Looking for Dad

canstockphoto23635321Years ago, Father’s Day seemed to be mocking me. I had matured just enough to see that it was another holiday designed to sell more shit. My father had left when I was five and committed suicide later in his life. My stepfather was a mean and sometimes dangerous drunk, now also dead. I have never called anyone dad. It rolls off my tongue like a foreign word, unusual and exotic.

Anyone who has read this blog knows that I’m not a perky ray of sunshine.  I am, however, a believer in our ability as humans to see things the way we want to see them. My life is a series of truncated and isolated phases. We moved a lot. Connections were broken, addresses lost, time passed. I have forgotten much of my history out of necessity or neglect, but there are some people who have stayed always in my heart. And it’s an important lesson: We can make such a difference to each other.

An Appreciation of Nature

When I was younger, there was an older couple from our church who used to invite us over after service. My brother and I were 8 and 10. The couple were in their 60s. At the time, they seemed ancient. She was plump and severe, often chiding us for getting into things. He was always in motion, starting up the fireplace, walking through his garden, fetching this or that for her.

canstockphoto4041752Sometimes he would take us out to a local lake and even canoeing, if we were lucky. We would hike trails, scramble over logs, tromp through the mud. He knew a lot about plants and animals, always pointing out Dutchman’s Breeches and poison ivy along the paths. He narrated what the animals did and why. We’d look through his giant binoculars at birds, excited by a flash of color. He was interested in everything outdoors, as was I and we often poured through his bird guides to find something seen that day.

As I sit here now, birds are calling outside the study window. Behind me, on my bookshelf, are ten worn and tagged guides for plants, birds and animals. On top of them, a pair of binoculars.

Valuing What I Have to Write

canstockphoto23683471As a painfully shy 5th grader, I had the great fortune of having a teacher who saw me. Always quiet, reading, well-behaved, I learned to fly under the radar as much as possible. Mr. Dunn encouraged me to write. He put one of my poems in the town paper. He encouraged me in writing a parody, the now classic “Snow White and the Five Dorks”, which my classmates were all too happy to perform. My sense of humor had not been honed by subtlety. And still may not be.

I had begun prodigiously scrawling poetry and essays, filling notebooks with inane thoughts. Because I thought it mattered. He made me believe that it was worth doing. It was a kindness that impacted me immeasurably.

Pick Your Battles

One of the most important father figures in my life was my grandfather. He thrived on military history and knew how to do battle with all the women around him without making them mad. At least not for very long. He was gentle, kind and a fantastic storyteller. I miss him greatly.

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I think of Father’s Day with gratitude now. I think of the men who I was so lucky to have met along the way – they were kind, dignified, compassionate and good human beings. I see the relationship of my daughter and her father, knowing that without these examples along the way, I might never have recognized my husband for the friend and mate and the parent that he has become.

It’s easy to get lost in the hostile gender rhetoric of social media and the entertainment portrayals of men and women, that are as baffling as they are unrealistic. In this world, where humans are working so hard to define individuality to the point of isolation and defensiveness, we still need to feel that we matter, that we are valued, that who and what we are has a place in the universe.

You may swiftly forget that moment when you were kind to someone, when you taught them something, when you singled them out and made them feel important. For me, those moments lifted me out of despair and I will carry that gratitude with me always. Happy Father’s Day to you all.

31 Comments on “Looking for Dad

    • For many of us, these holidays are reminders of loss and lacking. I’m just so grateful to be in a place where I can see all that I’ve gained. So many people along the way, at just the right moments in time…

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Nonetheless, Snow White and the Five Dorks is a perky ray of sunshine, and people do matter–even dorks, in a pinch…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I believe the wicked stepmother got eaten by poisoned odor eaters. It’s really hard to understand why I haven’t won a Pulitzer.
      Children who don’t get the message that they matter when they’re young often spend lifetimes believing that they don’t or searching for someone or something to tell them they do. I got lucky, being both a dork and meeting adults who cared.

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  2. “Children who don’t get the message that they matter when they’re young often spend lifetimes believing that they don’t or searching for someone or something to tell them they do.”

    Yep. We do.

    Liked by 3 people

    • If I’m in a melancholic mood, I think about where this ship might have gone, had I not needed so much time and effort to patch the holes with which I started the journey. Obviously, I wrote this post from a more positive perspective! More about the patches and less about the holes.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Michelle,

    Thanks for sharing these thoughts, and congratulations on coming to the point in your life where such poignant understanding, even levened with some sadness, can be expressed with such love and understanding and insight.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Your post is sublime in so many ways. I had to blunder into the cliffs often and experience the forgiveness of others before I could forgive my father and stop blaming him for the holes in my ship. I try not to think about the wasted energy. Now I’m out sailing properly, and I love the feel of the wind in my hair.

    Thanks for reminding me to focus on gratitude – so many, many people valued and cared for me when my parents didn’t know now.

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    • I’ve left the responsibility of forgiveness to the universe. I think it’s too much to expect, in addition to just trying to keep myself upright. By the time I sought out and luckily found ways to compensate, forgiveness seemed unnecessary, because I was no longer in pain or angry. And it’s always an uneven trip. Gratitude is just one of the many tools to keep us sailing on a positive course. I sound like a fortune cookie. I’ll stop now.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I wrote about men here because of the holiday, but I found it was a challenge to trust people in general and to understand boundaries. Maybe by the time I’m 80, I’ll have it all figured out!

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  5. Took me time to accept love from the opposite sex, as growing up I have always associate MEN only with negative such as my father, step dad and previous relationships. But on that Sunday morning I woke up writing my first Father’s Day card with my son, dedicated to my husband. Just then I realized how lucky I was and faith was restored. I finally had let go all the pre-conceived ideas of how probably men are just because of my own experiences. I am grateful, grateful for the opportunity on how we can make positive difference on each other.

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    • I was challenged by both parents in terms of relationships of any ilk, but it’s a lovely thing to look back and see how far I’ve traveled and how fortunate I was on the way that my mistakes did not cause irreparable damage (as far as I know). I’m glad, too, that I have an opportunity to raise a child with a healthier foundation for her relationships.

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  6. Happy that you’ve found a much better place as an adult…and that you’ve brought with you the appreciation of nature you got as a child. I can’t think of anything more healing than spending time in nature…as a part of it all.

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    • I see signs that I’ve passed on my appreciation of nature to my daughter as well. For the longest time she wanted to be an ecologist. Now we’re on a musician track, but she’s been writing music and one of her first songs was called “Take Care of Our World”. The message has gotten through!

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      • Nice!! I’ll be in the garden this evening. Just this morning I was feeling a calling to share some of my journey with my birth dad who for as long as I can remember had Multiple Sclerosis (he eventually passed awhile ago.) the first time I can recall ever feeling my dad’s skin was when he was shoving me down the hallway saying I didn’t tell him I was going to the shop(I had.) I was about 18. The next time was when he called out for me and i helped him up from sitting in a pool of blood just before the last of many hospital trips. Then he was gone. The man who probably loved me more than ever yet was not near his full capacity to express and share it. He must have said about 10 sentences EVER in the 20 years I knew him. It has been and still is a journey and a half learning growing beyond this. Still he did the best he could with the challenges he had. Thank you for posting and sharing and creating a space where we can talk about this and heal even more. Nature is a healing gift and I am so thankful to sill have life and time to learn about the man he was before. My grandfathers were long gone by the time I landed (one at age 5. No memory of the guy, and just found a few discarded documents.) first time I ever saw his face.

        Garden calls soon as I get home
        Thanks again and good vibes to you

        Liked by 1 person

    • Well, it would have been nice to be able to call someone that, but parents are like spouses in the sense that, if you’re looking to one person to fulfill all your needs, you’re likely to be disappointed. I was fortunate for the patchwork of mentoring along the way.

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      • There’s nothing wrong with looking towards your father for need fulfillment. That’s his responsibility. He OWED you that and failed you. My dad looked through me like a whisp of steam that somehow got in the house. Some guidance would’ve been helpful.

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        • I try to find the lemonade amidst all the dysfunction. My daughter has a great dad and I’m so glad that it is no longer a family legacy to have shitty fathers and passive mothers. All we can do is break the cycle.

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  7. Like the last paragraph of the post. It’s amazing how much of a difference people make in others’ lives even when they don’t realize it. I stilll remember my 6th grade teacher encouraging me to write, putting some positive in a tough year. Also i liked your opening up of Fathers Day to all your influences. Helps focus on the emotional gifts we’ve received and less on the materialistic side too many get lost in.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I try to remember that any moments I take to offer someone kindness are like ripples in a pond – one never knows the impact.

      I was very fortunate to have some of the teachers and mentors I did.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

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