Some may own castles on the bank of the Rhine
and hire an orchestra each evening at nine
-but richer than I they will never be…
I had a Father who spent time with me.
My Dad was born in 1944 to Herman and Beverly Jane Watson, in the rural town of Bardolph, Illinois. He was the second of four sons born into a farming family, who were very successful, hard working, and well known in the community. His mother died from Spinal Meningitis when he was barely five years old, and his last memory of her was trying to get her to play with him when she was laying on the couch, right before she was taken to the hospital, where she soon died. My father never saw her again, and was never able to say goodbye to his mother, which was a large source of his pain the remainder of his childhood and adult years. His father was a hard worker, and very success driven, but emotionally and physically unavailable for his four children. My father and his brothers lacked the consistency of a loving, stable relationship with their father, who was working to provide financially for the family, and were cared for mostly by babysitters and grandparents.
In vying to receive the attention and recognition all children need, my father quickly learned to receive his validation from overachieving in almost everything he attempted. As a child, he earned excellent grades in school, was a member of 4-H, sports, was involved in all sorts of extra-curricular activities, and had expertise in many things that his grandparents had taught him at an early age. He learned to feel special, important, and valuable through his success, though I believe that in his own heart it was never good enough for him, and he never received the praise and recognition of his father that he really needed. I truly believe that my father spent the majority of his life trying to get his own Dad’s attention, to hear loving words of encouragement and to make him proud, but always feeling like he fell short of the goal. This created a drive in my Dad that I would later, in my own recovery, learn as Counterdependency. My Grandfather remarried two additional times in my father’s lifetime, with many additions of children and stepchildren to the Watson family, and with each addition, my Dad felt a little more lost in the shuffle. He had many unresolved grief and loss issues, learning at an early age that when he really loved something or someone, it couldn’t be trusted to always be there. Having done some of my own recovery work and in learning more about my Dad, it gives me such a great sense of peace and comfort to have truly known who he really was, inside and out. On the outside, he was a strong, independent, rescuing, brave, successful, and driven man on the outside, but really a needy, fearful, attention starved, little boy on the inside, who desperately needed to be validated, approved of, and loved unconditionally. I believe that somewhere along the way, my father vowed to hang on as tight as he could to those he loved, and to his own family, as a means to overcompensate for what he didn’t receive growing up.
My earliest memory of my father is from when I was barely four years old. I remember waking up on a spring morning, going outside in my footed, fuzzy pajamas, “helping” my Dad paint the fence in our back yard. I remember my sister and I fighting each other to take the next turn having Dad “push me higher” on the swing set, playing “birdie” where we pretended like we were flying, being carried on his shoulders when our feet were too tired to walk anymore, and running from the “tickle monster”, only to run back again for more. Even when he was working late, Dad would come home at night for dinner, returning to do his work after he had read us a book and tucked us in bed. Most of my warm, loving, memories of my Dad include some aspect of him teaching my sister and I- anything from woodworking and gardening, to sewing and baking. Even in some of my uncomfortable memories of my relationship and issues with Dad growing up (like “hiding” school projects because I wanted to “do it myself”, and struggling to hold onto my newly found adolescent and teenage independence) my father was actively involved in my life. Despite the enmeshment of our family, and issues I continue to work on in my own recovery, I feel truly blessed to have such an available, present, and loving father who cared so deeply for those in his life. Looking back on our relationship, I don’t ever remember a time when my Dad wasn’t available and involved in my life. Even in his workaholic and success driven busy addiction, my Dad spent quality time with us. It was apparent that his love for his family showed in everything he did, and his family came first in his life above all else.
My father’s presence and active involvement in my life, though certainly not without issues, has so greatly impacted who I am as a person. In recovery, we teach that there are 5 qualities that make a person successful in their recovery process: Motivated, Insightful, Teachable, Trusting, and Trustworthy. As I process through my grief and take a look at our relationship, I realize how many invaluable tools my Dad provided and modeled to me through his involvement in my life. I recognize how many positive “Dad tapes” I hear in my thoughts each day, since I no longer have him as a sounding board. My father was an extremely passionate man. He was passionate about his family, being a father, his values and morals, his hobbies and interests. Whether it was his business, stained glass, gardening, woodworking, his involvement in many community organizations, his love for children, or teaching us, he showed passion. He taught me to use my passions to take risks in order to grow and better my life. Though often with words of encouragement and sometimes quite a bit of rescuing, he taught me that I can do anything I put my mind to if only I trust myself (“What do you mean you can’t do it? Of course you can do it…”), give it my all, and have faith that things will work out if I give my every effort. His love for teaching me new things has instilled in me a love for learning and an endless thirst for knowledge and insight, a great motivational tool in my life. Most of all, there wasn’t a day that went by where my Dad didn’t live life to the fullest. He loved to laugh, and loved to have fun. I am so grateful for the time and relationship that I’ve had with him, especially having done the recovery work that I have in the past several years with my Dad issues, which has strengthened our relationship immensely. I would have never thought in a million years that my Dad would be ripped out of my life so suddenly, at his young age of 58, and it makes me overwhelmingly sad that the strength in him that my “little girl” cherishes (though often fought), is also the thing that took his life. Though I do have wishes and regrets, which is common when a loved one passes away (I wish he would have taken better care of his health and paid more attention to what his body was telling him), I feel fortunate to know that his death came without unresolved issues between us, or things left unsaid. The last words we exchanged on the phone the day he passed away were “I love you”. Even though he isn’t here anymore, he continues to teach me every day. He was right. We do need to live life to the fullest, and not take for granted our relationships with those who are precious to us in life, because issues or dysfunction and all, they may not be here tomorrow. I sure am proud of you, Dad. Thank you.
In loving memory of my father,
February 26, 1944 – December 22. 2002