A Father’s Gift

The memory of my father is a puzzle I try to solve nearly every day, but today, of course, he is even more on my mind. Over and over, I lay out the pieces, the conversations and silences, over all the years and phases. I draw my conclusions, as best I can, but always there is something that doesn’t fit.

Was he the charming comedian of my youngest childhood? The Dad my siblings and I placed at the center of our world as he entertained with silly stories and laughter?

Was he the brilliant rocket scientist who helped write programs for the first ever computers and preferred to be left alone in his room?

Or was he the judgmental father I disappointed with my poor math skills and teenage rebellion, who punished me with silence and biting assessments of what the future would hold?

I could go on and on with this contradictory list of him as a man, and as my father. He’s gone now, but for me the conversation continues.

In therapy, I tell the stories of our life together as a family. Can it answer why? Is there a clue in the dynamics of these relationships long over, but still being acted out? I can’t ever present him accurately, though. I make him sound cruel when he was fair. Make him sound indifferent when I know he loved me. I admired him so. He was the smartest man I’ve ever known, and the best one, too. Moral and good. Maybe that’s why it hurt to feel his disapproval. But even that is only a perception I carry.  It may have been true to some extent, but certainly doesn’t tell the whole story.

My father never pretended anything. He didn’t lie or cheat or drink. You could ask him a question, and he would tell you the answer. Even if he didn’t know what it was. He would figure it out, or make up something that was just as good as the real answer. He said I was beautiful and that it wasn’t easy to be a beautiful woman. He told me if I had worked as hard as he’d seen me work (at music) at any other profession, I’d be head of the company by now. He told me to go back to school. He said I could do anything I set my mind to do. He told me I was no Barbra Streisand. Said his favorite singers were Streisand, Celine Dion, and Eva Cassidy. He walked out of the room sometimes while I was talking. He listened to my songs and didn’t say a word after. He answered the phone when I called and immediately said: “Let me get your mother.” He told me if I didn’t build anything, I wouldn’t have anything.  He wrote me a poem once, for my 6th grade graduation, that began: Her skirts so short/Her hair so long/Her parents always in the wrong… He said what I didn’t need was more animals.

It still hurts to think of him. I’m still angry at him, still want to please him. I’m still wounded by him and still don’t know why. I thought if I could be a good daughter when he was dying of cancer last year it might change something, heal us or something. It didn’t but I’m still thankful I was able to do that. Because I feel he did everything for me, and all he wanted in exchange was for me to be a little more like him. But I never could manage it.

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3 Responses to A Father’s Gift

  1. Joebob says:

    Yea. Me either. And me too.
    I don’t believe I ever was able to be like him, certainly not later, but then not even when i was a kid. One of the many possible reasons we didn’t connect was I was just never like him. He was a good man, I think. At the least, he wasn’t a bad man. I just don’t think he knew too much, or cared to, about how people can be different them himself.
    He’s been gone some 18 years now and I don’t think about him much these days,
    but when I do it is never as a part of this thing called “father’s day”. I don’t have any memories associated with him and that holiday. When that day rolls around I usually think in terms of my friends, and he was not one of them. He was just my father. Sad, but true.
    But my friends now, they will be celebrating it with their fathers, or their kids, or both. I have neither, so I just let it go by, and wait till Monday to call them.

  2. faren kaye says:

    grieving is a process. and a first father’s day, sans papa, is hardwired to be a rough part of this process. when relationships with those we lose are complicated, it throws another wrench into the already complex machinery. it is essential that you continue to “feel” and write what it is that you feel, you say connected to him, you stay connected to you

    a poem i wrote called “mist”
    to those once with us,
    who no longer remain,
    we feel your loss,
    and it causes pain.
    but we know you are
    in a place of peace,
    with others, just like you,
    whose troubles have ceased.
    your tenure on earth
    with us never enough,
    yes we go on,
    but at times it is rough.

  3. Billy says:

    Well Kiddo … Your Father is a great man … Not “was” … Is. Because … of all the things he built or figured out or made up or wrote down … YOU live on as a walking, talking tribute to his handiwork. For the simple fact that you walk this Earth, the world owes him a deep debt of respect. I owe him a “Thank You” that I will never be able to utter. You are amazing. And all the more amazing for everything in your past that influenced who you are … what you turned out to be … amazing. And from our conversations, I know he was a part of that.

    Now, I’m going to tread on some tennuous ground …

    Your Father was a genius. Much like me, but to a greater degree, he had social quirks … and relationships were sometimes … perhaps often, strained by these quirks. Walking out of a room while someone is talking … even someone you love with every fiber of your being … is one of the quirks I too am plagued by. When the mind wanders … a mind of that size … It wanders far and deep … and it will not be put off for “another time”. Our timing sucks. We say things we know we shouldn’t say. And then we seldom apologize. We fear creative genius because we cant quantify it on paper. You Father wanted so badly to know you the way he knew things that were familiar to his thought processes … Beauty can’t be captured in a line of code … Spirit can’t be confined to an equation … So we automatically assume such things are somehow foriegn … alien … And to have someone like you … So strong of will, so filled with light, so much a genius in her own rite … It must have scared the hell out of him. We all love to understand what we love. And when we can’t understand it, at first we try to mold it into something we CAN understand. When that doesn’t work, (it never does) we try to control it or stiffle it so that the love is all we see and the rest of the scary stuff stays safely below the surface. Your Father was AMAZED by you. Your Father loved you, perhaps more than anyone else in his life. He adored you to the point of distraction … And I can’t speak for your Father, per se, but I think I speak for a great percentage of the genius set … We don’t handle distraction well. It’s frightening not to know the whats and whys of a thing. So we retreat to familiar ground.

    You were and ARE an amazing daughter. With everything that was going on… with as drained as you were after hours and hours at his bedside … You finished up the day by taking care of your Mother … Cooking for her … Keeping her company and doing what you could to keep her spirits up … Regardless of the toll it was taking on you. And don’t think he didn’t know all about it. Don’t think he didn’t feel that fatherly welling in his chest every time he thought of you. He was a genius Kiddo … We’re pretty good at hiding our amazement … Even when we’re caught in a rugby shirt and old jeans, retreating from your front porch in late afternoon … turning … seeing you there behind the screen door … throwing back a comment … any comment … to cover the place where the oxygen rushed out of the space around us …

    Please try to understand the effect your presence has on people … and realize your Father wasn’t immune. You amaze everyone … even him.

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