The thing about fathers is that everyone has one. (The same goes for the immaculately conceived.) Some dads are great; others, not so; most of us just want a good one. Some of us never knew ours; others, well, wish they didn't know their dads quite so well.
Father's Day is one of my top three worst holidays. I didn't always hate Father's Day; the truth is, I think over the past few years, my hate has dulled to just a generalized discomfort. Now, don't get me wrong, I luved my dad; I really did, or at least I believe I did. The problem isn't my father, though, in a way, he is the reason why I have this dislike for Father's Day; unintentionally, of course.
When I was eight, my mother took me and we went to stay with her cousin. My mother's cousin had become a widow, and that week, they were doing a one year anniversary memorial of my uncle's death. I remember being so excited to go, because it was out of town, and I luved hanging out with my older cousin--she was only 3 years older, but to me, she was cool, and she luved having me around; I think it was because she was the youngest, and she wanted younger siblings. She was always cool to me and my brothers; too cool, in fact. When I was 6, she taught me and my brothers how to smoke; when I was 7, it was how to drink alcohol. The first time I tasted beer, it was horrible. Yeck; I was sure that one of my brothers had pissed into the can as a joke and I was drinking it; let's just say young boys sometimes do stupid things to each other and their friends.
As I expected, I had a great time. My cousin and I spent the whole afternoon roaming around her neighborhood, hanging out with her friends. We played lots of games, watched some t.v. , and climbed the hills behind her house. Later, we even walked along the beach, checking out the tide pools and the little creatures that lived there. I had a hard time sleeping that night; I even thought about faking an illness so I wouldn't have to go to school. But my mom had made sure I had my school uniform and books packed and had all ready made arrangements to drop me off at school.
The next day, I woke up, not sure I had slept at all; I felt like I was in a haze that morning. I can't remember what I had for breakfast or who drove me to school; only, I remember that I met my friends and bragged about how I had spent the night out of town, retelling stories of my adventures the day before. My friends were captivated, but in the back of my head, something just felt different. Before lunch period, we were working on some writing exercises when I felt this need to look at the door. I turned to the door to see these two fellas, probably just out of high school, standing at the entrance. I recognized them as the guys who were helping out my aunt with the my uncle's memorial.
As the teacher walked over to them, I felt as if my heart had stopped. I tuned out my friends talking about the strangers at the door. I just started packing my books into my bag. I turned to see the teacher and the fellas; I can't remember their faces, only I knew I was leaving. I thought, perhaps my mom wanted me to spend the day with her at my uncle's memorial. But when the car pulled out of the school, we were heading in the opposite direction. Maybe, I thought, we were going home. The guys were really nice to me; well, they were polite, asking me if I wanted something to eat or drink and how my day at school was.
I started talking, excited perhaps to share my day with the older guys--maybe to ignore this growing dread in my heart. When we turned into the road towards the hospital, my heart got heavier; but we didn't park in the front like I was used to when going to the hospital. Rather, we drove out back to a totally different part of the hospital I've never even seen before. As the car slowed down to park by a brown building, I saw a crowd gathering there, people crying; some I even recognized as my aunt's friends and neighbors. I thought, perhaps, something had happened to my aunt. I was starting to get alarmed. As I got out of the car, my heart started beating faster, and somehow, it was starting to drown out all the noise.
Then I saw my mother emerge from the crowd; only, I wasn't sure if it was my mother. She was crying; I've never seen my mother cry before; ever. Her eyes were red and puffy and tears flowing freely. I was in a panic. She hugged me; I didn't quite hear what she was saying. I couldn't. The sight of my mother crying was an utter shock to my system. My mind had shut down. I was on automatic pilot. I remember being led inside the building to a room with cold air conditioning, and more people crying.
There on the table was the center of everyone's attention. I could see someone there, sleeping, I hoped, desperately. I wasn't sure if I could recognize the features. Maybe I was futilely fighting against recognizing those somewhat familiar features. But that was just it; I didn't recognize the features. I looked at this face; it was so eerie, so still; but somewhere in the deep haze of my mind, there was something significant about those features. My mother said something; I still couldn't understand her underneath all the sobs. I looked at those features, I knew that there was something important in them. I stared for what seemed like a long time, unsure. And in the silence of my mind, it came, like a single ray of sunlight had broken through the stormy skies. This was my father.
I didn't recognize him at first. How could I? The life was gone from his face. There was nothing of my father left, save for the lifeless body that laid on the table before me. Perhaps because I was all ready in shock from seeing my mother cry, but I remember being very silent. I looked elsewhere in the room. The lights in the room were bright; the floors shiny, clean; no windows; just a hint of disinfectant in the air. I looked back at the table. He was still there, my father, still unmoving; so quiet; so unlike the man I knew.
I remember being led back to the car; the fellas that drove me there gave me some candy and a soda. Then they drove me back home. The rest of the week was a rush of activity. I remember bits and pieces. My house was in chaos; my older siblings and relatives were crying. Me and my brothers , the ones I was close to in age, just stayed together most of the time. We always did. I remember praying to God every night that week, asking him to please bring me back my Dad. I begged him; I hoped it was all a dream. For months afterwards, I would wake up and sometimes go looking for my father, only to realize after a few minutes of looking that he was gone.
For some reason, my mother thought it was important that we all spent some time with my father's remains. I was there when he was bathed and put into his funeral suit. That night, at the wake, many people came; the church, the neighbors, the business associates, family, and friends. My dad had a lot of friends. All night, it was prayers and hymns and stories of my father. And food; and alcohol; and more crying.
The next day, at the church service, my mother got up and gave the eulogy. I wasn't paying attention to what she was saying. In my head, I was eagerly praying to God to please make my dad come back. Surely, in his house, he would hear me. Then I heard my mother start to sing God Be With You (til we meet again); she started breaking down in the middle of the second line; she couldn't finish as she completely broke down on the pulpit. The rest of the congregation picked up where she had left off as my mother was helped back to her seat.
Then my vision became blurry. I did not like seeing my mother cry; I did not like seeing her suffer so much; the tears started to fall from my eyes. For the first time since I found out my father had died, I cried. Something inside me finally broke, and I wept for the rest of that song. By the time the service was over, I had it my head to pull it together. By sheer will power, I forced myself to stop crying and walk out the chapel.
When they lowered my father's casket down, I knew that it was too late; there was no hope of my father ever waking up. I recall the pastor coming up to us, and he said to me that it was God's will, and that my father was in a better place. Better place?! God's will?! Those words didn't comfort me. They just made me mad! It took all my strength to keep my mouth shut and walk away. I was mad at God. That night, I didn't pray, and for years afterwards, I refused to talk to God. Clearly, he hated me. He took away my father when I needed him the most. What kind of God would be so cruel like that? I would be furious at God for a long, long time.
My younger brothers and I reacted differently to my father's passing. I became withdrawn, quiet, and no longer sought the company of others. My brother, who was a year older, became rebellious and started a street gang, getting into lots of fights. My younger brother became obsessed with taking things apart, even the things that didn't belong to him, like the toaster, the iron, and hair dryer. Somehow, we knew we were broken, and we were no longer like other children who still had both parents. We became closer to each other, closer than we were to our older brothers and sisters. It still holds true to this day.
I became more aware of things somehow. There's a certain maturity that comes with losing a loved one, and my father's death had certainly made me grow up fast. I noticed people were starting to treat us differently. Not unkindly, but whispers of sympathy whenever they caught sight of us. I hated that. That first Father's Day after my Dad's passing, was the worst. Every year, the Sunday school children put on a show for the dads on Father's Day--and for moms on Mother's Day. After we sing and dance and put on plays or recite passages from the Bible, we go and greet our Dads, wishing them a Happy Father's Day. Only that day, my brothers and I were the only ones left on the stage while all the other kids went to greet their dads.
And I felt the congregation's eyes on me, that damned look of sympathy. In the corners of my eyes, I could make out the ladies, bending over to whisper in each other's ears and I could hear their murmurs of how sad it was for my family. I walked off the stage; my brothers followed me and we sat down. God, I wanted so badly to leave, but my mother was there, and I knew we'd get into so much trouble for leaving the church before the service was over. So I sat there, under the scrutiny of those many eyes, determined not to cry and give those bastards something else to talk about. It was a blatant reminder that we were now fatherless, that God had taken away my dad. It was a painful experience to sit there and watch those kids get hugs from their dads; I hated it; I hated being forced to participate. I thought it was extremely ignorant and thoughtless.
For the next Father's Days afterward, I would endure the awful and cruel experience of having to participate in the Father's Day pageant and feel those eyes on me for the rest of the service. It was such a relief when I started high school and I had a falling out with the pastor. He was mad that I had been talking to someone of a different faith. I tuned him out and told my mom that I was never going back to that church; and I haven't been back since.
By this time in high school, I came to the realization that I never really mourned my father. If anything, I had only cried at the funeral because I saw that my mother was suffering. It took me years to finally realize what my father's death meant. I never got to really know my father. I wish that I was able to have an adult conversation with him, find out about his life in his own words. What were his dreams and hopes? What did he like to do for fun? What life lessons would he have shared? The sad truth is, I can barely remember my father's face now. I've an idea, but there are days when I have to sit and think really hard about what his face looked like. Of the few precious memories that I have of my father, they seemed happy, and safe, and content, I suppose. I still feel very strongly about him, though, and what I feel is love.
It's taken me a while to appreciate my father's passing. Though it was a heartbreaking experience, it did make me a better person in a way. For one thing, it made me stronger. I had to grow up faster; and I learned that life is too short. If anything, the whole experience has made me appreciate life even more and learn to live life to the fullest.
These days, I don't really hate Father's Day because it reminds me that my dad is gone. Rather, it was the whole experience of being forced to take part in the church pageants that make me feel mad and upset. I guess I just hated feeling powerless more than I hated feeling sad. And for me, Father's Day reminds me of being helpless, at the mercy of those stronger than I was. But as the years have gone by, I find myself feeling less and less bitter about Father's Day. I survived; so did my brothers; as did our bond.
I do confess though that sometimes, I envy my friends who still have their dads. They don't know how lucky they are to be able to have an opportunity to talk with their fathers, to learn more about them, to just be with them. The thing about fathers is that when we're young, they were our first heroes. They were strong, and they made us feel safe. As we grew older, they became more human, and we learned that even they made mistakes. And for some of us, we're one of those mistakes ;)
There are many stories about the love of a good mother; too few tell the stories of a good father. One of my favorite things to do is read stories or watch movies about fathers and sons. Maybe a way to catch a glimpse of what it is I lost in this life. I enjoy reading about the joys (and pains) of being a father. And I wonder sometimes what it would be like to be one. I'm an uncle, and I've helped raise a fair number of my nieces and nephews, but I don't think it's quite the same when it's an around the clock responsibility.
If you're one of the lucky few who has a good father, go wish him a great Father's Day; and don't let today be the only day to tell your father that you love him. You never know what's going to happen. Talk to him while you still have the chance. The thing about fathers is that no one is perfect; but that's okay. When it comes to being a good dad, it's not about success or strength. It's about raising your children the best way that you can. The thing about fathers is that a good father is a loving father.
So, to all you loving dads out there, Happy Father's Day. Your children need you (and luv you) more than you'll ever know.
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