I intended to let Father’s Day pass without mention, but reading so many moving posts on Facebook dedicated to friends’ fathers caused me to reflect on my own.
My hesitation to write is primarily driven by knowing that several of my family members read my blog regularly, and I’m not sure if my memories of and/or reflections on my father will match their own. The last thing I’d want to do is besmirch whatever image of our dad they may hold. The truth is that he probably wasn’t the same father to each of us spread across sixteen years; therefore, although our memories regarding him may differ, it doesn’t mean any of us are more right or wrong than the others. We all have a right to the memories or the fabrications we need to make sense of our relationship or lack of a relationship with him.
I do not believe it is fair to judge the quality of a man’s fatherhood based upon standards that didn’t exist in his time. Fathers of his generation were breadwinners first, foremost, and in some cases, mostly. It seems like my dad was always at work. I have no memory of hugging my father, telling him I love him or vice versa — ever. I think I used to kiss him goodnight when I was very young, but I’m not totally sure if I’m remembering that or wishing it were the case. By today’s expectations for fathers, such aloofness would be considered harsh and unloving, but I’m willing to bet that it was far more the rule than the exception for folks of my generation.
There was, however, a cost for such child rearing methods. For example, I didn’t cry for my father when I was told he had died. I didn’t cry at his wake or funeral, and I haven’t cried for him since. I don’t think of him much now, and I can’t honestly say that I miss him. All of which may be as much, if not more, of a reflection on me than my dad. I don’t know.
What I do know is that my dad was not a rich man, and every child added to our brood subtracted from the number of life’s experiences and possessions he and my mother could have for themselves, but as a kid, I never wanted for anything. If I was lacking something, I never knew it. Eight children’s tuition was paid to attend Catholic school. Whatever athletic gear or equipment was needed was provided. Christmas gifts were plentiful, and my parents never once complained of their sacrifices — at least not in front of us. The best gift they gave me, however, were my seven siblings. Our house and the lot on the corner of 5th and Marlboro Streets were always full with brothers and sisters and our cousins, friends, and neighbors. Looking back, I may have, in fact, been the richest kid in town.
I’m sure I’ll never be nominated for Father-of-the-Year myself. The one thing I’ve asked my own boys, as they become fathers themselves, is to mimic the things I did/do well as a father and to try to do better with the things at which I failed/fail. My dad didn’t give much fatherly advice or really even talk to me that much, but he did model the one unspoken but ironclad promise I made to my own sons when they were children: “I promise I will be there when you go to bed each night, and I promise I will be there when you get up in the morning.”
In between our children’s rising from and retiring to bed, my dad was and I have been far from perfect, but we both kept that singular promise, and I have no doubt that we both have done our best within the confines of our generations’ job descriptions for fatherhood.
Excuse me. I may go have that cry now.
I love you, Dad.
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