Kindness. Patience. And a lot of sense of humor. Are among the thousand things I’ve learned from dad in terms of building a good relationship with your partner.
I stormed out of the house last night before dinner. For the first time after so many times I have thought about doing so, I was able to drag my feet out of the door. And even though my heart felt heavier than any part of my body, I was able to make it to the metro. When the train started moving, there was no turning back. I realized it would probably feel the same way if we ended our relationship right there. Same amount of unconsciousness and numbness. Just tiny controlled beats inside my chest holding it together as long as I can.
I have flaws. Thousands of them. Greater than the flaws of all the girls in the world combined. I know that. It was magnified clearly during our small argument in the flat. And even as we spoke quietly with mutual settlement in the kitchen when both of us have already been sobered from the squabble, I still am in no doubt the cause of our troubled relationship. Just me. All this time I thought that it takes two people to build or wreck a home. That there are two responsible adults in the making. It never occurred to me that I will have to take all the blame in the world for every failed hours that passed. I was not informed that there are different standards of measurements to live by in a committed relationship. That your best efforts may not be proportion to the expectations on the scale. That during those challenged moments both of you will be totally unrecognizable and insignificant to each other.
While striding pass the stop lights, I wanted to text him.
“You don’t love me.”
Instead hot tears swelled my eyes and fogged my stupid eyeglasses.
My dad was the most hard working person I have ever known. A farm boy who planted and harvested crops with bare hands. Deprived of studying because of poverty. Beaten by his own father because of alcohol. He had to earn money the hard way because he never learned to read and write until his first grandchild was born. He educated himself along the way. He was good in Math and possessed immeasurable work ethics. That was all he had to offer to my mother in order for her to take him for marriage. Nothing else.
Pedaling his bike miles away to get home everyday. He did. So he can bring home the bacon. At some point during my early childhood, I thought my mother deserved everything my dad worked for. She didn’t. She was a good wife and a good mother. Don’t get me wrong. But to top everything that my dad did for all of us. That was pretty much impossible in an angle. First, she was a bad cook until she learned the basics along the way. Second, even though she knows how to read and write, she was uneducated. She did not finish high school which means she was not able to contribute financially in the relationship, making my father work twice as much like a horse to provide for us. Third, even if we were not as rich, she was still given all the privileges of a rich wife; weekend visits to the salon, dozens of comics and magazine deliveries, extra snacks of her liking, and most importantly a housemaid – which means she was never forced to do the cooking, the laundry and the housekeeping. Lastly, she was emotional, clingy and demanding. Even my father has been very expressive of his love through all the fatigue and discomfort of waking up at 3 midnight to haul a truck of fresh fruits from the market everyday just to provide her every thing she needed, she still sometimes makes a fuss of feeling unloved and wants 24/7 of companionship.
But my father has been a great comforter. He tried the best he can to make her happy. He recognizes his mistakes. I heard him apologize diligently so many times to my mother for the countless mistakes he may have intentionally or unintentionally done. He owned up to it. Manning up to a fault you barely understand is by far the most humbling thing I have ever seen. There you will find him, knocking at the bedroom door with either a hot porridge or some bread roll as peace offering. He never, not once gave up – just because the present situation has become sour, difficult or inconvenient for him.
Of course he’s no super hero. He has his fair share of bad tempers and striking words that cuts deep through my mother. She too got wounded in verbal fights. But he never laid a hand on her and never failed to take a great portion of his pride to swallow. He learned these things slowly. I think nobody picks up what works and what doesn’t on their first try. Nobody gets what marriage really is until you start counting days in one roof, desperate to live a little for yourself because you have abandoned your freedom completely for the other. The small sacrifices you have to make that when summed up falls heavily on your shoulders.
Twenty years later my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimers and later on developed dementia. She was hysterical. I remember so vividly when my mother was throwing punches at him, aggravated at something she thought he did. She has completely lost her mind. She started fabricating things about my father. She was accusing him of things that was surreal. She was loud and furious. Her anguish bounced back and forth in four corners of our living room. And my father, this tough man that I used to know, stood there defenseless trying to lock my mother in his embrace.
Almost two solid years of heart break and my mother’s body gave in. She started slurring at first until all the words she mutters became small childish noises. Her eyes started to lose its spark until they have grown weary and later on became a shot of blank stare. Her posture weakened until her entire body collapsed in a wheelchair.
My father left the city and almost gave up his entire life so my mother can have a giant playground in the province. It was a drastic decision he has to make. But it was all worth it because she was very responsive in her first few months. My father’s doll. He baths her, combs her and dresses her up.
You will find my father pushing her wheelchair in a place surrounded by different shades of greens. Fresh air. Wild flowers. And a beautiful view of the sunset. It could’ve been perfect if only my mother remembers him or if only she could speak or laugh at his silly jokes. But not anymore. Times has changed so fast.
Even so, he still talks to her as if the woman he loved for forty five years still exist.
But most days, she was gone.
The only reward my father gets from all the hard work of taking care of her, was her breathing, the sound of her heart beat. That is enough for each day to be grateful for. And the occasional smiles, nods and shaking of her hands, patting him as if to say. “Thank you for sticking with me.” are just icing on top of his melting ice cream.
I found myself strolling in the wild night of Rigga in the middle of the night, still feeling my chest paining from the heated exchanged we had. The words flaws, blames, unwanted and unloved were ringing my head.
I was caught in the middle again. I want to come home running to him but a part of me has already decided to pack my suitcase in the morning.
I waited outside Al Safadi restaurant for a friend to come. Across me were upper class families having dinner reflected by the glass windows of the Lebanese Middle Eastern Cafe. An ambulance came wailing from behind and the paramedics rushed to resuscitate a man from the upper deck of the dining hall. People gathered outside the dining place out of curiosity. The man was already lying on the floor when I noticed what was happening. It took what felt like hours for the paramedics to give emergency care until they finally moved him to the stretcher and rolled him through the van. And then the wailing faded in the background.
Life is vividly short to waste our time on anger, most specially with fights that impulsively grew like wild fire but simply started with a missing lunchbox or a pack of brown rice. I mean how dumb is that?
If I tell dad that we (my fiance and I) had a fight over a dishwashing soap, he will totally crack up and shake his head.
My father taught me to love someone even in those times when you don’t feel like loving them. His ways taught me to understand the ones you love most specially in those times when they are most irrational and unreasonable. He taught me most importantly to pray faithfully, when there is nothing left to do beyond your control, beyond your greatest efforts to move mountains. He taught me to wait because the wailing of the sirens will eventually stop.
I don’t know if someone will love me the way my father has loved my mother. All her flaws, imperfections, short-comings, mistakes, quirks, lapses, confusions, inattentiveness, carelessness, and negligence. The funny thing is she has all these undesirable qualities even before Alzheimers. I don’t know if my father ever sees them or he also acquired a short term memory loss. Because he always seems to have the ability to forget her failures. He always just looks straight at this woman who gathers herself slowly not so she can be whole again but so she can give pieces of herself to her husband, to her kids and to the many people she loved with all her heart.
That kind of woman. His faithful wife. Our loving mother. That is all my father sees.
A few hours later, my fiance called asking me where I was. He wanted to pick me up at the metro station. His voice was now calm and concerned.
I told him I’m coming home.
We were still deeply quiet and perhaps still both upset when I reached home. It was late and I had work the next day. I laid down on bed quietly. He spread the blanket for me like he always do, kissed me and we slept.