It’s Father’s Day!
Fathers get kind of a bum deal. They’re always lumped together like “Dads and Grads” in the aisle of your local suburban superstore. Is that really necessary? Plus, all the gifts for Father’s Day are limited to grilling, fishing or golfing. I’m not knocking these things but what if your dad or husband is more complex than that? Like my dad.
I am now 44. I was 25 when my dad died. In 6 years, I will have lived equal time with him as without him. My sister was 15 when he died so she passed that mark when she hit 30. It’s funny the numbers games you play. How many birthdays he’s missed. How old he would be now. Anniversary dates.
My dad visits me in my dreams. It’s become less frequent as the years pass, but I comfort myself that it’s just my too-cluttered brain that can’t remember his stopping by. Sometimes he looks like himself. Sometimes like someone else. But I always know it’s him. We are usually having coffee somewhere, which we did not ever do. He asks about my husband and kids (he never even met them) and about my mom, for whom the notion of “adoration” would be too small a word. Then he tells me he never died and he is living somewhere in Europe, Asia or wherever he is travelling at the time. Often, he is part of some witness protection program or a secret plot. Part of me wants to call him on his bullshit. Like, I was there when you died, Dad! Or, You are not working for a covert operation in the CIA! But I never do. I feel uneasy, he looks so happy, and he always wanted to travel again after his days in the Navy. So I let him talk. And I listen.
When I wake up in my suburban bedroom, I feel relieved that I am not crazy, just dreaming. But sad. Sad because he is not here. Because he never met my husband. Or his grandchildren. Or my dog. All of whom he would have dearly loved. I am also sad because we live in a beautiful place that he would have loved to visit, near water and mountains. And most of all I am sad because I never really knew him the way I wanted to know him. I never asked him the good questions. Like, What was life like before we were born? What made you fall in love with mom? Who is your hero? And I never listened as much as I do in my dreams. Maybe I was too young. Maybe I was scared. Maybe there are just some things he didn’t want me to know. But really, truly, I believe he thought I was too good for him. Not just me, my sisters and mom, too. Such is the love of a father who went to work, did his best, quit smoking, finally found a job he enjoyed instead of sucking the life out of him and then still wound up with some shitty luck.
I look at my own husband, whom, impossibly, I love more every day. As we gradually approach the age of my father when he died, I am reminded of what my father was like at the same age. And with each year that passes, I watch my husband become a better man. And a better father. My father, too. He never stopped growing. Although they are not alike in many ways, they do have a couple things in common. They both have June birthdays. This is a little unfair. Celebrating a birthday and doing all the fun stuff on their birthdays is great, but to do it again for Father’s day a couple days or weeks later is a little redundant. I wish we could have spread it out a little more. Also, both possess a wickedly silly sense of humor. Many a time my father would embarrass me. He was just a goofball. He would conduct invisible orchestras if the music moved him or he would cheer his beloved Philadelphia Flyers in an painfully loud and enthusiastic way. It seems so minimal now, but as a 13 year old, I was absolutely horrified. But he loved doing things that would embarrass us. Most of us are too busy or serious or worried about what other people think to really get downright silly. Not my fun-loving husband. It’s one of the qualities that drew me to him, because I loved when my dad cut loose and chilled out. When my kids slap their heads and roll their eyes when their dad does something they find “embarrassing,” I want to say…just wait, you’ll appreciate this one day. But alas, as all parents know, there are lessons that are only taught by the slow march of time. Their father and their grandfather before him demonstrate the sheer willingness to make complete fools of themselves. This was my father’s most perfect and honest gift: a good sense of humor will get you through anything.
Sometimes I see men who look like my father. It’s a bit jarring, like my dream come to life. And I realize that there are many secret hopes and aspirations to all the men I see walking around suburbia. They are more than their briefcases, their cell phones, their paychecks. They are more than providers or husbands or even fathers. Ask them the good questions. If you are lucky enough to have your father still around, give him a hug for me. And one for my dad.
And don’t buy him a motherfucking golf tie.