Friday, December 16, 2011

My Dad has a girlfriend.

Words you never expect to hear yourself say. At least, I didn't. Which is kind of ironic really since less than 6 months ago I was the one encouraging Dad to start going to Senior dances to meet new people. When Dad resisted and said he couldn't go because he didn't have a dance partner, I was quick to remind him there are a lot of widow ladies at those dances wishing they had a dance partner too. So I was more than a little surprised when I found out Dad had started going to the dances and even went on a blind date and now has had a girlfriend for over 3 months that he kept secret from my sisters and I until about a month ago.

And, it's weird.

And of course, the fact that it feels weird combined with me being me....has my wheels turning; comtemplating and analyzing how I feel, why I feel it, and what insights can I gain from it....

For starters, after a lifetime of rarely seeing my parents express affection "publicly", it's very strange to see my Father being openly affectionate to a woman who is not my Mother. He is quite literally "as giddy as a school boy". It's kinda cute really, but it also brings to the surface of my mind that one thing we all know but really don't want to think about.....our elderly parents are sexually active. Egads.

I've only met Dad's girlfriend twice so far, and she seems to be a nice person and I find her easy to converse with....IF I forget that's my DAD she's talking to me about as if she and I are close girlfriends. If I tell myself "that's just her boyfriend" she's talking about, the conversation flows smoothly. But the second I remember she's talking about MY DAD...all these unfamiliar feelings come bubbling to the surface. Feelings I never would have expected to feel: like protectiveness toward my Mother; as if she's suddenly been dismissed. Cancelled out. Forgotten. This is a strange sensation for me to experience since my Mother and I were never close. I don't recall ever feeling like I needed to protect my Mother before. .....Interesting.

And then there's those times when in the midst of the conversation it seems very natural to mention Mom. Like tonight when I commented I love to cook and Dad's girlfriend said her Mother never let her in the kitchen when she was growing up so she never learned. Naturally, I said "oh my Mom taught me to cook." and right away I felt guilty, like I had committed some kind of social faux pax by mentioning Mom to Dad's girlfriend, in front of Dad. And I find myself wondering what the rules are: Can I mention Mom? Should I or shouldn't I? Will I make Dad feel bad if I do? Is it awkward for Dad's "new woman" if I mention Mom?

Yikes, what ARE the rules???

And then there's the whole holiday thing. In the years since Mom passed away my sisters and I have made certain Dad hasn't been alone on the holidays. Whether we all meet at his house or invite him to join us at one of ours, it's an unspoken agreement that Dad will NOT be alone on any major holiday. But now, Dad's more interested in his new girlfriend's Christmas plans and intends to spend the day with her family instead of his own. And I find myself chuckling about that. It's like "turn-about is fair play" as I recall all the times Mom and Dad were soooooo upset with either myself or one of my sisters because we chose to spend a holiday with our boyfriend's family instead of our own. More power to him, I say!

I also had a good gut-busting laugh over Thanksgiving when after calling him repeatedly the week before to confirm our plans for Thanksgiving dinner at my house and never succeeding in connecting with him.......I finally left a message stating very clearly that if he didn't call me back in the next hour Ashley and I were going to drive to his house to check on him. Within seconds (literally!) he called back and informed me that he and his girlfriend had "taken off on a roadtrip" with another couple and spent the week in Branson Missouri and were on their way back. I had to hand the phone over to Ashley because I was laughing too hard to even speak coherently. All I could think about was all the times Dad had read me the riot act for "taking off and not telling anyone". When the phone was handed back to me, I couldn't resist a little teasing so I said "What the heck, Dad? You got a girlfriend so you decided to revert back to your youth and just take off without telling anyone?" The hysterical giggles returned when he sharply retorted "I'm 73 years old! I think I'm old enough to go on a trip without needing to ask permission!" 

I still haven't convinced him I was only kidding.....

But on a more serious note....I am finding this experience intriguing. It's an opportunity to gain new insights because it's a life experience I haven't had before. My parents were together for 49 years before Mom passed away. That's all I've ever known. And seeing Dad with someone new brings to light just how stuck in that vision of my Dad I really was and it is a good reminder that our parents, no matter how young or old, are people too. It's also interesting to see how Dad interacts with someone other than my Mother: like I'm gaining insights about which parts of his personality are his and which parts were specific to how he interacted with Mom's personality. It's like I'm meeting a side of my Dad I've never met before.

I knew Dad was lonely and bored. That's why I nudged him to get out and start meeting new people; I thought it would be good for him. Certainly better than sitting around the house marking time and just waiting to go join Mom. But I had never given a moment's thought to how it would feel to ME to see him actually go do it. I caught myself experiencing a moment of fear when I realized just how serious the two of them had become in such a short time; already making plans for her to spend the winter in Texas with Dad...something Dad and Mom did every year. I felt a little bit like that WOMAN was intruding and had somehow tricked my Father into having an "instant relationship", as if he was vulnerable and naive and being suckered by some kind of "gold digging leech". But I'm glad I kept those feelings to myself until I had time to really think about it because once I did stop and really think about it I realized some very important facts that must also be considered: #1 Dad isn't rich. #2 Dad is 73 and she is 75.....they don't have time for a lengthy courtship. "Insta-relationship" is their best option and doesn't automatically mean they're going to elope next week, so I need to just get a grip and let my Dad enjoy his golden years as he sees fit. I never liked it when he would try to tell me who I should or shouldn't date. Who am I to try to do that to him? It's none of my business. So from now on, I'm going to treat Dad's love life the same way I treat my daughter's: "If you're happy, I'm happy."

And quite frankly, I'm also getting a giggle out of the fact that Dad "kicking up his heels" also means "the shoe is on the other foot." Suddenly, the stern, strict, righteous Christian man who saw the world as black and the one who's "bending the rules" because he's found something he wants badly enough to make a different choice. Perhaps at some point he will realize that it's easy to see things as black and white when you're living in one situation, but when circumstances change a person starts to realize there are other choices that are equally "right" and okay. Perspective is everything.

I smile when I think about those first 3 months they were dating when he was avoiding our phone calls and being evasively secretive when we did talk to him....because he didn't want to tell us he has a girlfriend. And when he points out her attributes; like her hobbies and interests and extensive collection of clown dolls like he's playing "show and tell" in an effort to convince me to like her....I think back to those times I did similar things in an effort to convince Dad that the man I had chosen was 'worthy'....and I recall how Dad was never going to be happy with my choice no matter what I said.....and I try to give him the positive response I wish he had given me.

I'm glad he's met someone and I'm really glad he's getting out there on the dance floor and having some fun. Now that he has something to be excited about, he's starting to pay attention to his health again, getting to the doctor, watching his diet, taking his medication, etc....all things he'd taken to neglecting in his lonely depression. So it is good that Dad has found someone to spend his time with and I find myself enjoying the idea that even elderly people get to have those limerant feelings that "light them up" and put a little bounce in their step. And really, it doesn't matter that their relationship didn't "grow from friendship"....

....because they're old.

Have a blast, Dad! It's nice to see you happy!