So, today is Father’s Day. It’s a day that has always filled me with a sense of weirdness. I can honestly say I did not have the world’s greatest dad. Not even close. In fact, I didn’t really have a father at all. I mean, I had a father but he wasn’t around much because, as a heavy equipment mechanic, he would often choose jobs in mining towns in the middle of nowhere. My parents divorced when I was about six years old and then remarried when I was 14. Those in between years were filled with dreadfully boring visits that seemed forced on his part and definitely were forced on my part. Neither one of us honestly wanted to be in the other’s company and I used to beg my mother to let me stay home. “Tell him I’m sick or something!” But she always made me go because, “He’s your father and you need to spend time with him”. Ugh. I hated those visits.
My father would arrive at our apartment to collect me and honk his car horn from the parking lot. He was always late. Always. We would drive in silence to Smitty’s for all-day breakfast where I would order “silver dollar pancakes”. I actually didn’t mind this part of the “date” because my father allowed me to order as much extra bacon as I wanted and turned a deaf ear when I told the waitress I wanted a large milkshake. Or two. I swear if my father raised me I would have been 500 lbs by the time I was 10.
While I kept myself occupied with my pancakes, bacon, and massive milkshake my father read the newspaper and smoked cigarettes (this is back in the day when restaurants actually had smoking and non-smoking sections). He was nice enough to pass the comics my way. We hardly talked.
After a few agonizing hours my father would drop me off at home. He literally dropped me off. He would pull into the parking lot and leave the engine running. Shit, the guy didn’t even put the car in park. I would say thanks for breakfast and run upstairs. I was safe for another few weeks or months depending on when he planned on breezing through town again.
About five months after my parents remarried the second time they split up again. There are more details to the final split that don’t really need to be shared but let’s just say this time it was permanent. Shortly after this split my father stopped communicating with me. I was partly relieved and partly devastated. But whatever, eventually it became my new norm. I got used to not having my father in my life and on Father’s Day I would often give my mother the requisite greeting card telling her she was the best father and mother a girl could have. Things were fine and my father sort of slipped out of my mind.
Aside from the time he caught me off guard by calling me on my 21st birthday I didn’t talk to my father at all for several years. That is until my half-sister called me to update me on our father and the fact that he had cancer. He was eventually moved into a hospice and I decided to stop in and see him while on a family trip to my hometown. By this time I was married with two sons of my own. A huge part of me wanted to show him I didn’t grow up to be the loser he once told me I would be. I wanted give him a dose of “in your face!”.
As tough as I felt making the plans to go see him I can admit that it took me about 20 minutes to actually get my ass into his room. After so many years to ponder the abusive man I sort of grew up with, my father’s image exploded in my mind. I had convinced myself he was a 7 foot-tall behemoth with hands that could put Andre the Giant to shame. I walked down the hallway of the pristine hospice and rounded the corner to his room all the while clutching my husband’s hand. I was scared. In many ways I was still terrified of my father and the small child in me wanted to run and hide from him like I used to. I got to his door and almost threw up.
The first time my husband and boys met my father he was a mere shadow of a man. He was laid up in bed with tubes going in and out of his frail gray body. Obviously the boys were terrified and didn’t even come near him. They are naturally shy but for them it was like meeting Skeletor only my father’s stockiness and barrel chest had been replaced by heart monitors and IVs.
I cried. I had a full-on panic cry. I tried so hard to keep my shit together but I couldn’t. My kids stared at me as I tried to catch my breath and get myself under control. What in the hell was wrong with me? After a time I figured I should just get the meeting over with and I went inside. The asshole acted like my visit was no big deal. I introduced him to my family and the only comment he made was about my boys asking, “What’s wrong with them?”. Uh, gee Skeletor. I don’t know!
He was still so cocky and flippant. Once I saw that even cancer wasn’t going to change him the sadness I felt for him melted away. I honestly could look at this man, my father, and feel 100% fine about our relationship as it was. I had no regrets and just like those visits to Smitty’s all those years ago, I couldn’t wait to go home.
As I drove away from the hospice with my family I looked over at my husband and realized just how amazingly lucky I was. Statistically, I should have ended up in an abusive relationship with a man similar to my own father. But somehow the universe sent me a gentle, quiet, and ridiculously funny man who was showing me what it takes to be a dad. I didn’t know what to look for in a co-parent when I met Jay. He was kind and we had similar views so I figured we would work the rest out as we went along. Jay has surprised me time and time again with his ability to take on his role as a father. Coming into parenthood neither of us had a clue about what to do. We didn’t know how to be responsible for two little lives. Who in their right mind allowed us to become parents?
He may not be the “World’s Greatest Dad” (whatever that means) but I could not have asked for a better guy to help me raise our two monsters. As I fought post-partum depression Jay took care of our boys. When I balled up crying from an exhausting night of constant feedings he took the boys for long walks so I could sleep. As they got older and tested me he had my back. When they desperately needed an adventure, he took them into the forest. The boys know Jay to be the “fun” parent. He’s the one who will jump on a bike and explore trails with them. He’s also the one who easily gives in to ordering pizza and eating in front of the TV when I insist on family meals around the table so I can check in on how everyone is doing. He’s the one who reminds me the boys are “OK. Just fine.” He tells me to relax and allows them to slack every now and then. He has smartly educated them on the warning signs of PMS. He reads bedtime stories in a variety of accents that can literally make the boys pee their PJs. Jay is also a wonderfully firm father. Even though he will dole out consequences for bad behaviour the boys know they have a dad who loves them.
I envy my boys. I don’t know what it feels like to love a father. I don’t understand the excitement a child has when dad comes home from work. I don’t know what it feels like to jump into the arms of a man who would do anything to protect me. I can’t tell you how it feels to hear my father say, “I love you.” And I certainly have no clue what it feels like to crawl into bed after a horrible nightmare and know my dad will put his arms around me and make me feel safe. I envy my boys but feel an unimaginable amount of relief that they can feel all those things and more when it comes to Jay.
I also feel sorry for them. Some day their dad will be gone and the amount of pain they will feel will be akin to someone blowing a hole in their chest. When my own father died I did cry but I cried for very different reasons than they will. I cried for the relationship I never had. They will cry for the relationship they did have. However, no matter what, they will have great memories. So many great memories that they won’t be able to keep track of them all.
Now! Let’s go eat some pancakes!