Father Love Joy, taken the day before Father’s Day, Casket Arts Studio 318, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 16th, 2012, photos © 2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.
Many Father’s Days pass with a card, a note, a phone call. It’s easy to forget that Father’s Day can be somber for those who have lost fathers to war, illness, death or divorce. I don’t know what it is this year, but Father’s Day sticks to my heart. Maybe it’s the letter I wrote to my biological father last year after 50 years of no contact. Or the way my step-dad from South Carolina drove over 600 miles to see me when I was in Pennsylvania visiting my brother after his liver transplant. Or maybe it’s the way I can feel connected to my step-dad from Pennsylvania by checking in on Facebook when he winters in Puerto Rico.
I’m looking back; I’m looking forward. Back to the things my dads have taught me. Forward to the gratitude I feel that they are a part of my life. Over the years, I related most to the matriarchal side of our family. But the bond between fathers and daughters is inescapable. I ran from it in my twenties; I was trying to stand alone, be my own person. I humbly step back into the circle. It is unbroken. Fathers are the other half of the sky.
Some feel that divorce leaves children alienated and confused. That kids are too young to understand the nature of adult relationships until they have lived through a few of their own. How complicated and emotional and painful they can be. But children are resilient. And the truth is that adults go through many relationships over the course of their lives. Hopefully, insight follows pain. Understanding is born from love and loss. Wisdom comes from forgiveness and learning to love again.
I have a biological father I have not seen since I was six. I have a Southern dad who lives in South Carolina and was a big part of my life from the ages of two through eleven. I have a Northern dad who lives in Pennsylvania part of the year, the other part in Puerto Rico. He was a father figure from the ages of twelve through eighteen. I carry little pieces of each of these men into late adulthood; they are all part of me.
I am a better person for what I learned from my three dads.
I learned to ride a bike in Tennessee. It was my dad who unbolted the training wheels, held the back of the seat until I was steady, then let go the moment I felt balanced. I learned to slip together model train tracks, drop liquid smoke into the stack to make steam (oh, that smell!), let the transformer cool off after a few hours. On Christmas morning, my dad would get right down on the floor with us and assemble model cars, toy blocks, and Easy-Bake ovens. He gardened, cooked and cleaned when Mom needed the help, tore apart car engines and taught her how to put them back together, and worked two jobs to keep us afloat. From my dad, I learned the meaning of generosity of spirit, of honesty and doing the right thing, of standing up for your beliefs and challenging those who take advantage of others.
In Pennsylvania, I grew old enough to drive. It was my mother who sat next to me in the Buick while I learned the ropes. But my dad who taught me how to slip the clutch on the red Austin-Healey Sprite we towed from my grandparent’s garage. The vintage racer belonged to my uncle and had seen a lot of wear. He said he’d give it to us if we could figure out how to tow it home. That Sprite became my first car. Mom added the shag carpet; my dad fixed up the engine and got the little spitfire running after hours of labor—a great gift to me.
From my dad, I learned to build a scale model guillotine for an 8th grade English project on A Tale of Two Cities. The blade was sharp; Mrs. Juarez was impressed. My dad taught me the first chords on the guitar I received for Christmas that first year of college. He always had a couple of guitars and an amp around the house when we were growing up. I also learned a little about politics and community from his dedication to workers rights through union organizing. I learned that change is possible if you are willing to fight for it.
From my biological father, I learned what a child learns from absence. There is a wondering that goes with a parent who is no longer present, a do I matter to them? I wonder if they ever think about me feeling that stays with you into adulthood. His family was lost to me; his parents, my paternal grandmother and grandfather, were strangers. But I did reconnect with my aunts after 50 years. They welcomed me into their families. From that experience, I have learned forgiveness and unconditional love.
There have been painful moments, too, times of disappointment, times when I felt invisible. But on this day, Father’s Day 2012, I focus on the richness I have gained. To my three dads — thanks for all you have taught me. Most people only have one father. I am blessed with the gift of three.
-posted on red Ravine, Father’s Day, Sunday, June 17th, 2012
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