Yesterday was the 25th Father’s Day my father has missed. He died just before Father’s Day in 1984.
Except for a few years when I was very young he was kind of a mean father – in all senses of the word. I have a handful of fond memories of him and he was always there and provided for us and everything, but he was a very angry man; very intense, very anti-social, very broody. I think he would have been much happier if he hadn’t had any kids, or maybe not quite so many kids.
He was madly and passionately besotted with my mother and very possessive of her. I think all those kids took too much of her time and energy away from him.
My father was also a very creative guy with not enough of a creative outlet. I think this left him very frustrated with his life. He would have been happy in a garret somewhere alone with my mum, painting or sculpting or writing poetry.
Instead he had to earn a living and support 7 people.
We used to fight a lot, he and I. About everything. He was often violent, insulting, demeaning. He wanted total control and I was exceptionally unruly. He tried so many crazy things to get me to submit, from whoopings, to yelling, to locking me out of the house, to locking me in the house, to not allowing me any food, to once sneaking in my room while I was asleep and cutting off my hair – though I’m not sure exactly what that was meant to accomplish. In any case, none of it worked.
I must have driven him crazy.
I hated him and feared him. I loved him and ached for a kind word from him. I was in awe of him and the things he could do; the things he knew; the things he created. And I felt sorry for him because I knew he wasn’t happy and knew he wasn’t doing what he really wanted to be doing with his life. And I knew it was because of us kids and I always felt guilty about that, though I now know that was totally stupid.
And I blamed my mother because she’s the one who wanted a large family and he could refuse her nothing. And because she didn’t seem to get it, or him, at all. Again, totally stupid of me.
And then, a few years before he died he decided he’d had enough of earning a living and spending all his time working. So just like that, he quit his job to pursue his dream. It was kind of scary, but also very cool and very obviously the right thing for him to do.
He changed so much in those last years. He almost became a happy person. And he tried really hard to make amends for the past. So much so that I was very surprised to find out, during her recent visit, that my sister still has nothing but pure hatred for our father. (We had a long, drunken conversation about that and learned a great deal about each other in the process).
But back then, with me, at least, he tried his best to open up some channel of communication. He showed me that he wanted to try and be a good father, if it wasn’t too late. It was clumsy and awkward and more than a little strange, but gut-wrenchingly good at the same time. I hope I was able to convey to him that I understood and appreciated it.
Anyway, we only had a couple of years of this floundering new relationship before we found out he had a terminal illness. My sister thinks he got exactly what he deserved, but man, nobody deserves the long, horrible progression of brain cancer. It was heartbreaking to see him in such pain. To see what he had to go through that last year. To see him become confused and afraid. To see him become so helpless. To beg for death.
This man, who had always been so fiercely strong and robust and healthy was suddenly reduced to something that gutted me each and every time I saw him.
This man never got to see any of his kids become adults. He never saw them get educated. He never knew what careers we chose for ourselves or how we succeeded in those careers.
He never knew any of his 6 grandchildren. He never got to be a grandpa.
He never got to grow into his wisdom.
He never got a chance to enjoy the dream he finally allowed himself to fulfill. Never got to relax and enjoy the fruits of his labour.
And he’s been without my mother, the love and light of his life, for such a long, long time.
And he never got old.
Happy Father’s Day, Papa wherever you are.