I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection. –Sigmund Freud
21 years ago today, my Dad passed away. Does that mean he is legal up in heaven?
On this day every year, I spend a lot of time thinking about him. He shaped so much of who I have become. In my earliest memories, I can recall spending a lot of energy seeking his attention. In the adolescent years, that trend reversed, and I spent equal amounts of energy trying to avoid him at all costs.
My Dad suffered from the same demons as me, and I don’t just mean alcoholism. I can remember, very vividly, arguing heatedly with him. I was probably about 10 years old when he told me that he was a functional illiterate, and I did not know what that meant. When he explained the term, I was outraged, why would he say that about himself? It was ridiculously untrue, and he was demeaning himself by saying so. But as much as I tried, I could not convince him otherwise. He was “just a truck driver,” and therefore, somehow, less than.
My Dad was the guy that EVERYONE loved. The wake we had for him lasted several hours past the time it was intended, and the line in the Church was out the door. To this day, I make sure to get to every funeral I can for the people I love, first because my Dad taught me that was the right thing to do for the surviving family members, and second because the overwhelming support we received during that time chokes me up to this day.
Dad was, to date, the most generous person I have ever met. When I would come home from college for visits, he always made sure to send me back with some money. I did not realize it at the time, but often he gave me the only money he had in his wallet. I have tears in my eyes as I type this, and if he were here, he would laugh at me… it was not at all a sacrifice for him, he was just doing what came naturally.
He was the greatest story-teller I have ever known. He captivated me with his stories, and I believed every word he uttered. Once, he shared the story of his first date with my Mom. It would take too long to explain, but let’s just say he painted her in a less than favorable way (he took her to a fancy seafood restaurant, and she ordered tuna fish as her main course, just one part of this tall tale). I later talked to my Mom about it, and she was FURIOUS, with my Dad for spinning these stories, and with me for believing them.
There are many lessons that I consciously pass on to my children that came directly from him. Some of the more memorable things… “you are not going to learn any younger” and “stomachs can’t tell time.” I was also blessed to have older siblings that would tip me off on how to handle him. Dad was not much for getting into the nitty-gritty of our lives growing up, but once in a while he would decide that he needed to do his fatherly duty and sit us down to talk. These conversations were awkward at best, painful at worst, but I was so lucky to have older sisters to coach me through it. They told me if he ever sits you down and tells you he thinks something’s wrong with you, just tell him you’re “having problems with some friends at school.” The conversation did happen, I followed their advice, and man was I happy to have had it!
I was 22 when he died, and still caught up in the self-centered world of school life (grad school at this point), so one of my greatest regrets is that I did not get to appreciate him while he was alive. As a wife and mother, I wish I could tell him how much I appreciate the man he was, and the sacrifices he made for me. I tell my husband often that the two of them would be best friends, if they had ever gotten a chance to meet… they would spend every Sunday of football season together, yelling at the screen. And when I try to imagine how he would have been with my children, it makes me smile and cry at the same time… both of my kids would have been enchanted by him.
The best gift I can give to my Dad is to live my life in the way that he could not figure out… free of demons, and full of serenity. My Dad was always very proud of me, and my accomplishments, but there is no doubt in my mind that he would consider my recovery my greatest accomplishment to date, and I know he is cheering me on!
Choosing to focus on the wonderful qualities of a person, rather than dwelling on painful memories.
A father is respected because
he gives his children leadership…
he gives his children care…
he gives his children time…
he gives his children the one thing
they treasure most – himself.
As I wrote in my “Mother’s Day” post, I have been fortunate to have been blessed with not one, but two sets of amazing parents. Since I took the opportunity to give accolades to Moms on their special day, I figured I would give equal time to the Dads of the world.
If Moms are all about love, forgiveness and quiet strength, then Dads are all about discipline, leadership and not- so-quiet strength. They are the ones we turn to when something breaks, when we are lost, or when (and this is especially true for me) we need general how-to information.
As I mentioned, I have had the great gift of having two Dads, the first having passed away 20 years ago, the other for the past 13 years through marriage. And while I miss my biological Dad dearly, I could not be more fortunate to have my current Dad. If not for him, I would not, at the most basic level, have my husband and children. But more importantly, he leads our family by his great example…. there is not one thing that he teaches us (and believe me, he has taught all of us so many things!) that he is not willing to do himself. So when preaches the value of hard work, he is the first to volunteer when a project needs to be done. When he preaches family values, he is the absolute first person there for any one of his family members in a crisis.
He has shown me, and his son, who emulates him perfectly in this respect, the real meaning of fatherhood. I simply cannot imagine what my life would be lacking without him as a role model, a source of strength, and as a friend.