I had a Mommy Afternoon Off on Saturday with one of the moms from preschool who I am fast becoming friends with. We had just enjoyed some Indian buffet and were stuffed. We were contemplating a move to Starbucks for coffee and knitting, and I was looking up directions when an email popped on my phone from my father.
“Got a job!” read the subject line. I smiled, as Father has been looking for a job for 2 years now. I opened up the email to read the good news:
You all know that for some time I have been looking at opportunities in China. I interviewed with a school earlier this year and they recently contacted me to see if I was still interested in coming for the fall semester. [Step-mom] and I have discussed this at length and we are definitely interested.
This morning I received notice that I got the position. We are so excited!
I wanted you all to know because we will be moving in early August.”
“Oh no…oh no!” Was my reaction.
My friend: “What’s going on? Is everything ok?”
I put on a smile and packed up my phone. “My Father is moving to China. I’ll explain at Starbucks.”
Over knitting and passion tea lemonade, I explained it all: the deaths of my uncle and grandfather that triggered the quest for a boychild and the affair that would lead to the divorce, the marriage not 3 months later to my stepmother, the odyssey to bring her over here, the two boy-children born, the eldest now 10, the youngest now 1. I explained that it’s all this very long, drawn-out dealing with trauma and loss mixed with good old-fashioned mid-life crisis now culminating in the ultimate adventure, leaving everything behind to move half a world away.
“Damn, you’re kinda… calm about all of this. The way you explained that without screaming or crying is a little… miraculous.”
I’ve had a long time to sort it all out, I suppose. I explained that working in urban schools helped: When you teach kids who have never met their dads, ever, and may never… it puts things in perspective. My father is an asshole, but at least I know it because I know him.
“That’s not the best standard to hold him to,” I was told.
That’s the standard I’ve got.
And now he’s leaving.
My outrage, at first, was on my sister’s behalf. She and I are planning on being in Maryland in June for my grandmother’s 85th birthday party, but we weren’t planning on seeing Father for that trip. “She isn’t going to fly back out from Texas to see him, ” I said. “She won’t get a chance to say goodbye.”
I spoke to my sister on Saturday night. She was very “shmeh” about the entire thing. “You know, [boyfriend] and I were thinking about doing some traveling in a few years anyway, and East Asia was on the list. Now we’ll have someone we can stay with when we go to China. I mean, think about it, one day you’ll get to look at your boys and say to them, ‘you’ve got a grandfather who lives in a country on the other side of the world,’ and you’ll take them there. We never did that when we were kids. This will make the world so much bigger for them.”
I chewed on this. Swallowed it. Told her I felt better. I didn’t feel better.
I spoke with my mother. “I mean, it really doesn’t matter how you feel about it. He’s going to go, and he is going to do his thing. This might actually make him happy for once,” she said.
And she’s right.
I didn’t call him until this morning. Because I didn’t want to be angry on the phone with him. Mom was right: What I say or feel doesn’t really matter. The man I called had his mind occupied with logistics–packing his house, making arrangements for his belongings, getting his taxes in order, finding an English Language curriculum, brushing up on his drumming skills (he has to teach an after-school enrichment), getting his boys their vaccinations, lining up his television feeds so he can still watch the Redskins games during football season… “And I hope I can count on you, for curriculum help and stuff. They told me that a classroom can have as many as 50 students in it.”
“Are you going to have any time to come up here? To see the house? Your grandsons?”
“Probably not, dear. I gotta fix up your grandmother’s house during the weeks and weekends because that is where we are putting our stuff. It’s going to be a lot of work, and I don’t have any time to spare.”
[I typed that quote 5 minutes ago and I’m still staring at it. It didn’t actually hurt until I put it manifest on this computer screen. ]
It is childish beyond words to be angry at my Father right now. He is a grown man and I have not been his responsibility for a very long time. I do not want him to be miserable, looking for work in a market that has nothing for him. I want him to be happy. This adventure is exciting for him, it’s an opportunity for him to make the second-half of his life meaningful.
And demanding that he include us in his preparations for leaving is selfish too, right?
I’m focused on my sons getting to know their grandparents because I was fortunate to have all 4 of my grandparents for the majority of my life, and a great-grandmother until I was a junior in college. Both of my grandmothers are still with me, and my grandfathers step in and out of my life every day–I can still smell my paternal grandfather’s smoking tobacco. I can see my maternal grandfather in his favorite chair, watching Meet the Press, gearing up to watch the Yankees (I was reminded that he proudly wore his Yankees hat wherever he went.). I’d kill for a big sloppy kiss from my great-grandmother. I suppose that these memories so echo in my mind, so inform some of the ways that I view the world that I really want my sons so have something similar. And with Mom leaving for Maryland, and Father leaving for China, that’s all falling away. My sons have three sets of grandparents and the one set that actually wants to actively participate in their lives is the one I loathe!
The Fates are cruel.
And yes, I’m aware that my feelings of dread probably have to do with the feelings of abandonment that I’ve had on and off since childhood. Mom and Father separated twice when I was young and then finally went on with the divorce when I was a teenager. Scars heal but still show. I thought that perhaps the birth of my two sons would create an opportunity to start something fresh, strengthen something old. Instead I find myself freshly hurt.
This has everything to do with economics and opportunity and absolutely nothing to do with me or my boys. I get that, I really do. Like I said, these feelings are exceptionally childish.
I’ve already gone through my old teaching files and found some helpful things. I’m putting together some documents to help Father with classroom management and cooperative learning, so that his students can teach each other and he doesn’t feel so burdened. I’ll give him the best practices I’ve got from undergrad, grad and teaching. I’ll make sure he’s the best damn teacher he can be before he leaves these shores.
And as he and his new family get on the plane to leave, I’ll curse him just a little.
And then I’ll miss him so much more.