Yesterday, a blogger who I look up to a lot posted something about her father to which I could relate deeply. I am not ready to write something that profound yet, but a lot of issues relating to my dad have come up lately that I can’t ignore. My relationship with my father was always intertwined with his sense of entitlement and his use of money as love. It has left me catering to him in an unhealthy way my entire life, and has also put my financial stability on the line because I equated loving people with giving them things. I had to grow up too fast, and I have always resented him for that, but as my life is moving onto the next phase, I am going to be grateful to him for showing me what is really important in life. (Thanks GG, btw, for your help in somewhat clarifying these emotions, even if you didn’t know you were helping!)
As I have hinted, my childhood had no stability. Neither did the finances in my home. My first word was “Tar-get”. People usually laugh, saying, “Oh, what a little shopper you were!” The truth was, we didn’t have enough money to run the air conditioning during the day, so my mom would take me to the mall when my dad was at work, and push me up and down the mall corridors, pointing out the names of the store. (Not to give away where I grew up, but another hint about me: the biggest stores were Target and JC Penny. Big towns? Not so much). One day, I beat her to the punch and said the name before she could.
I think that kids learn more about your relationship with money from your actions rather than what you teach them with your words. For instance, when I was five or so, we lived in a tiny tiny two bedroom house with me and my 2 siblings sharing a room. However, my dad “found” the money to go to fat camp. Yes, fat camp. But as kids, we didn’t realize that that was strange. Fat camp was a necessity. Even if it meant that things like jump-starting our ancient car every morning had to become part of the routine.
Money was a currency that was used to show love and. One of my strongest memories of my childhood is that of me discovering the Cabbage Patch Doll that I wanted SO BADLY in the attic. My birthday was about 2 weeks away. I squealed with delight, but my mother looked heartbroken. “You daddy worked so hard to buy that, it was almost $25. Can you forget that you saw it, so that when he sees you open it, he can be excited too?” Even at 5 years minus 2 weeks, I knew that $25 was a TON of money. So everyday, I climbed up the stairs and played with the box. And when a business trip meant that he was gone for my birthday and I had to wait 11 days (yes, I still remember this…it was a CABBAGE PATCH DOLL), I waited. My daddy spent $25 on ME! Funny thing is, I don’t remember his reaction of watching me. But I do remember how special I felt, waiting so that I could be so excited, so that he knew I was impressed, that he would spend money like that on his beloved daughter.
Fast forward a few years, and we inherited a LOT of money. We moved to the big city, bought a huge house, and all that changed was that dad no longer had to show restraint in anything he did. He had money, which he thought translated into the power to spend, lie, cheat and steal. My folks got a divorce. Because the money came from her side of the family, he asked for money in exchange for custody. (I am not kidding). He wanted, however, sole medical custody. That way, he could control what shrinks we went to when we were devastated over the loss of our father. You see, we were Jewish. And, where we were living, although he left town, he was afraid that word would get out that he was a schmuck. So if he could just make sure we went to anonymous, non-Jewish doctors, no one would hear about it. He didn’t really see us that often, but would send us random, extravagant presents that had nothing to do with our lives. For instance, he once had an Amish family create an entire wardrobe for each one of us. I can’t imagine how much that cost, when you consider a quilt is $2000. But since he hadn’t seen us in about a year, he had no idea how big we were. But in a twisted way, it was a sign he was still thinking about us.
His money has run out, and he hasn’t worked in years. He paid nothing for our cars, our bar/bat mitzvahs, our educations…I know that money doesn’t equal love, but since he wasn’t around to see us grow up, and he didn’t even help us get to where we are going, I am having a hard time seeing how that is love. He never tried to make ammends verbally, but when he calls, he does have a way of pretending that everything is normal and we are besties.
Recently I had a big decision to make. Who is going to walk me down the aisle? If it were to be my dad, it would be me, catering to his needs. His need to play “everything is okay.” But I can’t do that. I called him, and let him know that D and I would like for him to give a speech. He answered, “Of course, but I will walk you down the aisle, too”. “We would like you to speak,” I said, trying to employ what I learned about being a “yes” counselor at camp. “Sure, but I am going to walk you down the aisle. I have been to tons of weddings, the dad always walks the bride down the aisle”. I bit my tongue, and held back the comment that was DYING to come out. “I have been to TONS of weddings too, Dad…and never has the father gotten to walk down the aisle with the daughter that he abandoned in order to get a fortune of money that wasn’t his to begin with”.
30 years of abandonment and just plain SH*T boiled up inside of me. “Look, Abba. You can 1) give a speech. 2) Not give a speeech. But at no time are you walking me down the aisle. GET IT?” He was really quiet. “What if I walked you down with your mother?”
At almost any other time in my life, I would of said yes. But if love were currency, he has never given me a dime. And my mom has made me richer than Bill Gates, Oprah, and that Trump guy. I just couldn’t let him. My mom, after everything, was the one who parented me. She was there when everyone else walked out. She knows my friend’s names, every single job I’ve ever had (that is a lot), my celebrity crushes, what foods I hate, what medicines I am allergic too…everything. My mom has been a part of everything I do. Even when I didn’t want her there, she pushed her way in. Because she loved me.
The richest I have ever felt was later than night, when I asked her what song she wanted to dance to for the first “Mother/Daughter” dance at my wedding.