Sunday, March 22, 2015

A Compendium To My Parents: Part 1. We may not be WHO we have come from; but we most certainly exist now because they put us HERE.

Introduction: We may not be WHO we have come from; but we most certainly exist now, because they put us here. 

Right now in late March, snow-flurries fall from the sky past my office window onto bare trees. Inside, a lamp glowing cozy gold light and a "cactus and sea salt" candle burning, I sit at a deep brown mahogany desk. The desk and office hutch were my fathers. Pictures and letters he wrote are randomly spread all over.

My 5 yr old daughter looking through pictures today. 3.22.2015

Mine was a strange and magical childhood. 

It has taken me 37 years, much psychotherapy, a cataclysmic shift in my life, ample introspection and quiet meditation to be able to write that first sentence and mean it. Such is life, full of balances and hopefully, if you yourself seek it, growth. With a new perspective I was able to re-cast a light on all those past experiences I have blamed or attributed to my behavior. I do not have any ill-feelings for my past, far-reaching or near. I am in full belief that absolutely every single event was meant to happen just as it did. 

Unusual ancestral "gifts" were bestowed upon, and taught to me as a five-year old. For instance, we had a secret game in which he would put a hand on my shoulder and point to a stranger "Lulu? Good egg or bad egg?"  My only memory was that I never got it wrong.  The profoundness of this wouldn't reveal itself until very recently. Beguiling and unbeknownst to me at the time, my father had a special brand of playful trickery unparalleled in my experiences to date.  

My inner narrative was a violent one for a long time. Harsh words, angry resentments, fears and feelings of abandonment. A nihilist would be a fair description. Other descriptions that are equally applicable would be "reckless", "chameleon" or "survivalist." I have, historically, lived in rebellion against all things. I had a grandiose mentality that read:"Rules, just don't apply to me." For decades life didn't negate my theory.

To name a few ways in which life played along with said theory of rules: I traveled across countries unaccompanied (sometimes with older my sister) before I was 10, there was the  sudden abandonment by my mother when I was thirteen, living alone in a high-rise apartment at fifteen, modeling and living in Australia at eighteen, escaping death in spite of huge risks-taken, and an ability to talk my way out of just about anything.

My father and I. 1979

Until last fall I had this subconscious, underlying belief that the world in which I lived looked like anyone else´s for the most part. "My" world just didn't restrict or have repercussions like yours. ("POP!") That was the sound of that lie-bubble bursting. In fact, it sounded more like an earth-shattering crack of a thunderstorm that stirs and releases at whim. A storm of reckoning and awakening to some difficult truths.

I wear my rain coat and "wellies" moving forward, stopping intermittently to squint up and try to predict the next onslaught. My efforts are in vain. It is with deep remorse that I own the collateral damage, the trail of broken hearts from my early love life. I regret any and all pain I may have caused, either directly or indirectly. None of this is the sole subject of one of my four manuscripts-in-progress, but it absolutely plays a role. Rest assured, I do not think my story is somehow so fascinating that it begs for a book. It is debatable, however, whether my father's story could be. The conundrum I face is how interlaced the two seem to be, the more I look both backward and forward. 

His life began in East Africa. He was the eldest son of nine children. (Eleven if you include the twins by a different mother that came later.) The dark and harrowing events of his teenage life would haunt, but not totally hinder him. I am hoarding his stories, cataloging them for something in the future. 

My parents in England.
I will say this, he was a complex and fascinating man. He was extremely tough on me, but his love was my only safe haven. His loyalty and trust; albeit begrudged, has yet to be matched by another in my life. 

A major tragedy in his teenage years would shape him and all of us that touched him. At the time, it was a series of difficulties and tragedies woven into his early personal life. To the outside world though, he was a success.

Always at the Arabian gulf
or competing in Maui.

He was educated in England, where he met my Scandinavian mother. They married young, and moved to the Middle East where I was born. His ambition and drive led him from the ground-level of an oil company to an executive working directly with high-ranking government officials and royals. He was an avid and competitive windsurfer, his way of staying close to the sea he so dearly loved. He was frightening and gregarious. A runner, an athlete, a brilliant engineer. Recently, my husband said the James Spader's character, "Red" in the hit TV show "Black List" reminded  him of my dad. I just nervously agreed. 

He was a deeply observant man, recording my life, and that of our family better than a professional camera crew. My sister and I are blessed with countless 8mm films edited with our young voices narrating.  We also have tapes of  bed time stories told to us. My eyes fight tears just knowing he had the forethought to do that. Our young high-octave voices interjecting and answering his over-dramatic questions. All of it, telling a story, capturing a space in time. A gift of posterity. 

His awareness of his surroundings was keen and animal-like, at times almost paranoid. It always felt as if he had a secret line into my mind. Whenever possible, he predicted my (sometimes erratic) behavior and had plans set in place before I even found myself in a pickle. The story of how I ended in up in a preppy east-coast boarding school is one example to be shared later. 

His attention to detail was matched only by his meticulous care to be thorough. I would ask him a flippant, passing question over the phone: "What kind of music did you like when you were younger?" Days later he would send me a 5-page hand written letter detailing an answer.  

He was my father, and then suddenly without warning, in 2002 he was dead. I was twenty four. We had been speaking almost daily. He was in that "Baby-Boomer" freedom stage of retirement. He had built and buried a company after he retired at 47 from his high level job. 

He was obsessed with Tony Robbins, he even sent me to a four day retreat. I came home with lots of motivation...and a new boyfriend! He loved Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey and Warren Buffet. 

Him with some type of camera. Always.
In my last year of university, we would talk stocks multiple times a day. It was the dawn of E-Trade, and he was exhilarated by the sheer ease of it. (I remember him saying: "I'm not buying a cellular phone until it's a camera, a computer and a phone, you'll see. It will be so awesome!") We both had expensive stock analysis software we'd use. I, trading penny stocks and he day-trading, we rode peaks and valleys of the day in communion with each other. I would leave class early to catch Maria Baritromo, his favorite CNBC reporter for "Closing Bell." We'd usually be on the phone, quietly watching separately. The last two books he made me read were "Rich Dad, Poor Dad." and "Kane and Abel." 

Before his death, he spoke of "going back to the ocean" or buying an RV to travel across America. I would laugh and roll my eyes. He kept saying: "I want to experience PEOPLE. Meet them, live without ties and obligations." I would say: "Do it! Just don't do it in an RV, or I'm not visiting you." He'd laugh and dart off the phone saying goodbye in his typical clipped and concise way of speaking. "Bye for now."

His death lead to a devastating living-death in me. One so deep and well-hidden by life's muddled and sneaky grief. I was driven to his house from Chicago to Iowa through the early hours of May 19th sobbing and trying to make sense of it. How could he? Who was going to walk me down the aisle now? Or be a grandfather to my unborn kids? What about Christmas and vacations? He hadn't even seen me do anything great, special or inspiring! A conversation of his confidence in me, lost on my youth, but so very poignantly remembered now: "You have to write, Lulu! It will be huge. Huge, I tell you." Anyone who knew my father knows he didn't often dole out compliments. No he was quiet, measured and aloof. 

I arrived at the house he built on forty-four acres in rural Iowa. He had great ideas of "middle America" and the wholeness of it. As anything it was never quite what you trusted it would be. He was restless. Always needing to be busy building or creating something to drown out the ruckus of our minds (so very alike.) That next week would be the first of many tests of my core strength. Every one else, more naturally, allowed themselves to fall apart. My sister, his wife, family flying in from other states and other countries. 

Me giving the eulogy at his funeral.  (I still have the folded, tear-soaked paper.)
I had a photographer-friend shoot the whole day, a last attempt to continue his life-long passion of documenting our lives.

For some reason I handled everything. I picked out the casket, the flowers, spoke to the funeral director, wrote copy for the obituary, negotiated terms and was a buffer between the overseas family and the Iowans. I eulogized him. Written like all my words in a frenzied fit at 2am. I was a young woman on fire. I stayed in that stage handling "his affairs" with the help from professionals and his brothers for about a year or two after he died. I now know that I was attempting to hold it all together so no one could see I was falling apart. 

Against the very clear wish of some men in his family, I even fought to be a pallbearer. Here in the States, women don't really do that. I know. I still remember the look in his brother's eyes when I insisted, through angry tears, furious to be having this argument at all. 

"He nearly single-handedly carried me through my life for 24 years, so the least I can do is carry him to his final resting place." 

And so I carried his coffin together with nine men. I did not go back to that stone and empty-of meaning grave of his for nearly ten years. I knew he wasn't there. No, he was in the air, in the ocean. His real presence and hand in my life, was not even felt or experienced by me until a fateful Sunday in November. I was too broken and busy being "just fine" to sense him. I was "shut off." I giggle now at the ironies. I was always pushing him to "open-up" more, let people see how funny, clever and kind he was, when he instead always kept closed to the great majority of people he encountered. For this, and may strange reasons, he joked "You are my soul-pest, forcing me to change."

He was a remarkable father. Never awkward or stymied by the insanity of raising two teenage-daughters. (his history with six sisters plays a part, I now know.) He was wrong at times and made mistakes, but he was my everything. The center of my world against which everything and every man was measured.

My father and I. May, 2000.
I'm pretty certain he was not a great companion. My research has explained so much. He was most likely a captivating but coercive leader. I still think of him daily. More so now than ever. I lost my soul-mate, my best friend and the man who contorted himself to preserve and guide me. I lost that man two years after graduating college, almost to the day. I have found a journey, one that actually has lead me back to learning who HE was, before my self-absorbed life knew him only as "my dad."

As the song in Stevie Nicks' version of  "Landslide" go,  

"Well, I've been afraid of changing'
Cause I've built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I'm getting older too"
(That very song and lyrics played on speakers immediately following the eulogy I gave.)

I think it's "cute" that I thought I knew what those words meant at twenty four. Now, reading them, as a mother myself,  it is with real comprehension that I realize this:

I know nothing and everything, and have so very much to learn.

The uplifting joy, mystical experiences and pure tragedies that ensued before his life came to a screeching halt are what make his story so unique. It is also quite mesmerizing what has happened since. Strangely, in the hardest times of my life thus far, I have never trusted the universe, and him more.

To be continued in "A Compendium To My Parents: Part 2.  My mother. How she taught me exactly what NOT to do as a mom. And, yet once I re-defined "do" she teaches me, still."
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