Sunday, June 20, 2010

On Fathers Day

It's Fathers Day, and all over the country dads are receiving cards and phone calls, breakfasts and promises of time to be spent together. Moms are encouraging their children to honor their fathers, and smiling fondly at the results...

It's one of those Hallmark Holidays, all rosy and sweet. Except for some of us it's not.

I still remember the last Fathers Day my dad was still alive. I was sitting in a chair in my living room, phone in hand, planning to call him. I sat there for a long time, and eventually put the phone back in its cradle: I was so hurt and angry with him I just couldn't think of anything to say. And I wasn't at all sure they'd pick up the phone even if I did get up the nerve to call.

And then, less than a month later, I got a call from his lawyer: "Did you know if your dad wanted to be cremated or buried? Your father died last week and his wife doesn't know what to do with his body..." And behind the shock, I remember feeling so guilty for not having at least attempted to call him on Fathers Day.

I could go into the details of the estrangement -- I was an only child, a daddy's girl, he could do no wrong and neither could I, and then mom died and he remarried a woman my age, rewrote his will and shut me out of his life. But the details are over and done and he and my inheritance are long gone. It's just a story now, and has lost most of its power to hurt me.

Still. Some years, Fathers Day finds me sitting in that chair, remembering the feel of the phone in my hand. It's hard to stay focused on my own husband and whatever HE might be expecting for the day. But over time I've come to see that where I feel the impact of the story most is in church, on Sunday mornings, when we say the Lord's Prayer: I always skip the first two words.

I just can't do the kindly Father God thing any more -- though I still sometimes find myself slipping back into the faith of my childhood, when God was a fierce but loving white-bearded guy up in the sky somewhere, as quick to punish as to protect.

I remember, after I came back from Dad's memorial service, my priest came out to visit. I shared my story, with lots more gory details, and told him how much I mourned the ending of my illusions. Still swirling in the drama of it all, I was too hurt to really take in his response at the time, but I do remember it. "What if it's not an end?" he said. "What if it's a beginning?"

... and, of course, it was just that: a beginning. Losing all those old illusions, images of who I was and the genes I carried, turned out to be an amazing gift. Having to reinvent myself in my early 50's, though it meant questioning everything and losing my foundations, meant rebuilding something newer, stronger; something more true -- and it meant finding the strength within myself, and within my relationships, to imagine and live out a new way of being. I got... I don't know... bigger, somehow, more real.

And my God got bigger, too; bigger than just a father, but not a mother either -- though I tried that for a while. God became an is-ness, more the "I-am" of the old testament, more present and real and everywhere and universal than any mere father is capable of being.

But still sometimes, on Fathers Day, I'm sad. Life is good now, but... well, like the movie and all those Facebook statuses say, "It's Complicated." Sometimes I'm sad for the simplicity that was; the sense that someone had the answers, and I wouldn't have to formulate them for myself.


It's Fathers Day.


Maureen said...

I have a father who's been gone 20 years this July 18. My experience is different; my father died in front of me, at my home, while visiting. But I understand and feel the weight of this day.


Louise Gallagher said...

I would like to return the gift and hold you in my arms and soothe you.

Hugs (( ))

Unknown said...

Family. Diane F. used to say, "All families are dysfunctional. ALL FAMILIES." You are not alone.

Though I hear the blessing you have found through the tragedy of your dad's choices, to me, it doesn't delete the tragedy. I'm sorry for the pain it caused you. It is not right nor fair. I'm deeply thankful that you have unconditional love in your marriage and with your daughters.