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Father’s Day

June 14, 2012

I’ve never met my father. Presumably he met me at some point. But there are no pictures of him holding my infant form tenderly to his chest or of him looking over my mother’s shoulder at me sleeping blissfully against her breast. He was gone before a photographer could click the shutter of their camera. There are lots of pictures that my mom has in an album hidden away of the two of them together before I came along. I dug it out a few years ago and pored over the captured moments from so long ago, back when my mom’s smile was electric and the trauma of being human hadn’t yet spooked my father. It is strange to look at someone, a stranger you’ve never met, and see that they have your nose and your eyes. You can almost hear their voice they look so familiar. And still he’s only a ghost the flits around the edges of my life, a phantom that plagues my mom with doubt and regret and shame.
He’s not dead of course. He lives in Chandler, Arizona with his wife. They’ve been together for almost ten years. Her name is Cheryl. They don’t have any kids. My mom still talks to my father occasionally; I’ve never been too clear why. I think she still loves him. I have often wondered, especially in my teenage years, whether she maybe holds me responsible for his actions. My mom often tries to convince me to go and meet him. She says he wants to meet me now. She says he’s getting older and reminds me that no one lives forever. I try to make her understand why I won’t.
It is hard for me to explain. My mom certainly doesn’t understand when I try to. I don’t have any ill will towards my father. I don’t have any love for him though either. I’m indifferent. He’s a stranger and I simply have no compelling reason to want to meet him. Were it not for my mom, I would hardly give the man a second thought.
I guess I see my father like I see the animals in the old story of the little red hen. If you’re not familiar with it I will give you the short version. The little red hen is baking a cake. She wanders the barnyard asking for help from her neighbors. She asks them to help sift the flour or help mix the batter or help with the frosting. The selfish, lazy animals all turn her down without a second thought. She makes the cake all by herself. It’s a good cake and the smell fills the barnyard. The animals wander to the kitchen, lifted from their indolence by the sweet aroma. They ask for a bit of the cake. The hen wisely tells them that had they helped in the process, she would be more than glad to share. They could eat till they were sick. But as it stands, they can’t have any.
My father is those other animals. His participation in the creation of me was accidental at best. He will have to live with the choice he made.
I realize that this sounds very cold. Maybe it is. Maybe I am cold. But I feel like the decision was made before I exited the birth canal. The choice was taken from me. He made the decision. Maybe, had things gone the other way, I would have been happy to know him. Perhaps I would have even loved him. But he took the other path. He chose himself over others and that choice led him away. He left not just me, but my mother as well. I’m not sure she ever recovered. The rest of her life has played out as a long plaintive answer to his betrayal.
For myself, I am happy with who I have become. I know it is a completely obvious thing to say, but had he not made his choice, I may have turned out completely different. And I suppose, in a way, I am grateful for that. There are things in my life that I value so much, the time I spent living with my grandparents for a start, that I may have never known had he stayed. So there’s a silver lining to the darkest cloud. While my real father was wandering the map “finding himself”, my grandpa was stepping in to fill the role of father.
I am choosing this Father’s Day to honor my grandpa. He and my grandma are possibly the kindest, wisest people I know. When my mom left me with them when I was younger, they were more than happy to take me in. They had not asked to take care of a young girl, but there I was. They accepted me with open hearts. My grandpa is to me a living representation of what a man should be: masculine but with a capacity to appreciate femininity, strong but not without the ability to emote, silent but not closed off, supportive but not to the detriment of his principles. I am lucky to know him. Were it left to my father alone, my view of the male gender may have been skewed beyond repair.
In many ways my grandpa, my grandparents, saved my life. I owe them more than I can ever repay. That is why, this Father’s Day, and every day of my life, I will make a choice to honor them. Rather than choosing to focus on resentment or disappointment, rather than placing blame on fallible humans, rather than allowing hate to grow inside me, I am choosing to focus on love. I am choosing gratitude. I am choosing, like my grandparents taught me, to remember the bright side and to appreciate all the gifts that come with living and loving.

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