This is the first Father's Day to roll around since I started my blog earlier this year, so yesterday I thought quite a bit about which of the many fathers in my life would be the subject of today's post. My son-in-law and brother-in-law, along with my second husband, deserve recognition for having had the courage to expand their families, their responsibilities, and their hearts to marry women with children. My brother was a trouper about taking on Mr. Mom duties with aplomb. So was my uncle, who is especially in my thoughts because his daughter is seriously ill right now. Then there is my children's birth father. We didn't get much right together, but by God, we made some great kids.
The central father figure in the first 14 years of my life was my grandfather, "Packy," shown here with my sister and my cousin. His comfortable presence and quiet strength made me feel safe. It never occurred to me even once that having my mother, my sister and me in his home might have been a burden. If it was, he carried it willingly and without complaint. He was steadfast and reliable. He was where he was supposed to be when he was supposed to be, and I trusted him completely.
My new stepfather became the "man of the house" when I was 14, and we had some rocky times at first. I thought I didn't need a stepfather; things had been just fine the way they were. I knew I didn't want to move to Texas. I was as obnoxious as only a 14-year-old girl can be, but it didn't scare him away. He stuck around for the long haul. When I was an adult, living far away, his house was where I "went home." It was my mother's house, too, of course, but it felt normal, natural, and really good for him to be there.
And then there's my birth father, who missed most of my life. He was only 19 when I was born, and he left with the Army the day before I turned three months old. I saw him only sporadically when I was young, but he was important enough to me that I remember a lot of those times in some detail. When my father popped into town, he usually managed to make his visit somewhat spectacular. He'd take my sister and me for a ride in a fancy foreign car or buy each of us an armload of dresses. He bought my sister her first car, and, after I was married, he bought furniture for my new home. He was witty and charming, and he was regretful. We appreciated his gifts but recognized the guilty feelings that motivated them. In a way, the gifts made me hold him at arm's length. I didn't want him to think my love was for sale.
In the late '80s, having come to terms with many of his own issues, my dad came back into my life. This time he came easily. There were no more lavish gifts. Instead, he gave me what I'd always wanted, gifts of himself. He visited multiple times. He wrote, he called, he told me stories about his life and his second family, and he asked me questions about my life. He befriended my children and delighted my granddaughter.
His guilt had kept him away. Now, for the first time, he stepped beyond his regrets and became a part of my life. He listened, offered advice when I asked for it, and discussed with me for hours whatever was on my mind. He told me he loved me, and he told me he believed in me. He helped me to feel confident that I could handle whatever was thrown my way.
In 1997, I visited him at his home in California for the first time. I met his second family and bonded with them instantly. It was a visit I'll always remember, and it came just in the nick of time. Six weeks later, he was gone.
Or maybe not. In the early hours of this morning, I dreamed that my daughters and I were sitting on my bed, looking at old photos. After a while, we walked back into the livingroom and found it full of tall, green trees--not plants or flowers, but large trees--in beautiful pots. There were five of them, all different, tucked into nooks around the room, giving it the feeling of a magical place in the forest. My daughters and I stared in amazement, not quite believing what we were seeing, and then we noticed a florist's card stuck into one of the pots.
I pulled out the card, opened the tiny envelope, and thought at first that there'd been a mistake. The card was printed to read "Happy Father's Day," and I, of course, have never been a father. Looking more closely, I could see faint traces of ink, where someone had written something below the printed message. I took the card to the window, opened the blinds to let the bright sunlight in, and looked at it again. There, in his own handwriting, was my father's full name. I was so overcome with awe and joy that I immediately burst into tears. It was those wet, happy tears that woke me this morning.
Happy Father's Day to you, too, Fats. This time you really outdid yourself.