With all the reminders of Father’s Day swirling around, it occurred to me that while I have written about my mother in this forum, I have rarely if ever mentioned my father, Jack. There are a lot of reasons for that, too many to share. But I think that this Father’s Day it might just be time to talk about him.
I have a love-hate relationship with these so-called holidays, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. After all, I grew up in the town where Hallmark was born so I have an extra special opinion about these market-originated celebrations. Did you realize that Father’s Day has only been an “official” holiday since 1972? Thank you, National Public Radio for that little factoid. (I understand that June 16 is also National Fudge Day). Father’s Day, along with Mother’s Day, is an opportunity for pain and sadness and exclusion as much as it is a time for celebration and remembrance…and I share all sides of that mixed emotional swirl as I take a moment to remember Jack. But unless you are going to hide in a hole for this week of reminders and marketing, chances are that you, like me, are thinking a little bit about your dad right now, no matter where those thoughts might take you.
Jack was a complicated guy and we had a complicated, if brief (by most standards), relationship. While lots of people have a chance to work out their relationship with their dad, I did not. My father died when I was 21, long before we had a chance to fix anything and long before I understood the depth and breadth of our difficulties.
My Dad was never really the same after my brother’s death when I was 4 years old — his tendency to drink too much only got worse, his fits of anger, and his deep deep grief took over his life and therefore my life. The painful episodes are too many to recount and frankly they just don’t matter so much anymore. I have at this point lived more years of my life without his fatherly presence than I lived with it and that should be enough time to gain some perspective and catch a glimmer of the gifts he gave me while we were together.
If you sense in my writing that this is not an easy exercise for me, you are right. But its time has come.
I am guessing that those of you who know me would see a lot of similarities between me and my father, if you had the chance to meet him. If you ever wondered where I got my easy (and loud) laugh, it would be from him. If you’ve ever seen the flash of anger in my eyes (or worse, experienced me being REALLY angry), that probably comes from him too. And if you’ve met Susan the autodidact, Susan the lover of information, Susan the voracious learner of all things, that Susan is Jack’s fault as well. And the list goes on: the me who orders the thing I have never tried off the strange menu, the me who wants to see every corner of the world, the me who thrives more on questions than answers (although answers are always a reason to ask more questions)…you can blame all of that on Jack. I didn’t inherit his blue eyes and his nose (thank you, God, for that) but I got almost everything else, the good and the bad.
And the biggest gift he gave me? That would be my love of music and probably what little talent I have for it. It was a backwards gift — at the same time that he saw to it that I had piano lessons and ballet lessons and every opportunity to learn the craft of music in my youth, he also would regularly bluster, “No daughter of mine will be a professional musician!” Well, he was wrong about that one, but I have over the years come to understand why he used to put his foot down about that particular career choice. He wasn’t right, his beliefs were based on the jazz world of Kansas City during the 30’s and 40’s instead of the world of classical music that I have inhabited, but I have come to understand why he would want to spare any child the difficulties of a life in music. I’m just glad that I didn’t let his fears keep from experiencing the joys of a life in music.
My father did not leave this life a happy man. He lived to see his only son die before him, his daughters make life choices that he did not agree with, he lost a business and spent the last years of his life struggling after a forced early retirement. But he was a man who always had a smile on his lips and a joke to tell, with a great big heart and an appetite for life that outpaced most…and despite everything, like all little girls, I adored him.
And maybe this Father’s Day, I will remember how to love him and say, Thank you, Daddy. Happy Father’s Day.