Author’s note: Please keep in mind that the contents of this piece are a reflection of my observation and of events and relationships as I perceive them; others may feel differently; however, these are my perceptions and thus my reality just as another who observed these events may have different perspectives. As Albus Dumbledore once said, “Of course it’s happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?” Thus, this forum for expression reflects my reality as wells as of how I’ve managed certain important relationships.
I feel that promoting certain food items as “foods that heal” is propagandizing Mother Nature. Of course there are foods that heal; there are foods that inherently battle cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, and a plethora of other disorders all of the time. Rather than just eating naturally and healthy, I feel the majority of our society has become enslaved to trends. For example, at what point did it become sensible to obsess over kale and its many uses and properties versus just, you know, treating it like any other leafy green? Obviously, kale, spinach, endive, collards, arugula, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, Swiss chard and any other green / green variant can “heal”.
Making Memories with Cereal & M&Ms
Of course, in addition to their nutritional value and ability to defend against physical ailments, I’ve found that, more importantly, food can act as a balm on emotional wounds, which is why comfort sweets are most often sought when people go through a breakup (not to be cliché) or when they get home from work and are tired (it’s no secret that Sean has an M&M jar that he beelines for when he gets home each day (though, he does usually have a small bowl of whole-grain cereal with Lillianne when he gets home, too, which is a little tradition that I find to be very charming). That said, while food can soothe emotional wounds, it can also trigger them.
Years ago, my dad got into a habit of buying a fresh pineapple for me at the grocery store when they were in season. I love fresh fruit and pineapple has always been a favorite; though, I found the gesture to be incredibly random because at the time, I was in my mid-20s; I was living on my own, and I hadn’t knowingly revealed that I really liked pineapple…dad just started buying them.
The routine of being gifted a pineapple whenever I saw my dad got to the point that I once half-joked to a friend that one day, when my dad wasn’t here, a breakdown in front of the pineapples at the grocery store was imminent. I say half-joked because I really did think that if something were to happen to my dad at that time, pineapples would’ve triggered an emotional crisis
This was at a point in my life where I would sometimes lay in bed and think about that inevitable time when my dad would only be alive in my memory, and I would cry for the 22 years spent living with someone I didn’t know…for the 22 years of time wasted not getting along.
Some have suggested that the reason dad and I didn’t get along is because we’re “so similar” (it’s a common misconception for many who don’t see eye-to-eye); however, that’s not why we didn’t get along. Truth be told, I had a craven desire to be a “daddy’s girl” and to feel approved of and emotionally validated by my dad as a child and young adult, and it took a long time for me to understand why our relationship was so full of static.
Dad was raised by two people who –by today’s standards—would be considered abusive parents. I love my dad’s biological parents, but they were both products of their hard life-circumstances and (I believe) often too self-involved to have better-prioritized their only son’s emotional well-being. Dad labored on the family farm at a very young age…he was capable of driving a tractor at age 5; even though he was an extremely well-behaved child, his parents were fast to blame him for any kind of disruption and even quicker to physically punish him. In addition to this hard-knock approach to child rearing, his parents never supported or nourished his individuality or talents throughout his childhood and young adulthood.
Thus, the product of their “parenting”, my dad, was a Red Foreman-type (That ‘70s Show). He was a hard, manly man who knew how to work hard. Period.
Children in dad’s world were to be seen and not heard. We did as we were told or we were yelled at…or spanked…or both. To this day, the sound of vacuum cleaners agitates me because I only remember being yelled at for the way I vacuumed and the arguments that ensued. We had an industrial-strength Kenmore; it could’ve sucked the wallpaper off of the walls (pity it didn’t). It left visible lines in the carpet; you could clearly see where you’d cleaned. This is the gist of an exchange as I remember it:
Dad: “Vacuum like this.” (Demonstrates uniform lines as one would mow the lawn)
Me: “Why? I can see where I vacuumed.” (Gestures to vacuum lines)
Dad: (annoyed) “Because I said so.”
Me: (genuinely curious) “But why is that better.”
Dad: (irate) “Don’t smart-mouth me. Just do as your told.”
Further “challenges to his authority” as he perceived them would merit a quickly-administered spanking (there weren’t second, third, and fifth chances or mere threats of spankings; if a spanking was promised, it was delivered without hesitation). The thing is, I wasn’t being a smart mouth; I was a really inquisitive kid; I truly wanted to understand why in the name of all things sacred it was vital to only vacuum a certain way. Was it better…did the floor get cleaner? Did it matter that it might have been more expedient if I didn’t necessarily care about being the fastest I could be? Of course, the answer was no. The floor wasn’t any cleaner nor did it matter if it was the fastest way, but it was what he wanted. Questioning that incited a reaction.
Once when I was in elementary school, I made the mistake of asking if our neighbor could stay for dinner in front of her. We’d been advised to not do that. We understood there wasn’t always enough food for a guest and that it was impolite to ask in front of the guest lest the answer need to be no. In my childish exuberance, I brashly asked if our neighbor, K, could stay for dinner in front of her. And dad punished me in front of her. I tried to run, but he grabbed me; I tried to get away, but this made it much worse. I ended up in the air, suspended by my ankle, being spanked and humiliated in front of my friend who consequently remembered the incident (and reminded me of it) at our 8th grade “graduation”.
Despite this southern-fried style discipline, I want to assert that Dad wasn’t cruel or abusive. He never berated or insulted us; he didn’t not love us; he was who he was… a product of his ignorant parents’ emotionless and harsh “parenting” methodology. Again, while I love both of my grandparents for reasons that are very detached from who they were as parents, I realize that it was their fault that Dad was the way he was during my formative years; it was their selfish preoccupations with their addictions and with their dysfunctional marriage above being loving and supportive parents to the person they were designated to protect.
This actualization alone made it possible for me to forgive my dad for “wanting to break” my inquisitive, left-handed creative, expressionistic spirit for the entirety of my life under his roof. (While I can’t remember the context of the argument, he did once say verbatim that he ‘tried to break me’, I assume like you would a horse; oddly, I’m very proud of this because as a woman, if your own dad can’t break you, it’s a certainty no one else can.)
A Relationship Re-Rooted
Dad and I hit a wall in my mid-20s, and between my ability to look past the past and the fact that I was maturing as a human being, we were able to form an actual relationship. Today I see my dad as calmer. I’ve gotten to know him as a wise, reserved, and reflective individual. He’s a really good person who is highly intelligent and who has overcome a lot (more than I realized or have communicated here); I understand him a lot more and find it very easy to love him and to advocate for him. I can also understand why he had a lot of anger and frustration for so many years.
Admittedly, I wish this version of my dad was the version I had known as a child. I didn’t need the McGoo namby-pamby, pleated-khakis, feel-good heartfelt emotional lessons with the sappy music Danny Tanner dad (shudder) ; heck, even though I was a Clarissa in a Babysitter’s Club world, I didn’t even need (or want) an artsy Marshall Darling dad.
What I needed and wanted was a dad who wanted to spend real time with me. Perhaps, if our relationship hadn’t been tainted with perpetual discipline and resentment, I would’ve cultivated some of our similar interests sooner. Perhaps I would have learned how to discern weeds, to plant a garden, and to work in a flowerbed sooner. I love gardening; my dad is an excellent and skilled gardener who always has beautiful lawns and flowerbeds that look professionally landscaped. I could’ve also learned about some of the mistakes he made before I also made them…and maybe I could’ve avoided them all together (maybe not, but there’s no way to know).
Surviving the Winter
Alas, none of that happened, and dwelling on it and wishing it did is frivolous. Holding onto it is also silly because it threatens any new growth we’ve cultivated.
A (now former) student who, one year ago this January, lost his 21 year-old daughter to illness made all of this even more poignant; the only time he had with his daughter was roughly the exact amount of time dad and I wasted. I couldn’t help but wonder, What if that had been us? And then I was just thankful that it wasn’t.
My student has a son in his mid-20s who suffers a similar illness to his daughter. Before acknowledging what’s kept us going after losing Jude, I thought, “Why waste your time with school when what’s important is so obvious?” However, I quickly remembered that we keep going because that’s what we do. We keep going because when our only options are to lie down and to die or to keep moving forward, we just keep going…harder and stronger. We don’t let the things that try to break us break us.
That’s what this man (my student) did. That’s what Sean and I did after we lost our beautiful Jude. That’s what dad and I did after we didn’t get the first 25 years right.
The Grapefruit Tree
I started reflecting on all of this (foods that heal, grapefruits, pineapples, and my relationship with my dad) on Dec. 26, 2015 when I ate the first grapefruit I’d had that year from my dad’s tree. Often prolific, the tree produced only a handful of the nourishing fruit because it sustained a lot of damage during last year’s hard and harsh freezes. For me, my dad’s grapefruits are not only most delicious, but they also hold powerful emotionally soothing properties for me.
When Jude died, when we were at the hospital, in addition to his tears of grief for his only grandson and emotional support for Sean and me, Dad brought a bag of grapefruit, and I sustained on nothing but the fruit for least a week. Though other food was brought for me to eat while I numbly “recovered” in the hospital, it usually ended up uneaten either because a sympathetic visitor would arrive and it would be cold by the time they were gone; or because I was sleeping when it arrived, and it was unappetizing by the time I woke up.
Instead, the only activity that I could manage in my shattered state that held any peace was the satisfying labor of pulling away the grapefruit’s skin, then peeling away thick layers of pith before pulling the fruit apart and quietly eating the pieces at my leisure. Nothing spoiled. It was never cold or unappetizing; it was, in fact, the only thing that had any flavor to me.
A year later, it was very important for me to have a grapefruit from my dad’s tree. I had a total of six this growing season. As I said, it was a hard year for the grapefruit tree; it had such a brutal winter last year…it was lucky to have survived, but it had a strong foundation and was well established. And, like the people its fruit nourishes in every sense of the word, it kept moving forward when confronted by the option to give up; it, like me and like my dad, refused to be broken when life’s winters were harsh.