My daughter gave me the gift that was at the top of my list: A bird feeder – and 10 lbs. of “deluxe mix” bird food. I think she thought it was kind of lame. She’s 18 and her idea of a gift comes in a turquoise box. But she has no idea what she really gave me.
My father was an alcoholic. Our relationship was, at its best, unemotional. He never raised a hand or his voice. Sarcasm was his weapon. Still, he embarrassed me. He didn’t provide for our family in the way I thought he should. He was incapable of sharing his feelings. I never saw him hold my mother’s hand or put his arm around her or give her the kind of hug I thought he should. I don’t remember him ever being romantic. It was as though physical affection was painful and emotional intimacy was excruciating.
But my father was a good father. He did the very best he could. I know that now – seven years after his death. There were two things that my father was passionate about: our dog and keeping squirrels off the bird feeder. Our kitchen table looked out over the backyard. He had set a bird feeder on a pole about 10 feet outside the windows. It was great watching the cardinals and sparrows and blue jays visit while eating breakfast.
My dad would sit for an hour or so, drink coffee, read the paper, watch the birds and cuss the squirrels – which sent the dog into a frenzy. It got to the point where we couldn’t even say the word “squirrel” without the dog going nuts. So we referred to squirrels as s-q-u’s.
My dad became the MacGyver of squirrel repellant devices. My favorite was a foot-long piece of rainspout with the sharp edges peeled back like a banana. He ran the pole holding the bird feeder through the mangled rain spout, which he had suspended from the bottom of the bird feeder with some of mom’s clothesline.
I think the idea was that the dangling, mangled rain spout would act like squirrel shrapnel – shredding the little bastards when they ran up and down the pole. Let’s just say it didn’t work. It was like Cirque de Soliel in our backyard, with squirrels performing all kind of amazing acrobatics to get to the bird feeder. I half expected one of them – cheeks plump with bird feed – to turn around and flip my dad the bird.
My dad left the squirrel shrapnel device on the bird feeder for quite awhile. It was way more fun to watch my father watch the squirrels and our dog trying to crash through the kitchen window than it was to watch some stupid birds eating bird feed.
I called my brother and sister yesterday with my Christmas wishes and told them about my daughter’s gift. My brother and sister and I are not close. My mother – dead now for 6 years – was the line of communication between us. She triangulated our lives. I got all my information about my siblings from my mother.
My sister didn’t like me. I was always playing victim, she said. In hindsight, she was right. I was a woe-is-me drunk with depression. I wallowed in my misery and my eternally codependent mother, would eat it up. My little brother and I had not been close since the day he was finally bigger than me and could beat me up – which was, like, 40 years ago.
I called my sister first and told her about my new bird feeder. She promptly told me that her son, my wacky little nephew, got an air gun for Christmas to keep the squirrels off the bird feeder. My nephew reported that the gun had a good site – he hit the bird feeder with his first two shots. And – he reported – the air gun could probably “break skin.” We laughed at how proud our father, Van, would be that his grandson was carrying on the family tradition of squirrel eradication.
Then I called my brother and told him about my new bird feeder and my plan to suspend it from the branch of a tree with some fishing line – which I was sure the squirrels could not rappel down. Au contraire, my brother informed me. He had tried the same trick but the squirrels chewed through the line and the bird feeder fell to the ground like a pinata. They’re crafty little devils. And we talked about Van and laughed at our family’s bird feeders.
These two phone calls were precious. Today – having dumped the resentment against my father’s alcoholism and my mother’s codependency and depression – I have my brother and sister back in my life. Because of my sobriety and willingness to get help for my depression and bipolar and I am capable of having healthy relationships.Â I am a long way from being close to my brother and sister but we talked and laughed – about Van – and that is huge.
I will call them again, once I get my bird feeder hung.
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From Psych Central's website:
PsychCentral (December 26, 2009)
Last reviewed: 26 Dec 2009