Happy Father's Day, in a way
I was a stepfather for a brief window of time, and I cherished that. But, that didn’t pan out, either, and I state that with some regret, too. No more about that.
So, while I wasn’t ever a father – I think I would have been notified by now if I had been one – I did indeed have a father. So, on this Father’s Day, I reckon it behoves me to share some thoughts about Dear Old Dad. My Dear Old Dad.
I didn’t like my father very much when I was a child. He was an angry man and when confronted by his ill-temper I found him frightening. It was only when I grew older I came to appreciate the sources of his anger. I gained an understanding, but no approval. To this day I won’t grant approval of his behavior towards my brothers and me.
I suppose I wanted a father like some other kids I knew. You know, genial sorts of fellows who would chuck a ball around in the backyard with a kid at the end of the day, or who would chuckle and one’s transgressions rather than raging against them.
I wanted a Ward Cleaver or a Fred MacMurray on My Three Sons, or even Robert Young’s Jim Anderson on Father Knows Best, although Billy Gray, who played son, Bud, later stated that Young was an utter prick in real life. But, you know what I mean.
I knew guys who had good relationships with their fathers. I knew guys who actually regarded their fathers as their best friends. My brother once told me the tale of a guy who he worked with who was really excited about the fact his dad was coming to visit for a week. “I wonder what that’s like?” my bro said. “Other kids used to be excited when their old man was coming home from work. I was filled with dread.”
Blessedly, Dad wasn’t physical in his anger. He never struck us. He just raged and let it be known to us that whatever we did was never quite good enough.
Where I gained my understanding came with an appreciation that his own father treated Dad like crap. My Grandfather was a hard-nosed prosecuting attorney who had been very successful. He saw his eldest son, my Dad, as a wastrel; a person of little accomplishment. Even though, Dad was actually extremely accomplished and well respected as a vocational educator and college dean. Ironically, I got along extremely well with my grandfather, much (I believe) to my father’s chagrin. And, contrarian bastard that I was, I played up that tie with Grandpa to the hilt. “Ha-ha, your dad hates you but loves me.” I didn’t really say that, but I thought it on occasion.
I thought it because I failed to understand how a man who had received such shoddy treatment from his own father should then turn around and treat his kids in the same way. Maybe that’s just one of the reasons I never had children. I was afraid of falling into a trap for which I wouldn’t forgive myself.
As I reached middle age the old boy mellowed a bit. I became more comfortable in his presence and he in mine. And, when he went into decline (he died at age 80 in 1996) I did feel something for him. Not a lot, but something.
Now, on this Father’s Day, 12 years later, I do think there are things I’d like to say to him, but I can only do it this way. So, today I remember my father, not fondly, but with a twinge of remorse over things that were left unstated, and a stronger twinge of regret over how it could and should have been better.
On the other hand, it could have been worse, so that’s a blessing in itself.
And, Happy Father's Day to the rest of you.
Labels: Dear old dad