Father's Day?

My wife took me to breakfast with our two surrogate children, Odysseus and Penelope, bright and early this morning. She found a dog friendly restaurant in Wellfleet, on Cape Cod, where we are hiding out for a long weekend. She said breakfast out was the dogs’ idea, a father’s day treat. Penny and Ody lay by my side, one to my left, the other to my right, as I ate a king’s breakfast on a bright sunny patio.

Our three two-legged children are spread far and wide. Two are on the west coast; the third is in New York City. I suspect during the course of the day each will call to mumble a word of two. I will awkwardly mumble something back. Father’s day has always seemed a bit contrived to me.

That may be because I’ve never made a father’s day call myself. My father went missing when I was eight. When he re-emerged some forty years later, it was just too awkward to pretend that there was a great well of sentiment on tap to make a call seem real. When he died, I crashed his funeral, to the surprise of the distant members of his new family who hadn’t been informed that I exist.

Fatherhood is a confusing sort of passion.

My wife keeps reminding me that our children never stop needing me. I marvel when she says that. I wandered out the door of my mother’s home when I had just turned seventeen, never to return for anything but brief visits. When my father left, he seemed to take a part of my mother with him. Home was a place to sleep and sometimes eat. I sought nourishment elsewhere.

Today I watched a father and son head off to breakfast together. Alone. They resembled one another, the lines of the son filled out in the form of the older man. They were stealing a moment from time. Looking at the men reminded me that time always wins. I feel its weight pressing down on me, and I don’t like the sense of it. 

I’ve been meaning for the longest time to take a quiet trip to Williamsburg, Virginia, where my father is buried. When last I saw any sign of him, he was being lowered into a deep hole. I threw a clod of dirt onto the box in which his body lay. I cried not so much for the loss of him at that moment, but for the loss of him over the long decades in which I needed him. He told me he had always loved me when we were reunited; they seemed like hollow words. He did not love me enough to be there when I needed him.

I worry my children can with justification say they same thing of me. I did a better job of being physically present than my father did. But I am his son, a reckless wanderer not faithful enough, not present enough, to cherish all the love that has caught me time and again by surprise. I’ve been given more than I deserve, and I have often lacked the sense to be grateful.

I’d like to sit by my father’s grave and see if I can summon his spirit. I’d like to know why he left me, why he thought it all right to break my heart, and then to attempt a return as though I’d kept a room for him in my heart long after all hope of every seeing him again brought the house of my soul to ruin. His was a shifty sort of soul; he found peace late in life with a new woman, and a new sense of place in a part of the country I cannot call home. 

I am a father today and every day. Three children look to me much as I looked for my father. I sit and fret that I am not capable of rising to the task. I want to run lest they see how bare is my cupboard. I offer all that I have and it never seems enough.

My dogs seem to know this about me. They are border collies. I am their life’s work, and they herd me incessantly, never letting me out of their sight, and always vigilant lest I lose my way. I suppose I needed dogs this intense to keep from losing my way. They offer all they have to me every day, and although they lack words, their presence speaks a comforting language. I learn from them how simply to be present. When words fail, it is, I hope, enough, merely to be present and vigilant. I am present today, on this hallmark holiday. I am a father reminded that love is all there is. 

Happy father’s day to all.


Comments: (4)

  • Happy Father's Day
    Enjoy the day, and have no regret. You're not your father, nor do you carry "sins of your father". Unlike some, you've learned and have broken the chain. In you must go to him to get past that torturous time of your life, then do it, but stop tormenting yourself. Give credit where credit is due...sounds like you're doing just fine.
    Posted on June 17, 2012 at 3:51 pm by Ward Cleaver
  • Father's Day
    The same reflection exist in my life N: What;s even sadder is it seam hereditary, and I can't do nothing about it accept sit back and watch the years go buy without being able to be with my children because so want to.
    Posted on June 18, 2012 at 12:31 am by JUST ME!
  • Father's Day
    The same reflection exist in my life N: What's even sadder, is it seems to be hereditary, and I can't do nothing about it, accept sit back, and watch the years go by without being able to be with my children. I so want to be.
    Posted on June 18, 2012 at 12:37 am by JUST ME!
  • It's Part of the Job
    So beautifully said, Norm. I think those persistent concerns of inadequacy are only indications of a good father. Lacking them, perhaps we would lack the constant motivation to overcome them. It's part of what makes me want to play catch in the 90-degree heat with my boys after a tough day at the office. It's, in part, a fear of not being good enough for them. It's not a bad thing. Happy belated Father's Day to you.
    Posted on July 1, 2012 at 3:16 am by John Callanan

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