This past weekend was Father’s Day. And amid the myriad reminders to get your dad a gift, shout outs on Facebook, pictures of proud fathers holding pudgy new babies, I was grateful to have a family wedding out of town to distract me.
For me, Father’s Day is a reminder to mourn what could have been. There are glaring memories in my childhood that represent this: Trips to the beach every Sunday in the summertime, where he would hold me high up on his waist as he waded deeper and deeper into the ocean. It didn’t matter that the waves were crashing up onto his chest and that the shore looked miles away to my young eyes, he was my father, I just had to hold on. Or the Friday nights, he’d lie down next to me in the bedroom I shared with my older brother and sister and recite a spell that would magically litter the hallway outside with candy. To this day, I don’t want to know how he did it because to me it really was magic. Even the stories of his time hitch-hiking across Europe seem like treasure. He was a skilled raconteur, transforming the experience of working on a French vineyard into a thriller complete with sound effects. There is love in these memories, snapshots filled with warmth and security and awe. But they are far and few between. They sparkle and shine like tiny jewels in a tattered broken crown. The rest of it doesn’t bear repeating. The rest of it is pain and sadness and anger.
Yes, in their totality, these memories have made me compassionate, loyal, faithful, forgiving, resilient, rational, thoughtful, introspective,discerning, honest, supportive, grateful, and emotionally literate. But they have also left me hardened, doubtful, distrustful, defensive, prone to depression, possessive, obsessive, quick-tempered, vain, and frightened. Vulnerability is weakness, weakness is failure. I am guarded, I withhold affection, falling in love is a game of Battleship – DO NOT give your position away, you will sink and lose.
I am my mother’s daughter, strong but brittle. I am my father’s daughter, clever but cruel.
So, here I am, mourning a loss. A loss for what could have been had my father been kind, encouraging, successful (whatever that meant for him), and appreciative. It is this same lament that ties me to him even more tightly than when he lived in the same house. It is this grief that binds me to him even more strongly in his absence. It is in this heartache that a small shimmering jewel forms, much like how an oyster makes a pearl out of sand and dirt. A gem of hope that he finds what he’s looking for, that he finds contentment, and peace, and things he did not find in our home, in my mother, in me and my siblings. In turn, I hope I find what he couldn’t give me.