This is a piece that I wrote back in 2011, and revisited it again today. It seemed apt, being Father’s Day. I was thinking about the changes Father’s Day had brought over the years. When my father passed ten years prior to this originally being written, Father’s Day lost its luster for me. In the years to come, as my children’s father became less and less a part of their daily lives, the holiday was one more painful reminder of the losses in our lives. Strangely enough, my former father-in-law passed away in 2011 on Father’s Day as well.
Today, however, I think of the newest father in our lives–my son-in-law Justin, who became a first-time father in late January to a magical little boy named Logan. I marvel at the father he became the minute his son was born–and the mother my daughter became at that same moment. I remember just what that felt like, to become a new parent and suddenly see the world through a tiny wonderful person’s eyes and how fresh and amazing it became. And somehow, Father’s Day now brings a whole new appreciation for me. I don’t miss my father any less, but I am awakened to what the next generation in our family discovers each day and how grateful I am to know my grandson has such an incredible father.
June 20, 2011–Today was not the Father’s Day I anticipated it to be. My father died in 2001, and each year since then, the day feels particularly hollow as I feel the loss a bit more strongly than usual. I miss him so much. I think of the things that have transpired over the past year and wonder what he would have thought of them. Not just things in our lives, but in the world at large and what his opinion might have been.
Today, however, was different because another father passed away, one whom I was once very close to and for some significant reasons, I have not had much of a relationship with for the better part of the last decade. Our contact has been brief and sporadic but he played a rather large role in my life for a good many years. Early this afternoon, my former father-in-law passed away at the age of 93, strangely enough in my presence and had anyone told me that I would be there at the time of his death, I would have found it hard to believe. Somehow though, many things in our lives seem to have come full circle and at the end of the day, I see that family is still family.
So I find myself remembering, not just my own father today, but my children’s other grandfather as well. Remembering funny stories, times when the kids were little and experiences the entire family shared together through the years. Today was a reminder of how intricately entwined our lives have been and for so many years; connections borne of shared history and the wonder of how our lives have been enriched throughout the years by each other. We are who we are because of all of these connections.
I am nostalgic more often these days, or perhaps just appreciative of the life I’ve had and the people who have been and continue to be a part of it. I miss the people who have passed, but remind myself to be appreciative of the time I had with them. Some people never even get that.
As for my father, he passed away far too young at 74. I think of the last months he had, dying a little bit more each day due to cancer yet there was lightness about him at times, a sense of humor that I really enjoyed.
My father was never an easy man. An only child with a rather austere upbringing, he went in the Navy when he was just 17. His mother disposed of his possessions (in grief or anger, we’ll never know), and he returned home safely to eventually marry my mom. They had ten years together hoping for children, filled with many adventures and judging by the photos, lots of fun. Finally, they became parents. There was just my brother and me, and while my memories are good ones, my father could be a stern taskmaster and we knew not to upset him.
He needed quiet when he brought work home from the office. If he was to check out our homework, it had better be neatly handwritten or he’d tell us to do it over before he even looked at it. When we brought home our report cards, it was my dad who always signed them with his precise script (well, he was an engineer. . .). He was a simple man, not particularly demonstrative, did not appreciate a lot of conversation at the dinner table, especially if he was reading the newspaper, and would never allow his food to touch (or God forbid mix) on his plate.
And I adored him.
He never called me “sweetie,” “cookie,” “honey” or any of the pet names I saw fathers call their daughters on TV. Instead, he would say “C’mon, creep,” with a bit of a twinkle in his eye and off I would go. My favorite thing was going to the sportsmen club that he belonged to. He taught us to shoot rifles at a very early age, maybe five or six and we would wander the trails when the club was closed looking for unbroken clay pigeons, tramping through the woods for hours. For us, it was like a treasure hunt. We would find them under brush, next to a stream, near a rock bed, and it was like we struck gold. We would bring home our loot and my father would neatly box it up in the garage. When the box was full, he would sell them in the Want Advertiser and give us the proceeds.
I loved going to the junkyard with my dad. More treasure hunting. This, of course, was back in the days when one could freely roam a junkyard looking for parts. We would find whatever my father needed and be on our way. I didn’t quite understand it then, but the lesson for me was that when something was broken, one didn’t necessarily have to go out and buy something new or rely on someone else to fix it. I learned to be resourceful.
When we were young, my father would playfully box with us, taking delight whenever we managed to get a sneaky jab in on him. He could spend hours batting around a crushed up cigarette package or foil ball with our cat, Andy, chasing the cat around the corner or bouncing a balloon around with us, trying to keep it in the air. He taught me to throw a football and couldn’t imagine I wanted to stop playing when I caught the ball full force on my middle finger, fracturing the top joint. He shared his love of airplanes and hoped I would pursue his earlier dream of getting a pilot’s license. Our family attended many airshows and often stopped at Hanscom Airbase to watch the planes. I couldn’t wait to bring my own kids to do the same up here in New Hampshire and my oldest son shares this passion as well.
Throughout the years, there were many things I learned. I learned how to sand a rust spot on a car, prime and paint it, gingerly applying these skills with my long, painted, teenage nails. I learned that my father didn’t really know how to communicate with his growing children, but yet loved us dearly just the same. There was a point where he traveled quite a bit for work overseas. In one airmail letter exchange he told me that he felt as though he might actually be saying more to me in writing than he might in person since my brother and I often said that he didn’t have much to say to us.
I learned he was brave and he was honest. He had unflinching integrity and did the right thing. I don’t recall him cutting corners or taking the easy way. He was hard on people, but in retrospect, I think he was hardest on himself.
When I was young, a family from Haiti moved into our neighborhood. This was a time when there wasn’t a lot of diversity in our area, and anyone different might attract negative attention that was unwarranted. One afternoon we heard commotion and the father in this family, while out on a walk, was being attacked by two men from a motorcycle gang, which in itself was far from the norm in our suburban 70s neighborhood. I’m not sure what went through my father’s mind at the time, but I clearly remember him grabbing a weapon of some sort and running to help.
This was the same man that put a pet mouse of mine out of his misery when it developed a tumor that significantly grew, and was almost distraught when I lost the little creature for a brief time while we were away earlier on summer vacation (of course, the mouse came). He loved our cat, and created a special burial spot upon her death with nameplate he had made. As an adult, I couldn’t wait to show my dad any new pet we acquired because I knew, even while he was shaking his head at our growing menagerie, that he would get a real kick out of whatever it was. So often now, I think about how much he would love our little dachshunds.
When my young cousin cut her lip with a razor replicating her own father shaving, my father stitched it. When the couch ripped, he sewed it and when anything I owned broke, he fixed it. He made colorful wooden door stops, window cornices, my doll house and so many other things in our house. Much of it was rudimentary, but I thought there was nothing he couldn’t do. Why would I have thought any different? I thought all men must know these magical things and what a disappointment to learn it wasn’t necessarily true.
So now he is gone and I miss him every day. The impact he made on my life is profound. My kids miss who they have imagined him to be as well as who he was. He has become a bit of a tough, mostly-silent Clint Eastwood-ish character in their minds and they sometimes like to muse about what their relationship with him at this point might have been like and what his reaction to them might be. We recount the funny stories, such as my then three-year-old daughter tossing a dinner roll at him during a family holiday meal out of the blue and his stunned look. He once told her to color in the lines when she was coloring at his house and she responded by crying and not speaking to him for at least a year.
When a friend’s young son took a rock to my new van and etched a pattern into its flank, he asked me if I rapped the little bastard in the teeth. As you might expect, my father’s cars were meticulous and painstakingly maintained.
When old-school Nintendo was all the rage, I thought my father would get a kick out of the duck hunt game. He stood two inches from the screen, promptly shot all the ducks and moved on unimpressed.
It’s these experiences and more we share, and it’s often a comical conversation which ends with us all wishing he could still be here for so many different reasons. I know he would have loved my kids so much at this point and enjoy who they have become.
I often see my dad in me and sometimes in my children as well. He was not a patient man, and yes, I tested that patience many times over the years. I share that trait and find myself reacting to situations using the exact same words that I heard out of his mouth so many times. He was analytical and far more practical than I’ll ever be but I believe we share a common “I can do this” sensibility when attacking a problem. We may not know the answer, but we figure it out.
I remember when my father was dying, I felt cheated in our time together. It wasn’t just how much I would miss him and what he would miss, but how much more I wanted to do in my life and how much of it was for him. I wanted him to be so proud of me, as proud of me as I was of him. I just didn’t get that he already was.
After he died, my mother told me that when I was sick barely a year before with cancer and was really ill, my father, the non-demonstrative man who seldom betrayed his emotion to me, wanted to buy a music box for me, one that played “Daddy’s Little Girl.” My father, a man whose idea of shopping was to run to K-Mart or the hardware store, scoured the mall with my mother looking for one, going to specialty shops and looking everywhere. He never was able to find one and then, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
And then too soon. . . he was gone.
Yet still, I remain my daddy’s little girl.