I am neither happy nor sad on Father’s Day. There are no warm memories to wrap myself in, or feelings of loss. Truth be told, I remember hardly anything about my father. He died when I was seven.
I grew up in the fifties, when almost no one was divorced. As a child, I didn’t know anyone who did not have two parents — just my brothers and me.
I remember having daydreams as a kid, that
my father was actually away doing some kind
of clandestine research for the government (this was during the Cold War, after all), and that he would one day reappear in my life.
The reappearance was always during an assembly program, where my astonishment
was seen by all — the kind of dramatic big reveal that is shown on talk and reality shows today. I never dwelt on why the government wanted a pharmacist for research. It was enough that he was back.
I do have one fond memory, though it tells more about me than him. It was the first warm day in spring — I must have been in first grade. I came running into his bedroom (by this time he was bedridden) and asked him to help me get into a pair of shorts. I had grown a lot since the summer, and there was no conceivable way those shorts would fit. But I was determined; I wanted to wear those shorts. “Push me into them, Daddy!” I remember saying. “Make them fit.” Nothing could make them fit. Supposedly, he called my mom, laughing, and said, “You better bring home some larger shorts.”
I am not embarrassed by my determination at age seven. In fact, it makes me smile. It was such a predictor of the drive and stubbornness that define who I am today. They are at once my best and my worst qualities. I am glad that my dad saw this part of me, and loved me in spite of it.
Throughout my life, I never felt I missed anything by not having a dad. I guess my mom did a remarkable job of raising us, loving us so completely that we did not miss what we did not have. That is why I was so surprised when, a few years ago, I had such a strong reaction to simple gestures I saw between fathers and daughters. In one instance, a father twirled his daughter’s hair. In another, the daughter played with her father’s fingers. These two acts of mindless intimacy created such a longing in me to have been somebody’s little girl, I was shocked. How could I, who hadn’t thought about my father in decades, yearn so much for what I hardly ever knew? The emotion was fleeting… I wanted it back. I wanted to experience what it felt like to miss my father.
If I have one regret on Father’s Day, it is that I wish I knew more about my dad, that I had more memories of him. But perhaps I have the most important memory. Years ago, my son made a comment about a teacher he had in day care when he was 3. He didn’t remember her name or what she looked like, he remembered only one thing. “I remember her,” he said. “She was the one who really loved me.”
Perhaps that is the most important gift our parents give us… we remember the love.
To those of us with and without fathers, Happy Father’s Day.