Today is set aside to honor and to remember fathers. I tell my boys each year that on this day I don’t want them to make themselves scarce, or to wait on me hand and foot – I want to spend the day with them and do something we all want to do, and to enjoy being a dad. Where we go and what we do is up to them (within reason). This year they’ve opted for one of two choices – canoeing, which is something we do once or twice a summer; or if the weather doesn’t allow for outdoor fun going to see a movie we all want to see.
I hold no particular memories of Father’s Day with my dad. Certainly I gave him cards and the occasional gift and a phone call in the years when we were speaking – but none of these occupy any particular real estate in my mind and recollection. Dad and I had a very strained and even non-existent relationship for many years. Even after we reconciled, ten years prior to his death, things weren’t always smooth sailing. Dad even, while upset with me for not being able to visit him for more than a month, told me a story one day that ended with him saying he likely was not my biological father, and couldn’t possibly be. I look too much like him and other men in the family to truly believe that, and yet for some time I wondered if it might indeed be true. I never pursued it, but for a while I wondered. Ultimately, though, I resolved in my mind and heart that he was the only father I’d ever known – that I was a grown man, with a family of my own, and didn’t need to go in search of my identity. I knew who I was, and that was what was most important.
My father passed away two years ago. I think of him every day and miss him very much. When he died the assisted living facility that he called home for the last eight years of his life boxed up his belongings for my brother and myself. There wasn’t much, and like my recollections of Father’s Day in relation to my dad, his belongings didn’t occupy much real estate. The clothing Dad left behind was either donated or discarded – his few other meager items divided between myself and my brother, and a hat for each of my boys that Dad wanted them to have one day.
I keep a small decorative box in a drawer of my dresser of those things I chose to retain. It measures perhaps 10 inches by 10 inches. It is nowhere near full. A few photographs, his comb, a pen he kept in his pocket daily, a small notepad he wrote in, his wallet, and his watch. After 83 years of life Dad left very little behind. None of it is valuable to anyone but myself, and yet it is the only tangible link I have to my dad other than to look in a mirror. I don’t have a shirt I can put on to imagine it being a hug from dad now that he’s gone…I don’t have anything he ever made for me to hold in my hands, imagining his touch as he crafted the item. I have, for the most part, only memories – and not all of them good ones.
Several years ago now I realized a long-held dream and became a father myself. A wonderful little boy came along who still amazes me to this day with his kindness and compassion and ability to make me smile and laugh. Another boy, who I cared for as an infant and then had to love from afar but never considered any lesser than my adopted son is in my heart returned to my daily life where he remains to this day, filling me with awe at his strength, resiliency, and courage. Both boys call me ‘Daddy’. I didn’t ‘make’ either one of them, in the biological sense. Their looks, their physical traits, their DNA come from other places and other people. That does nothing to detract from my love of them and commitment to them. I didn’t give them life, I just get to share it with them. I do give them what I can – security, stability, caring, compassion, the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the years, and a deeply rooted desire to be a better parent to them than I feel my dad was able to be to me in my childhood. What they give to me outweighs anything I ever do for them.
Earlier this year I had to give them difficult news – that being that my husband and I had decided to divorce. They took it with some difficulty, for their own reasons. People say, and have said, ‘children bounce back’ and ‘children are resilient’ – and yet I still spent many sleepless hours thinking about the fact that I didn’t ever want them to HAVE to bounce back from that if it were at all preventable. In the end, though, it became a necessity, for the good of everyone involved. The boys have questioned the ‘why’ and offered their own ‘what if’ in the process, and I’ve told them both they did nothing to cause it, and therefore there is nothing they can do, nor should they try, to fix it.
A few days ago one of the boys gave me a ‘gift’. It wasn’t wrapped, nor did it have a fancy bow on it. He didn’t have to shop or order it online. It had no price tag attached to it, and yet the value of it, to me, like the few tangible remembrances I have of my dad, is immeasurable. It’s a single sheet of paper, with pictures and words on both sides. The pictures on the front side of the paper, one labeled good and the other bad depict my soon to be ex and I on one side (the good) with the words ‘will you marry me’ and on the other side (the ‘bad’) saying ‘We’re getting a divorce’ with two boys flanking us. In the lower right corner of the paper are the words ‘next page’, instructing me to turn it over, where I found, just above two small drawn faces topped by curly hair, the following words:
‘Meaning we were sad and still are but whatever makes you happy makes us happy and what makes you sad makes me sad.’
In a different spot in my bedroom I have another decorative box, larger than the one housing the last effects of my father. It’s rectangular in shape, perhaps 15 inches by 30 inches, hinged like a suitcase with a clasp to hold it shut. Inside the box are construction paper Father’s Day cards, small rocks, art work, school projects, questionnaires they filled out about what I look like and what my likes and dislikes are, letters to Santa Claus, a couple of shirts, and several other items that the kids either gave to me or represent a special occasion we shared or something we worked on together. I call it the ‘Daddy Box’. It, to me, holds something beyond the memories we have thus far made, for which there is no box large enough to hold them all. It holds things we created together, things that we both touched and held; the tangible evidence of a fraction of the love I have for both of them that they can perhaps one day hold in their own hands and reflect upon the day we made this or that, or the times I helped them button up that shirt, or the day we walked on the beach together and they picked up a small rock and presented it to me as if it were a diamond.
Today I’ve added an item, the sheet of paper described above, to the ‘Daddy Box’ in the hopes that my son will know, one day when I’m gone, how precious this was to me and how much comfort it gave to me to know that one of the things he has, whether it’s through any influence of mine upon him or not, is the ability to see beyond his own needs and wants – to hold the happiness of another up before him and offer compassion and understanding to them, despite his own feelings. It’s gestures like this that give me an inkling of the man he will hopefully become, that both of them will hopefully become, and the fathers they may one day be to children of their own.
I hope they both create a ‘Daddy Box’ of their own. I hope they one day experience even a small portion of the joy and happiness with and from their own children as I do with and from them. I hope that their ‘Daddy Box’, as well as I’m sure my own will, becomes two boxes, then three, and on and on.
But more than that, I hope theirs are filled with as much love as mine is for both of them.
Happy Father’s Day.