but peace from their insanity. I’ve been finding it by acknowledging their behavior was wrong, poisonous and never going to change. Making excuses for it in the name of forgiveness only made me feel worse.

  5. Wow. That was very powerful. Well-written. That pamphlet was a literal metaphor and how often do we get those?

    A couple of years after my mother died she came and visited me and we had a very good talk. Maybe she was ready to hear what i had to say, or maybe I was just ready to say it and be done with it. Either way, like you I found the dream both cathartic and healing.

    May this Father’s Day be kind to you. It’s going to be a long FB week.

    • Barbara Coleman

      9 June

      Thanks Chloe! I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment….funny how you find out you have things in common with people you haven’t met….yet.

  6. Ginger Kay

    9 June

    Barbara, I don’t know what to say, but I read this, and I applaud your strength. Your parents missed out on knowing an amazing person.

    • Barbara Coleman

      9 June

      Thanks Ginger….The therapy of writing has been the most amazing experience.

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