and nothing quite so least as truth
–i say though hate were why men breathe–
because my Father lived his soul
love is the whole and more than all
–E.E. Cummings, “my father moved through dooms of love”
Happy Father’s Day, Dad.
You had your first kid when you were only 25. You had no idea what to do with this kid. She was born early and jaundiced and she cried a lot and wouldn’t sleep. You were expecting a boy. You wanted a boy because boys were easier and you could play catch with a boy and do things like play in the dirt and go hunting. A girl was perplexing. What would you do with a girl?
You learned quickly that you could do all the same things with her as you could do with the boy. Well, except the hunting. She didn’t like hunting. Killing animals was not a thing she was into. The one and only time you took her hunting she ended up weeping over how pretty the dead quail was and how horrifying it was that one minute it was THERE and the next minute it was NOT. But you could still teach her how to shoot a gun. And you did. And she played in the dirt, and she played catch (poorly, because she had no hand-eye coordination) and you always made time to teach her things like what kind of trees those were, and how a car worked, and where the fish would bite. She ended up loving books more than anything, which perplexed you, and falling in love with the theater, which perplexed you more, and becoming a damn dirty liberal, which just infuriated you.
But she inherited your eyes and your quick sense of humor and your steadfast loyalty and your complete intolerance for stupidity, and she ended up being pretty ok, after all. Imagine that. And whenever you talk to her you tell her how much you love her. Because you do. And how much you’ll always worry about her, even though she’s well onto her way into middle age. Because you will.
You ended up doing a pretty good job raising her, even though you didn’t have an instruction manual.
Happy Father’s Day, Grandpa Jim.
You got married really young and had three amazing handsome boys and a beautiful girl, and the entire town loved you. There wasn’t anyone who didn’t grin and wave when they saw you coming. You were intelligent and funny and caring and wise, and everyone who ever met you has stories about you, and those stories make them glow with the memory of them.
You loved your family ferociously. You’d have done anything for them. You worked hard every day of your life making sure they had everything they needed. You were tough, but you were fair. They always knew how much you loved them. They loved you with a fierce unparalleled love; no family has ever loved a father more.
You loved your grandchildren. They loved to visit you because you played with them. You were overjoyed to see the children your own children produced. You wore your heart on your sleeve with them.
I would have liked to know you. Dad tells me all the time how much you and I would have liked one another; how I would have gotten your jokes, even the ones that it took other people days to put together in their minds because they were so complex and erudite. Dad says you would have been so proud of me, that you and I were so much alike. I take that compliment and wear it like a locket, like a precious gift. I carry the stories of you around safe with me in my heart. I hang on the hope that someday, somehow, in whatever passes for an afterlife, if there’s someone waiting for me on the other side, it’ll be you, and you’ll be waiting with your laugh that filled a room, with the other half of the stories that it chokes your children up to tell me.
I’ve loved you my whole life without us even ever having been on the planet at the same time. Sometimes people miss each other by mere months, yet spend the rest of their lives missing each other. I miss you, even though, for me, you were never there.
Happy Father’s Day, Grandfather.
You were one of the hardest-working men I’ve ever known. You ran a farm, you were the sheriff (of the town? the county? I was little, I don’t remember, just remember you in your uniform with a pistol on your hip, looking very wild-western and strong), you had a wife and four young children, you drove a huge truck, and you were no one to be messed with, with your steely blue eyes and your serious white crewcut.
Yet you always made me laugh. You were shameless about it; you would save things that you knew would make me laugh until I visited, then you’d trot them out like jewels for me. You’d make up little poems and say them to me in a very serious tone, but with twinkling eyes. “The mouse ran up the tree,” you told me once, very seriously. “Turned around and peed on me.” Then you very seriously walked out of the room. I was about 6, and this was the height of humor. I laughed until I was sore.
You would put on old records and dance around your parlor with me. You’d make me complicated puzzles from wood and wire and twine and laugh as I tried to solve them.
You were a World War II vet; you brought home photographs of yourself on boats in the waters off Japan, looking young and like you were going to save the world. As a child, I was quite sure you had.
You died when I was in college. It was not a quick death; it was long, and painful, and not the death you want to watch someone you love suffer. At the end, when you were on doses of morphine so high the nurses were loath to give them to you, you said you saw an angel in your room. The angel was your beloved younger sister, the wild child I’d always admired, who’d passed away not long before. “She’s waiting for me,” you told my mother. You looked so happy. So at peace. I’d like to say I know it was the drugs talking. The practical side of me knows it was. But the side of me that believes in magic and wonder and that something should be out there on the other side waiting for us believes that yes, your sister was there in your hospital room, and right before you went, she let you see her so you wouldn’t be so afraid to let go.
Happy Father’s Day to you, these three men whose blood runs in my veins. We may make ourselves into the people we want to become, but before we can do that, we grow up surrounded by people who help us shape our lives. I was lucky enough to have some of the strongest role models to look up to. Men that treated women with respect; men that knew women could be and do whatever they wanted; men that looked at me and said, “You are amazing” and meant it; men that made me strong and wise and funny and brave.
Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers reading. Fatherhood comes in many forms. It’s not just genetic. Taking a child’s hand in yours and being their person, letting them know how amazing and wonderful and worthwhile and strong they are? That’s fatherhood. Protecting them, but also giving them wings and letting them use them? That’s fatherhood. Laughing with them and also crying with them? That’s fatherhood.
Happy Father’s Day, fathers and dads and stepdads, in all your forms, in all your roles.
And thank you. For everything.