Sometimes You Have to Unplug to Find Your Outlet

I never knew my dad’s outlet until just now. Driving into work this morning, I felt blank. Void. I didn’t have any words to say outwardly, but I needed to express myself inwardly.

“I need to write,” I thought, making a mental note to post that as my Facebook status. “That’s my outlet, my thing—writing.” Already I was feeling better. That got me thinking about other people’s escapes.

My husband’s outlet is sleeping. When things overwhelm him and he feels stuck, he sleeps. A lot. Then he wakes up, literally and figuratively, and feels better.

My friend’s outlet is music. Loud, house music of the club persuasion. He’s this big, beefy Englishman and yet he loves a poppy electronic tune to get his day going.

My late father-in-law’s outlet was us. His new wife and young child were demanding of time, but laughing and going out with his sons and me was the escape he needed, although he had hell to pay when he got home.

What about my father? He was a type-A, all-business type. He never slept well, in his entire life. His heart wasn’t great and he often chose not to follow doctor’s orders. In his later years, he drank heavily and smoked cigars—something that I find very Mad Men romantic, but realize in my adult years was incredibly harmful to his health. I always thought his outlet was going out. He’d go to a bar several nights a week and listen to loud, ’80s music.

But as I write this, I realize that’s not it. My father’s outlet wasn’t a gin and tonic, or INXS on the jukebox. It was me.

Divorced since I was in third grade, my dad would call me every night before bed. Every once in a while, after he’d been drinking, he’d open up.

“Good night babe, I love you.”
“Good night Daddy, I love you too.”
“No really, Shel, I really love you.”
“I know, Daddy. I really love you too.”

After a fatal heart attack at age 50, his secretary approached me at the funeral. She said her condolences, but she said something much more comforting.

“I’m sure you know this, but your dad cared so much about you. You were everything to him. He was so proud of you, and would talk about you all the time.” Another co-worker came up. “You’re so pretty, like the photos your dad has of you in his office. He’d point you out and show you off.” And another. “I feel like I already know you because your dad talked about you so much. He loved you very much.”

I realize I was my father’s escape. He once said after overindulging, I was the “light in a sometimes dark tunnel.” I figured this out by writing. And I feel better. Teary-eyed yes, but better because the “stuck” inside is coming out. Writing about my father is my outlet. What’s yours?

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