Years 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.
Sometimes 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
As 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.
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.