I wasn’t able to use in my book all of the interviews, due the the length of what could be published. One story that I was heartbroken to leave out was Nancy’s.
Nancy was 71 when we did the interview. She worked in clerical jobs in two urban high schools until she retired. She has two daughters and six grandchildren. One of her daughters, Denise, was also interviewed for my book. I’ll publish her story as well in a later post.
Nancy has a heart of gold. Here is an edited version of our interview. It’s long for a blog post, but a good look behind the scenes at how the mini chapters of my book came together, and how a lack of emotional engagement between a daughter and father plays out over her lifetime. My comments and questions are in bold / italics.
My father was born in 1907 in Kansas. His family moved to the Pacific Northwest when he was an infant and lived in Milton-Freewater, a little city east of the Cascade Mountains. He was one of seven children, three of whom were step-siblings. His mother remarried after his parents divorced.
He went to work for Shell Oil Company. He was a self-made man. He started in the mailroom, He was maybe seventeen. He was resourceful. I didn’t get the impression that Dad ever got off track. He was one of those people that went to work for one company and ended up retiring from it. He got into the banking department and was an auditor. He was transferred from Seattle down to San Francisco and we lived in California for five years. He traveled some, auditing places. But he was present in the home.
I don’t know how Mom and Dad met. Dad had been married briefly before Mother, and that woman left him. I don’t know how much time went by before he met mom. It could have been a rebound emotional thing for him, because their marriage wasn’t real happy. I do know I was conceived before they were married and maybe that was why they married.
Even living with three daughters and a wife, he wasn’t in tune much with the emotional levels of women and kids. We didn’t deviate from kind of median emotional levels as far as spending a lot of time crying, if there was an upset of some kind or whatever emotion that way. And if we were too exuberant too long or loud, we were instructed to calm down. So, there was this even center. You kept your emotions curtailed. That has affected me a lot of my life.
Both my siblings and I think of him as a disciplinarian and stern, but not someone to be feared. He was there and engaged. My younger sister remembers much more of that. She has a different perspective. She felt more encouraged compared to what I remember.
The first thing that comes to mind with Dad is a sternness, rather than a smiling kind of thing. Except when I look at pictures, he’s smiling [She begins to cry]. Excuse me. That’s why pictures were helpful, because there was a lot of good things going on with him. I don’t know why I didn’t feel very close to him or that I could go to him easily for things and support. But he was always there. He was loyal. He was honest. He was successful in his work, formal, always dressed in the suit and the tie, but not somebody that you couldn’t approach. He just didn’t show a lot of emotion.
That was hard for Mom through the years. And he did say to me when I was an adult, there was things he regretted and wished he’d done differently in that regard. But, he didn’t come from good modeling in his own home life, and he was on his own early and young. So, there wasn’t probably a structure that he could relate to.
I’m sensitive about my dad, because I didn’t feel as close as I would have liked to. On the other hand, he said a couple things to me during my life that made me feel like he was instrumental in some of my insecurity about myself. The only thing that stands out that I’ve never forgotten is he said I was different. Whenever he would talk to me about things, I would come back with comments or retorts. And he said I always had an excuse for everything. And I didn’t look at it as an excuse. I looked at it as just contributing from my perspective or my thoughts and it was sharing. But, I got kind of not accepted on that level.
That sounds stifling.
Yeah, I internalize still to this day about a lot of things. I keep things to myself. I don’t emote. And I’ve been that way my whole life. I think it comes from him, because Mom suffered from a lot of not good emotional support from him. They weren’t a close couple. And they weren’t social very much.
I’ve been divorced for so long, over 30 years, and I don’t connect well with people. My husband and I were married just shy of eleven years. Our girls were eight and ten when we split up. And I never remarried. I had male friends, but after a while I didn’t really interact with the opposite sex. I had issues with my wellbeing as I approached mid-life, back and chiropractic issues. And I didn’t feel worthy, or that anybody else could put up with me. It was all I could do to work and maintain myself, because I didn’t feel good a lot of the time.
But, I improved a lot on that and after a while, I didn’t really care. I wasn’t very social and don’t care about groups. When I’m in a group, I’m more apt to be a listener, instead of reaching out.
During our marriage my ex-husband encouraged me once to go to counseling. I thought later why me? Why not us? I went once or twice, but I couldn’t really connect and see that that was going to do anything.
Over the years, as talk radio became more a part of my life and more things were on the air, I listened a lot and heard the general public calling in with all kinds of things. And I got a lot of consensus about relationships that way, plus some reading, as well. It taught me many things in many areas of life; I feel like I’m a much brighter and smarter person than I was when I was school age and beyond.
How long were your parents married?
I forget. Mom became quite ill and passed away the day before her 70th birthday. She had heart problems and had open-heart surgery. While she was mending from that, they discovered she had cancer. So, it was a big whammy there for her. When she went through mid-life, she was very emotional and it seemed like she was very childlike when she’d fall apart and get upset over things. Dad didn’t deal with that well. She didn’t get comfort and empathy from him.
How did he deal with it?
I don’t know. And they also did not sleep together as far back as I can remember. Dad moved out of their bedroom and he slept on a small bed in the sewing room. I never asked why.
Did that strike you as unusual?
I think I wondered about it maybe. Pregnancy was always an issue for women in those times, and I think Mom had a fourth pregnancy that she lost. We never got a lot of details about things like that.
After I got a little older, I determined that because my folks were married in January and I was born in July, they apparently had to get married because of me. And then, when time came for my turn, it seemed to be a repeat of that process, although Rod and I had been going together a long time. But, we had to move that up, because of an approaching child. So, it’s like repeating the process.
You always wish that you had more conversation with your parents about the past than you did. I don’t know that I thought to do that, as much as I would now. I have a much different attitude about nostalgia now. And they weren’t forthcoming to volunteer information, so to engage them in more personal kinds of things, I don’t know how Dad would have reacted to that. He was a “to himself” person. I think that’s why Mom would get so frustrated or maybe get on edge emotionally, because her needs weren’t being met by him. But there was affection. And every night, when we were kids growing up, going to bed, we always kissed Dad goodnight. That was just routine when he was there.
One of the other things I remember was that in California, we had built an additional bedroom and bathroom for me and my sister. He’d come in at night sometimes when we were getting ready for bed and he’d be playing his harmonica and being fun with us. I don’t remember things said but I remember him playing that harmonica. I have one at home myself.
Did you witness your parents being affectionate with each other?
Probably hugs, but I really don’t remember.
Was your father affectionate with you?
Other than the good night hugs and kiss when we went to bed, I don’t really relate to that. And my sister said the same thing.
Do you remember your father ever telling you that he loved you?
No. Maybe—I’m sure he did.
You’re sure he did love you or that he told you?
Both, in his own way. He just wasn’t very verbal. I don’t even remember if I said it to him as an adult. I always gave him hugs.
I’m still reserved a little bit with affectionate emotion, even to this day, even in my own family, although I certainly feel it. That modeling was pretty ingrained, I would say. In recent years, with my grown children and grandchildren, I’ve apologized for things I did or didn’t do. I’m more forthcoming to do that now, because I realize it’s important. They need to know how I feel, since I was working through the time of Terry’s children being young and I wasn’t doing well myself through my fifties into my sixties.
What, if anything, do you remember your father encouraging you to do?
After I’d been divorced, he encouraged me about money. I wish I had been closer to him after I wasn’t married and still had my kids, so that he could have been the male figure in my life. But, on the other hand, I would have had to be accepting of that, as well. And I guess I grew up with such tight feelings of keeping things to yourself, that to this day I have a hard time sharing personal stuff and money issues and things like that. I’ve made some big mistakes because of that, not getting the right guidance or listening to even my family, because my mind was in a pathway that I thought I was doing the right thing.
So your father was at home and was attentive to the responsibilities of fatherhood. But he wasn’t really emotionally engaged in each of your lives beyond that.
If there was any emotion, it didn’t stick with me. I remember two or three little incidents of the negative. Linda talks about having fun with him. She’s six years younger than I am. I got to thinking about birth order and the experience of parents as you have more children. In that era and with his personality, he always liked being around babies. When the grandchildren came along, he always loved to hold the babies and little girls were his favorite, because he raised three.
I’m not sure that I was cut out to be a mom. I loved the little ones, but I struggled a little bit beyond that. I was sort of like my dad as I went through raising my kids.
To add another component to that, when I was single, I think that’s why I made mistakes with men in being too close, too intimate, too soon, too whatever. I’ll probably cry now, because I’m not happy about my behavior. I would never do that again. But I was promiscuous. [She is crying]
I think that was the connection missing, because if girls don’t have a good father image and one that’s in the home and pays attention to them and thinks they’re a-okay, then they’re going to do those kinds of things.
What about when you got into adolescence? Was he there for you? Did he talk to you about boys, set limits on your dating?
Well, I wasn’t a huge dater. The first young man, I was in high school, and I was about sixteen. And if Dad said anything, I don’t remember it. I’m sure he had comments along the way.
I met Rod, my ex-husband, in high school. He’s two years younger than I am and he was a sophomore and I was a senior. And I don’t recall Dad ever saying a whole lot. I’m sure there were little warnings about togetherness and by yourself and things like that, because Rod and I did get off track that way after a while.
When did your father die?
Dad lived nine or more years past Mom. He remarried after she was gone. For about seven years, he had Katherine. He didn’t want to be alone, which is fine. We were all happy for him at the time. She was so lovely and nice, and made Dad happy for about seven years. Then she passed away, and the two years he was by himself before he died were not good for him. He wasn’t happy being by himself.
He ended up in the hospital. I was there when he took his last breath. We were taking turns by his bedside and I just happened to be the one there when he expired. And I didn’t cry. I just notified my sisters. I felt a little bit privileged to be there.
Do you dream about your father at all? Or miss him at all?
No, I haven’t had any dreams about him, and I don’t really miss him. I felt like I never quite measured up in his eye, for whatever reason. And I think that played the role in my self-image all of my life.