Today is my first Father's Day… without a father. I've been trying to figure out how I feel about that.
My dad and I had a rocky relationship. In the beginning I remember my dad being the biggest thing in my life – literally. He was 6'5” tall and one of my first memories is riding on my father's shoulders walking down the hall in a hospital going to visit my mother in an iron lung. A recent newspaper article I read about her said she was one of the last people admitted to the hospital with polio from the big epidemic in the 1950's. I was born in 1956. I was three when she died… or almost three.
Before she ever died I was sent to live with my paternal grandparents. My grandparents were surrogate parents for a couple of years until my father remarried. I honestly don't know how much he loved my mother – my stepmother – but she tells me he was really concerned about wanting to marry someone who would take care of me.
I remember brief visits when he would come to my grandparents house on a weekend… remember him reading the sunday paper. Beyond that, I don't remember much until I was a bit older and he'd been remarried. For several years in my early childhood things seemed good. Then something … wasn't.
I can't put my finger on the moment when it all went wrong. Like many lives I think it was a slow process. Block on block brought down my parents into the dark layers of unhappiness. Looking back as an adult I can see money issues, major control issues (my dad), jealousy, and resentment (my mom). Money became a problem, but my dad would not let my mom go back to work (she'd been a working single woman when he married her). I think he was from that old school that said the man should bring home the bacon and the woman should fry it up and serve it. He always said someone should be home with me, too. Her unhappiness led to chemical addictions, his to alcohol. Eventually they would both become alcoholics – although what is generally referred to as “functioning” alcoholics.
The man that I once loved and admired and thought was my whole world became my jailor and my tormentor and my … enemy. A harsh word for a father, but it fits.
I have a husband who is a strict father. To a point. When the kids were small, I was more the disciplinarian than he was. His philosophy was, when the kids wanted to do things… “is it going to hurt them? If not, then why not?” I was raised totally opposite. “Why?” He also yelled and could have a temper with the best of them. But… as the kids will tell you now and joke about… they would just wait about fifteen minutes and here he'd be, tromping up the stairs to their bedrooms to apologize for losing his temper and talking to them in a quiet tone and trying to explain why he got angry and what he was trying to say. He is a man who has said “I'm sorry” more times than I can count. He is a man who says “I love you” to his kids and his family and who loves to give hugs and pats on the back. Doesn't mean he doesn't still yell… oh, yes, he can still yell… but we all know he is like the cowardly lion. He's making a lot of noise, but there is no malice behind it. None.
I wish I'd had a dad like that. I wish my dad would have made me feel safe and loved and told me once that he loved me and that he was sorry for all the evil things he'd done. I wish there were do-overs and history when re-written was really the way they wanted it to be… instead of the way it really was and the way I will always remember it. I refuse to re-write history. Even if it means I can't feel for my dad the way I'm supposed to feel today.
I'm sorry, dad. I love you… I loved you… but I didn't like you. I can't change that. I'm not going to be dishonest to my heart because I want the past to be okay.
On this father's day I am blessed to have a wonderful father for my children. That's good enough for me.