Father’s Day has never ranked among my top personal holidays. I got no more excited about Father’s Day than, say, any holiday belonging solely to a religion to which I do not belong.
Fatherless following my parents divorce when I was not quite 2, I was wholly absolved of any personal involvement and could cheerfully ignore the greeting card come-ons and necktie sales. Since my mother didn’t smoke, I never knew quite what to do with all those clay ashtrays they had us make in grade school either.
Nothing special. Instead, that “special” Sunday each June was, for me, just another fatherless day.
This all sounds a lot more dramatic than it really was. If anything, I grew to pride myself on not needing a father and steadfastly refused to admit I might miss mine. I was not and am not special after all. Absentee fathers are as common as dirt.
You can get so good at a story after so long that you almost come to believe it yourself.
I’ve heard it said that with a shock, the whole world shifts beneath you. I know now this is absolutely true. I believe I will remember forever the very seismic minute, second, place and time when I learned that I had, quite literally, missed my father forever.
I remember the smooth hardwood of our dining room floor suddenly slick under my feet. Remember the graceless way I stumbled to the sofa because I knew if I didn’t sit down, I would surely fall.
Grief. Now, as the days and weeks grind on, I am stunned at the depth and breadth of my grief. I never knew how your heart could hurt. Physically ache. It makes no sense to my practical self. Didn’t I lose him long ago? While I was growing up without him? When he was growing ill without my knowledge or (I think insanely) my consent?
As a child my knowledge of him was akin to that of Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. I believed in him, sure, but I never thought I’d actually see him. Now through the magic of technology and the kindness of others, images of my father flicker to life across a computer screen.
In my favorite photo, a candid taken on some long forgotten day, my impossibly young teenage father is stepping toward the camera as if in a hurry to go somewhere. To be gone. I study his eyes. His hair. His wedding ring.
I obsess over minute details of this wholly ordinary moment suspended in time, as if this will finally reveal to me the essence of who my father, this man of mystery, really is. Was.
I’ll never know. I want to call him, finally, and tell him: “I know you now Dad. The curve of your jaw. Your eyes. Your nose.” But of course I don’t know him at all. I will never know the sound of his voice. His footsteps. His laughter. I will never have firsthand knowledge of the thousands of little pieces and the presence that make up the people we love.
I have always believed with crystal clarity that family is about love and commitment and not necessarily about whose eyes or nose you have. I still believe that, but I have come to know that eyes and nose and blood matter too. Too late I learned that it is not possible to cut the ties that bind without taking a big chunk out of yourself.
Like the phantom pain from a severed limb, my father goes everywhere with me now.
Now all I will ever have of him are photos and memories begged and borrowed from others. Family members long lost and newly found have graciously and with unbelievable compassion shared their stories with me. I cling to this even as I realize how little cold facts and warm thoughts will suffice. How hollow the victory of memories gleaned entirely from others really is.
Hindsight. I am living proof you can relive endlessly – and painfully – how easy it would have been to write or say something simple like “I’m sorry” or “I forgive you” or “I love you, anyway.”
It is said hindsight is 20/20. I can assure you the hindsight of regret and the achingly clear vision of where you took the most monumentally wrong turns in your life is a view I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Nor is having to face the startling realization that you – and your pride – were your own worst enemy after all.
“Give an inch, they’ll take a mile” the saying goes. As an adult, I feared if given an inch – the second chance he hoped for – my father would break my heart. Of course, in the end, he did. What I failed to see until it was much too late was that he couldn’t have done so without a whole lot of help from me.
Meaningful gift. If you have an involved father in your life, then by all means give him a tie, a barbecue and a big hug too. But perhaps your father was all too human? Perhaps he disappeared? Perhaps he disappointed you? Perhaps you’ve been bearing a grudge for far too long and you could lighten your own load by giving your father something more meaningful this Father’s Day?
If I had it to do all over again, I know what I would give mine. I would just give an inch.
(Kymberly Foster Seabolt welcomes comment c/o firstname.lastname@example.org; P.O. Box 38, Salem, Ohio 44460; or http://userweb.epohi.com/~kseabolt.)
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