Monday, June 20, 2011

Father's Day

Father’s Day is not a holiday that has had much of a place in my life. My parents divorced just before my 5th birthday and my father, quite literally, disappeared from my life for five years. We had some vague notion that he’d moved to California, but birthdays and Christmases came and went with no word. And no matter how hard I tried to convince myself that I didn’t care and it didn’t hurt, I never quite succeeded. I learned early that you can miss what you never had.

When my father reappeared, I felt suspicious and frightened. Totally unable to fall into a family relationship with someone I had no memory of. Despite acrimonious court dealings, I probably saw my father no more than half a dozen times before I was 17.

I survived, but it could get tough. As a young child, no other kids in my elementary school had divorced parents. This led the other children to taunt me, as if I had driven my father away all by my little self. This did not do a thing to lessen the usual child’s guilt in such cases. If only, I’d been a better little girl! Preposterous from this angle, but very real at age 5, 6, and 7.

After I became a mother, my father and I made some attempts to get to know each other. But distance and his early death ultimately made that impossible. And when he died, I mourned what I could never have more than what I had lost.

I’ve often wondered how I might have been different if I had had some sort of consistent father figure in my life. Someone to look up to, or resent, or both in turn. As it happened, there is nothing there to lean on or push against and it remains a big question mark. I’ve looked on, with both envy and relief as I witnessed my friends’ relationships with their fathers, and wistfully wondered what that would be like.

Happily, I’ve had a glimpse in the past two years. My fella came fully equipped with one regulation-sized father whom I am privileged to call Pop. It’s a new experience having someone to call by that name. I don’t expect Pop will be helping me with any skinned knees, flat bicycle tires or teenage angst, at least I hope not. But he has certainly welcomed me into the family. And, for the first time in my life, I feel like I’m able to pull back the curtain a little bit and take a peek, up close, at what a father is like. And while I’ll never have what I never had, it makes me smile to see it was real for someone else.