“Well, what do you think of her?” my dad asked.
I knew who he was talking about. “I think she’s very nice,” I said.
“And what do you say when I’m not around?” he tried to fish for more.
I was folding laundry onto the brown, floral print couch and I was suddenly so uncomfortable that I wanted to turn and fly away.
“When you’re not around, I say that… it’s weird to see you with somebody else,” I said.
“Yeah, well, it’s weird for me, too,” he said before he left the room. Maybe he didn’t really want to talk about it, either.
He said that it’s weird for him, too, and I believe it. But he and Marilyn seemed like naturals together when I met her. They sat together on that brown, floral print couch. Marilyn laughing at all of my dad’s jokes. They were cute together. But my poor mom. I couldn’t get her out of my head. I have so many photos of her on that couch.
For Marilyn’s birthday my dad planned a picnic at a park a few hours away. He showed off the new picnic basket he bought, proud of his own thoughtfulness.
“Deluxe,” I said. It was a big, cute basket, pre-packed with plates, flatware, and wine glasses. He had some hummus and wine, a blanket to sit on. He thought of all the details, and I was seething as I smiled and wished him a wonderful afternoon.
After he left I exploded on my husband. “He NEVER did these things for my mom!” I hissed.
Chris didn’t miss a beat defending my dad, “You don’t know that! Maybe he did romantic things for your mom in the beginning, before you were around.”
“No, he NEVER did!” I was in a blind rage, absolutely no reasoning at that point.
But Chris tried, “Well, your mom would want him to be happy.”
“No, I’m pretty sure she’d be totally disgusted with him by now!” I spat at him and deep down I was laughing because I knew I sounded crazy.
The next few nights I dreamed about my mom so hard that when I woke up, I felt like I was tapping out of a wrestling match. My dad’s moving on was triggering a strong resurgence of grief. And the fierce loyalty I feel for my mom was leading to anger. But underneath it all, I could see that I was just upset with the situation; pissed off that I couldn’t keep my mom from dying, sad that I won’t be able to bring her back. I wanted to accept the reality of the situation–my mom was never coming back. My dad needed to move on. I should have felt happy that he found such a sweet person to move on with. But I was not sure how to do it.
Even before my mom died, my dad had a habit of inviting me to dinner once a month. He always tells me to choose any place I’d like. Last week, that meant we dined on salads and Brussels sprouts at Mark’s Bistro. We sat outside and watched the hostess as she ran her hand through the ample coleus sprouting out of large pots on the patio. A fat, green inchworm appeared on the white tablecloth in front of me and I let it crawl up my arm while we chatted.
Eventually the conversation turned to Marilyn and the more we talked, the more comfortable I was with hearing my dad talk about his new girlfriend. He told me more about her children and grandchildren, and I thought about how sweet she was with my children when she met them. She had listened patiently and she laughed when they made inappropriate jokes. She fit in with our family really well.
I asked my dad what he likes about her.
“Well, she’s generous and kind. She’s very kind, in fact, she reminds me of your mom in that way… even though they are very different. For instance, Marilyn’s very outgoing. And she has a more minimalist style. I like her style. And… we both think that I’m really cool, so I like that,” he said. I rolled my eyes at that last one.
“Do you ever talk about Mom with her?” I asked him.
“Sure, she knows the whole story. And Mom comes up a lot, because that was my life for almost forty years.”
I nodded but my eyes were on the inchworm that was exploring my fingertips.
My dad continued, “You know, I didn’t ever want to be in this situation, but…” then he hesitated a little bit before saying, in an Asian accent, “…Daddy get horny!”
We both laughed, and I tried not to puke.
But in that moment, I knew that we’d make it through this awkward transition. I realized that my dad will always be my good, old dad. And I knew all of that just because of an inappropriate joke and a little moment of laughter. Those little moments have gotten me this far, after all.