My dad and I driving together in the car - before seat belts, or car seats for kids. I'm standing on the seat next to him with my arm around his neck and we're crooning, "Ahhhhh baby, ahhhhh baby," in kind of a singsong rhythm.
Or my dad and I hiking in the countryside near our home in upstate New York. He told me about the lichen growing on the rocks, and the names of birds and wildflowers.
Neither my husband nor I are sports fans -- but if by chance, I happen to hear a baseball game on the radio, I am teleported back in time. I see my dad in his work clothes, standing on a ladder painting, or under the car fixing something with his battery powered radio tuned to a ball game - the ever present cigar between his teeth and a cold beer nearby.
We had an affectionate closeness until I became a teenager. He wasn't much of a talker. My mother and I shared a deeper relationship and talked at great length about many topics. I began to doubt that my dad had any internal content because he never told me anything personal about himself. He never talked to me as my mother did, confiding things to me, or talking heart to heart.
He was born in Springfield Massachusetts in 1918, and lived in an Irish neighborhood called Hungry Hill. His mother died when he was a little boy and he was raised by grandparents who had five or six sons of their own. At 16 he graduated high school, and entered the Massachusetts Nautical School Ship and went to sea for further education. After that he was in the Merchant Marine, and then served in the Navy during World War II. He met and married my mother at the end of the war.
When he was in his twenties, thirties and forties he was a likable guy. He was a volunteer fireman, a team player. He enjoyed talking and joking with the farmers and workmen in our little town. He worked for an insurance company for 40 years, doing inspections on boilers and pressure vessels. He had a comfortable steady income and we took regular vacations every summer. I never remember my parents fighting about money. I don't think we had those kinds of pressures. It was a very regulated, ordinary upbringing. My parents loved each other and I felt safe.
My dad developed diabetes in his fifties. He became more angry and moody. He was transferred to several different states with his job and had to cope with new responsibilities, new coworkers and pressures. The man who joked around and loved nature faded into a grumpy, ascerbic person who was difficult to be around. At the time, I felt very critical of him. Looking back, I can see he was a person who had tried to do his best, but was overwhelmed by life.
In those days, people didn't delve into their childhood traumas to find clues about their adult problems. They didn't even admit that they had problems. It was difficult for people to overcome problems or try to improve themselves when there seemed to be very little self awareness going on. How far the generations have come with honest self evaluation and communication since the World War II era!
My mom became sick with cancer in 1980, and my dad dutifully took care of her for almost four years until she died. After my mother passed away, he moved to San Diego and lived another seven years. He became frail, thin, and crabby.
I think I looked down on my father when I became an adult. I disliked his defensiveness, his critical viewpoint of others, his inability to see his own foibles and his refusal to share his private self with me. But now, from the perspective of being a married woman with children, I can see him in another light. I believe he tried hard with the resources he was born with. I want to thank him for loving and staying married to my mother. I want to thank him for giving me a safe place to grow up. I want to forgive him for things he did that hurt me that he probably wouldn't even remember.
Lying in bed with my husband, Peter, this morning, I thought of the gift of fatherhood that he is giving our children. He tries hard to share his heart and express affection to them. He passes on the wisdom he has on every topic he can think of (whether they want to hear it or not!). He prays for them and encourages them and tries to give them confidence in who they are now and who they'll be when they grow up. And when I'm sometimes gloomy or struggling with my limitations and shortcomings, he expresses a fatherly love to me that my own dad wasn't capable of giving.
I'd like to offer a prayer and a cheer for the fathers of the world who've made a difference in the lives of their families. And to my dad who gave me a beginning, and my husband who is my other half until the end.
Kim lives in Maine, which is lovely, and where she continues her enthusiastic relationship with Art, Music, Nature, Books, Animals, Humor and Trees.